How to choose the right still...

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How to choose the right still...

Postby rgreen2002 » Fri Dec 22, 2017 4:42 pm

I wanted to make a thread addressing this issue because it is still coming up so frequently and many people don’t know that they even have the question. I thought the best way to gain access to the info was to put it all together on one big page, hopefully getting the attention of beginners and setting them down the path to a choice of still. I also think this is a common beginner issue that can influence success or failure in the craft. The thread from rednose What still to build or buy? was the inspiration for the idea but I felt it needed just a little more information. I think of it as the step before reading stills by Bushman as well.

Intro

“I’m really getting interested in this distilling thing so I really NEED this _____” (Insert the biggest/fastest/newest still type here). This is a point that every new distiller will come to in their time and while not ALL new distillers will have this thought, I think it is only human nature to have. When we look into adding almost anything into our lives (clothes, cars, appliances. etc.) we inevitably look toward things that are new, or “better” in some way. Time and time again I see a beginner here ready to jump into distilling a product who has not really taken enough time to truly decide on the right type of still for their wants/needs. I know this because I was guilty of it when I first started. I think that beginners don’t ask this question because it isn’t something that one would think to ask. Because of this, I will try to bring all this information together in one place so that it can be addressed early in your distilling career.

There are many seemingly minute and frequently unknown facets of home distilling (HD) that play a role and should be assessed BEFORE the decision on still type. Failing to do so will lead to more time consumed, more money spent and more frustration; all of which can lead a new beginner to quit before even starting. I have answered this question many times over the years and I thought it might be helpful if I just put it down in one place. The details of the build (what angle for the lyne arm, how do I install an electric element, etc. …) I will not cover as I believe that has been done extensively here and can be sought out after the basic decisions are made. This thread will point you in a direction, the details are up to you.

So, from one beginner to another, let’s take a look at those facets to see how to decide which still is right for your needs. Here we will take a look at several areas and apply general principles to help with the decision process.

Type of product

One of the biggest factors in choosing a still type is the type of product you are looking to make. Generally speaking, certain still types are better at making certain types of spirits. Considering this ahead of time can point you in a good direction. Are you planning on whiskeys, bourbon, rum or do you want something tasteless and neutral to mix drinks with? This is where you begin with still decisions.

In an effort to not get bogged down in details we will break stills into two major types: the pot still and the reflux still. Both are excellent types and have different properties. We can look at the parent site here: Home Distiller

A pot still simply collects and condenses the alcohol vapors that come from the boiling wash/mash. This will result in an alcohol at about 40-60% purity, with plenty of flavor in it. If this distillate were put through the pot still again, it would increase in purity to around 70-85% purity, and lose a bit of its flavor. Here flavor refers to the character of the spirit itself (say rum or whiskey) and not an “after flavoring” or maceration. A pot still gives spirit more flavor due to its expected inefficiency.

A reflux still does multiple distillations in a single pass by having packing or plates in a column between the condenser & the pot. This allows some of the vapor to condense and trickle back down through the packing. This "reflux" of liquid helps clean the rising vapor and increase the purity. The taller the packed column, and the more reflux liquid, the purer the product will be. The advantage of doing this is that it will result in a clean spirit, with little flavor. In reviewing reflux stills there are MANY different types and they will not be discussed here. The key to the reflux still in this discussion is that it is better at making neutral spirits.

Maybe you are considering both of these options. This is certainly possible and there are many options to choose from as well. Just knowing you want this option goes a long way in helping with the build or purchase.

Editorial: Now that being said, can you make a flavored spirit with a reflux still? Many here will tell you, yes, and I believe this to be true. It requires a little more skill and is outside the purview of the “beginner” but it is a useful piece of information nonetheless.

Good links: Basic Distillation 101to give an overview of the above, Novice Guide for Cuts (pot still) to help understand the idea of “flavor”, Diagrams and Plans Thread – great thread to understand the complexity of still types and their function. Types of Stills - LM, VM, CM...What do they mean? – more great info on still subtypes

Budget available

Budget is something that can easily be forgotten, ignored, or overshot. It is not uncommon to have an idea of budget and then realize that you forgot something costly or have destroyed something costly and need a replacement to move forward. You will most likely run into one or all of the above issues in your time with HD.

Budget to me is many things: the first part of budget is the individual project, the second is long-term projection and the third is time. Let me address them individually.

Project budget: this refers to the cost of an individual project, say building a pot still. Here I would like to get a general idea of the cost of resources required. This could include the copper for the riser and the boiler, the fittings, etc. It could also be the cost of a purchase online or otherwise. Remember at this time in almost every country besides New Zealand (God bless them) distillation at home is illegal in some form. When making purchases keep it in mind and weigh the information at the time of reading this thread.

