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Hiya from Niagara region, Canada 🍁

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Just starting out.  Due to my circumstances, I'll be limited to an air still.  Bought one and have done two 2-bottle test runs with some white whine.  Second one turned out not too bad (much more neutral).  Learning as I go.

Made up a basic 25L sugar wash and, 3/4 through the first set of 4L runs, the still crapped out.  The company will replace so that's fine but (sigh).  But, after cutting the first 250ml of each run, it came out tasting not too bad as far as its neutrality goes.  I'm going to try taking all the tops and tails and doing a second run with just those (with big cuts) just to see what I get.

My long term goal will be to try to make my own gin but working out how to do so in a cost-effective manner.  Because of the air still and this brand's lack of a suspended basket mechanism, I think I'll be force to do the long-soak (correct me if I'm wrong) which is fine.  No panic, right?  I understand that there is one method of quicker distilling that leaves the botanicals in the wash so if anybody has experience with that and air stills, let me know.

I'm also going to try a simple rum (girlfriend's preference) eventually.

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Those little air stills are pretty much useless for making any real amount of spirit worth drinking IMHO. They are just to small, period.

It's a math problem.  For example a 10% boiler charge filled 3/4 full will produce about 1/4 a gallon at 25% give or take.  So your first 3 runs are just to concentrate your alcohol.

Now your 4th run to try and make some drinkable spirit starts off with about 3/4 gallon of 25%.  You'll collect this into a few different containers so you can try and separate the good jars from the bad jars.  It's slow and I doubt you'll want to stay close to change jars every 100 ml or so.  But even if you did you'll likely have to discard the first 1/4 of the run and the last 1/4 of the run keeping the center 50%.  Now you produced probably something like 1/5 of a gallon of spirits and you keep half of that or 1/10th gallon after 4 runs through the airstill.

You would likely need to do about 5 steps of distillation to get something clean enough to be close enough to consider it a "home made" vodka in order to use it as a base for gin/Geneva (from a home perspective).  But at this point you've only done 2 distillations and only have 1/10th of a gallon.

The problem with small stills like this is that it's like riding a bike or walking up a hill.  Going up the hill is the heads portion.  When you get to the top there is a bit of level ground (hearts) then the backside of the hill (tails).  With this super small still as soon as you reach the top you start back down the backside.

Ideally you only want the flat ground (hearts) to use for the next distillation step and will reprocess the front and backside to get more hearts later.

With a bigger still you can compress the front and backside a bit and get more level ground (hearts).  Not only that but if you had a 5 gallon pot still you could fill it about 4 gallons full vs 3/4 gallon on your air still.  That's about 5 1/3 more charge (fluid in the boiler) to work with.  So now that you have more of the level ground will be approximately 5.5 times longer making it easier to identify the level ground (hearts).  A 10 gallon still would be a bit better than twice as good as the 5 gallon still, etc...  The bigger the home still to a point the easier it is to make decent spirits.

I don't mean to crush your dreams but you would be best off trying to sell the airstill on ebay for $80 or so and take that money to Walmart and purchase a stainless steel 5 gallon pot and lid, a 5 gallon plastic buck and a 20-25 foot roll of 3/8 copper refrig copper water line.  You can find a bunch of videos on youtube how to make a still and worm from those main components plus a few misc components.  If you just want to purchase something I can point you to a good/decent Chinese heavy duty 5 gallon pot still that is one of my favorite stove top stills and can be used to make beer as well or heat up strike water for your mash or washes for $150 or so.

If you had a 5 gallon pot still you could load it up about 4 gallons full. 4 Gallons of 10% = 0.4 gallons of pure spirit available in 1/2 the time to boot.  However if you strip that 4 gallons and do this 3 times you'll have enough to fill the pot still again this time with 25% or so ABV for a spirit run.  4 gallons of 25% = 1 gallon of pure spirit potential in less distillation time.  See where I'm going with this?

Assuming you keep half of this (hearts) then you'll set aside about 25% heads (uphill) and 25% tails (downhill) for another spirit run and reprocess this later.  You now have roughly 1/2 gallon of pure spirits from the 2nd distillation/spirit run on a pot still.  You probably have one long day or a weekend at this point to get this.

Repeat this process the next weekend again but this time add in your "discarded feints" (heads/tails) during the strip runs. Take your 3 strip runs and do a spirit run again from this.  You'll end up with more spirit this week then the first week due to the feints you added.  You'll also set aside this weeks feints so you can reprocess them again.

Combine the two batches (last week and this week), dilute to 40% and run it again.  Take only the clean middle cut you get from this run, Set aside the heads/tails for reprocess again later (never goes to waist so don't be greedy and only take the clean middle portion).

You now have a decent amount of high proof spirits in the range of 70 to 80%. Filter this through carbon a few times to clean it up and you can make a lot of things from it like vodka, gin, aqua vitea, apple pie moonshine, limoncello, etc.

Point being the 5 gallon still on your stove will run as fast or faster then your airstill, produce far more and give you better control.  You can use 5 gallon plastic buckets to ferment in (one bucket per strip run) or just pickup a 20 gallon brute trashcan to ferment in.

The 5 gallon buckets are easy enough to hide in closets while fermenting and the 5 gallon pot still can be broken down when not in use and stored as normal pot under the sink when not in use.  If anyone sees it or asks about it you distill water. :)

I'm sure most of the people here on this forum wouldn't consider what you make "vodka" as it was never distilled to 190+ proof but that's only a government rule/method to ensure the spirit is at least clean enough to be called neutral.  You can produce just as good final product distilling at 160 to 170 proof and carbon filtering a few times at the home level.

But realistically you need a bigger boiler charge to start with to have a fighting chance of making something decent/passable and I'd suggest at least a 5 gallon pot  (bigger is better/easier) you can run on a stove.

PS at the home level depending on the spirits being made you can use freeze distillation to your advantage.  Clear out a shelf in the freezer and fill 2 or 3 gallon plastic soda bottles with wash after ferment. Stick them in the freezer or outside if freezing and let them freeze.  Now flip upside to drain in a bucket or glass.  The liquor will come out first with ice and ice crystals remaining the bottle.  Yeast and other sediment will also be trapped in the ice/bottom.  If you do this 2 or 3 times you can easily raise your 10% ferment to 25% or 30% without ever running your still replacing the strip run (airstill or 5 gallon pot still).

At the home level I do this quite often using 5 gallon plastic carboys in the winter.  I just set them outside to freeze.  I took the lid of a 5 gallon bucket and drilled a hole in it so I can flip the carboy upside down to drain in it.  Same with other lids for 2 and 3 liter soda bottles, just smaller holes to accommodate the soda bottles.  I can drain 4 bottle into a bucket the same way (using the freezer in summer).  Sometimes it's easy to strip using a still, sometimes it's easier to freeze distill depending on what's going on in life.  It doesn't take long to take 4 3 liter bottles from the freezer and flip them upside down on a 5 gallon bucket then check them in 30 minutes or so to know when only ice is left (water).

Back in the colonial days, NJ was known for the Hard cider or Apple Jack.  They took 6 to 8% ferments of apples, stored them in barrels and let it freeze outside in the winter.  They would lift out the ice that formed (frozen water) and repeat the process during the winter.  By spring they had 30 to 35% hard apple jack..  Of course it was never distilled so all the compounds that give you a headache/hangover were never removed (actually concentrated) so you could feel like you had "apple pausie" the next day (wicked hangover) if you drank a lot of it.  But this is a cool way to avoid strip runs on home spirits, just take a generous foreshot/heads cut to remove those "headache" producing spirits and skip the strip runs on the still.

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