Fusel Oil Talk

A friend of mine recently did this write up below and I think he did a very good job of spelling out some pretty requisite information. Without further adieu, this from SS:

How do I get rid of fusel oils in my spirits?

  • Fusel alcohols or fuselol, also sometimes called fusel oils, are mixtures of several alcohols (chiefly amyl alcohol) produced as a by-product during alcoholic fermentation. The word “Fusel” is from the German word that means “bad liquor”

What different types of fusel alcohols are there?

Fusel alcohols can be classified into two different categories:

  1. Hazardous Alcohols
  • Methanol (methyl alcohol), a poisonous compound (lethal dosage of 5628 mg/kg if consumed orally)
  • Isopropanol (isopropyl alcohol), which is oxidized to form acetone by alcohol dehydrogenase in the liver

2. Congeners

  • Some beverages, such as rum, whiskey (especially Bourbon), incompletely rectified vodka ( Siwucha for instance) and traditional ales and ciders, are expected to have relatively high concentrations of non-hazardous alcohols as part of their flavor profile.
  • However, in other beverages, such cane vodka and beers (lagers specifically), the presence of alcohols other than ethanol is considered a fault.

Compounds involved are chiefly:

  • 2-Methel-1-Butanol – sometimes called “active” Amyl Alcohol
  • Isoamyl Alcohol (Isopentanol)
  • Isobutyl Alcohol – one of the least toxic of the Butanols
  • N-Propyl Alcohol

Where do fusel alcohols come from?

Fusel alcohols are always formed during fermentation, but the amount or concentration of Fusel Oils is increased dramatically if and when fermentation occurs:

  • At higher temperatures (normally 22 degrees Celsius)
  • At lower PH (too acidic)
  • When yeast activity is limited by low nitrogen content (insufficient nutrients)

During distillation, most fusel alcohols are concentrated in the feints or “Tails” at the end of the distillation run. They have an oily consistency, which is noticeable to the distiller, hence the other name “fusel oil”. If desired, these heavier alcohols can be almost completely separated in an “adjustable reflux still” or “fractioning column”.

Do Fusel Oils cause hangovers?

A lot of people are of the opinion that fusel oils cause or contribute to hangovers. This is a matter of scientific debate. A Japanese study in 2003 concluded: “the fusel oil in whiskey had no effect on the ethanol-induced emetic response”. It must be said however, that the Japanese used the common Asian house shrew as a test subject, so you would not be blamed if you thought you “smelled a rat”. Still, the higher alcohols do certainly give me a headache (personal observation).

What are the facts about Fusel Oils?

Fusel oil is the common or encompassing name for by-products as well as higher alcohols formed in the fermentation process. It is therefore not a pure compound or compounds, but considered to be a mixture.

  • The principal ingredient of fusel oil is amylalcohol which comprises 65-80% of fusel oil.
  • It may also contain all forms of isobutylcarbinol and damylalcohol, and may contain between 15-25% of isobutyl, and approximately 4-7% of n-propyl alcohol.
  • Amyl-, butyl- and propylalcohols therefore form the bulk of fusel oils.
  • Other substances are present, although none in significant quantities – the amounts are in fact so small that one needs only consider the principal compounds when doing an analysis.

The figures above cover quite a range ( 65 to 80%, 15 to 25% and 4 to 7%)

The actual make up of fusel oil depends principally on the ingredients of the fermentation, the fermentation temperature, and to a lesser extent the fermentation variables like pH and nutrients.

Why would fusel oils be desirable in spirits?

Fusel oil is the aroma of the mash. For example, in brandy and other fruit-based spirits (for example Slivovitz, Calvados, Rakia, Palinka, Palene, Piore Williams, etc.) The fusel oil in the final product is normally 0.6% or more. This is the principal aroma of the spirit, and after storage and maturing, most fusel oil constituents are converted to esters. However, even the basic raw spirit distilled from a sugar wash, the fusel content can be between 0.4-0.7% of the 95% alcohol.

The type of fermentation is therefore no indication or guarantee that you will or will not produce large quantities of fusel oils.

Can I reduce Fusel Oil formation during fermentation?

