Arduino Controlled Micro Distillery

Booze, they say, is one of the major factors that shaped human history. And creating new and faster ways of making booze has always been a big engineering problem, so this project by [Goat Industries] is rather interesting. It’s a completely automated micro-distillery called the NanoStillery.

The whole thing can run unattended, but uploads data on the brewing process for remote monitoring and notification. Given that distilling involves explosive things like alcohol vapor, that’s a big plus. It is all home-made, including the boiler assembled from steel plate and an air-cooled condenser. It’s controlled by an Arduino Mega twinned with a couple of Adafruit boards that interface with the various sensors and pumps that control the flow of booze around the system. There is also an Adafruit FONA board that includes a cellular modem that uploads data to a database to monitor the progress and let you know when it is done.

The Instructable even includes the Arduino code that runs the process. It’s an impressive build from an engineering point of view, and the final touch has to be the creepy Cylon voice that the controller uses to narrate the process. There’s a video tour after the break.

If you are curious about the role of booze and other drinks in the development of technology, I recommend you read A History of the World in Six Glasses by Tom Standage, an excellent book that traces the history of civilization through the history of beer, wine, spirits, coffee, tea and cola.

29 thoughts on “Arduino Controlled Micro Distillery

  1. Ob warning: methanol kills (if you are lucky) and blinds (if you are unlucky).

    Improperly functioning stills kill/blind many people each year. Plus a few ignorant student pranks with spiked drinks (traditionally fruit punch) has a similar effect.

    You can’t taste/smell meths, so there is no warning of blindness/death. There’s a reason why meths is coloured purple and is given a foul smell before it is sold.

    1. Bullshit! Normal fermentation at most can produce trace amounts of methanol most of which is thrown away when distilling – not because it would be dangerous but because it have similar evaporation temperature as some complex nasty tasting compounds. Eating an orange would give more methanol than properly distilled alcohol.

      People do get hurt or killed by methanol but that is mostly by accidental use of industrial alcohol or idiots/psychopaths that sell industrial alcohol as ethanol. Improperly functioning stills only produce nasty tasting ethanol.

      BTW meth != methanol. Meth is short for methamphetamine which isn’t an alcohol and isn’t produced by a still – it requires relatively complex chemistry.

      1. “Meth” production does indeed involve complex organic chemistry (but so does ethanol :P), but the practical side is rather simple…simple enough even for a meth head.

        Methanol is definitely present in the distillate, enough to be dangerous… (but it really depends on the feedstock)
        From what I understand, because of it’s lower boiling point, methanol-rich distillate is the first to be done and all serious distillers know they have to throw that part away, then start collecting the rest. Cheap-asses don’t, which is how it gets in the end product…

        1. The boiling points are sufficiently close together that the methanol doesn’t fully separate – it’s just more concentrated in the beginning and tapers off towards the end. It’s not possible to separate with a simple pot still and difficult with a (DIY) column still.

          The heads and tails out of a pot still are actually saved. The first quarter comes out very high proof but contains poisons and off flavors. The middle part goes for collection, and the last third or quarter comes out very watery and full of heavier alcohols and oils which taste peppery and burn in the throat. That’s the “rocket fuel” stuff that makes for the characteristic smell and taste of moonshine – the more you collect the worse it tastes.

          Obviously the heads and tails are higher in ethanol than the wash, so they’re useful if re-distilled. In a commercial operation the heads and tails would be diverted to a second pot where they’re distilled again, but in a single pot moonshining operation they may be recycled with the next batch of wash to save time and fuel. If you have a greedy still operator, they’ll keep recycling and the booze gets worse and worse until it comes out as poison.

      2. and btw I’d have a sore head and RSI if I facepalmed every time someone went batshit about few ppm methanol or acetone etc, and I’m thinking, “Do you eat fruit???”

        1. Granted, and even though we hate disclaimers (Warning: poking angry bear with finger will lead to unintentional evisceration) sometimes it’s best to let potential dangers be known, especially for sites that normally don’t cater to the brewing culture.