Long-term projection: This can be difficult as a beginner since you are just starting out but I try to think “down the road” whenever possible. This usually means that I have to project my future distilling habits, usually based on my prior habits multiplied by my excitement at the time :lol: . A few simple examples of long-term projection would be: make your system modular so it can be changed over time at lower cost, or consider a slightly larger boiler so as not to buy things twice. The forum has a saying when considering more expensive purchases, and I live by it: “Buy once, cry once”

Time: Self-evident but frequently underestimated. Time is a commodity you can never get back so be sure you have the time the hobby requires. A slow reflux still (say a small diameter BOKA) can take several hours to run (I have sat with a BOKAKOB still for 11 hours personally), and builds can take days or weeks. Be sure to take this into account when deciding on a still type. Flute stills can decrease your number of distillations but they are more expensive to buy/build and are usually more complicated to run.

Whatever it is you are budgeting…. Find a total and add about 15-25% just to be certain.

Finally, and sadly…this hobby isn’t cheap. Be prepared to spend money. It will certainly cost you more in the short run to make your own spirit than to hop down to the store and buy a bottle. I hope that in the end, you will be far more satisfied with your own product.

Materials/Resources available

This is mostly for builds although it could be for purchases as well, say if you need special equipment for the purchase. Sourcing some material inconspicuously can be an issue in some places. Buying 6 feet of 4-inch copper tubing can be difficult since many local hardware stores will not have it hanging around. The same can be said for specialty plumbing fittings if they are needed. When possible plan out your build/buy and check local resources before starting to be sure getting the job done is plausible.

Scrapyards are a great source for cheaper materials when available but be sure that the material is cleaned as well as is required for its position in the vapor path or elsewhere (in other words: be wary of materials whose history to you is unknown).

If you plan to build, be sure you have the appropriate equipment: pipe, blowtorch, LEAD-FREE solder, AND flux, etc. Nothing kills a build like having to run out to get something again and again… (personal experience here).
Be sure you have what the still will need as well. If you are going to run a shotgun condenser but don’t have a running water source, this could be an issue.

Build ability

As Dirty Harry once said: “A man’s got to know his limitations…” This statement actually goes both ways when it comes to ability. While there are many people out there who will gladly bite off more than they can chew, many underestimate their ability with a pipe cutter and a blowtorch.

Building a simple pot still is a skill that not only is beneficial financially (if you can source the material easily you can save quite a bit of money vs purchasing in my research) but It will help you to understand the process of distillation that much better. Knowing distillation is knowing how your still works and if you built it from the ground up, you know it well.

Good Links: How to solder Copper (and/or Stainless) – the "scariest" part of a first build

Editorial: One of the best ways to fail at the hobby is to start a build that you cannot finish or that is not done well enough to work properly (or God forbid causes some kind of harm). The several distillery explosions/fires over the past years tell the story that it is all too easy to miss a minor detail that becomes a major catastrophe. Always know your abilities and if you plan to build be sure you do all the required safety checks and cleanings BEFORE you ever put alcohol in the boiler.

Space available

This one frequently goes unnoticed. You figure it out when you decide that you really need that 72’ inch BOKA and notice that you have 64 inches of height clearance. Before you put solder to copper be sure to map out the space you wish to distill. Be sure it has adequate light, heat, running water, sitting space, etc. You may want to also mash/wash in the same area as well so be sure you have the space needed. If you plan on using open flame be sure to have adequate ventilation and for GOD’S SAKE have a fire extinguisher available. These things all take space so be sure you can accommodate them AND your still design

Time

I mentioned it before but it is so important it bears repeating. EVERY part of HD takes time…EVERY PART. Time entails two parts: the time you have and the time you need.

The time you have: This is the time that you have to create or budget for yourself. You need to know that each still is different and that they require different amounts of time both to build and to run. Building a simple pot still ( Samohon's pot still– great resource) can be done in a few hours while a five-plate flute build can take weeks. On the same note, different stills take different amounts of time as was mentioned earlier. Be sure you have a general idea before you decide. Know the times for both stripping and spirit runs if possible as well. Be sure you have the required time

The time you need: This is the time that you cannot control. Much like fermentation, distillation takes time. Some of this time can be decreased by adding more power, changing column diameter, etc. but this will come at a cost. Frequently that cost will come as taste or safety… I recommend not paying for either. Don’t rush.