The addition of ammonium salts to a fermentation reduces the formation of fusel oil. This is referred to as “Yeast Nutrient Salt” (normally Di-Ammonium Phosphate, or DAP), a common ingredient of yeast nutrients. In addition, fermenting at lower temperatures for a longer period of time should also form less fusel oils.

Can I remove Fusel Oils from my distillate?

When spirits are diluted down to 40-50%, some of the fusel oil will far out of solution, and take on an oily consistency. This is amplified if the solution is kept cool, either by use of a cooling jacket, cooling coils, or refrigeration panels in a holding tank on the commercial level. The fusel oils that separate out are the insoluble fusel oils, principally Amylalcohols. The separated fusel oils float up to the surface due to its lower specific weight, where it can be removed by various methods.

At the amateur level this could be as simple as dabbing with an absorbent paper on a tissue, or even filtering through coffee filters. Commercially you would use a paper plate filter and or chilled filtration. Or for continuous distillation, the use of a decanter in order to create on the fly stratification. Think oil separator.

As long as the temperature is below 15°C and effective filtering is used, you should be able to separate approximately 0.3% of the fusel oil (15 ml of 5 liters of spirits) calculated on 95% ABV spirits. This should be more than 1/3 of the fusel oil present. If needed, the results can then be further purified using activated carbon filtration, although at the hobby level, this should really not be necessary.


What is a Grist Hydrator?

What Is a Grist Hydrator? A grist hydrator is a very handy and easily overlooked piece of mashing equipment that every brewery and distillery should be pretty familiar with. People don’t promote grist hydrators too terribly often, and it’s probably because they can be pretty simple. They do what the name suggests, hydrate the grains going into a mash tun. This job is a pretty important part of the mashing process, and while a grist hydrator is easy to overlook, it can have an outsized impact on your process. 

In the grist hydrator dry grains are dumped into a hopper that funnels the grain through a sprinkler that sprays it to hydrate it as it enters the mash tun. Pre-mixing helps prevent doughballs that lower the efficiency of the mashing process and ensures you have a more uniform and consistent mash.

If you get doughballs in your mash, they will keep the liquor out and prevent the starches and sugars from breaking down. This also prevents the enzymes and yeast from doing their jobs in the fermentation process by putting up physical barriers. Pre-hydrating the grain prevents it from clumping, and if you do get clumps, you’ll either have to rely on the mash tun’s rakes or manually break up the dough balls.

A grist hydrator can come in various sizes and geometries, and each with its own applications, strengths, and weaknesses. The most common types are a spray ring that hydrates the grist as it falls, plates that force the grist and water to mix, and static mixers that increase grist and water contact over a specified length.

The spray ring has the least chance of fouling and the least maintenance, but it doesn’t hydrate the grains quite as well. With the spray plate variety, the plates can clog if not operated properly or if the grain can contact the plate for too long without water flow. The static mixer is the best at hydrating grain, but it is also the most complex and costly, so it may be overkill for most applications. Most of our grist hydrators are the spray ring variety and come standard on our mash tuns. 

Grist hydrators are a wonderful piece of mashing equipment that can help you save money by increasing the efficiency of your chemical inputs and increasing the consistency of your mashing by breaking up dough balls. There’s more than one kind of geometry, and they can be sized for your application, so please call us to discuss your options or if you need some tips and tricks on best practices. We love hearing from you, so please reach out or comment below to let us know how we can help!

Distillery Planning Series: Batch vs. Continuous

Batch distilling has been around for thousands of years, and somehow there’s always something new to learn about the process and how it all works. Distillation itself is a commonly used process in various industries to separate and purify liquids based on their boiling points. It involves heating a liquid mixture to its boiling point and collecting the condensed vapor.

There are two types of distillation processes: batch distillation and continuous distillation. Continuous distillation processes are the next step in the evolution of distilling, and even though the technology was developed in the early 1800s, they’re still at the cutting edge of distilling technology. They operate on a continuous feed of wort, and as long as all goes well, they do not need to shut down once they start up aside from scheduled maintenance. The two different technologies operate using the same basic principles, but since the technologies work differently, they each have their own unique strengths.  

