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Distiller Column Packing
People often have questions about using distillation column packing in their moonshine still. Here's some information adapted from Brewhaus about the more common packing materials. The two most common packing types for smaller moonshine stills are copper mesh and ceramic Raschig Rings. Let's take a little closer look at these:
What Should I Use in My Still: Copper Mesh or Ceramic Raschig Rings?
Honestly it comes down to either, what are you distilling and/or what do you prefer?. Copper mesh is a common choice because it works excellent for reflux distilling. During distillation, the vapor comes in contact with the copper, reacting with the sulfur compounds that are formed during fermentation. As a result, the copper mesh helps to eliminate these sulfur compounds from your distillate, which is a critical step when you distill beverage-grade alcohol (where legal) in a moonshine still. However, the downside to using copper mesh is that it does not last forever, so you will need to replace it every so often. After a while, there isn't enough usable copper to react with the sulfur. In addition, you will also need to clean the copper mesh regularly with vinegar.
Ceramic Raschig Rings also make a good choice for any reflux-type distillation in your moonshine still (which includes alcohol, where legal). Since Raschig Rings are more of an inert packing, they would be a better choice if you're going to be distilling things like water and essential oils. Raschig Rings are a porous material (ceramic) which prevents the column from choking, or preventing vapor to rise. This way, you don't have to worry about cramming the copper too tight.
As a result, Raschig Rings can allow you to generate a higher purity distillate than the copper mesh can. The ceramic Raschig Rings are also really easy to clean because you can just use some equipment cleaner on them. And since there isn't a chemical reaction going on like the copper, they can pretty much last forever.
The big disadvantage with Raschig Rings though, is you need to make sure to use them in a distillation column that has a way to hold them in place. Often times, stills will have a screen at the bottom of the lower column, so they don’t just fall in. Any loose column packing will require a still that will support them. Make sure yours does, if you select this packing type.
Packing Your Distillation Column With Copper Mesh:
Packing Your Distillation Column With Raschig Rings:
How Much Copper Mesh Should I Buy? Standard-sized columns that are 2" in diameter, like the Essential Extractor Pro Series II, you'll want to use about 1 to 1 ½ bags of copper mesh (approx. 30ft.). For the high-capacity/volume columns that are 3" in diameter like the Essential Extractor Pro Series II High Capacity, figure you’ll need to use about 3-4 bags of copper mesh depending on how tightly you wrap it.
How Many Ceramic Raschig Rings Should I Buy? Standard-sized columns that are 2" in diameter, like the Essential Extractor Pro Series II, you’ll need 1 ½ L of Raschig Rings. For the high-capacity/volume columns that are 3" in diameter like the Essential Extractor Pro Series II High Capacity, figure you’ll need to use about 5 L of Raschig Rings.
Can I Use Both Raschig Rings and Copper Mesh Together? Sure! The best way to acheive this is to make sure you put Raschig Rings in the column first and then follow it up by cutting up some little pieces of your copper mesh and put them in and around the cooling lines. Since the weight of the Raschig Rings is greater than the copper mesh, make sure you do NOT put the copper mesh in first and then add the Raschig Rings on top. Otherwise, it will completely choke your column! So put your Raschig Rings in first and add the copper to the top.
Remember, don't forget to clean your copper mesh and periodically replace it. If you don't, you could end up with a completely foul-tasting product. Yes, people have forgotten this and were amazed at how bad stuff can taste when you don't follow the instructions.
What About Flute Columns? Because flute columns bubble across copper plates, you don't need any packing materials.