Safety

This is the number one rule…. NUMBER ONE. It will never be said enough, it can never be stressed enough. I don’t know of one person on this site that thinks a good drink is worth a disaster occurring, so be sure that you always choose the safest route. The safety aspect is pervasive throughout the post so I will not belabor the point except to mention it one last time.

Editorial: My advice for choosing a still based on safety is to choose one with the fewest moving parts to start. A pot still is simpler to run than a 6 plate Flute still. Choose an immersed electric element over open flame for safety as well (making sure the electric is properly done).
I will also mention one last safety and that is the law. Recall unless you live in New Zealand, distilling is probably illegal where you live. Choosing a modular still that can be broken down easily can have some advantages.

Final Editorial

This thread is only a basic review for a continuously asked question here on the forum. It should do two things: give you the questions needed to decide on a still type and push you back to the forum for more and more reading.
In my honest opinion, I believe the best still for a beginner is a simple pot still like Samohon’s mentioned above. It is easy to build with few moving parts and simple to run to get your feet wet in basic distilling. It will make a flavorful product right “out of the box” and if you make it modular in its attachment to the boiler you can easily change up as you go along. Modularity can also keep you within a budget as well. The best beginner boiler would be a 15-gallon sanke beer keg as it is easy to modify for a simple modular boiler and big enough for almost all beginners (at least until you get “smart” and solder 2 kegs together:When life gives you lemons... )

I hope this helps and feel free to make some suggestions. If I have forgotten something I will edit the page.
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Re: How to choose the right still...

Postby fizzix » Fri Dec 22, 2017 4:54 pm

Took me a year from "I'd like to make whiskey" to securing an actual, non-junk still. This consolidation would've cut months off that.
..Making the devil's water since 2017...
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Re: How to choose the right still...

Postby acfixer69 » Fri Dec 22, 2017 5:01 pm

rgreen2002 wrote:I wanted to make a thread addressing this issue because it is still coming up so frequently and many people don’t know that they even have the question. I thought the best way to gain access to the info was to put it all together on one big page, hopefully getting the attention of beginners and setting them down the path to a choice of still. I also think this is a common beginner issue that can influence success or failure in the craft. The thread from rednose What still to build or buy? was the inspiration for the idea but I felt it needed just a little more information. I think of it as the step before reading stills by Bushman as well.

Intro

“I’m really getting interested in this distilling thing so I really NEED this _____” (Insert the biggest/fastest/newest still type here). This is a point that every new distiller will come to in their time and while not ALL new distillers will have this thought, I think it is only human nature to have. When we look into adding almost anything into our lives (clothes, cars, appliances. etc.) we inevitably look toward things that are new, or “better” in some way. Time and time again I see a beginner here ready to jump into distilling a product who has not really taken enough time to truly decide on the right type of still for their wants/needs. I know this because I was guilty of it when I first started. I think that beginners don’t ask this question because it isn’t something that one would think to ask. Because of this, I will try to bring all this information together in one place so that it can be addressed early in your distilling career.

There are many seemingly minute and frequently unknown facets of home distilling (HD) that play a role and should be assessed BEFORE the decision on still type. Failing to do so will lead to more time consumed, more money spent and more frustration; all of which can lead a new beginner to quit before even starting. I have answered this question many times over the years and I thought it might be helpful if I just put it down in one place. The details of the build (what angle for the lyne arm, how do I install an electric element, etc. …) I will not cover as I believe that has been done extensively here and can be sought out after the basic decisions are made. This thread will point you in a direction, the details are up to you.

So, from one beginner to another, let’s take a look at those facets to see how to decide which still is right for your needs. Here we will take a look at several areas and apply general principles to help with the decision process.

Type of product

One of the biggest factors in choosing a still type is the type of product you are looking to make. Generally speaking, certain still types are better at making certain types of spirits. Considering this ahead of time can point you in a good direction. Are you planning on whiskeys, bourbon, rum or do you want something tasteless and neutral to mix drinks with? This is where you begin with still decisions.

In an effort to not get bogged down in details we will break stills into two major types: the pot still and the reflux still. Both are excellent types and have different properties. We can look at the parent site here: Home Distiller

A pot still simply collects and condenses the alcohol vapors that come from the boiling wash/mash. This will result in an alcohol at about 40-60% purity, with plenty of flavor in it. If this distillate were put through the pot still again, it would increase in purity to around 70-85% purity, and lose a bit of its flavor. Here flavor refers to the character of the spirit itself (say rum or whiskey) and not an “after flavoring” or maceration. A pot still gives spirit more flavor due to its expected inefficiency.

