This guide will cover how you can set up, run and make professional quality spirits with your Still Spirits T500 Condenser. This guide works for both Stainless Steel and Copper Condensers.
Prior to distillation day with the T500, it’s essential to ensure that you have all the necessary equipment and supplies on hand. You should also make sure that the T500 Still is clean and properly assembled.
To prepare for distillation day, you’ll need to be familiar with making a wash, which is the mixture of ingredients that will be fermented to produce alcohol. You should also have a wash ready to use on the day of distillation with the T500.
A good wash recipe can make all the difference in the quality of your final product, so take some time to research and find a recipe that suits your tastes.
Before turning your still on and getting started, you will need to set up your equipment. The diagram below is explaining what each part does.
B – Water Outlet Temperature Sensor
This sensor measures the temperature of the water leaving the condenser of the T500 still. It is essential for monitoring the temperature of the cooling water.
We recommend adding some putty around the sensor to create a perfect seal. This will result in a more consistent reading and will also help it from being too deep.
C – Cooling Water Inlet
This is where the cooling water enters the T500 still. The cooling water is used to condense the vapour created during the distillation process. You can attach your kitchen tap to the hose using an adapter.
D – Water Outlet
This is where the cooling water exits the T500 still after being used to condense the vapour. The temperature of the water leaving the condenser can be measured with the water outlet temperature sensor (B). This can go down the drain, be used for cleaning or even in your next wash.
E – Spirit Outlet
This is where the distilled alcohol exits the T500 still. The alcohol is collected in a separate container for further processing or consumption. We will give more information on this below.
Running the Still
Once you have correctly assembled the T500 still and boiler, you can add your wash liquid into the boiler and add 3 capfuls of distilling conditioner and ceramic boil enhancers to stop the mix from puking/ also known as over boiling. Ensure you attach the clips from the condenser. Attaching the clips is essential as it prevents any vapour from escaping – this is alcohol you are missing out on!
Turn on both elements and wait for the liquid to heat up, the temperature probe on the condenser should start to rise once the liquid in the boiler rises to around 80 degrees Celsius. It will raise gradually, to begin with, and then will start to pick faster.
Once the temperature probe on the condenser raises to 60 degrees, you can start to turn on the water flow at a slow rate. We are aiming to keep the temperature probe at 50 degrees celsius for the duration of the boil (we can go into more detail on why exactly we target this temperature in a future blog post). It can be really tricky to regulate this as tiny adjustments are needed, if you are not alone in the house and someone has a shower or flushes the toilet it can disrupt the water pressure and change the temperature temporarily.
In order to make this process more reliable you can use a water flow regulator, this will keep the water flow consistent regardless of how your mains water pressure fluctuates. We recommend adding a clothesline peg to the adjustment knob which allows you to make even more precise flow adjustments.
Testing and Collecting the Distillate from the T500 Condenser
As you are adjusting your water flow, you will start to get the first drips of distillate through your spirit out tube. During fermentation, certain by-products are produced that can be extremely harmful. Others recommend throwing away the first 50ml, however, we think that you should completely discard the first 200ml. This first bit of distillate smells like nail varnish and will ruin your whole batch if you include it.
After you discard the first 200ml of distillate, collect the alcohol in 400ml mason jars for blending after the run has finished.
Once your boiler temperature reaches approximately 98 degrees Celsius, it’s best to stop collecting your distillate. This is because the boiling temperature of alcohol is much lower than that of water. If you continue boiling the mixture, you’ll only obtain tiny amounts of alcohol, which is not worth the cost of running the boiler.
Heads, Hearts & Tails
Ideally, you will want to separate the heads, hearts and tails so you can mix them in the right proportions when mixing your drinks. This will ensure tastier liqueurs and fewer unpleasant hangovers. We have a more in-depth post here which explains more of the technical side behind distilling.
The heads are the first portion of the distillate to come out of the still. They are high in volatile compounds, such as methanol and acetone, which can cause headaches and other health issues. The heads usually have a strong and unpleasant smell, and they should be discarded or collected separately from the hearts. You can usually identify the heads by the temperature of the distillate; they typically start to come out at a lower temperature than the hearts.
The hearts are the middle portion of the distillate that contains the desired alcohol. The hearts usually have a pleasant aroma and taste or no smell and taste at all. You can usually identify the hearts by the temperature of the distillate; they typically come out at a consistent temperature after the heads.