Batch distillation is a process in which a fixed amount (a batch) of a mixture is heated in a still until it reaches its boiling point, and the resulting vapor is collected and condensed into a liquid form. For simple batch distillation, this means that you’ll either need to do multiple runs or use a column with multiple plate levels to make a more refined product. 

One advantage of batch distillation is that it is relatively simple and easy to operate. This makes it suitable for small-scale operations or new start-ups. It allows for better control over the separation of components to potentially allow you to pull unique flavors into your final product. However, batch distillation can be time-consuming and inefficient for large-scale operations, as the process needs to be repeated several times to obtain the desired amount of product. Furthermore, batch distillation may result in variations in the quality of the final product since it can be difficult to control all the variables from batch to batch. 

Continuous distillation, on the other hand, is a process in which a liquid mixture is continuously fed into a column, where it is heated and vaporized. The vapor rises through the column, and as it does so, the lighter boiling constituents (heads) will move up the column, and the higher boiling point constituents remain in the liquid bed on the plate. The condensed liquid is then collected from one of the plate levels in our system as a final product. This contrasts the batch system, where the product normally leaves the column as a vapor before being turned into a liquid at the final product condenser. 

An advantage of continuous distillation is that it can handle large volumes of liquid more efficiently than batch distillation. It is also more consistent, as the process is not interrupted, and the temperature and pressure inside the column can be carefully controlled. This leads to a more consistent and higher-quality final product. However, continuous distillation can be more complex and requires more expertise to operate and maintain. 

The choice between batch and continuous distillation depends on what you want your operation to be. You’ll want to think about the amount of product needed, the quality requirements, the desired level of automation, and the final flavor that you’re trying to achieve. Batch distillation is a good choice for small-scale operations or any operation that needs to have a.

It is also a good option for processes that require a high level of variability or product mixes since it has such a wide operating range. Continuous systems excel at producing large volumes of distillate in a very consistent way. Automation can help reduce the learning curve for a continuous still dramatically, but there is inherently more complexity in the system, so there’s a lot to learn. 

Batch distillation and continuous distillation are two commonly used distillation processes with different advantages and disadvantages. While batch distillation is simple and offers better control over the separation of components, it can be time-consuming and less efficient for large-scale operations.

Continuous distillation, on the other hand, offers higher efficiency, consistency, and quality control, but it requires more expertise to operate and maintain. Ultimately, the choice between the two depends on the specific needs of your operation, and we’d be more than happy to answer your questions and discuss your options. Call us at 561-845-8009 or leave a comment below to discuss your next still. 

Differences of a Copper Onion, Helmet & Expansion Chamber

Copper has been a staple material in the distillation of alcohol for centuries. Its unique properties make it an ideal choice for creating essential components of distillation apparatuses such as onion-shaped stills, expansion chambers, and helmets.

Expansion Chamber

The chamber is designed to allow the alcohol vapors to expand and cool down before being condensed back into a liquid form. Copper is an ideal material for an expansion chamber as it is highly malleable, allowing it to be shaped into the required form. Furthermore, copper has high corrosion resistance, ensuring that the chamber will last for many years without rusting or deteriorating.

Copper Onion

An example of an expansion chamber that we carry is a copper onion, which is another type of expansion chamber. Copper is the perfect material for this application as it is an excellent conductor of heat. Additionally, copper has a high thermal conductivity, which allows it to react quickly to changes in temperature.

This means that it can heat up quickly and respond rapidly to changes in the heat source, making it a preferred material for distillers. If you are curious about our onion head, please check it out on our website at this link. Copper onions are known as an onion due to their shape resembling an onion, and more surface area can also contribute to passive reflux, which can assist in more proof. The expanded area can slow vapor speed down, which will overall help with better still behavior, and, some say, render a better-finished product.

Copper Helmet

The copper helmet is another component of a distillation apparatus that we provide. Its purpose is to trap any impurities that may be present in the alcohol vapor and prevent them from being condensed into the final product. The helmet is typically shaped like a cone, and the copper material is chosen for its excellent thermal conductivity and malleability. This allows the helmet to fit snugly onto the top of the still and create a tight seal, preventing any impurities from entering the final product.