A reflux still does multiple distillations in a single pass by having packing or plates in a column between the condenser & the pot. This allows some of the vapor to condense and trickle back down through the packing. This "reflux" of liquid helps clean the rising vapor and increase the purity. The taller the packed column, and the more reflux liquid, the purer the product will be. The advantage of doing this is that it will result in a clean spirit, with little flavor. In reviewing reflux stills there are MANY different types and they will not be discussed here. The key to the reflux still in this discussion is that it is better at making neutral spirits.

Maybe you are considering both of these options. This is certainly possible and there are many options to choose from as well. Just knowing you want this option goes a long way in helping with the build or purchase.

Editorial: Now that being said, can you make a flavored spirit with a reflux still? Many here will tell you, yes, and I believe this to be true. It requires a little more skill and is outside the purview of the “beginner” but it is a useful piece of information nonetheless.

Good links: Basic Distillation 101to give an overview of the above, Novice Guide for Cuts (pot still) to help understand the idea of “flavor”, Diagrams and Plans Thread – great thread to understand the complexity of still types and their function. Types of Stills - LM, VM, CM...What do they mean? – more great info on still subtypes

Budget available

Budget is something that can easily be forgotten, ignored, or overshot. It is not uncommon to have an idea of budget and then realize that you forgot something costly or have destroyed something costly and need a replacement to move forward. You will most likely run into one or all of the above issues in your time with HD.

Budget to me is many things: the first part of budget is the individual project, the second is long-term projection and the third is time. Let me address them individually.

Project budget: this refers to the cost of an individual project, say building a pot still. Here I would like to get a general idea of the cost of resources required. This could include the copper for the riser and the boiler, the fittings, etc. It could also be the cost of a purchase online or otherwise. Remember at this time in almost every country besides New Zealand (God bless them) distillation at home is illegal in some form. When making purchases keep it in mind and weigh the information at the time of reading this thread.

Long-term projection: This can be difficult as a beginner since you are just starting out but I try to think “down the road” whenever possible. This usually means that I have to project my future distilling habits, usually based on my prior habits multiplied by my excitement at the time :lol: . A few simple examples of long-term projection would be: make your system modular so it can be changed over time at lower cost, or consider a slightly larger boiler so as not to buy things twice. The forum has a saying when considering more expensive purchases, and I live by it: “Buy once, cry once”

Time: Self-evident but frequently underestimated. Time is a commodity you can never get back so be sure you have the time the hobby requires. A slow reflux still (say a small diameter BOKA) can take several hours to run (I have sat with a BOKAKOB still for 11 hours personally), and builds can take days or weeks. Be sure to take this into account when deciding on a still type. Flute stills can decrease your number of distillations but they are more expensive to buy/build and are usually more complicated to run.

Whatever it is you are budgeting…. Find a total and add about 15-25% just to be certain.

Finally, and sadly…this hobby isn’t cheap. Be prepared to spend money. It will certainly cost you more in the short run to make your own spirit than to hop down to the store and buy a bottle. I hope that in the end, you will be far more satisfied with your own product.

Materials/Resources available

This is mostly for builds although it could be for purchases as well, say if you need special equipment for the purchase. Sourcing some material inconspicuously can be an issue in some places. Buying 6 feet of 4-inch copper tubing can be difficult since many local hardware stores will not have it hanging around. The same can be said for specialty plumbing fittings if they are needed. When possible plan out your build/buy and check local resources before starting to be sure getting the job done is plausible.

Scrapyards are a great source for cheaper materials when available but be sure that the material is cleaned as well as is required for its position in the vapor path or elsewhere (in other words: be wary of materials whose history to you is unknown).

If you plan to build, be sure you have the appropriate equipment: pipe, blowtorch, LEAD-FREE solder, AND flux, etc. Nothing kills a build like having to run out to get something again and again… (personal experience here).
Be sure you have what the still will need as well. If you are going to run a shotgun condenser but don’t have a running water source, this could be an issue.

Build ability

As Dirty Harry once said: “A man’s got to know his limitations…” This statement actually goes both ways when it comes to ability. While there are many people out there who will gladly bite off more than they can chew, many underestimate their ability with a pipe cutter and a blowtorch.

Building a simple pot still is a skill that not only is beneficial financially (if you can source the material easily you can save quite a bit of money vs purchasing in my research) but It will help you to understand the process of distillation that much better. Knowing distillation is knowing how your still works and if you built it from the ground up, you know it well.

Good Links: How to solder Copper (and/or Stainless) – the "scariest" part of a first build

Editorial: One of the best ways to fail at the hobby is to start a build that you cannot finish or that is not done well enough to work properly (or God forbid causes some kind of harm). The several distillery explosions/fires over the past years tell the story that it is all too easy to miss a minor detail that becomes a major catastrophe. Always know your abilities and if you plan to build be sure you do all the required safety checks and cleanings BEFORE you ever put alcohol in the boiler.

