The 5 Best Alembic Stills (For Making Alcohol)

An alembic still is a type of pot still used in the production of distilled beverages.

The features of the alembic still resemble a huge onion shape, which enables an easy release of vapor from the mixture. The alembic still is made up of three parts: the alembic pot, a swan neck lid, and a condensing unit

Alembics are great beginner stills for anyone interested in learning the basics of distilling. They are great for making whiskey, rum, tequila, and brandy if you’re into alcohol. Otherwise, they can be used to make essential oils or hydrosols too.

What is an alembic still?

It was originally used by the Arabs, who called it al-ambiq, meaning “the still”. The name alembic comes from the Arabic word for “distilling vessel”, which is related to the Greek word ambix, meaning “cup”.

However, it is also thought that the Egyptians were the first inventors of the alembic still. According to a journalist, Fred Minnick, in his book titled ‘Whiskey Women: The untold story of how women saved bourbon, scotch, and Irish whiskey ‘ shares factual claims that the Egyptian women were the first inventors of the alembic still. 

In contrast, other sources claim that the Saracena alchemists were the first to conduct scientific experiments on distillation using the alembic still for Muslim alchemists such as Jabir-bin Hayyan in the middle ages. 

Regardless of the source of the invention of the alembic- the copper alembic is still very much in use today. The modern models aim to stay authentic to their original descendants by recreating the shape and features.

This reason alone is the main reason why using the alembic is best, for its long-lasting history, its tradition, and impressive period of preservation which has only been developed and perfected. 

This article explains what exactly is an Alembic still and how they work.

What’s the difference between an alembic still and a pot still?

Semantics and personal options – that’s all. An alembic still is a type of pot still.

Some say that they are one in the same, and use the term alembic and pot still interchangeably.

We however consider an alembic still to look and operate as a traditional alembic still would. That is;

  • Be primarily of copper construction
  • Have a traditional ‘onion head’.
  • Condense product directly off the line arm. i.e. no thumper or secondary distillation.

What to consider when buying an alembic still?

There are precautions to consider when planning to purchase an alembic still. 

Robin Goldsmith highlights that although alembic offers functionality, style, and a sense of nostalgia, there are cautionary precautions to consider as possible risk factors are likely to occur during the procedure. 

This includes the risk of fire which is in very close contact with flammable liquid such as ethanol. Any obstruction in the tubing can result in a build-up of pressure which risks the busting of the still. 

It is noted that vapors need safe and easy access to exchange and exit from the still. The real risk of over-boiling liquids is an explosion. Therefore, monitoring of the distillation process is highly recommended, otherwise, operators risk burning themselves.

Although the modern versions of the alembic stills are advanced by installing a heating system that operates via steam jackets and steam-heated serpentine coils to reduce the likelihood of burning associated with direct heating stills.  

Despite advances in steam heating, some distillers still choose to use direct heat as they believe it enables the slight risk of burning essential flavors to the character of their distillate. 

What products do Alembic still produce?

  • Alcohol products; whiskey, rum, brandy, bourbon, cognac, and vodka
  • Essential oils; peppermint oil, tea tree oil, lavender oil, etc
  • Perfume (aromatic fragrance)
  • Rosewater (Flavored distilled water)
  • Plant extraction

How Does An Alembic Still Work?

The pot is filled with water and heated to boiling point. As the steam rises from the boiling water, it passes through the tube into the condenser where it cools down and turns back into liquid form. The condensed liquid drips down into a collection jar.

Parts Of An Alembic Still

An alembic still is made up of four parts; the retort pot, onion head, lyne arm, and condenser. Here’s an explanation of the parts below.

1. Retort Pot

A cylindrical or cauldron-like pot with a narrow mouth. It holds the raw materials (such as mash) that will be distilled, and it’s connected to an onion head. The retort pot is heated by a flame or, in some designs, steam.

2. Onion Head

The onion head sits on top of the pot. It has a pipe similar to a swan’s neck (lyne arm) which extends from the top and leads to a condenser. The onion head allows for easy release of alcohol and quality flavors to pass through as vapor.

3. Lyne Arm

A curved pipe that connects the onion head to the condenser. This is where vapors flow as they head to the condenser. 

4. Condenser

An instrument that cools vapors by removing heat from them. It often takes the form of coils of tubing, and the tubes are placed inside a container filled with water. As the vapors flow in the tube, they get cooled by the water surrounding the coils. 

Our Five best alembic stills in 2022

Alright, so (like us) you probably want to skip the history lesson, and get straight into making your own hooch. The following 5 products are ones we’ve used and recommend as a beginner getting into distilling.

1. The T500 Turbo Still – By Still Spirits

The T500 Turbo Still (by Still Sprits) has become the go-to choice for novice distillers around the world, looking to better their craft – and for obvious reasons too.

This still is often sold with the reflux column head, but did you know they sell a copper alembic head too?

We love the T500 because it just works. It has a generous 20L+ boiler, and an efficient shotgun condenser which means you can really crank up the cooling.

However, before you bite the bullet and get one for yourself, it’s worth understating exactly what the T500 Turbo Still can and cannot do.