Apart from its excellent thermal and electrical conductivity, copper also has antimicrobial properties. Copper surfaces naturally eliminate microorganisms, making them an ideal material for use in distilling equipment, where hygiene is paramount.

In addition to its functional properties, copper is also valued for its aesthetic appeal. The shiny, reddish-brown metal is a beautiful addition to any distillation apparatus, adding an elegant touch to an already beautiful process.

In conclusion, copper is an essential material in the distillation of alcohol. Its unique properties, including high thermal conductivity, malleability, corrosion resistance, and antimicrobial properties, make it an ideal choice for creating essential components such as the onion-shaped still, expansion chamber, and copper helmet.

Furthermore, its aesthetic appeal adds to the overall beauty of the distillation process. Copper has been and will continue to be a preferred material for distillers worldwide, ensuring that the tradition of distilling alcohol remains alive for generations to come.

If you are in need of or have any questions about the pieces you read about, reach out to Emily at emily@stilldragon.com or call 561-845-8009.

4 Ways to Be a Greener Brewery

Becoming a green brewery or distillery is a very broad topic, with lots of possibilities! However, it is easy to start becoming an environmentally friendly brewery. With Global Warming upon us, a lot of breweries are changing their methods to make them more sustainable, whether it’s turning off lights and tools or finding ways to decrease transportation costs.

Breweries can apply a farm-to-glass program helping to lower the usage of water and transportation of their agricultural products in an effort to become greener. Building a brewery, and distillery, that offers green brewing and green distilling helps to add to the beauty of buying local!

Many people that enjoy craft brewing and distilling most likely only see the positives of “drinking locally” or “supporting a small business.” Which is great, and it benefits the local economy. Here are 4 hurdles that local breweries face when trying to be sustainable and their green solutions:


Problem: Energy is the largest monster to conquer to be more sustainable as a running brewery. Breweries are constantly using electricity, from keeping their fermentation in check with their glycol chiller to some breweries keeping boilers on Monday – Friday for their daily brews.

Trying to save energy by turning off your temp control box during fermentation could result in getting diacetyl or some off-flavor profile in your beer. Turning off your boiler at the end of the night ultimately means that the brewer must come in an hour early to start it up. It would make sense to see which is more cost-effective in that case. 

Solution: Depending on their location, breweries are starting to invest in solar and wind energy. Solar and wind power help not only by using less electricity but by saving some dollars in your pocket. Installing more windows in both the back and front of the house allows more natural light in the building, cutting back on those pesky halogen bulbs (but hopefully you have LED bulbs all over your brewery), opening the windows and bay doors can help with letting in light and airflow as well.

Some breweries are taking the plunge to pay staff more so that boilers can be shut down every night. There is always something you can turn off while not using, just like at your house: lights, air compressor, canning line when not running, and so much more.

2.Fossil Fuels:

Problem: Fossil fuels are used in the ancillary operations of the brewery, but they are all very necessary parts of keeping the brewery running. Fossil fuels are used in transporting grains, equipment, distribution, and more, using gas to treck these things across the country. It even comes into play when trying to dispose of spent grains to the farmers.

Solution: Unfortunately, there’s not much to do when trying to cut down on fossil fuels; transportation will always happen with a running business. Try investing in electric trucks or lifts – even more beneficial if you are running on solar or wind energy; ask your vendors about their green, and sustainable efforts, partner with vendors that have plans to incorporate electric vehicles, or at minimum, have practices in place to cut down on gas mileage and emissions.

3.Natural Gas

Problem: Breweries use natural gas in boilers to produce steam for heating mash tuns or running the kettle. During fermentation, carbon dioxide (CO2) and ethanol vapors are released into the atmosphere, at the end of fermentation, that carbon dioxide isn’t really in the beer anymore since it was released through the blow-off arm of the tank.

