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Airstill Guide - Best Practice

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Airstill Guide - Best Practice

Postby Aidanmac » Wed Sep 12, 2012 6:17 am

During the glorious summer we just endured in Europe, I kept plodding away at producing a guide of Best Practice for the Airstill based on my knowledge and experience operating this equipment over the past three years. The content is the result of that experience and is based in fact not supposition or uninformed opinion. On that basis I believe it will be helpful to some, particularly those new to this wonderful hobby.

I've been sitting on this for a while but decided to post it now.

The contents of the guide are for use by those who want to get the best from their Airstill and should be roundly ignored by everyone else who is happy with what they are otherwise doing.

OK, the forum wouldn't allow me upload the pdf so, on the suggestion of YHB, I zipped it and here it is! Ta Dah!

Airstill Brief MD.pdf.zip


AM 8-)
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Re: Airstill Guide - Best Practice

Postby YHB » Wed Sep 12, 2012 6:35 am

Good stuff Aidan, a lot of work has gone into this - it will be a great help to a lot of people.
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Re: Airstill Guide - Best Practice

Postby Frank » Wed Sep 12, 2012 10:09 am

Thank you very much Aidan, for your efforts in drawing this up AND getting it onto here. ;)
I have no doubt it will be of tremendous assistance to Airstillers, especially as they start the distilling journey..... and, perhaps, it shall be of interest for others too.
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Re: Airstill Guide - Best Practice

Postby FullySilenced » Wed Sep 12, 2012 2:00 pm

Good Read... thanks for posting it
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Re: Airstill Guide - Best Practice

Postby the Doctor » Sat Sep 15, 2012 11:18 pm

Aidan you have put so much work into this...if after seeing the first issue of the modern distiller magazine (which I hope will be published in a couple of weeks)would you consider letting me put it in an upcoming issue to get a wider audience...I think it is an authoritative work and deserves to be seen. thanks for posting it.
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Re: Airstill Guide - Best Practice

Postby Aidanmac » Sun Sep 16, 2012 7:39 pm

Hi Punkin,

I run both so I can tell you, hand-on-heart, that there is a huge difference. The middle of a stripping run with the Airstill tastes like cheap wine while the middle of the stripping run from my 50lt tastes like a proper spirit and it's almost drinkable - almost! :P

On top of that, double distilled spirit from the Airstill must be filtered with a serious carbon filter and the before/after smell and taste difference is astounding :o With my 50lt pot double distilled spirit does not require filtering at all.

So, no intention to do the Airstill a disservice, simply telling it like it is. When I said 100% cleaner I was attempting to illustrate that there is a huge difference rather than for anyone to take a sliderule and measure if I was being accurate to an exacting point. ;)

AM 8-)
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Re: Airstill Guide - Best Practice

Postby Frank » Mon Sep 17, 2012 7:40 pm

+1 Aidanmac (from personal experience)
I've (only) done about 40 strips on an airstill and about 10 on a copper 2 1/2" potstill...but the difference is there on 'both' runs..you can smell it AND taste it....
:?: Physically, there's the vapour path/condensor variance and the wash volume variance (all else kind of equal) to consider.
My Noob guess is its all about quality/refinement of instrument (aka still) used but NFI really.
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Re: Airstill Guide - Best Practice

Postby kobold » Mon Sep 24, 2012 11:07 am

good job thank you for posting!
question: mozr on stillsmart recommends 500ml hearts vs 1000ml here, why the difference?
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Re: Airstill Guide - Best Practice

Postby YHB » Mon Sep 24, 2012 4:43 pm

I dont think that there is much difference.

Aidan takes 1000ml + an anticipated 2 cuts of 100ml each = 1.2 litres
Mozr takes 500ml + an anticpated 7 cuts of 100ml each = 1.2 litres

I think it is just a matter of preference / confidence
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Re: Airstill Guide - Best Practice

Postby billmcc » Thu Oct 04, 2012 8:14 pm

Regarding the differance in taste between the air still and a standard pot still could be that the little airstill is all stainless, i found that with copper in the boiler and also copper wire threaded through the condenser a cleaner spirit could be collected
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Re: Airstill Guide - Best Practice

Postby Odin » Sat Dec 01, 2012 10:31 am

I started this hobby with an airstill. It could hold 4 liters and had an adjustable heat input. I would tripple distill. The result of an extra distillation round really makes a good neutral. Double distilled, at least to my opinion, isn't optimal.

