One of the worst kept secrets in craft distilling is nearly every whiskey maker gets their start making the good stuff at home. One only has to look at the many home stills for sale online to see there’s a strong market for home distillation equipment. Everything from big vats for making moonshine to smaller copper pot distillation kits for “essential oils” are widely available on the internet.
The reason home distilling is a semi-secret at all is because it’s against federal law. Of course, that doesn’t stop most wannabe home distillers, since local authorities don’t have the time or resources to bust people for making hooch unless they sell it or present a danger to your neighbors. (Related: Read about the state of home distilling laws in 2017 here).
Even with lackadaisical enforcement of federal anti-home distilling laws, the number of home liquor distillers has remained just a fraction of the size of the beer brewing market. While federal anti-distilling laws have hindered the growth of the market, the reality is home distillation is just not as easily approachable as beer making. Not only is making liquor at home technically more dangerous, it’s also a more complex, multi-step process.
But now, PicoBrew, a company that has simplified the craft of making beer with its beer brewing appliances, hopes to help make home distillation easier too. Today the company announced the PicoStill, a new device that, when combined one of the company’s brewing kegs, utilizes a patent pending process to transform beer into the hard stuff. Of course, PicoBrew emphasizes the PicoStill is for making essential oils, concentrated oils extracted from plants that can then be used for such applications as incense or adding flavor to food or drink. PicoBrew also lets you know that if you have the “proper licenses and permits”, the PicoStil can also make a “wide range of alcohols”.
If spirits distilled from beer sounds strange, it shouldn’t. In fact, pretty much all whiskey starts as what is a form of beer.
“All bourbon is whiskey, all whiskey is ‘beer’,” says Nate Kaiser, the founder and head distiller of 2Bar Spirits, a craft distillery in Seattle. According to Kaiser, his distillery’s bourbon starts as a form of what he calls “corn beer”, which is basically a relatively low alcohol beer.
But as with most whiskey, the fermented “beer” distillers get from grains isn’t meant for consumption. Usually it’s just a step in the process towards eventually making whiskey. That’s not to say you can’t make whiskey from fully finished, drinkable beer and, increasingly, more professional distillers are doing just that. Some of these whiskies, such as Marko Karakasevic’s Charbay Whiskey R5, have garnered rave reviews.
And now, PicoBrew hopes that those who buy one of their beer brewing appliances – provided they have the proper licensing and permits (wink wink) – can make great spirits too. The new PicoStill is available as part of the company’s Kickstarter campaign for their third generation brewing appliance, the Pico C, for $170. Backers can buy the Pico C and the PicoStill as a package for $499, and the PicoStill will be available for retail for $349 in the fall.
Nate Kaiser, who got his start without the benefit of something like the PicoStill, thinks that the device could help usher in a new a generation of craft distillers. “This allows people to try distillation in a simple and direct way, to learn the process by which essential oils or spirits can be made” said Kaiser.
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