As a result, more CO2 is added to the beer to give it carbonation and the mouth feel that we all enjoy so much; to do so, breweries connect their uni tanks to a piece of machinery called a Fizz Wizz, adding the correct amount of CO2 back into the beer by measuring the temperature and pressure of the tank. This carbonation process can take 24 hours; CO2 is also being run during packaging, both on the canning line and when the beer is being kegged.

Solution: Natural gas breweries are taking a large step to slow down and help with this. Instead of releasing the carbon dioxide out of the blow-off arm during fermentation, breweries can invest in technology to recycle their CO2. Big Storm in Clearwater, Florida, has installed a system to recapture the CO2 during fermentation, which you can read more about here. Another brewery is selling its grain to a university that is repurposing it with a farmer’s manure to create methane gas.


Problem: Hops, one of the most popular ingredients in a beer, helps with the aroma, color (sometimes), and flavor profile of the beer. Hops take a LOT of water, and, well, with global warming upon us, it’s not great for mother earth. Studies say we use 700-800 MM of water during the growing season worldwide.

Plus, three main states in the United States grow hops – Washington, Idaho, and Oregon. Within the past eight years, New Zealand has become a large supplier of hops, which goes back to using energy and fossil fuels to receive said hops. Other agricultural ingredients include grain, corn, corn flakes, oat flakes, and more, which all use water to grow and transportation to have it dropped off at your brewery.

Solution: Many breweries are creating their own farmland to grow hops and other additives for their batches, subscribing to the sustainable Farm to Glass program. A good example of that is Sierra Nevada Brewing Company and Jester King Brewing. Another advantage of farmland is that rainwater can be captured and repurposed for gardens. If your brewery cannot purchase local farmland, partnering with local farms to supply as much as possible is another example of creating a sustainable brewing practice. This bolsters the local economy and agriculture while cutting back on transportation costs.

Changing your ecological footprint can seem like a daunting and expensive task, but it is important to take it one step at a time. Do what you can when you can. Start by turning off lights and equipment when they are not in use, ask your vendors about their sustainable practices, and partner with those.

Keep your purchases local to cut back on transportation usage and bolster the agricultural community in your area. Then when you have the time and/or finances, invest in rainwater collection vessels, or CO2 recycling equipment. Then before you know it, your brewery can be sustainable and green as well.

Does your brewery need an efficient rice cooker or a fermenter? Contact us via email or at 561-845-8009. Let us help you on your green journey!

Benefits of Choosing StillDragon – a Superior Warranty, Shipping, and Customer Service

Our Warranty

We are so proud of the quality of our equipment that the purchaser has a one-year warranty from the original date of delivery. This warranty covers any defects that cause the equipment not to work adequately. With the defective equipment, we will replace or repair it at no charge. Depending on what piece of equipment is not working properly, we may use a 3rd party to fix the problem welders, plumbers, and other trade professionals. We are not liable for loss of income during the time the equipment is being repaired or replaced. We are here to help and ensure the best quality. 

Please remember that we are not liable for any equipment that has been damaged by negligence or incidents due to the handler. Examples of that are the Use of unauthorized chemicals, solvents, or vapors, Unauthorized disassembly, alterations, repairs, modifications, or attempted modifications, and Normal wear and tear. Please contact StillDragon at info@stilldragon.com with further questions about our warranty.


StillDragon North America will ship throughout North America and South America. If you are a purchaser of a continuous still somewhere outside of these regions, we will accommodate you. In any other region, the other international StillDragons can help. Please be aware that our default shipper is UPS. You are welcome to contact us if you would like to switch to USPS at a higher rate. But,  you will most likely not receive a COD charge to receive your package.

If the package is refused and returned to us, we will refund the parts minus the incurred shipping expenses. Please take note that, in order to have the package sent back to the US, we are charged the same duties and taxes as the COD, and these charges may be taken out of your refund. Customers outside of the United States are subject to any import taxes, customs duties, and fees. Customs policies are widely varied by each other country. Contact your customs office with any questions regarding any questions. We have a 30-day guarantee for returns, no questions asked. And, if any package arrives damaged or missing, let us know within three days of receipt and keep the package, so we can confirm the damage and replace it. 