We’ve written a complete unboxing and review of the T500 here which you can check out if you’d like more information

Sale
Still Spirits T-500 Boiler and Condenser Complete System
  • INNOVATIVE DESIGN: Designed and assembled to be the world's most advanced fractionating column perfect for home use
  • GREAT VALUE: You can save more money over time with this highly efficient system that accommodates large volumes.
  • HIGH QUALITY: A sturdy stainless steel body combined with a faucet adaptor for ease of water flow adjustment. SAFE and EASY to OPERATE: Safe and easy to use which is ideal for the new distiller.
  • EFFICIENT and FAST: Fast enough that it only takes half the time of the Turbo Air Still to do the same volume.

2. Alchemade 20L Premium Copper Alembic

The  Premium copper alembic still is best used to produce alcohol like bourbon, vodka, Irish whiskey, Scotch whiskey, Tennessee whiskey, rum, etc.

Essential oils such as peppermint oil, tea tree oil, and Cypress oil are products that can be purely distilled by the alembic still.

Features A Complete Alembic Pot Still, Fully Equipped With A Copper Pot, Soldered Union Construction, A Swan Neck Lid, and A Condensing Recipient With A Serpentine Coil.
Capacity 5 Gallon
Heat Source  Installed serpentine coil heating source 
Material  Handcrafted alembic still uses copper, brass, and 100% lead-free tin or silver. Copper weigh ( 20 gauge used for belly and onion and 21 gauge used for condenser)
Quality High Quality Alchemade product
20L Premium Copper Alembic Still for Whiskey, Moonshine, Essential Oils, Hydrosols, etc.
  • ALEMBIC STILL: A Complete Alembic Pot Still, Fully Equipped With A Copper Pot, Soldered Union Construction, A Swan Neck Lid And A Condensing Recipient With A Serpentine Coil.
  • HANDCRAFTED: These Copper Stills Are Meticulously Handcrafted To Stand The Test Of Time. All parts Of The Alembic Still Are Soldered To Ensure A Perfect Seal Using Copper, Brass, 100% Lead-Free Tin Or Silver And Meet All Food Safe Standards.
  • BETTER THAN STAINLESS: Preferred Over Stainless Steel Stills For Its Natural Ability To Remove Sulfides From The Distillate, Resulting In A Better Tasting And Smelling Final Product.
  • QUALITY: We Stand By The Quality Of Our Products And Customer Satisfaction.

3. Moscow-Mix Copper Moonshine Still

Another good option. This is a larger still with 5-gallon boiler meaning you can distill a full batch of beer if using a homebrewing mashing system.

The Moscow-Mix Copper Moonshine alembic still is made of pure copper material which allows for the removal of sulfides easily.

Features  A complete kit, a pot belly, onion shape neck, condenser, and attached thermometer
Capacity 5 Gallon
Heat source  Installed serpentine coils 
Material Pure copper
Quality Handcrafted and Hand hammered with high-quality material
Copper Moonshine Still 5 Gallon - Copper Stills for Distilling Moonshine - Home Brewing Kit
  • COMPLETE COPPER MOONSHINE STILL KIT - Moscow-Mix Alembic Still is made of Food Grade Copper. This is a complete kit with an Onion Head, Pot Belly and Condenser. All the items are made of Pure Copper.
  • STRESS FREE THERMOMETER - The kit comes with an Easy Detachable/Replaceable Thermometer. Attached to the Onion/Swan Head with easy assembly. It's completely stress free to remove and replace it.
  • HANDCRAFTED & HAND-HAMMERED - This kit is beautifully crafted by our experienced artisans. The hammered surface provides extra strength to the surface.
  • BETTER THAN STAINLESS: Preferred Over Stainless Steel Stills For Its Natural Ability To Remove Sulfides From The Distillate, Resulting In A Better Tasting And Smelling Final Product.
  • MULTIPURPOSE & VERSATILE - Suitable for distilling fruit wine, water, brandy, plant extracting, etc. Friendly to both beginners and professionals.

4. Italian Copper 1L Still 

This beautiful copper still is manufactured in Italy and designed to distill products such as pure water, essential oils, and Italian liqueurs. 

Weight 6.5 kg
Material 100% pure copper
Quality high quality, handcrafted in Italty
Features Includes Pot Belly, onion neck, and condenser 

5. Bottega del Rame- Copper Alembic Quart

This Italian handmade alembic still is ideally used to distill liquids and can be used during the extraction of essential oils.

Features Includes pot belly, stylish onion neck, and swan condenser 
Quality  High quality and produced in a uniform order- all the products are made by hand using very pure native copper, hammered on all the surface, tinned inside when needed with high pureness tin applied by hand the traditional way. Handles are made in sand-cast brass.
color  pink-orange
Size 43x17x43 cm
Heat source The heat source is an installed fuel burner. Therefore, 
It is advisable to use fuel gel cartridges like this:

A cartridge lasts about 2 hours, you have only to peel off its sealed lid, put it inside the burner, screw on the burner lid then light on the fire.

Conclusion

Whether you are a beginner or specialist when it comes to alembic stills, it is essential to read the properties of the product before purchase to note what your investment generates. Therefore a tip to consider, read the specifications such as, the capacity, the quality, the heat source and the material used to manufacture the alembic still.

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