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Re: Airstill Guide - Best Practice

Postby StillWaters » Sat Dec 15, 2012 3:49 pm

Hi I'm a newbie to distilling (taken up in my retirement to keep me active, amused and to keep my pension as intact as possible) and have started with an Air Still. I have made some "passable" copies of bought products but am not getting the results I had hoped for . . . . then I found and joined this forum and saw your Airstill guide. I now know I have not been using it to its full capabilities, even after following the instructions the manufacturer gives :0(
I do however have a couple of questions on your chart:
1. What is the best way to measure the alcohol output on a continuous process? (you say run until level reaches 20% on the first run - how?)
2. You dispose of the first 50ml "foreshots", collect next 250ml "heads" and then 1000ml "hearts" - should they be in separate containers or do you just run 1250ml, and then start collecting the rest in other containers until the "tails" are detected?
3. What are the tails and how do you recognise them?
4. When you say the "average of the 2 jars added to the hearts before tails detected", what exactly do you mean by average - equal amounts?
5. How deep into the "tails" do you collect, or do you use the method in 1. above until 30% alcohol reached?
6. Is there a need to "air" the finished product before carbon filtering?
Sorry if these are very basic questions but I do want to learn to make good product before progressing to a "real" pot still (my ultimate aim is to make an acceptable single malt Scotch), and you have to start somewhere :0)
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Re: Airstill Guide - Best Practice

Postby chill » Sun Dec 16, 2012 2:54 pm

StillWaters wrote:1. What is the best way to measure the alcohol output on a continuous process? (you say run until level reaches 20% on the first run - how?)

Ideally, you would use a distiller's parrot. I just collect in small (80ml) amounts, and measure them with an alchometer in a test cylinder. If they are about 20% or above, they go into the tails jar. You don't need to be too precise here. Below 20% and you are probably wasting time and money collecting the alcohol that remains.

StillWaters wrote:2. You dispose of the first 50ml "foreshots", collect next 250ml "heads" and then 1000ml "hearts" - should they be in separate containers or do you just run 1250ml, and then start collecting the rest in other containers until the "tails" are detected?

Collect the heads in a separate container. You don't want that in what you drink. Personally, I'd collect more than that. I can taste heads in at least the first 400ml. I collect 250ml as "heads for certain" and then 3x100ml as "maybe heads". Taste of these determines if they go in the heads or hearts (drinking) jar.

StillWaters wrote:3. What are the tails and how do you recognise them?

When you smell and taste them, you will know. ;-) They are the higher alcohols (also called Fusel oil) and other things in the wash with a higher boiling point. Most people compare them to cardboard or the smell of a wet dog. Think, "Whew! I am NOT drinking THAT!"

StillWaters wrote:4. When you say the "average of the 2 jars added to the hearts before tails detected", what exactly do you mean by average - equal amounts?

Every fermentation produces different results. So this is the average fermentation. The heads will be more or less, the amount of hearts will be more or less, tails will appear earlier or later. This is why it is important to collect in small amounts on either side of the hearts. Taste, smell, and experience are your guides in what to drink and what to recycle.

StillWaters wrote:5. How deep into the "tails" do you collect, or do you use the method in 1. above until 30% alcohol reached?

I usually stop around 30% unless I am looking to collect rum oils when distilling molasses. Below 20-30% it is just not worth the time and electricity to continue collecting. Start a new ferment instead.

StillWaters wrote:6. Is there a need to "air" the finished product before carbon filtering?

Yes, airing will will improve the product and will likely make the carbon last longer (as there is less for it to filter out).[/quote]

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Re: Airstill Guide - Best Practice

Postby StillWaters » Sat Dec 29, 2012 2:26 pm

Thanks for the explanations. I don't understand how the manufacturers can claim that all output is drinkable if there is some methanol in there. I thought that because it was using a sugar wash rather then grain, the methanol did not appear. Naive or what?
Anyway, I've now bought (well Santa delivered if I'm honest, LOL) a stainless steel pot still, and a parrot, so let's see how I get on with the "real thing". Season's Greetings to you all.
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Re: Airstill Guide - Best Practice

Postby chill » Sat Dec 29, 2012 3:19 pm

There is probably not a lot of regulation of illegal activities. :-) I an not sure how much methanol you would get from a sugar ferment. Methanol is produced by fermenting cellulose. So I would expect some from grain and fruit ferments. But you will still get acetone and various other compounds that you don't really want to drink either. The dangers might be exaggerated, I expect it depends on how much you drink. I have older Italian neighbours who home distill grappa after making wine. They make no cuts at all. Tastes like it too. But they are not dead, blind, or insane -- though they probably only produce 4-6L a year. Personally, I will error on the side of safety and good taste.

