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Nov 09

Distillation Equipment – An Essential Addition to Any Prepper’s Checklist

Moonshine Still Large

By: Kyle at Clawhammer Supply

Why should distillation equipment be added to your prepper equipment checklist? Here are 3 excellent reasons, to name a few: distilled spirits, fuel alcohol, and antiseptic. These goods would be highly valuable during a SHTF event and can all be easily manufactured with simple, small-scale distillation equipment. As a bonus, all of these goods would be highly desirable in a barter economy.

Whiskey

Let’s start with the most fun commodity made possible by distillation equipment; distilled spirits. Spirits are made by first concocting low strength (8-10%) alcohol, which is accomplished by mashing and fermenting grains, just like one would do when making beer. With the additional step of distillation, alcohol content is increased to a concentration somewhere in the neighborhood of 40-50% (which corresponds to 80-100 proof).

The crafting of homemade spirits is really a pretty simple process; it is much less complicated than one might think. However, the process also has somewhat of a troubled past, which incorrectly leads many people to believe that spirits cannot safely be made at home. During prohibition in the United States, alcohol production was banned, but demand remained high. As taps at the distilleries ran dry, whiskey began to flow from mountain hollers. City dwellers abandoned their above-board watering holes and took to back alley speakeasies. The whiskey production process fell into the hands of organized criminals. Some took pride in their products, but others were unscrupulous bootleggers who sought to maximize production improve profit margins by using shoddy distillation equipment and by cutting otherwise good alcohol with toxic chemicals. The result was isolated instances where bootleg whiskey injured its consumer. As a result of this chain of events, homemade alcohol inherited a tarnished reputation that still survives to this day.

Some still believe that homemade spirits cause lead poisoning and blindness and should never be trusted. Others know better! Home distillation is actually quite straightforward, fairly simple, and safe. So long as one adheres to a few ground rules for making whiskey safely, they’ll be able to make their own spirits without worry.

If you’re a prepper and you also enjoy distilled spirits, distillation equipment is a must. If you’re a prepper and libations aren’t you thing, keep reading. There are plenty of other reasons you still might want to consider investing in a still.

Fuel

Fuel is included on many, if not all survival prep lists. Here are a few things to keep in mind on this topic: first, that there are many types of fuel and the different types have different uses. Second, a good fuel strategy is one that provides fuel based on expected need as well as one that provides provisions for replenishment. We’ll address all of these issues below.

The two primary fuel categories are stationary and mobile. Here are examples to help clarify. Wood and coal are both stationary fuels and are appropriate for heating and cooking, in a set location. Gasoline and diesel are mobile fuels and are appropriate for powering mobile equipment such as a cars, motorcycles, and tractors.

Some fuels can be used as stationary and mobile fuels while others cannot be or at least should not be. For example, wood is great for heating and cooking but it’s useless as a mobile fuel. Gasoline, a mobile fuel, will power a small engine, but it’s not the best for cooking, and relying on it as a long term heating strategy would be very unwise considering the amount of fuel that one would need to keep on hand.

Finally, mobile fuels such as gasoline, diesel, and kerosene have limited shelf lives and will be subject to supply issues during instances of widespread infrastructure meltdowns.

Considering the abovementioned facts, one potential fuel supply strategy would involve a good stockpile of wood and relative close proximity to a source for more, as well as a renewable mobile fuel source. Because the mobile fuels listed above will be subject to supply limitations and producing them will be very difficult, if not impossible, we cannot recommend them. Natural gas and propane could also be used as mobile (and stationary fuels), but they’re subject to the same limitations as the others. Fortunately, there is a mobile fuel that is quite easy to produce, keeps well, and doubles as a mobile as well as a stationary fuel: alcohol.

To use alcohol as a fuel in a small engine, it must be 100% pure. This is an issue, albeit only a small one, as fuel alcohol produced by means of distillation maxes out at a purity of 95%. Re-distilling will not result in a higher proof product. To remove the last bit of water from the fuel, it must treated with a drying agent. Fortunately, corn grits actually work very well to accomplish this.

Fuel alcohol can be produced in any still but column stills are the most appropriate for this task, as they’re more efficient at making the high alcohol contented need for use in engines.  Though, considering that there are many uses for alcohol, all requiring different proofs, the best still for a prepper would be a hybrid still. Hybrid stills employ the use of a column which can either be packed, and used as a reflux still for fuel alcohol, or can be left empty for making whiskey, antiseptic, and distilled water.

