Most amateur distillers are familiar with activated charcoal, using it to remove some of the more noxious substances present in their crude spirit. An ordinary pot still, the standard type of equipment used by amateurs, produces moonshine, and this contains some pretty unpleasant things, so activated charcoal remains the only hope of removing some of the worst of them and producing a palatable beverage. By contrast, the alcohol produced by the equipment described in this book should not require "cleaning up" because all the unpleasant things have been removed in the distillation process. Mistakes can happen, however, particularly in the early days before experience has been gained, and when it does one may be faced with a batch of alcohol which is a bit "off". In such cases a polishing with activated charcoal may be beneficial.
Activated charcoal is used in gas masks, in water purification and in many other areas where small quantities of an adulterant need removal. Its effect is a physical one, not chemical. The adulterant is adsorbed on the enormous internal surface area available. This surface can amount to 1000 m2/gram and is produced in a number of ways but often through the use of superheated steam on ordinary charcoal. The cheapest source is a water treatment company.
To use it, dilute the alcohol from 96 to 40% (vodka strength) and use about 150 grams of charcoal per 6 litres of ethanol. Put into a container, stir occasionally over 5 days, allow to settle and then filter. It is a messy and time-consuming business and you may find it more convenient to use a continuous charcoal treatment. Clamp filter paper over the end of a 11/2-inch pipe, add charcoal to a depth of 12 inches or so, and then pour the alcohol through. It should be completely pure when it emerges.
The best method of obtaining pure alcohol is to distil it so well that no charcoal treatment is necessary. It is cheaper and saves a lot of time and trouble. We have not used charcoal for the last 15 years and you will find that, with experience, you too can dispense with it.
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