      3. Methanol is found in black market liquor comes from two sources, old days revenuers and crusaders spiking the hooch to scare people, or far more common someone found some cheap un-bitrexed wood alcohol(methanol) and wanted to increase the amount of untaxed bootleg alcohol they could sell at a profit by cutting in the meths.
        The fractional methanol poisoning of stove ethanol is a well marked way of preventing abuse/tax free cheep drinking alcohol, it seems crazy that ultra pure USP ethanol pays a liquor tax for lab use but whatever, gotta collect tax.
        I have a friend running a similar setup I built for them with a digispark for logic, a ds18b20 at the steam output, and a relay controlling the immersion heater. Cant wait to steal some code for my kludge auto-still.

        1. The DS18b20 above 85 degrees C, which is right around distillation temperatures, has an error of 2 degrees C instead of its normal .5C. That makes it an incredibly poor choice – that’s roughly 3.6 degrees F error.

    2. The still does not create methanol. Your mash does, if you’re doing it wrong. The blame is put on the still, but really the methanol is already in the drink you put into it, and the reason it kills/blinds is because people drink or bottle and then drink the alcohol directly off the still and end up drinking the concentrated methanol.

      The fundamental problem with moonshine and methanol is that people who make moonshine often use cheap surplus fruit and berries, which contain pectin, which ferments into methanol. Contributing factors are unsanitary conditions and contamination by wild yeast strains, mold and bacteria, high fermenting temperature, and attempting to get high proof from the mash (>12% ABV) to get a better yield out of the still. All farily typical for when you’re trying to make mash somewhere hidden from the law.

      Grain based mashes don’t usually produce any appreciable amounts of methanol, and the foreshots are mostly just other unpalatable substances like acetone. Same goes for mashes made from plain sugar, molasses, potatoes, corn, rice, or other converted starches.

      It’s possible to degrade pectin from the mash with an enzyme (pectin lyase) to break it down without producing methanol before fermentation. However, it seems that it produces off flavors and weird volatiles, so it’s better to just make your whiskey out of something else. Yet, if you do want to distilll stuff like applejack, distill the entire batch and mix it all together to dilute the residual methanol. You’ll get a bad hangover but at least you won’t die.

      1. Denatured alcohol doesn’t contain methanol anymore so much, because hobos drink it anyways and then they die, and the methanol content presents a safety hazard for legitimate uses as well because people are exposed to the fumes.

        They add stuff that make you vomit and sweat cat piss instead. In the EU it’s isopropanol, MEK and denatonium benzoate. Isopropanol gets metabolized into acetone which makes the person nauseous and sleepy, and MEK is irritating to the eyes and lungs, and denatonium benzoate just tastes incredibly bitter.

        In the US during prohibition, the federal government specifically required methanol to be added to industrial ethanol -because- it was poisonous and deadly to drink. Just shows the difference in attitudes.

        1. Yah, just reading that. I wonder if brits will still keep calling it meths though.

          Funnily enough the purple color of it in UK which I guess was intended to make it look unappetizing is about the same as grape koolaid :-D

        2. US uses acetylaldehyde which smells like rotten fruit. I think methanol is still added, but I haven’t read the ingredients lately. and the TTB have a whole list of federally approved denaturants for those really interested.

    3. Ob. warning for those that actually care about the facts. Methanol only comes from pectin, grapes and berries. If you distill from grain or sugar, the methanol will be insignificant. Even when distilling grapes there is very little after the ‘head’ that usually tastes bad due to other esters distilled out. For the life of me I can’t understand why every time distilling comes up people start harping on about methanol. Government conspiracy run to keep the taxes coming in anyone. :)

  2. I think that voice would risk getting disabled the first time I used it. It’s cool for the process, but ‘The distillation process has completed’ needs a FAR longer time between repeats. Or I’d tune it out completely as the guy who built it appears to have.

    This may be why none of my projects have voice synthesis, and the only sfx I’ve willingly helped someone with has been an R2 build. Yet, I used to do a lot of amateur messing with voice recognition and such, and some speech synthesis.

    I’m really impressed by this. Thinking on the history of it, and how much has had to come together to produce the ability to make this, especially in the limited volume.

  3. Has anyone tried (partial) vacuum distillation?
    In theory, a lower pressure gives a lower boiling point, and a higher (relative) difference between methanol / ethanol. Peltier devices and thermal insulation to cool the distillate.

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