Well it's all falling into place! My first still has been built, and I have my first run under my belt. Granted, it's just a cleaning run, but my first all bran is finishing up in my bathroom right now, and should be ready to run next week sometime. I am an utter and complete newbie. I just wanted to make that clear before I come along and start handing out advice. With that out of the way, I wanted to list a few things that would have made my life much easier, if I had know them when I first visited the HD forum. My hope is that this information will make life easier for a few more rookies somewhere down the road.
It might be a little long winded, so please bare with me.
#1. Read, read, read.....Then read some more- This was by far the biggest challenge for me to overcome. I was looking for a hobby that I could pick up over the course of a weekend, and be up and running with. What I found, was a hobby that required months of research before I ever mixed my first ferment. Sure, I suppose it is possibly to be up and running in just a few days, but I can say with 100% certainty, that if I had attempted to do so, I would have build an inferior still, making inferior and more importantly potentially hazardous product. Now, I will certainly be making an inferior product for quite some time, when compared to others around here, but now I know that what I'm making is safe. My technique will only improve with time.
It only took a few minutes of browsing the novice distillers section of the forum, to notice that "read the parent site" was by far the most commonly given bit of advice. Reluctantly, I clicked on the link, hoping for a simple set of 1, 2, 3 instructions that would have me churning out whiskey by tomorrow afternoon. What I found was a bunch of technical speak, most of which I didn't understand. Not wanting to ask what some people might consider "stupid questions", I went back and researched the forum, looking for answers to the material I didn't understand. Slowly but surely, the pieces of the puzzle started to fall into place. I began a vicious circle of reading the parent site, searching the forum, reading the parent site and searching the forum. Eventually I began to feel like I had a decent understanding of how distillation worked.
A quick side note about the "read the parent site" advice. It can be a little frustrating when you ask a question, and rather than answer it, someone directs you to reading material. This is not because they don't care, or are too lazt to answer your question. It just that the type of question you ask says a lot about your level of understanding. Don't just read the parent site, read and re-read it until you have a basic understanding. If you have a question, try searching the forum first. Odds are, the answer is already posted here somewhere. If you can't find the answer anywhere, feel free to ask! There are many members here who are willing to give help and advice to the new guys like us. All they ask in return is that you do your homework before asking questions.
#2. Build your own still, if at all possible- Again, this was another common bit of advice that didn't sit well with my "I want it NOW" mindset. I came across many different website selling distilling equipment prior to checking out this forum. While there are some legit distilling suppliers out there, I didn't learn until after reading the forum that some of them sell a substandard product, while others are outright scams. Luckily a lack of funds forced me to postpone the purchase of a shiny new still, so I resorted to reading the forum some more.
I was very hesitant to build my own still. I have zero metalworking experience, and it all seemed a little too technical for me. I figured it couldn't hurt to throw a few ads up on criagslist looking for supplies (a 15 gallon keg, copper pipe, etc.). Before I knew it, I had people responding to me with most of the parts I needed. On a side note, I would make a point not to post a "I am trying to build a still, I need the following supplies" type of ad, for what should be obvious reasons.
Making a whiskey type of spirit was my original intention, so a pot still was the obvious choice. Soldering was completely foreign to me, but after a little research, I figured I would give it a shot. Guess what? It's not rocket science!! Sure, my work might not be as pretty as some of the other folks around here, but it's functional, which is all I can ask of my first outing. And while it's nice to see a still of your own design trickling out distillate, whats more impoartant is the fact that I now understand how my still is built and how it operates. Also, if I decide somewhere down the road that I want to modify or improve on my design, it makes doing so infinitely easier!
#3. Stay away from turbo yeast- I can't speak from experience on this one, as I have never tried using one. While they are readily available from many brew shops, and they make some pretty incredible claims on the packaging, the general consensus around here seems to be that a.) there are much more readily available products that will work just fine, and b.) while they may increase the amount of alcohol in each ferment, they typically produce some unwanted flavors in your end product.
#4. Take the advice that you're given-Okay, this may go hand-in-hand with #1, but it's just as important. The amount of knowledge here at HD continues to amaze me! If after reading/and searching, you are still left with questions (and odds are you will be) feel free to ask away. But just be prepared to heed the advice that people offer you. There's a damn good reason for it. I searched for answers to many of my questions, thinking that I already knew the answer but just wanting to make sure before I proceeded to the next step. Many times, I found that I was wrong. Aluminum is cheaper and more readily available than stainless steel, but we don't use it because it can taint the final product, and it can weaken over time, leading to a potentially dangerous catastrophic failure in the middle of a run. Brass is also cheaper than stainless when it comes to connectors, but it can leech lead into your distillate. I would probably have made both of these mistakes if I hadn't done my homework before starting my build. There's the easy way, and the right way, and in some cases when it comes to distilling, taking the easy way can end up with us giving potentially dangerous alcohol to our friends and family, or even worse, blowing up our garage or stilling area!
That's about it for right now. I life would have been much easier if I understood these few key points before getting started. I may go back and add a few more things if anything else occurs to me. Feel free to chime in with what you wish you had know before you started!
Daddy made whiskey and he made it well
Cost two dollars and it burned like hell