Antiseptic / Disinfectant

There are plenty of other uses for alcohol aside from drinking and burning it. For example, high strength ethyl alcohol (the kind produced by fermenting sugar and then concentrating it with a still) is a versatile product that doubles as an antiseptic as well as a disinfectant. This means that it’s effective at cleaning wounds but can also be used to clean hard surfaces. It’s a broad-spectrum antimicrobial and is highly effective at killing bacteria, viruses, and fungi. Antiseptic and disinfectants are very useful and should be considered highly valuable by SHTF preppers.

There is one very important piece of information that one should consider when producing antiseptic: the strength of the alcohol greatly alters its effectiveness and stronger is not always better. Generally, the antimicrobial activity of alcohol is significantly lower at concentrations below 50%. So, when producing antiseptic, make sure that it’s at least 50% alcohol. Also, the optimal strength is in the 60 to 90% range. That’s where the “stronger is not always better” rule comes into play. Interestingly enough, applying alcohol stronger than 90% to a wound actually disrupts the body’s natural healing process. Rubbing alcohol sold in stores is about 70% alcohol and that’s the strength we’d suggest you shoot for. Producing alcohol in this purity range can be accomplished with little knowledge and basic distillation equipment.

Water

Despite the fact that distilled water is produced and consumed in many areas where fresh water is not abundant, the health impact of drinking distilled water is somewhat of a contentious issue. Some claim that distilled water is better for human health than regular water. Others claim that long term consumption of distilled water will negatively impact human health (due to its reduced nutrient content). Regardless of your position on the issue, the ability to distill water would definitely be useful during an SHTF event. Distilling water is a highly effective way to remove impurities. Once distilled the water has multiple uses; It can be drank (at least on a short-term basis), used for medical applications, used for cleaning, used to calibrate scientific equipment, etc.

Bartering

Did you know that in 2013, Brown-Forman, the parent company of Jack Daniels and other popular alcohol brands posted $3.8 billion in gross sales? Seems like a lot of money, doesn’t it? It’s actually not a lot of cash compared to the total 2103 revenue of the world’s largest oil companies, which totaled $1.8 trillion. Also, consider this, the US healthcare industry posted similar revenues, and is roughly a 2 trillion dollar per year industry. In case you’re not an economist, we should clarify that these figures represent a lot of money.

What are we getting at here? Well, whiskey, fuel, and health are all big industries. That’s because these things offer a lot of utility to humans. That makes things like whiskey, healthcare products, and fuel very valuable. In a situation where traditional economies fail and money becomes more or less useless, the only way individuals will be able to get things they need will be to make the goods themselves or to trade for them. Having a still and knowing how to produce valuable products with it will open up a world of opportunities for bartering in an SHTF economy.

Final note from PJ:  This article was originally posted on Clawhammer Supply’s website, but has been utilized here as the first in a series of articles on distillation.  Clawhammer has been gracious enough to donate one of their still kits to one of our readers who is currently working up a set of articles which will detail everything from set up to production (within the scope of the applicable Federal and State laws where the reader resides).

 

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15 comments

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  1. NRP

    Ohhhhh boy, I know I should just shut up but…….

