Equipment for a Newbie.
Fyfo Jun 2015 (NZHD)
1. FERMENTING BARREL. Something to ferment your wash in. It can be something as simple as a bucket and a lid. Over time you will want a large barrel. Large blue plastic food grade barrels (they range from 120 - 220 litres) are ideal and cheap. The wash does not need to fill the barrel so get as big as you have room for. You can even use rubbish bins. Expect that you'll want two vessels minimum.
2. AIRLOCK. This fits into a hole on the top of your fermenter and when filed with a little water will allow CO2 gas to escape but will prevent bugs getting in. Get from the home brew shop (referred to here as HB SHOP).
3. STIRRING SPOON. You will need this to stir in your sugar and other ingredients into a wash, or to aerate a wash before pitching your yeast. You could make or buy a wooden spoon, or get a plastic one from the HB SHOP.
4. BARREL WARMER! In NZ winter you'll need something to keep your fermenter warm. This can be an electric blanket or an enclosed cupboard with a light bulb to warm the space, or just a plain old blanket (less effective as it gets really cold)or a heating pad/belt that you'd get from the HB SHOP.
5. STILL OF COURSE! You can either buy (ok) or build (better!). My personal thoughts are better to buy one (cheap second hand if possible) and get started in the hobby and as you learn then in time get building something better than what you can buy (in nz anyway) and in line with what you like to distill. Generally speaking a pot still is best for naturally flavoured drinks such as rum, whisky, gin and brandy and reflux stills for neutral flavoured spirits such as vodka. Reflux stills can be detuned to run more as a pot still. Reflux stills use different configurations to carry out the reflux - liquid, vapour and cooling management. These all have their pros and cons.
5a. VOLTAGE CONTROLLER. If you run a pot still then a voltage controller is crucial to allow you to control the output by altering the voltage to your heating element. This reduces smearing as you transition between foreshots, heads, hearts and tails. Cheap off EBAY.
6. BOTTLES. And lots of them! Glass jars for making cuts (mason jars), litre bottles, flagons (2.5 litre), demi johns (1 gallon), and even perhaps a carboy (23 litre). You can score smaller glassware everywhere if you keep your eyes open!
7. HYDROMETERS (SPIRIT & SPECIFIC GRAVITY) & SAMPLE JAR . You'll need one of each from your HB SHOP. These are crucial to take vital measurements. Ensure you get a glass sample jar and be sure to take good care of this equipment cause its very delicate!
8. OAK WOOD CHIPS. You'll need these for aging your likker. I buy my oak chips from a butcher off trade me and they are much cheaper than the HB SHOP. Though you may buy jack Daniels bourbon barrel chips or rum barrel chips cause you can't really get them anywhere else. You can buy mini oak barrels too but I don't have any experience with them. Similarly you can use wood from a tree - some are great and some are terrible and there are many articles on how to dry and age and char etc.
9. FUNNELS & MEASURING JUGS. Various sizes.
10. PATIENCE, KNOWLEDGE & EXPERIENCE. These are hard earnt but vital to success! You'll need a bit of all three. Keep trying new things, try and understand why you succeeded or failed. Keep notes of the processes so you can alter your recipes to suit and to find what works for you and what doesn't. For me the learning never stops and I doubt it ever will. Share your experiences with others so we can help one another. And most of all all have fun!