How Does a Still Work?

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A still is one of the essential tools in a distiller’s toolbox. It is a piece of equipment that separates the alcohol from the water in a liquid mixture. It’s the key to making high-quality distilled spirits and other alcohol. So, how does a still work, and how is it used?

How Does a Still Work?

A still works by heating a liquid mixture to its boiling point. The vapors produced during this process rise into the still, where they are condensed and collected. The still essence, alcohol-rich vapor, is then collected and cooled to create a distilled spirit or other alcohol.

The coil at the top of the still is called the condenser. The vapors that rise from the boiling liquid pass through the condenser, where they are cooled and condensed into a liquid. The condensed vapors are collected in the receiver, and the alcohol is separated from the water.

A man wearing a brown jacket, and black shirt is checking the metal still in a brewery

Different Types of Stills

There are different types of stills with different purposes. The one you use depends on what you’re trying to make. For example, you don’t want to use a beer still to make vodka. The following are some of the most common types of stills:

Pot Still

This was the first type still used for distilling alcohol and is still the most popular type used today. It’s simple to operate and uses materials like copper, which are good conductors of heat.

Pot stills work by heating the liquid until the alcohol boils and turns into vapor. This vapor is then condensed back into a liquid form. The condensed liquid is known as the “distillate.” The distillate is what you’re after when you’re distilling alcohol. It is what contains the alcohol content.

The main advantage of a pot still is that it can make a variety of spirits, including whisky, brandy, and rum. If you want to make a lot of alcohol, though, you’ll need a larger pot still. This is because pot stills only have a low alcohol yield.

Reflux Still

Reflux still contains a reflux condenser separated from the main condenser. This allows for more efficient distillation as the vapor is condensed and re-distilled. Before the vapor reaches the main condenser, it passes through the reflux condenser, where some impurities and water are removed.

The vapor that reaches the main condenser has a higher concentration of alcohol, which means that you’ll get a higher yield of alcohol when using a reflux still. Most impurities and water have been removed, so the final product is also of higher quality.

Turbo Air Still

This type of still uses a compressor to force air through the liquid, which speeds up the distillation process. In simple terms, it uses air to distill the alcohol. It contains a mounted fan at the top of the still, which pulls in air from outside.

Since it is the same as a pot still, turbo air still vapor also contains impurities and other compounds. To remove these, the vapor is passed through a series of filters before it reaches the main condenser. This helps to produce a higher quality product.

Big metal stills lined up with blue pails on the clean floor inside a brewery

The air still requires less energy to operate than a pot still and can distill alcohol much faster. It also needs the best yeast quality to function correctly. The advantage of this type of still is that it can be used to produce a variety of spirits, including whisky, brandy, and rum.

Things to Keep In Mind When Using a Still

You need to be aware of some things when using a still, especially if you’re new to distilling. Here are some of the things you need to keep in mind:

  • The still needs a good conductor of heat like copper
  • The pot should be big enough to hold the amount of liquid you want to distill
  • You need to have a good source of heat. This will usually be a stove or an open flame
  • You need to have a way to condense the vapor back into a liquid. This is usually done with a coil of copper tubing

Frequently Asked Questions

How Does a Still Make Alcohol?

A still works by separating the alcohol from the water through distillation. The still heats the liquid until the alcohol boils and turns into vapor. This vapor is then condensed back into a liquid form to make alcohol.

What Can You Make With a Still?

You can use a still to make a variety of spirits, including whisky, brandy, and rum. You can also use it to distill water to remove impurities.


Having a still as part of your home brewing equipment is a great way to make your spirits at home. It’s simple to operate and can be made from readily available materials. Follow the instructions carefully and take all the necessary precautions to ensure your safety while distilling.