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Re: Airstill Guide - Best Practice

Postby StillWaters » Sun Feb 03, 2013 6:46 pm

I guess I'll need to use a parrot to measure the output, so here is my question:
- the alcometer is rated at a certain temperatures so, as the Airstill does not have the possibility to fit one, how do I know when I've reached a true 30% ABV output? Do I need to put a thermometer in the collection jar and make recalculations? Sorry for so many questions but I do like to do things right when I can :0)
Cheers, SW
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Re: Airstill Guide - Best Practice

Postby chill » Mon Feb 04, 2013 7:43 am

Here is Aidan's solution to using a parrot with the AirStill: http://www.stillsmart.co.uk/forum/viewt ... =15&t=1028

My opinion is that you are over complicating this. There is nothing magic about 30% ABV, it is just a guideline on when you can stop and not lose anything of value. Anything between 25 and 35% is probably close enough. When it gets down to that range there is not much alcohol left in the still and the time and energy to get it out is not worth it. So I would not get too hung up on making temperature adjustments. What comes out of the AirStill (or mine anyway) is sufficiently cool (less than 20C) that you can just take the reading directly. I just collect enough (about 100 ml for my container), pour it in the tube with the alcometer, and look at it. A parrot can be handy, but is not needed.

The spirit is at room temperature when I dilute it, so I just take off about 2% from what the alcometer reads. I am not too fussed about getting a product that is exactly 40% or 45% or whatever. Close enough and pour a drink. :handgestures-thumbupright:

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Re: Airstill Guide - Best Practice

Postby FullySilenced » Mon Feb 04, 2013 7:50 am

I miss having Aidanmac's little pointy head here with us... well maybe tapered would be a better description...
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Re: Airstill Guide - Best Practice

Postby Bachus57 » Mon Feb 04, 2013 7:54 am

Hi SW,
I found the output of an Airstill is quite cool (under 25 Celsius) so I wouldn't worry too much about misreading the ABV% as for each 2.5 degrees above 20C. the reading will be 1% ABV higher so even when temp is 30C. the reading is 4% too high.
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Re: Airstill Guide - Best Practice

Postby StillWaters » Mon Feb 04, 2013 10:02 am

Thanks for the guidance. It's just that I have a parrot (delivered with my new still) and need to run the AirStill one more time to see me through whilst experimenting (or should that be playing) with the new pot still. I just need to finish building the power controller and then I'll be on my way. I guess the trouble with "newbies" is that they want perfection at the first attempt, and an AirStill is not the best way to go :0)
Thanks again and I'll let you know, soon, how my first attempt at a Single Malt with peated barley goes. SW
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Re: Airstill Guide - Best Practice

Postby The Raven » Wed May 20, 2015 9:48 pm

First time poster...and have made my first batch of grain alcohol.

I didn't find this wonderful document until recently but it reinforced and add to what I learnt on my first batch with a borrowed Airstill.

I did end up double distilling as I simply wasn't happy with the first pass through, even though I took cuts/foreshots etc. The second distill was much improved and, may I say, far better than what the still owner has been making for ages. :)

Next step is to get my own Airstill kit, apply the lessons learnt (plus those from Aidan's guide), to see how good I can make it.
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Re: Airstill Guide - Best Practice

Postby JayD » Thu May 21, 2015 11:40 am

The Raven wrote:First time poster...and have made my first batch of grain alcohol.

I didn't find this wonderful document until recently but it reinforced and add to what I learnt on my first batch with a borrowed Airstill.

I did end up double distilling as I simply wasn't happy with the first pass through, even though I took cuts/foreshots etc. The second distill was much improved and, may I say, far better than what the still owner has been making for ages. :)

Next step is to get my own Airstill kit, apply the lessons learnt (plus those from Aidan's guide), to see how good I can make it.


As it is your first post, please introduce yourself... :handgestures-thumbupright:
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Re: Airstill Guide - Best Practice

Postby ancienthart » Sat May 30, 2015 11:40 am

Thanks Aidan. The suggestion to dilute to 30% is something I'm going to try out. I tend to put the stripping run straight into the Airstill undiluted, and have noticed that the Airstill "dribbles" a bit when I do. Especially if the Airstill isn't on a completely level surface. :doh:

I also put my stripping runs on Bicarbonate for about a week before I redistil - this removes a lot of the ethyl acetate smell and as a consequence, I find I can smell the transitions between heads/hearts and tails more easily.
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Re: Airstill Guide - Best Practice

Postby cldz » Thu Jan 14, 2016 4:59 pm

Have my second wash ever fermenting atm, will be giving this method a shot next week when my wash is ready. My first run I only ran it through the still once, the product was drinkable but not amazing lol. Very interested as to how the end product will be with double distilling.
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Re: Airstill Guide - Best Practice

Postby cldz » Thu Jan 28, 2016 3:10 pm

double distilling really made it smell and taste way better, thanks
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