Space available

This one frequently goes unnoticed. You figure it out when you decide that you really need that 72’ inch BOKA and notice that you have 64 inches of height clearance. Before you put solder to copper be sure to map out the space you wish to distill. Be sure it has adequate light, heat, running water, sitting space, etc. You may want to also mash/wash in the same area as well so be sure you have the space needed. If you plan on using open flame be sure to have adequate ventilation and for GOD’S SAKE have a fire extinguisher available. These things all take space so be sure you can accommodate them AND your still design

Time

I mentioned it before but it is so important it bears repeating. EVERY part of HD takes time…EVERY PART. Time entails two parts: the time you have and the time you need.

The time you have: This is the time that you have to create or budget for yourself. You need to know that each still is different and that they require different amounts of time both to build and to run. Building a simple pot still ( Samohon's pot still– great resource) can be done in a few hours while a five-plate flute build can take weeks. On the same note, different stills take different amounts of time as was mentioned earlier. Be sure you have a general idea before you decide. Know the times for both stripping and spirit runs if possible as well. Be sure you have the required time

The time you need: This is the time that you cannot control. Much like fermentation, distillation takes time. Some of this time can be decreased by adding more power, changing column diameter, etc. but this will come at a cost. Frequently that cost will come as taste or safety… I recommend not paying for either. Don’t rush.

Safety

This is the number one rule…. NUMBER ONE. It will never be said enough, it can never be stressed enough. I don’t know of one person on this site that thinks a good drink is worth a disaster occurring, so be sure that you always choose the safest route. The safety aspect is pervasive throughout the post so I will not belabor the point except to mention it one last time.

Editorial: My advice for choosing a still based on safety is to choose one with the fewest moving parts to start. A pot still is simpler to run than a 6 plate Flute still. Choose an immersed electric element over open flame for safety as well (making sure the electric is properly done).
I will also mention one last safety and that is the law. Recall unless you live in New Zealand, distilling is probably illegal where you live. Choosing a modular still that can be broken down easily can have some advantages.

Final Editorial

This thread is only a basic review for a continuously asked question here on the forum. It should do two things: give you the questions needed to decide on a still type and push you back to the forum for more and more reading.
In my honest opinion, I believe the best still for a beginner is a simple pot still like Samohon’s mentioned above. It is easy to build with few moving parts and simple to run to get your feet wet in basic distilling. It will make a flavorful product right “out of the box” and if you make it modular in its attachment to the boiler you can easily change up as you go along. Modularity can also keep you within a budget as well. The best beginner boiler would be a 15-gallon sanke beer keg as it is easy to modify for a simple modular boiler and big enough for almost all beginners (at least until you get “smart” and solder 2 kegs together:When life gives you lemons... )

I hope this helps and feel free to make some suggestions. If I have forgotten something I will edit the page.


Whow, guess you had some time on your hands. Looks like a sticky for nubies

Welcome back home

AC
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Re: How to choose the right still...

Postby rgreen2002 » Fri Dec 22, 2017 5:06 pm

acfixer69 wrote:
Whow, guess you had some time on your hands. Looks like a sticky for nubies

Welcome back home

AC
.


Thanks AC! Work said I didn't have to come in right away....sooooooo.... :lol:
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Re: How to choose the right still...

Postby Truckinbutch » Fri Dec 22, 2017 8:17 pm

You did well with your idle time .
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Re: How to choose the right still...

Postby rgreen2002 » Sat Dec 23, 2017 4:41 am

Truckinbutch wrote:You did well with your idle time .


:lol:

Just thought I would be productive TB :D
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Re: How to choose the right still...

Postby Oldvine Zin » Mon Dec 25, 2017 3:11 pm

Nice write-up Mr Green :thumbup: :thumbup:

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Re: How to choose the right still...

Postby rgreen2002 » Mon Dec 25, 2017 3:45 pm

Oldvine Zin wrote:Nice write-up Mr Green :thumbup: :thumbup:

OVZ


Thank you, kind Sir... I hope people find it useful. Any additions need addin.... just shout them out.
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Re: How to choose the right still...

Postby Odin » Sun Jan 07, 2018 3:04 pm

Shouting it out, mr. Green and I hope in a manner that does courtesy to your great contribution!

Potstills and packing and plates all work very differently, indeed. Each with a certain set of things that the technology involved can or cannot do. Quite important things. Like the influence the inner column tech has on gas speeds and on the ability of that tech to harvest certain flavor profiles.

