How to make a reflux still from a beer keg

Written by michelle labbe
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How to make a reflux still from a beer keg
Reflux stills produce pure, high-alcohol liquors. (glass of liquor and ice image by Elke Dennis from Fotolia.com)

For the aspiring home-brewer, building your own reflux still to make alcohol is a relatively simple option. Reflux stills are best for making gin or vodka or other clean, neutral-tasting liquors that you can add your own flavouring to. The reflux column is designed to condense some of the vapour back into a liquid, which drips back down the column and washes out excess water and impurities in the alcohol. Recycling an old beer keg to use as the boiler helps keep down the cost of materials.

Skill level:
Moderate

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Things you need

  • Copper pipe, 5 cm (2 inch) diameter
  • Brass tube joins, 5 cm (2 inch) diameter
  • Stainless steel tube socket, 5 cm (2 inch) diameter
  • Welder
  • Soldering iron
  • Stainless steel beer keg
  • Two 1380-watt elements
  • Chassis punch, 3.1 cm (1 1/4 inch)
  • Aluminium nuts
  • Insulated wires
  • Stainless steel rod, 6.8 cm (2 3/4 inches) long
  • Copper T-section, 5 cm (2 inch) diameter
  • Copper tube cap, 5 cm (2 inch) diameter
  • Copper elbow-section, 5 cm (2 inch) diameter
  • Copper tubing, 9 cm (3/8 inch) diameter
  • Compression fittings, 9 cm (3/8 inch) diameter
  • Needle valve
  • Copper pipe, 4.5 (3/16 inch) diameter
  • Clear PVC tubing, 13.1 cm (5 1/4 inches) long
  • Rubber insulation, 1.2 cm (1/2 inch) wide
  • Velcro straps
  • Stainless steel scrubbers

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Instructions

  1. 1

    Assemble the main column of the still. Solder the brass tube to the top and bottom of a 125 cm (50 inch) long section of the 5 cm (2 inch) copper pipe. Weld the stainless steel socket to the top of the beer keg, and fit the brass tube and pope to the socket to install the column.

  2. 2

    Prepare the keg for use as a boiler. Make sure your keg is stainless steel and can hold a high volume of liquid, at least 60 litres (13 gallons). Use the chassis punch to make two holes into the wall of the keg. Attach the two 1380-watt elements in place at each hole. Secure with the nuts and connect the elements to a set of insulated wires to hook up to your power source. Attach the stainless steel rod over the underside of the hole in the lid of the keg where the socket is welded.

  3. 3

    Assemble the head of the column out of copper pipe. Attach a 5 cm (2 inch) section of pipe above and below a T-section joint. Solder a brass tube join to the bottom section of pipe. This will screw on to the top of the column. Place a 5 cm (2 inch) tube cap on the top section of pipe and fit a 9 mm (3/8 inch) copper tube on top, attached to two compression fittings joined by an adaptor. Connect another 5 cm (2 inch) section of pipe horizontally from the T-joint, and connect an elbow-joint to the other end. Fit a 37.5 cm (15 inch) length of copper pipe to the other side of the elbow joint. Solder 5 cm (2 inches) of 9 mm (3/8 inch) copper tube through the elbow-joint for support, and attach another compression fitting and a needle-valve to the end of that.

  4. 4

    Wind the condenser coil out of 5 mm (3/15 inch) copper pipe. Wind into a series of tight circles coming down to a perpendicular loop at the end and wrap the pipe back up around itself to the top. Wind until the condenser coil is as long as the condenser pipe, the 27.5 cm (15 inch) vertical section of copper pipe connected to the elbow joint. Connect the clear PVC tube to and from the condenser coil with compression fittings.

  5. 5

    Slide the insulation over the column assembly. Cut the insulation to fit it around the assembly if necessary. Strap Velcro around the column to hold condenser hoses in place. Fill the column with stainless steel scrubbers.

Tips and warnings

  • Use a stainless steel keg. Do not use aluminium materials when making an alcohol still. Aluminium will react with the alcohol to give off a poison.

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