The tails are the final portion of the distillate that is lower in alcohol content and higher in impurities/flavours that have passed from the original wash you are washing. The tails usually have a bitter taste and smell, and they can be collected separately for further processing or re-distillation. You can usually identify the tails by the temperature of the distillate; they typically come out at a higher temperature than the hearts.
Methods for Separating Heads, Hearts & Tails
We recommend collecting your distillate in 500ml containers, which will make it easier to identify and separate the heads, hearts, and tails. However, determining the exact point at which the distillate changes from heads to hearts to tails can be a challenging task and will take some trial and error.
Taste: Dip your finger in the distillate and try to taste when it changes. The heads will typically have a harsh, unpleasant taste, while the hearts will have a smooth, pleasant taste, and the tails may have a slightly bitter taste and thicker texture.
Smells: One of the easiest ways to identify the heads, hearts, and tails is by smell. The heads will typically have a sharp, pungent smell, while the hearts will have a more mellow, sweet smell, and the tails may have a slightly bitter or funky smell.
ABV: Another method for identifying the different components is by measuring the ABV (alcohol by volume) of each portion. The heads will typically have a higher ABV than the hearts, while the tails will have a lower ABV.
Temperature: The temperature of the distillate can also be used to identify the different components. The heads will typically come out at a lower temperature than the hearts, while the tails will come out at a higher temperature.
Refractometer: A refractometer is a tool that can be used to measure the sugar content of the distillate. The heads will typically have a higher sugar content than the hearts, while the tails will have a lower sugar content.
After you have decided which flavouring you are going to mix with your spirit, you can start to think about the mixture of heads, hearts and tails you will be adding.
The amount of hearts, tails, and heads to mix when flavouring your distilled spirits will depend on the specific recipe or flavour profile you are trying to achieve. As a general guideline, most home distillers will mix the majority of their hearts with the flavourings, adding small amounts of heads and tails to add complexity to the flavour.
The amount of heads to add should be limited, as they contain high levels of volatile compounds that can overpower the final flavour if too much is used. Most home distillers will add no more than 10-20% heads to the mix, while the tails can be added in slightly larger amounts (up to 30-40%) to add more body and mouthfeel to the final product. Personally, we prefer to bin the heads altogether as they taste rotten, if you do this you will end up with a much higher quality spirit and no hangovers!
Ultimately, the amount of hearts, heads, and tails you use will depend on your personal taste preferences and the specific recipe or flavour profile you are aiming for. It’s a good idea to start with small amounts of each and experiment with different ratios to find the perfect blend for your tastes.
Filtering the Distillate
If you want to take your distillation process to the next level, you can filter your distilled spirits. By filtering your spirits, you can remove any remaining sediment or impurities that may have been missed during the distillation process, resulting in a smoother, more refined final product.
The Still Spirits Filter Pro includes activated carbon in the filter also helps to remove any unpleasant odours or flavours, allowing the true flavours of your spirits to shine through.
Cleaning your T500 Condenser
Regular cleaning of the T500 condenser is essential to maintaining the quality of your distilled spirits and the longevity of your equipment. The condenser is responsible for cooling the vapours produced during the distillation process and converting them back into liquid form, so any buildup of sediment or impurities can negatively affect the taste and purity of your final product. Here are the steps to clean the T500 condenser:
Disassemble the condenser: To start, you’ll need to disassemble the condenser by removing the copper reflux coil and the silicone hoses that connect it to the still. This will allow you to access the inside of the condenser and clean it thoroughly.
Soak in vinegar: Fill a large container with white vinegar and immerse the copper reflux coil in the vinegar, making sure it’s fully submerged. Let it soak for at least 1-2 hours, or longer if there is significant buildup. The vinegar will dissolve any mineral deposits or scale that has accumulated inside the coil.
Scrub and rinse: After soaking, use a soft-bristled brush or cloth to scrub the inside of the coil and remove any remaining sediment. Rinse the coil with warm water to remove any vinegar residue.
Clean the silicone hoses: While the reflux coil is soaking, clean the silicone hoses that connect it to the still. You can use warm water and dish soap, or a solution of water and white vinegar, to clean the hoses thoroughly. Rinse them with warm water and let them dry completely.
Reassemble the condenser: Once everything is clean and dry, reassemble the condenser by attaching the silicone hoses to the reflux coil and then attaching the coil to the still.
By cleaning the condenser regularly, you’ll ensure that your distilled spirits are of the highest quality and that your T500 still lasts for many years.