    Just to clarify, distillation of any consumable alcohol is a felon, period, end of sentence….. do NOT believe the BS you may read by the people trying to sell equipment, or the “know-it-alls” on the internet…. (unless you have Federal and State licenses and allow the Feds to inspect every aspect of your life, your home, your “preps”…. (AND it’s a pain in the ass to get the correct license) no thank you). You will go to jail, lose your rights to carry firearms, vote, and a whole bunch of other nasty stuff if you get caught. Please note that on Clawhammer Supply’s page they show you a license on “fuel” NOT consumable or medical alcohol. Second it drives me absolutely crazy when someone like this Kyle dude, and hundreds of others out there that really are only selling stuff, alludes to making “whiskey”; you DON’T MAKE “whiskey”. You can make Ethyl Alcohol, some Methanol (very poisonous) and some other nasty stuff. You sure as hell better know how to remove the methanol; it WILL kill you. Afterward you can flavor it to taste like whiskey or hundreds or other flavors if you like, try some 100proof Kool-Aid if ya want HAHAHAH (FYI, pure Ethyl Alcohol has absolutely no “flavor”, try tasting “Everclear” at 80% (190 proof). Next, to make fuel out of fermented grain; why? That’s like making gas out of corn, just plain stupid. You’re going to burn a hell of a lot more fuel and time making this “alcohol fuel” than you ever get out of the “stuff” you make. Just store the propane as a “mobile” fuel instead. If you’re going to distill to make wound cleanser; WHY? You sure as heck better have a bunch of Isopropyl Alcohol and other first aid stuff stored up in the first place; is that not on your “prepper list”? Distilling water? Again, why? There are a LOT of really really really good filters out there. And yes back to Bartering. Great Idea, just don’t get caught, just stock up on a bunch of legal Vodka or whatever. Lastly on my rant about this article (sorry PJ), what in the heck would you take perfectly good grain and try to make alcohol out of it (if you don’t kill yourself from the Methanol, blow yourself up from the excess fumes, waste 4 times as much fuel making it, waste a LOT of money setting up the process and buying the supplies), it will most likely taste like crapo anyways, if you want to do something, try making Homebrew (beer) or Wine; which is legal (No FEDS snooping around) and can be stored for a long long time and bartered with. And if all you want to do is get drunk, I’ll ship you some of my Barley-Wine beer at 18% (36 proof), it’s legal and NOT dangerous and taste pretty dang good if I do say so myself.. There is a LOT of information out there on the net about distillation, I would seriously suggest anyone that is considering it; do your research, a lot better than the Clawhammer Supply website, keep your mouth shout about doing it, DON’T SELL IT, and be careful as hell when trying this, it can be dangerous and very explosive, just imagine gasoline vapor under pressure going off in a fireball in your kitchen. Not that I would know first-hand of course.

    Lastly, doesn’t the “prepper” community have enough people (and the FEDS) thinking we are a bunch of crazy’s without becoming a bunch of outlawed moonshiners? And openly discussing it on a prepper page?

    Sorry guys, if JP doesn’t ban me for this reply I guess I should at least try to tone it down some. And NO I don’t distill, but may have known someone in my distant past that has. It will be interesting to read the set of upcoming articles.

    Ok I’ll craw back into my hole and shut-up now.

    1. PJ

      I think he is going to produce the alcohol for fuel with a federal permit.

      More here

      http://www.clawhammersupply.com/pages/legal-stuff

  2. The Maj

    NRP, while I do not speak for PJ or the site, I have never really seen PJ attempt to squash opinions on this site unless those opinions happened to be abusive or simply derogatory toward preppers in general. Even then it really has not been a squash but more or less a comment or two while allowing the comment to stand. That is one of the things that makes this site different from other sites.

    As to your comments above, it is your opinion mixed with plenty of facts that I believe every prepper should weigh when dealing with all of their preps. While most preps remain in line with laws and are benign in nature there are plenty of areas that skirt or down right break laws. Distillation of alcohol, prescription drugs (including the substitution of drugs and stockpiling), firearms in some states and even in some cases federal requirements, storage of bulk ammo in some states, and even body armor in some states just to name a few. It is always the responsibility of the prepper to make certain that their preps are not breaking the law or at the minimum they have weighed the consequences of doing so. Of all the areas that I mentioned above the distillation of alcohol even for fuel is probably the easiest to “unknowingly” break and carries some pretty stiff consequences, so in my opinion you were not wrong in pointing that out.

    My biggest concern is the fact that purchasing one of these stills puts you on a list and this list is not like buying a firearm. It is a list that means sooner or later a “G” man is going to show up knocking on your door wanting to inspect said still and make certain you are not breaking the law. If you apply for the fuel permit, it will be sooner not later. The other that you mentioned is that it is not an easy process, which means it will take practice in order to perfect it, which means you WILL have to break the law in order to do so – unless you plan to become a master distiller post SHTF.

    As to the article saying that “wood” is not a mobile fuel, it actually can be and is an option that may fit some preppers better than distilling fuel:

    http://driveonwood.com/sites/default/files/pdf/Keith%20Final%20Report.pdf

    A simple search of “wood gasification vehicle” on Google will give you plenty of examples where wood is utilized as a mobile fuel and efficiently.

    Now, I am not knocking distillation just saying that it is up to each prepper to fully research available technology and decide what fits and what doesn’t fit for them.

    1. PJ

      Great points Maj. I’ve been emailing back and forth with the guy who is assembling the still, I guess he is going to run water through it for the article 🙂 Beyond that, with respect to what he does in his own home and in his own state, it’s really none of my concern.

  3. Echo5Charlie

    I appreciate the article and NRP’s comments. All good stuff to look into more and figure out what works for your situation. Thanks all.

