If you are a home distiller or trying to become one to produce your preferred alcoholic beverage, a decent still must be among your first purchases. There are different types of stills; you should consider what specific beverage or beverages you want to distill at home, in order to choose the right type of still for your home distillation.
A pot still is one type of still that can be used to boil the fermented mash of your choice, be it corn, fruit or sugar cane. When it boils it, the pot collects the alcohol vapor and condenses it. A typical pot still will produce alcohol with the purity level of about 40 to 60%; this means it will have a lot of flavor. If you want to purify it further and redistill the distilled product, you can get up to 70 to 85% purity, which means the flavor would be less noticeable.
A reflux still is useful when you want to distill and redistill at once, because it has a column placed between the condenser and the pot; this column is packed. When the fermented mash is boiled and alcohol vapor is condensed, some of it trickles back down through this column, hence the name reflux still. This process makes it possible to clean the rising vapor and the purity level increases in percentage. The taller the height of the column, the more liquid will trickle back down in a reflux, producing a purer alcoholic beverage. This is suitable for distilling vodka, a neutral spirit with no or very little flavoring to it, used to make blended whiskey or cocktails; it is also suitable if you are a vodka consumer but with the wishes and needs to distill other types of hard liquor.
Then there is the fractionating column, which is a type of a reflux still but concentrated in its purifying functions. A fractionating column condenses all, or at least most, of the alcohol vapor as the fermented mash is boiled. It does not, however, condense it all away; it makes the vapor stop at the top of the packed column and come trickling back down the column, at about 90% of the way. This type of still has a column that is two to four foot high. With this type of a still you can get up to 95% purity in your distilled product, which will be ideal if you are a sole drinker of vodka or other neutral grain spirits, with no flavorings or aroma. But a fractionating still (and the reflex still, for that matter) is not only used for distilling vodka. It can be precisely adjusted to make rum, brandy or whiskey.
Whatever type your ideal still is, one thing that does not change is its material which should be entirely and completely free of lead. Copper is the ideal metal for boiling fermented mashes and distilling alcohol to produce hard liquor. Check out a copper still for sale, and you are well on your way.