In general, I'd say the question of how to choose the right still starts with the question "what product would you like to make"?

Based on the answer, the next step is to define how that product should taste like.

Personally I like to use the so-called "holy trinity of distillation" to design products (spirits, not stills):
- heads vs hearts vs tails and especially late heads smearing vs early tails smearing vs the expression of hearts;
- fruity character, a fuller or less full bodied taste, and the rooty/nutty flavors at the end;
- how the above tastes travel through your mouth and help re-assert you are making the right choices in fruitiness/body/roots and tails;
- and how vapor speeds on your column (or riser) help harvest those taste profiles.

Now, once one established what flavor profile characterizes a certain drink, the question of using/making/designing the right tool (still) becomes important. A bubble cap still has completely different qualities than a potstill. And even a perf plate is quite different. For instance in vapor speeds and in how they have (none, a bit or total) fixed liquid baths in place countering gases rising up.

The question of the right still to choose is not about one or two or more distillations. It is much more about what vapor speeds that still allows for. And if the design enables or counters late heads or early tails smearing. Imagine you buy/make/design a still that does not enable late heads smearing into your hearts. Probably good for vodka. Definately not good for fruit brandy, since fruity notes are heads associated. Same with early tails smearing. Essential to good whisky and full bodied rum. So if you use a fruit brandy still to make (try to make) those products, you might end up dissapointed.

Remember visiting a professional distiller in the PNW that used a grappa still from Italy to make ... whisky. So I ask him "man, how do you make the whisky you produce stand up to the wood?" and he says: "at the end of the run I have tails on the lower plates. Before the next run I drain these manually and add them to the barrel, just to have enough tails for the whisky to find its complexity." The man was struggling, because he used a fruit brandy / Grappa still for a non-fruit brandy / non Grappa product.

Darn. Maybe I should just put the whole theory online? Afraid of the "affection" it will create once again though ...

Regards and all the best,
Odin.
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Re: How to choose the right still...

Postby cede » Sun Jan 07, 2018 6:04 pm

Odin: I think many of us would be glad to read the theory and learn :)
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Re: How to choose the right still...

Postby Odin » Mon Jan 08, 2018 1:35 am

Let me think about it a bit. i have put myself (and have been put) in a corner that was not very comfortable. I think it was an American president that once said: "If you want enemies, change something". And this will change some things quite a bit. I'll do some thinking if I can pull it off without a lot of the community taking things personal because - when they apply the theory - they may have the non-perfect rig "And how the heck is that possible?!?" as a reaction with full blow out my way, "' 'cause my whiskey the greatest and everyone loves it!'.

The other challenge I usually face is critique from my competitors: "Yeah, you only say that because that's the still type YOU build, so this post or that post is self-serving". They forget that I have a factory and a design studio and a distillery and a laboratory. I or better, my company, can make any still there is. And probably a few designs that are not available yet. I simply build those that I feel do the best job I and that my customers need. But having said that ... stating the things I learned usually leads to people taking it personal and businesses taking it as a potential loss situation, and the lashing out begins. No need for that.

I mean, I have willingly entered shit fights before, because I knew I was right. And when people like Mr. P and Mash Rookie were around, with no other interest than bringing the craft further, it was great. There are too many now with invested interest, me not being the last one among them. But as someone stated to me not so long ago, when I went after a guy that was basically poisoning his customers and being stupid enough to have videos posted about it online, "Odin, you are not the contender anymore. We now expect better, more relaxed, and less antagonistically inspired outings from you. You are market leader now and your stills and theories inspire many. Please behave accordingly". That's a lesson I had to learn the hard way (by bumping my head too often). I hope it can guide me now.

Maybe a way to share it is via my own blog. Not trying to draw any away from here. But certainly not anticipating another shit fight like we have had in the past. As said above, let me do some thinking.

Regards, Odin.
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Re: How to choose the right still...

Postby rgreen2002 » Mon Jan 08, 2018 1:17 pm

Odin wrote:Shouting it out, mr. Green and I hope in a manner that does courtesy to your great contribution!


Thanks, Odin... I appreciate your review! I know your intentions are always good and I would never take an offense. The only work I love more than this hobby would be my day job so I'm always looking for new information.

I put this post together for the exponentially growing group of new recruits who want to dive into the hobby but with so many places to start, forget to ask themselves the simple questions about their still. Questions like: what product do I want and can I actually build something. A true "101" class for choosing the right still. In that light, I hope people are finding it useful.

Your recent posts covering smearing and vapor speeds would be the continuation of this post in my opinion. The "Still choice 201" class if you will.

