Hello and welcome to Open Source Distilling, where time-honored traditions meet modern day technology. This website is dedicated to creating the worlds’ first open source software to be run on home stills. I understand that distilling has its roots in long-standing traditions and many distilleries pride themselves on the history of their craft. The intention of the project is not to completely remove the human element from distilling (although that may be the logical conclusion of the project), but about providing ways to bring distilling into the modern day world and leverage technology to make better spirits. For example, I think a lot of us don’t want to sit in front of a still for 30 minutes waiting for it to come up to temperature at the beginning of a distilling day. I personally would like to have an audible alarm and email/text message alerting me that I need to take action and adjust the power input on the still as it reaches the required temperature. I am very excited to add temperature probes to my reflux column and see how the temperature gradient changes with different initial boiler purity, varying condenser flow, and power input.
My Experience and Equipment
I’ve been an all-grain homebrewer for close to 15 years, and have been obsessed with home distilling for at least 5 years. In the homebrew world, there are many neat gadgets that assist with fermenting and brewing beer. For example, BrewPi and The Grandfather. Both of these products offer remote monitoring capabilities and the BrewPi project is also open source.
There are commercial examples of fully automated stills such as iStill and Geoni. My vision is to take some of the functionality available at the commercial level and bring it to the home distillers. Given the available technology, I believe that the Raspberry Pi is a good fit for the brain of the project. Easily accessible to anyone for a reasonable price, has built-in wifi and remote control capabilities, and can be powered by a common cell phone charger. It features a large number of general purpose input output (GPIO) pins that can connect to high-quality breakout boards featuring laboratory grade integrated circuits for low prices.
My day job is in computer consulting but I am new to the world programming. All code will be written in Python which has been a rising star in popularity recently. I feel it’s a great programming language for beginners and I have already done some work with Python on the Raspberry Pi and the MAX31865 chip (RTD-to-Digital Converter) and control a stepper motor attached to a needle valve video clip here.
I do all my distilling in an apartment. My spirit still is a 2″ nixon-stone reflux still (pic below). I do strip runs on a stainless steel 18″ column, and spirit runs on a 52″ copper column currently packed with stainless steel Russian Spiral Prismatic Packing. I have a sanke keg with some half couplings welded in. It’s electric powered and attached to a home built power controller that is hooked up to a GFIC and a 3125-watt element. There is also a drain and a secondary 1500 watt 120-volt element installed in the boiler. I have been mostly making vodka for the past few years but have been recently using my AirStill to make gin, which I modified with a dimmer switch from Home Depot to turn down the element while keeping the fan at 100% power. Adjusting the power allows me to stretch out the AirStill runs over 6 hours or more to get better cuts. I’ve made a brandy or two along the way and have been playing around with macerations as well. A four-liter boiler charge in the AirStill yields about three to four 750 ml bottles of final product. It’s also small enough that you can charge the boiler with one liter of macerated gin and yield a single 750 ml bottle. The AirStill’s size is perfect for the home hobbyist playing around with different recipes.
While the main focus of the website is home distillation automation, there will be long periods of time between live test runs (hopefully some of you can help test on your equipment). I will be posting about other alcohol-related subjects along the way that have no reference to automation. My Youtube videos are color-coded to reflect the subject of the video. Visit my Welcome page for my info.
I hope you will join me on my project and contribute in any way you can. I’m excited to embark on this journey with you.
Joey Joe Joe Jr.