  4. kurt

    My two cents

    I was making biodiesel for farm use in 2003 and decided to make my own alcohol, So I called the ATF to see about getting a permit.
    I wound up talking to a very pleasant lady who wanted to know if I wanted a large permit or a small one? I asked how much I could make with the small permit and she told me 10,000 gallons. I thought that was plenty and had them send the paper work.
    I’m sure I had to write and environmental impact statement which could not have been too bad or I would never have done it.
    And every year I had to fill out a form on how much I had produce and what was lost to evaporation that sort of stuff.

    The permit was free, No G men ever showed up at the door, Their are a lot less ATF agents then we are led to believe by reading post on the internet.

    Later I got a FFL and paid a extra $500 tax each year to produce Select fire weapons and suppressors for several years, And only once Did the ATF show up. I had a couple of thing that weren’t up to par. They told me what I needed to do, to correct the problem .That was the last I ever saw of them.

    Where I’m going with this is that the forces of darkness have already won if people are scared to practice what is still available to us.

    Do I worry about being on a government list. Lets see, I have CDL with a Hazmat endorsement ,General FCC licenses, worked in the middle East four different times, White Christian male. Belong to the GOA, buy guns from FFL dealers and read prepper Blogs.

    I refuse to live in fear by what might happen in the near future.

    Final thought, don;t live your life in fear because what you have read in some blog on the internet, check it out for your self.
    Kurt

    1. NRP

      Kurt.
      I agree with your 2 cents…
      HAHAHA, Darth Vader is among us  but who really gives a flying circus about that.
      Bio-Fuel and Fuel-Alcohol licenses are very easy to obtain and well worth the effort if you have the “stuff” to make the base product, used cooking oil, old motor oil, petroleum gunk, and the likes. And can be actually a get good idea if/when the SHTF. A small 55 gallon barrel size is actually kinda cute. I have several friends that do Bio and do quite well, except for their trucks always smelling like French Fries when they drive by… LOL
      The point I was trying to make I guess was Consumable “Moonshine” Alcohol can be and is rather touchy and not legal for the average Joe to do without the hassle of Licensing (not a Fuel license) and can, can be dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing. Not that I know where it came from, but most of the common “moonshine” that I have tasted and even the store bought “moonshine” taste nasty as heck, admittedly some, and I emphasize “some”, is actually quite good. But they try to sell it for 2-3 times what a good, very good, bottle of Vodka, Scotch or Gin would cost in a store.
      And like yourself I’m sure I’m on a great number of shit list, if you’re not, you been hiding under your bed all your life, ain’t it fun… HAHAHA FYI, never a good idea to call a Fed Agent a Nazi… oops that was a bad one  but we kissed and made up, now we are good friends and he has bailed my ass out more than once with legal stuff.
      And yes I have checked out the Alcohol stuff quite extensively for here in NM. The permit is not overly expensive, and only takes a ½ your blood supply, your fathers favorite boat, your first born and your undivided love for the current government regime, whatever flavor of the week that might be… LOL Also don’t forget to get all the proper “selling/distributors” licenses, EPA license, Food and Drug license, and don’t forget Health Department certificate. And please don’t forget Al-Capone; pay the Income-Tax on it.
      I guess in the total schema of things, I would rather put my efforts into other things in the propping world and leave the 90-proof to the big boys.
      Thanks again for letting me say my piece.
      NRP

  5. kurt

    Talking about dangerous.
    I have a friend who makes several hundred gallons of wine a year, so he runs out of room to store all that wine.
    What does he do, he makes a pot still out of a aluminum pressure cooker and a eight foot peace 1/4 copper tubing.He cooks this on the kitchen range and runs the coil though cold water in the kitchen sink.
    It takes about seven gallons of wine to make one gallon brandy.
    When I go to visit He wants me try some, no thank you. I’m driving.
    Now he has been doing this for several years and has not go blind yet .
    Would I recommend this, not hardly.would I do this in a crunch situation?yes.
    I think the most important prepping skills is the ability to think out side of the box.

    Kurt

    1. NRP

      Kurt
      Al-pressure cooker and 8 feet of copper… HAHAHA . gota love it. The things that go bump in the night….. I would bet you $10 it’s a gas stove with open flame? Opps

      FYI Menthol-A is accumulative not necessary Wham-Bam-Thank-You-Mama. You might suggest to him he pull off the first 50ML (from a 7 gallon batch) and pump it into his gas reserve just for the heck of it.

      Sometimes luck is more valuable that correctness.

