In the Still of the Night

Every so often I think about turning out a small batch of home-made vodka, just for the hell of it. I’ve made booze (and more interesting compounds) at home before in my reckless youth, but when I read stories like this one I am given slight pause, if only to consider the enormity of the screw ups the guy must have made. He wasn’t apparently an complete idiot, but well, let’s just say he had a bad day in a high-impact environment with a high potential for collateral damage. We ALL make mistakes.

  • Tight seals are very important when evaporating alcohol around open flame. So is good ventilation. So is a pressure relief valve.
  • Rubber tubing is out unless you want your hooch to taste like a garden hose.  Stick with nice, clean copper. Lead-bearing solder is out!
  • The cartoon “moonshine still” is a “pot still”, and really isn’t the way to go for high-test neutral spirits. A “reflux still” is what you want. Think of it as a “multiple-distillations-in-one-operation still”. They are less picturesque but much more effective, really the only way to break 80% alcohol without getting arcane (vacuums, dry ice, so forth).

Since the capital-I Internet has come along, access to good information and even ready made home distilling equipment has become much easier. There’s here and here and here and… Google! In the Dark Ages you were pretty much limited to the Foxfire book series (highly recommended reading in general), chemistry books and the just plain “what if we tried this?” approach (very rewarding when it works, I’ll grant you).

Home-made spirits all aside, there are situations when a still can make the difference between life and death, like desalinizing salt-water. There are various approaches to this, from the improvised to the long-term installation. Even a simple plastic bag rubber-banded over a tree branch can condense a few precious ounces of water a day in survival situations.

Darkness for dark things: night-time is the right time for culturing glowing bacteria colonies from dead squid!

Tachytely means you’ve come a long way quickly, humanity.  No wonder you’re still clumsy!

Do you feel like you are being watched? Well, you are. In real time. From orbit.

Cocaine, monkeys and brain implants… “Got on our white coats and we’re pushing the dose… Damn, it’s good to be a gangsta!”

Think of it as a six-pack of somewhere else: a simple glass case terraformed the world.

Why is it always with the volcanoes, Moriarty? “They always forget about the volcanoes,” he said.

That the same studio (Toho) gave us both Rashomon and Godzilla gives me a giggle.
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