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Oooo…stovetop still!


I’ve always wanted one of these little beaten copper stovetop stills. Impractical, but fun. My dad had one that he’d use to turn a bottle of cheap wine into a thimblefull of cheap brandy for the edification of guests.

They are, of course, grievously illegal in the States. They’re mildly illegal here, but still too risky for a nimmigrant who suffers residency at the pleasure of HM’s government.

This one was at a food fair went to over the weekend (of a Food Fayre, or a Fud Faire, or whatever). It was not operational, but it was at the booth of an artisanal ginmaker, so all was not lost.

It was artisanal everything there. Artisanal cookies, artisanal sausages, artisanal goat cheese and artisanal couch cushions (seriously — somebody had a handmade couch cushion in Scottish linen with the design of a hedgehog that was to die for. £75).

And that’s the thing — lovely stuff, but a good three to five times more expensive than it should be. Which is why these little artisanal shops flicker in and out of business regularly. Fun Saturday, though.


Comment from Skandia Recluse
Time: July 13, 2017, 10:07 pm

Still you say? I thought it was an old time coffee maker. Ya, coffee percolator. That’s what I call it, for making espresso Turkish Coffee.

Comment from RimrockR
Time: July 13, 2017, 10:33 pm

Maybe illegal to use here in the US, but easy to buy from ebay and Amazon. I guess the revenuers must turn a blind eye. I want one – for medicinal reasons, of course!

Comment from AliceH
Time: July 13, 2017, 11:29 pm

Here’s one US site selling them to distill essential oils http://www.essential.oil.com/pages/traditional-alembic-pot-still. Or maybe it’s a different thing? I dunno.

Comment from Ric Fan
Time: July 13, 2017, 11:57 pm

I watched some Israeli series and they had a small still in their apt. It was small – like a large fancy coffee or tea pot and pretty. I looked it up at the time. I forgot what they are called but they are common in the ME and produce some sort of white or cloudy liquor. It’s called Arak.

I like the idea of an “angel’s share.”


You can make beer and wine for home consumption, no? So, why not some harder stuff?

Comment from Ric Fan
Time: July 14, 2017, 12:02 am

One thing I’ve noticed is that the brits drink a lot of gin. I see these large goblets filled with gin, I assume club soda, ice, and cucumber slices or lime peels or sliced strawberries which appears to be very popular.

Comment from ExpressoBold
Time: July 14, 2017, 12:19 am

I’ve had Tee Many Martoonis… I’ll be here all week!
Try the veal! Tip your servers!

Comment from p2
Time: July 14, 2017, 12:41 am

that doesnt look too hard to duplicate with easily obtainable bits….wouldnt be as esthetically pleasing, but it’d function just fine. and when the guy from the ministry of housinge shows up, just follow skandia’s advice… coffee, my good fellow…just used for really strong coffee……

Comment from AliceH
Time: July 14, 2017, 12:52 am

Ric – from the description, that sounds like Pimms Cups, made from Pimms, ginger ale, and various fruits and vegetables jammed in there. To me, sounds gawdawful, but I gather they are de rigueur at Wimbledon, polo matches, and Royal Regattas.

Comment from Uncle Al
Time: July 14, 2017, 12:55 am

I was curious and looked around and found a page on the National Council of State Legislatures that gives alcoholic beverage law summaries for all the U.S. states.

Nobody appears to allow distillation of liquor. Most places allow beer and wine making for personal/family consumption as long as it isn’t for sale, and some limit the total quantity per year (200 [non-Imperial] gallons typical).

My maternal grandmother was a Southwest Virginia Southern Baptist. Her picture is in the dictionary next to “staunch”. And she had her traditional Christmas recipe for fruitcake. Don’t gag. This isn’t your wheel chock fruitcake, this is the real deal, moist and delicious.

Her dilemma was securing the apple brandy absolutely essential to make the cake so yummy. But Baptists don’t drink alcohol (at least while any other Baptists are watching) so she couldn’t go to the store to buy it. And Virginia does not allow home production of distilled spirits.

No problem! She used apple jack which is even tastier than apple brandy. First she’d get a few gallons of good cider and let it ferment. Then she’d wait for a good cold night and pour the cider into shallow-ish pans and put them on the porch. First thing in the morning, she’d life out the ice that had formed. Naturally, seeing as how alcohol doesn’t freeze at normal Va. winter temps, all the alcohol was in the remaining liquid. Repeat this process a few times, and that “remaining liquid” has one heckuva kick.