      Again I agree with you totally, 1 million %. Knowledge and the ability to “do stuff” is the key thing when it comes to prepping. And it won’t hurt to have a few items lying around the old barn… HAHAHA
      NRP

      Additional note, this cat is fairly good at Distilling Info, from New Zealand where distilling is actually legal for the average Joe. http://homedistiller.org/ In particular check out this page and drop down to the “American” section. http://homedistiller.org/intro/legal

  6. PJ

    Making 1 gallon of booze: Totally illegal.

    Buying tanks of booze and drinking yourself to death: Completely legal.

    Ironic.

    1. NRP

      Thumbs up PJ

      But let’s think about it for one little second, what did my buddy Al Capone get busted for? Tax evasion. Why is the government actually thinking on Taxing Gardens? Again Tax $$$. So yeah your friends (Government) love it when we buy booze at 40-60% Tax, and get darn right nasty if you even think about screwing them out of 35cents in tax on something you make. Honestly does anyone reading this blog really think the Feds give a flying rat’s behind if you go blind/kill or blow yourself up? Hell nooooo, they are all about the money (Tax) flow. FYI my buddy the Fed, he’s been telling me that the G is trying to pass a law that Taxes homegrown Bio-Fuel. How’s that for “Hopeless Change”?

  7. Ranger W

    George Washington made the best selling moonshine in the US while President… somehow managed to not blow up or go blind.

    Having the equipment and distilling a mash into alcohol isn’t illegal, with federal fuel alcohol permit.

    Having untaxed liquor is what could get someone into trouble. I don’t have many feds running around my house currently and they have so many larger concerns than a gallon of moonshine. They can get far more revenue by fining marijuana dispensaries.

    Ever hear that the average person in America commits three felonies a day? Laws are written in sand. Some people might enjoy a miniscule way of sticking it to the man and not paying taxes on some harsh basement-made liquor!

    1. NRP

      Only three? you guys are slacking… LOL

  8. Roger

    To me making your own hard alcohol is like making a homemade (zip?) gun, Why? Unless you’re one of those genius that have more degrees than wall space to hang them on, would you even have the knowledge and materials to do so? Then you have to make ammo. Unless you just can’t get a firearm (convicted felon or resident of Kalifornia), is it really worth risking your life on this? As far as a I know, unopened hard alcohol (whiskey, vodka, etc.) doesn’t go bad and can be used as a antiseptic. Since rubbing alcohol containers have expiration dates I assume that they (even unopened) gradually loose strength, but are still useable long after that date! Is this due to being packaged in plastic bottles? Would repackaging in glass jars increase their shelf life? In the old days, farmers used to make hard alcohols as a way to preserve their crops (and make a little money), many ‘modern’ methods to preserve food didn’t exist. When were commercially-made glass canning jars (Mason) first produced? Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe that the wide spread use of metal cans for food storage didn’t really take off until about WW2. A bushel of grain has (and will have) much more value and calories than 1,2, etc. bottles of whiskey that can be made from that grain! I think that after a SHTF situation, you won’t be driving a full-size vehicle because not only will you not be able to get/afford fuel or replacements parts, but the roads which aren’t that well maintained now will probably get NO maintenance then and will soon be unpassable for most vehicles. Investing in a bike, trike, or quadcycle would IMHO be a much better investment than making (or planning on making) fuel for a metal dinosaur that may be stuck in the yard anyway! As far as distilling water, I have used two tea kettles with five yards of new aquarium tubing between to distill water. You don’t have to boil water to evaporate it, in fact, that happens in nature all the time, where do you think the water for rain and snow comes from? A low amount of heat works well for water that has already been filtered (if needed) and let settle for about 24 hours so most of the sediment will be on the bottom of the container, then poured into the first (the one being heated) kettle. Do not evaporate all the water from the first kettle as you might evaporate unwanted materials and send them to the second kettle. If you’re not very certain about the source of your water, then as an easy additional step, simply remove the plastic tubing from the second kettle (when full) and heat the contents to a boil for about one minute to help eliminate any chemicals with a lower boiling point than water. This method is not perfect, but will eliminate the vast majority of contaminates from your drinking water! Good Luck!

  9. OliviaMcFadden

    It seems to me that they left out a bunch of steps, to be sure. I like this site, BUT a lot of their information provided here is incomplete at best and perhaps dangerous in some instances. What about it OTG? How about a little proofreading/editing and more complete information. Instead of giving us the 6 O’Clock News style of a 2 minute soundbite.

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