I'm hoping you will move forward and (if you can find the time :mrgreen: ) put together the "Part 2" of this post. I will gladly change my title to "Part 1" and maybe we can get them stuck into the beginner section for the newbies.

Always good to see you in the forums, Odin!!
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Re: How to choose the right still...

Postby Odin » Mon Jan 08, 2018 3:05 pm

Okay, Mr. Green. Lets proceed with caution. I would like to point you as master of ceremony in this ordeal. You are the OP here. I want you to watch my back. Do you see any posts that smell bad, your duty will be to address that. :)

All right, my first assumption was wrong. "If you want to know what still to choose, you first need to know what product you want to make". Okay, it sounds logical, but as Mr. Green explains above .. he wants to cater the newbies here, an ever growing group of them even. In that case, the question should be "If you want to learn how to distill, what still should you choose". Follow up questions on what product to make are less important. Lets dive into learning how to distill first.

What still you need for that? Easy. A potstill. A very simple and crude device. But if you learn how to master it, you can upgrade from there. If you have mastered the potstill, you can ask that next question "What product would I like to make/drink?" But first lets learn about distilling. Before we apply that knowledge and experience further.

A simple potstill, alembic, that is what you need. And you need it to distill. That's an important notion. You don't need it to make amazingly tasting drinks. Amazing taste is not made during distillation. Amazing taste is made during fermentation. The role of the still is relatively limited in the whole process of spirits production. Yeah, may sound weard, right? But it is. I want you guys to wrap your heads around this: a still is nothing more (or less) than a machine. A machine that helps you not to create taste, but to concentrate and select taste.

All assume that the still is the center piece of any distillery. It is not. The center pieces are the fermenters (and the control put in place there) and the fermentation procedures, that is: the processes managed intently to create certain flavor profiles. Distilling, the step after fermentation only serves two real goals:
1. Concentration of alcoholic content (bring the 8% beer or 10% wine to a 30, maybe 40% low wines);
2. Separation of various alcoholic compounds, most easily explained as "heads, hearts, and tails" (see Kiwi's post on cuts here).

A potstill is a great tool. By definition and to start your distilling career with. It allows you to do a swift first distillation on your wine or beer, called a strip run. The goal of the strip run is "concentration". And afterwards, when you did a few of these strip runs, you have gathered enough "concentrated" spirits (usually called low wines) to do that second run, aimed at separation.

Separation? So .. what do we separate out? Well, heads and tails. Bad stuff. We only collect hearts, because that's the good part. But - especially with a potstill - is that really what we do while performing that second distillation cycle, while doing the "separation" bit of the process?

Potstills are crude. They offer one distillation cycle per run. No more. So inherently any run, even the second one, will see a limited separation power. Meaning? No perfect separation of heads, hearts, and tails will occur.

Instead we get "smearing". That's an important word. Please remember it. During the second potstill distillation, when we make cuts for heads, hearts, and tails, we actually do something completely different. Even if we make "perfect" cuts, what we actually do is that we smear certain amounts of late heads and early tails into the hearts we collect as product.

By changing our perspective from "cutting tastes out" towards "cutting tastes in", we find the true key to potdistilling: making taste rich product.

Taste rich product has ... well, the name says it all: taste. And if we apply a crude potstill distillation device to play its one and only role in the distiller's life, it should be just that: to translate its crudeness into tasty-ness. Meaning? Meaning that late heads smearing and early tails smearing are not bad things. They are actually good, if you are after taste rich product.

Why? Well, let's approach it like this: how much overall taste can be found in what faction? In general, heads (or late heads smearing) accounts for around 30% of the total taste a product has. Tails are even bigger. Tails or early tails smearing into hearts. Early tails can amount to 50% of total spirits taste. If you do the math, it becomes clear that the actual hearts (without any heads or tails smearing) are relatively unimportant in the total make-up of the drink you are making. Only 20%.

That's right, only 20%. So ... focus on late heads and early tails smearing. Hearts on there own are bland, not very interesting, one dimensional at best. Not convinced? Look at vodka making. "Yes, needs to be 95%+!" would the American say. "No! 96%+!" might be the European answer. The first requires 13 to 14 redistillations, the second approach maybe 15 to 16.

But vodka originally is made via only three potstill distillations. Better separation than a two distillation whisky approach, so it allowed the avarage Russian to make better cuts for heads and tails. And by doing so, by not incorporating (any, most) heads and tails smearing into hearts, you end up with a close to neutral product: only 20% of total taste remains.

Another example? Try to compare a non-back-sweetened complex 15 year old rum to a 15 year old single malt whisky. Most will get it wrong and won't know which one is the rum and which one the whisky.