And it works terrifically well for the good kind of fruitcake.

Comment from Ric Fan
Time: July 14, 2017, 1:33 am

Alice: The drinks I’ve seen are clear. Pimms would be beige-y, no? I’ve seen them drink Pimms at Wimbledon and they were guzzling it in the hot sun. But as thy say, Mad dogs and Englishmen…

Comment from Ric Fan
Time: July 14, 2017, 1:35 am

Uncle Al: I thought you were going to say she came out in the morning to see how many animals drank it, passed out drunk and froze over night.

Comment from AliceH
Time: July 14, 2017, 1:56 am

Ric – recipes I’ve seen use lemonade instead of ginger beer sometimes. British lemonade is clear and fizzy – sort of like 7-up. But truth is, I don’t know anything about gin drinks except what I’ve read. I hate the smell of it as much as the taste. Pretty bottles, though.

Comment from AliceH
Time: July 14, 2017, 2:03 am

This sure looks like home distilling is legal: http://nationalities.com/pages/purchase

They have retailers in USA, UK, Canada, and more.

Comment from Ric Fan
Time: July 14, 2017, 2:03 am

I hate the smell of gin, too. Saw a documentary that gin was invented in the 17th century and when introduced to Britain is was incredibly cheap so even the very poor could afford 2 large tumblers of the swill a week. So, their miserable lives got worse.

Didnt stoaty almost poison herself with sloe gin? Walk away from the light, stoaty! Walk away from the light!!!

Comment from AliceH
Time: July 14, 2017, 2:22 am

Badlink in my 2:03 comment. Should be stillspirits not nationalities in the url. Cut and paste wasn’t working for me on this blog with my kindle and I was hit by autocorrect.
Try again



Comment from Jeff Gauch
Time: July 14, 2017, 4:41 am

Distilling alcohol is perfectly legal. For fuel. It’s supposed to be denatured immediately after production. If you want to drink it, you have to pay an excise tax.

Comment from Uncle Badger
Time: July 14, 2017, 9:43 am

Sadly, distilling is completely illegal in the UK without a license.

As for gin, we’re suffering from an ‘artisan gin’ craze over here. Despite there being about 10,000 brands already, a company called Sipsmith seemed to get the ball rolling a few years ago and now the dahlings are eschewing Gordon’s, Beefeater, Bombay Sapphire and the rest in favour of these very expensive newcomers with names like ‘Silent Pool’, ‘Steam Punk’ and ‘Psychopomop Woden’ (really).

Apparently, they are full of ‘botanicals’ which, when bottled in funky looking containers, means they can charge £30-40 for the stuff.

Might as well drink a bottle of Roger & Gallet Jean Marie Farina if you ask me (which no one does).

Comment from Ric Fan
Time: July 14, 2017, 11:39 am

Now, why wd they limit home distilling except for people poisoning themselves and loss of tax monies?

Comment from Deborah HH
Time: July 14, 2017, 12:49 pm

@Uncle Al—Any chance you have a copy of the Grandmother’s fruitcake recipe? I love fruitcake, and I’m an equal-opportunity fruitcake eater. But I don’t have a tried and true recipe for a homemade fruitcake. My second father’s mother made “white fruitcake” —with a rich white batter not dark. It was delicious but I failed to get a copy of the recipe.

Comment from Wolfus Aurelius
Time: July 14, 2017, 1:28 pm

Ever notice that gin smells like Scotch tape? The cheapy brands I used to drink in the ’70s did, anyway.

Comment from Can’t Hark My Cry
Time: July 14, 2017, 3:17 pm

Second Deborah HH’s request, Uncle Al-I, too, love fruitcake. Real fruitcake, not that bizarre product that appears in grocery stores in late November, apparently designed to be given to everyone on your gift list you are hoping will remove themselves from your gift list. There are things you can do with that stuff to make it edible, but …

Comment from Some Vegetable
Time: July 14, 2017, 3:20 pm

Uncle Al: I thought you were going to say she came out in the morning to see how many animals drank it, passed out drunk and froze over night.


Seriously, when I was a teenager growing up in apple and cider country, we made Apple Jack exactly that way, in a quiet corner of my grandfather’s barn.