Customer Service

StillDragon North America is mainly known for our customer service. We have multiple lines of communication that are open. You can reach us through our website chat box, direct email to a sales representative, email to info@stilldragon.com, and by our phone number at 561-845-8009. If you are a new customer that has come upon our website and reached out to the chat box or info email, a sales representative will be assigned to you immediately to ensure that your questions are answered accordingly.

During our conversation, we will make sure you understand each question you have! We network with many people in this industry as well, if you have a question about other products in the distilling world. From consultants to grain, we can guide you to the correct person. Our sales representatives are able to build custom quotes for any customer’s needs as well. 

Distillery Planning Series: To Buy GNS or Distill Inhouse

Distillery planning is a great way to keep you on track and focused, but it should also be a “living document” and allow you enough flexibility to pivot when you need to without losing your company’s identity in the process. In this installment of our distillery planning series, we’re going to discuss the pros and cons of distilling neutral spirit on your own versus buying neutral spirit from a third party. There are benefits to both approaches, so please keep an open mind while you’re reading and think about what the best fit for your operation will be as you read.

We’ve touched on making money with vodka, and you can read more about strategies to make neutral spirits in a wide range of ways in these articles about vodka columns and vodka stills. If you want to distill in-house, these are some wonderful articles to get you started, and we’d be happy to answer any questions you have about the process. The main benefit of making vodka yourself is that you retain control over the whole process, and you decide the quality and flavor profile of the final product.

If you buy it from someone else, you are beholden to their production standards and may need to redistill the neutral spirit to bring the flavor profile in line with what you’re looking for. If you do decide to redistill neutral spirit, you may not need to run it through a full vodka column to get the flavor profile you’re looking for. It depends on the quality of the material you source and what you want the final product to be.

Not all neutral spirits are the same, so make sure that you’re getting samples from reputable sources that you are comfortable with. Grain-neutral spirit is cheaper than water in a lot of cases, especially since those reverse osmosis systems don’t usually come cheap! As is so often the case, you generally get what you pay for, so if something sounds too good to be true, it just may be. If you do purchase spirits from someone else, you need to make sure that you’re comfortable with what they’re making since the bottle will have your branding on it and reflect on your company regardless of who made the juice. 

Another benefit of making neutral spirits yourself instead of buying them is the story that comes with the process. If your brand identity is grain to glass or some iteration of that, it may reflect poorly on your brand if you buy part of your portfolio. This goes back to the planning aspect and seeing what suits your distillery and brand the best. There’s not a single best solution that will fit everyone’s needs perfectly. We’d love to help you decide the best fit for you and delve deeper into the way you want your operation to run. Choosing whether to distill or buy spirits will affect the equipment, raw materials, and overall workflow of your operation, so please give us a call at 561-845-8009 to discuss the best fit for you!

Distilling Equipment Benefits of Having a Bluetooth Thermometer

When it comes to distilling with the humble pot still, I have always believed that utilizing a thermometer was, at best, a superfluous luxury. 

Vapor production with a 10% beer typically starts right around 190°F. And of course, when we are out of alcohol, the temps should be at 212°F. Therefore, temperatures in the kettle will get progressively hotter as we render the alcohol out of the kettle. 

Remember though, we can not control the temperature in the kettle as long as we are rendering out the alcohol because we are effectively changing the boiling point in the kettle as we collect alcohol. This is why collecting alcohol by utilizing a target temperature when distilling is less than optimal. 

Tracking temperature data can be a helpful tool as long as you understand that batch kettle temps cannot be controlled. Only the rate of boiling can be controlled. Temp data on a kettle is mostly relegated to helping you understand when the kettle has run out of alcohol. That understanding is also available by measuring the ABV% of the distillate stream.

For more information regarding the above assertions, check out this write up by Zymurgy Bob.

Now that we have gotten that out of the way, there are plenty of locations within the distillery environment where temperature data is absolutely important, and indeed critical. Just like with beer brewing, cooking temperatures, fermentation temperatures, and cellar temperatures are all very critical in creating uniformly consistent yield and flavor profiles.

If you are well capitalized and have a state-of-the-art control panel connected to RTDs located all over your tanks and can view all temps from your control panel… Well that’s great.