A test I tried myself is fortifying wine with 90% very pure alcohol. I made a port that "came out" at 70%. People tasted it and thought it was a 17, maybe 20% port. Why? Because the alcohol I cut it with was devoid of any heads or tails smearing.

So there you have the first part of the class 201 Mr. Green suggested. If you want to learn how to distill, understand that the still only concentrates and separates. Also understands that the goal while doing taste rich runs is to actually smear heads and tails into hearts. Taste rich distilling is about separating IN not about separating OUT.

More on distilling tomorrow. If the spirits are still high, let's dive into the amazing role vapor speeds play at harvesting the right taste. And lets see what "right tastes" actually are.

Odin.
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Re: How to choose the right still...

Postby zapata » Mon Jan 08, 2018 4:15 pm

Odin, for what it's worth I volunteer to have your back too. I've known you since before you went pro and you've always acted honorably so far as I've seen.

I will throw out my abbreviated $.02 For beginners. You can make almost any product in almost any still when you know what you're doing. Until then stick with the widest amount of support in both personal and published advice available. That will be pot for flavored products, packed reflux for vodka to neutral. Just start there and you can figure the rest out with hands on experience and academic learning. And without a fair bit of both, the differences between thumper/simple pot, flute/pot, or LM/RLM/VM/CM/CCVM etc will be lost on you as a 1st time stiller anyway.
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Re: How to choose the right still...

Postby Odin » Tue Jan 09, 2018 12:14 am

Hi Zap, thanks. Yeah, that's why I think that a potstill is the way to start out. Will dive in deeper a bit later.

Maybe a question to start with. What happens if we distill in a basic potstill and compare two situations. In scenario one we distill slowly, say with 1 kW of power input. And in scenario two we distill very fast, with say 4 kW. What's the difference going to be? In output, product make-up, etc.?

Please share your thoughts.

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Re: How to choose the right still...

Postby rgreen2002 » Tue Jan 09, 2018 9:39 am

Odin wrote:Okay, Mr. Green. Lets proceed with caution. I would like to point you as master of ceremony in this ordeal. You are the OP here. I want you to watch my back. Do you see any posts that smell bad, your duty will be to address that. :)


Odin... I would always protect anyone in pursuit of true knowledge, to the best of my ability. I was thinking you might do it in a different thread :lol: . I will certainly monitor the thread and I always welcome honest and open discussion!

I think we are saying many of the same things and in my OP you will notice that there is no specific "order" to the segments. I put "Type of product" first mainly because it was the first thing to come to mind. I would say that the question does have merit though. If you know that you HATE flavored products and would only want to make vodka or NGS than an argument could be made to not start with a pot still(especially if efficiency was a concern). The opposite obviously could be true as well. Even though I make this argument here I still believe the same as you... potstill first. I say this for a few reasons and 2 come immediately to mind: 1) it is the simplest design which allows for fewer variables to have to control the process of distillation and 2) it is the easiest to build yourself which I believe will give a better understanding of the process of distillation as well.

I agree that the still is nothing more than a "concentrator" and that good flavor really originates in the fermenter. I believe (at least in my modest experience) that you can certainly affect flavor by the function of the still though. Smearing affects flavor in a similar way that good cuts can affect flavor(if that makes sense) but I believe that most of your product characteristics are related to the yeast and not the heat of distillation.

I love your discussion of "Taste Rich" as I have always thought that hearts really adds mainly the alcohol part of a drink to the mix. Taste (for better or worse) comes in how you cut (and age) IMHO... a process I still struggle with sometimes(OK frequently).

If I had a chance to start the hobby all over again, or if somebody asked me how to start off "right" I would easily say potstill for starters, make it modular to grow. Find a recipe that you like and make it REPEATEDLY until you can get almost the same results every time and then you will have some understanding of the process.

Love all the input folks...keep it coming.
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Re: How to choose the right still...

Postby RedwoodHillBilly » Tue Jan 09, 2018 11:51 am

This is an interesting discussion, I agree with Odin, in that by doing cuts, we aren't trying to reduce flavors (i.e.bad things), but we are trying to introduce the flavors that we want. The primary flavors for grain whisk(e)y are in the early tails, but for fruit brandy's are in the early heads. Of course, the flavors start in the ferment, this where we start to make some of the esters that we so desire. But the total system has many variables, that I'm not sure that we have quantified. Hence, the threads on "pure acids for esters" and "yeasts for high ester production".

I'm not sure that we are on the bleeding edge, but a continuing discussion will advance our hobby. In many ways, the hobbyists tend to advance the state of the art.
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