Comment from Steve
Time: July 14, 2017, 6:19 pm

Alembic stills are pretty much available. Their sale may well represent the majority of Portugal’s GNP.

Most jurisdictions permit distillation of botanical extracts. Sugar is a particular favorite botanical of mine. The resulting extract is often surprisingly close to rum.

Comment from durnedyankee
Time: July 14, 2017, 7:16 pm

@Uncle B
“As for gin, we’re suffering from an ‘artisan gin’ craze over here.”

Artesian Gin?!!!!!
Hot damn!
Do they have artesian whiskey in England!?

Ah…artisan, never mind.

Oh, and for you fruitcakes, you should NEVER eat a fruitcake here in the US. I have it on good authority that there are an exact number in existence at any given time, and when one is accidentally consumed or destroyed there is a law that requires the government to re-open the factory somewhere to replace it.

Comment from durnedyankee
Time: July 14, 2017, 7:20 pm

@Ric Fan
“Now, why wd they limit home distilling except for people poisoning themselves and loss of tax monies?”

Exploding stills.

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: July 14, 2017, 8:31 pm

Ric Fan: that was elderberry cordial. Turns out, many varieties of elderberry have to be cooked or they’re emetics. And how!

As it happens, I have an old family recipe for moonshine and used to make a few nips of it for Christmas presents. As far as I’m aware, home distilling is illegal across the West except for Italy (for home use) and one other country. Croatia or something. Not a thing I’ll risk with my precarious status.

Pimm’s. Gin. I’m always happy to sample the delights, cucumbers and all…

Comment from Timbo
Time: July 14, 2017, 10:25 pm

As Steve said, you can get all the distilling equipment you need in Portugal. Don’t know about other places but in my part of rural Spain, while teknickly illegal, nearly everyone distills the wine pressings into a rather disgusting caña blanca. It won’t kill you, though you might wish it had!

Comment from Uncle Al
Time: July 15, 2017, 12:10 am

@Deborah HH & @Can’t Hark My Cry – While I don’t have the recipe in my personal paltry collection, my mother (age 97) and my sister (73) and my sister’s daughter (my niece, duh) (47) were just talking about all the old recipes they have and in dire need of organization. I will certainly find out if Grandmother’s fruitcake recipe is still extant.

Grandmother was born in 1889 so she’d be about 2^^7 if she were still around.

Comment from Uncle Al
Time: July 15, 2017, 1:12 am

Hey, good news! My sister came through, although as she states it is modestly modified by her. When it comes time to add the apple jack, it is a shot per week. I have a hazy recollection that Grandmother would start the process by pouring a shot over the cake, then putting the shot glass in the middle hole and re-filling it with apple jack. Take care, of course, when moving. Each week, she’d top off the shot glass and pour the contents onto the cake, put the glass – you get the picture.

Here’s what I got from my sister:

Grandmother’s fruitcake (slightly adapted by me)

Fruit: dredge in 1 cup flour and set aside:
8 oz. dried figs, coarse chop
3 c. mixed golden and regular raisins
6 oz. coarse chop citron (dried lemon zest)
1 cup dried cherries
1 cup dried pineapple
1/2 lb. coarse chop pecans

Make batter:
1/2 lb. butter
1 cup dark brown sugar
1 cup white sugar
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 teasp. baking soda in 1 tablespoon warm water
1 teasp. cinnamon
1/2 teasp cloves
1/2 teasp nutmeg
1 cup blackberry preserves/jam
1/2 cup brandy/apple jack
2 cups flour
4 large eggs, beaten

And here I stop. As I recall the cake’s made mid autumn and I don’t even have temp or cooking time. Joy of Cooking suggests long cooking time at low temp…300 degrees for 2.5 hours. And I remember Grandmother using walnuts (which I don’t like). Tube pan lined w/waxed paper (pre-teflon days). Cool overnight. Wrap in gauze. Pour applejack every week or so…in airtight tin.

Comment from Deborah HH
Time: July 15, 2017, 1:35 am

Thank you Uncle Al! Blackberry Jam! This sounds delicious. I’ll let you know how it turns out. I’m not waiting until Fall 🙂

Comment from Can’t Hark My cry
Time: July 27, 2017, 11:02 pm

Just saw this–yes, thanks! Looking forward to fruitcake making weather!

Comment from cnk guy
Time: July 31, 2017, 2:22 pm

I heard that Trump was going to make stills legal!

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