Many books are available to amateurs on the methods and equipment involved in making beer and wine, and such books can be found in abundance in most bookstores and in beer- and wine-making supply stores. However, when it comes to the use of a small still to produce distilled spirits it is no use looking in bookstores. To find books on this subject it is necessary to search the Internet for independent publishers, but then we run into another problem. The books which are found on the Internet invariably deal with the production of whiskies, a spirit which may be quite enjoyable when well prepared but which also can be harsh to the point of being undrinkable.
What has been missing is a literature dealing with the production of the very pure ethyl alcohol used for making vodka and gin. The same pure alcohol is used in chemical laboratories, the pharmaceutical industry, and in the production of perfumes and colognes, etc. This book has been written in an attempt to rectify such an anomalous situation because the starting point for many drinks — vodka, gin, liqueurs, punches — is an alcohol which can provide the "high" without contributing any flavour of its own. Moonshine cannot do this because its own flavour is far too harsh, and the strange little moonshine stills which are offered for sale on the Internet will certainly lead to disappointment if pure alcohol is what you are looking for.
The two previous books in this series have been well received, but the advantage of short printing runs is that it is possible to make improvements with each edition. In line with this thinking the present volume will provide some additional information on both the theoretical and practical aspects of distillation, and will describe a simplified 2-stage procedure using less equipment which will save both money and space.
The production of extremely pure alcohol is rather simple as it happens, far easier in fact than making a spirit of lesser purity such as whisky, rum or brandy. It is even simpler than making beer or wine. This should be encouraging for those who have never embarked upon distillation and are worried that it might be a bit too technical and equipment-oriented. The explanation as to why it is easier to make a pure alcohol than an impure one will become apparent in the next chapter.
The book should appeal to two groups of readers: 1) those who live in countries where it is currently legal to distil alcohol for one's own use, New Zealand being the best example although there are some others in eastern Europe. And 2) the rest of the world, particularly western Europe, N. America and Australia, where the laws respecting distillation by amateurs need to be challenged since they are based upon a false premise. This premise is that distillation produces a highly intoxicating alcohol, whereas the truth of the matter is that distillation doesn't produce any alcohol at all. This statement is not made merely to be controversial and argumentative, it is a simple fact. Distillation does not make alcohol. It never has, never will, and is incapable of doing so.
The first group will find complete details of the equipment and procedures required to a) ferment ordinary table sugar (sucrose) to a crude "beer" using bakers' yeast and b) the steps involved in fractionally distilling this beer to remove all the impurities. The alcohol so produced is a sparkling, crystal clear vodka. Instructions follow for flavouring the vodka with juniper berries and other herbs and botanicals to produce the well-known bouquet of London Dry Gin. There are also suggestions for making a wide variety of alcoholic drinks by the simple expedient of adding the appropriate flavouring agent.
The second group can use the same detailed information in its campaign to get the law changed. Such campaigns will only succeed if they are based upon a thorough knowledge of the subject matter, because those who embark upon it will soon realize that legislators and officials in government are thoroughly muddled about distillation — with what it is and what it isn't. They are certain, for example that distillation makes alcohol. It doesn't. They are equally certain that distillation is a dangerous practice which is liable to lead to blindness. It won't. When faced with such charges it is necessary to have all the facts at your fingertips, to be an authority on the subject, because then you will be in a position to counter such silly arguments in a convincing manner.
This book must not be seen in N. America and elsewhere as any sort of incitement to break the law. Far from it. The law has to be changed, not broken, and to change the law it is necessary to clarify in the minds of the general public, and in governments, the misconceptions about a simple purification process which have become rooted in society as a result of centuries of mischievous brainwashing combined with simple ignorance.
A whole chapter will be devoted to this question of legality since it is highly important for everyone to know exactly where they stand and to be comfortable with what they are doing. It is hoped that legislators and law enforcement agencies themselves will read this chapter and possibly one or two others, think about it, and be prepared to be receptive when law reformers come knocking at their doors.
There is quite a bit of repetition in several of the chapters. Thus, when describing the equipment it has been necessary to describe to some extent just how it is used, even though this is dealt with at length in the chapters which deal with procedures. We make no apologies for such overlap since it helps to make the various chapters self-sufficient. Also, repetition of the fact that distillation is simply a purification process and doesn't make alcohol can be excused on the grounds that repetition is not a bad thing if we wish to clear away the misinformation hammered into people's minds over the centuries by zealots of one sort or another.
In writing this description of small-scale distillation for amateurs it was difficult to decide on an appropriate amount of detail to provide. Distillation, even fractional distillation, is really a very simple process and it might have been sufficient simply to provide a bare outline of how to proceed, letting the reader's ingenuity fill in the gaps. It was decided, however, that a knowledge of why something works or doesn't work is as interesting to the enquiring mind as knowing how. Furthermore, it can be very useful to know the underlying principles involved in a process if something doesn't work out exactly as expected the first time you try it, or if you have modified the equipment and procedures described in the book (which many people do). It then becomes possible to solve the problem through knowledge rather than by trial and error.
The units of measurement to use present a problem. It will be much easier when the whole world uses the metric system, but many countries in the English-speaking world, particularly the United States, is largely non-metric. In this book, therefore, we have adopted an awkward hybrid system in which most volumes, weights, temperatures and pressures are in metric units while some dimensions, e.g. pipe diameters, are in inches. For convenience a table of conversion factors from one system to the other is provided in Appendix I.
Before getting down to the details of fermentation and distillation a few general observations will be made in the next chapter on the subject of alcoholic beverages per se because, as we all know, they cover an extremely wide range of products from wines and beers to whiskies, rum, brandy, gin, liqueurs, etc., and a very wide range of starting materials, from grapes to potatoes to milk. The common denominator which ties them all together is the alcohol itself, a pure chemical with the empirical formula C2H5OH.
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