Copper vs. Stainless Steel

Copper Plumbing Parts
Both copper and stainless still are common materials used in the manufacturing of stills. In this article, we will discuss the advantages and disadvantages of each material. If you are considering the purchase of a still, or thinking about building your own still, understanding the materials available will help with your decision.

Copper Stills

If you visit any commercial distillery, you are going to see an abundance of copper. Copper is part of  most stills for a number of reasons.

The primary reason copper is involved is because it reacts with compounds that are created during the distillation process. Copper catalyzes the breakdown of esters and sulphuric compounds in the steam vapors. These volatile compounds are produced during the fermentation process and are highly undesirable in a distilled spirit.

Another advantage of copper is its efficient heat conduction properties. Finally, copper is a much easier metal to work with than stainless steel. A hobbyist can cut and manipulate copper in a home workshop to make a still.

There are two main disadvantages of copper. The first is its cost, which leads to hobby still manufacturers using thin gauge copper in the production of their stills. Repeated use and cleaning can wear through very thin copper sheeting.

Finally, copper is difficult to keep clean. It tarnishes quickly. Especially after being heated.  Keeping a copper still bright and shiny takes a lot of work.

Stainless Steel Stills

Stainless Steel Plate
Stainless steel is a cost effective, long lasting product. It is easy to clean and maintain.

There are several manufacturers who build all stainless small scale distillers. They typically concentrate their efforts on forced reflux designs that produce high proof tasteless alcohol. This is the only way they can avoid most of the foul tastes resulting from the absence of any chemical catalysis occurring in the still.

The challenge with stainless steel is that it is a poor conductor of heat. While its heat conductivity is not an issue with direct heat applied to a boiler, it does present challenges in any column where you are looking for naturally generated reflux as the steam vapors rise through the column.

Stainless steel contributes nothing to the breakdown of esters and sulphuric compounds which is necessary to produce high quality spirits. The typical way to overcome the deficiency is to stuff the column with copper mesh. The mesh reacts with the esters and sulfides, but it is very difficult to clean.
Remus Pot Still.png
MoonshineStillPro Remus Pot Still

Combination Copper & Stainless Steel Stills

Many of the new craft distilleries use stills that are a combination of stainless steel and copper. They are taking advantage of the strengths of each material. Stainless steel boiler pots for cost effectiveness, durability, and ease of maintenance. Copper onions and columns to take advantage of copper's reactive properties.

At MoonshineStillPro, we have modeled our stills after commercial stills, combining the use of the two materials to produce stills that are the best combination of functionality, durability and cost. Our stainless pots are durable, easy to clean and economical. Our designs use all copper domes and columns to maximize the contact with the steam vapors to achieve the full chemical reaction that copper offers. We think you will agree that our stills are the best available for the hobby distiller.

This blog is for educational purposes only. All discussions, including recipes and “how to’s” are theoretical in nature. The blog posts are in no way an endorsement or encouragement to break the law. Products sold are intended to be used in accordance with the proper licensing or permitting procedure of the respective jurisdiction of the user.


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