But you may also find yourself multitasking during your work day, and the ability to monitor temperatures while standing in front of your tank or while staring at your control panel may not always be helpful when you also have accounting tasks to complete, as an example.

This is where having thermometers with Bluetooth capability can really help.

Downloading the app to your phone or tablet will allow you to view temps in your facility from anywhere. The Spirit Labs app (as an example) also provides you with the ability to monitor several thermometers from a single device and set alerts or alarms.

 If you are an old guy (I am not) whose eyes can’t see the thermometer face located 15 or 20 feet in the air, the Bluetooth thermometer is a perfect way to have the temp data at your fingertips. Physical proximity becomes a non-issue.

Some models also have data logging capability if that is a tool that is needed.

The bottom line here is that Bluetooth thermometers can improve some quality-of-life issues at work by providing you with remote data collection.

It’s Time To Clean Your Equipment: From An Experienced Brewer

Today we will be discussing the benefits of properly cleaning your distilling equipment from an experienced brewer. With my experience, we are going to be talking about when I was a cellarman, and if you know a cellarman makes sure you give them a Nut Roll and thank them for their work. Cellar work is the most important part of brewing because there isn’t a lot you can do to fix your mistakes on the cold side of the tanks. Especially if you didn’t clean your tanks or brew house properly. 

After being at StillDragon for a little bit, I’ve learned there are a few differences when it comes to the whys of cleaning your equipment between the brewing and distilling side. 

The effects of not cleaning your equipment can be hidden until it’s too late. And when it’s too late, you lose the product, which means losing money. So, let’s go over what can happen if you decide to skip a few months on cleaning yours still, and why it shouldn’t be skipped. 

The Only Reason A Brewer and Distiller Cleans Differently

The goal of cleaning and sanitizing is to keep your equipment clean and sterile, so whatever steps you take after that can be as effective as possible. The most important factor in brewing is sanitation. There are some differences when it comes to the whys of cleaning your equipment between the brewing and distilling side. 

For a brewer, cleanliness is about making sure that your beer doesn’t have off flavors caused by wild yeast, bacteria or improper sanitation methods. It’s also about making sure that a batch doesn’t get infected by spillover from previous batches (one of the main reasons we rinse our equipment after use). 

On the distilling side, cleanliness is more about ensuring that there aren’t any chemical residues in your product from improper cleaning techniques. Another thing distillers need to be aware of is why they need to clean: flavor carry-over. Flavor carry-over can happen very easily for most distilleries. For example: if you own one of our DoubleDragons, you are using it for multiple spirits. One day you use it for whiskey. The next day you are scheduled out to use that same kettle for rum. If you don’t clean the kettle, you’re probably going to have some flavor profiles of whiskey in your rum.

Product Maintenance

One more important reason to keep that still squeaky clean is just…maintenance. You spent a lot of time and money to have that still. And, replacing one in a space that is filled…is pretty difficult. All of our parents taught us at a young age if you have something nice to take care of it. If not, it breaks. And after being in the brewery scene for a decade….things break a lot, and sometimes you don’t have the budget to replace that item. Most of the time, those pieces of equipment broke due to negligence or sanitizing after use (did I mention the sanitization was key in breweries?)

How To Clean Your Equipment Properly

At a brewery, you will most likely see large barrels of chemicals lying around somewhere. A great practice to start with regarding fermenters is rinse those tanks off until your water is clear, leaving the fermenter! Trub and hop burn is a nightmare to remove sometimes (depending on the beer), And a 30-minute cycle of caustic isn’t always going to do the trick to knock it off. After spraying those inner walls the first thing to do is use soap, just like when you wash your hands to get dirt off of them. Caustic is your soap. Caustic is a strong corrosive alkali that burns or destroys organic tissue by chemical action.

Every SOP is different when it comes to measurements they use and cycle length. After your caustic is done you will burst rinse your tank until the caustic is fully rinsed out. Then do your acid, something that all breweries do differently. Some breweries only use acid to passivate their tanks once every 6 months and some of them use it after each caustic cycle. Please read more on the home distiller forum/home brewer forums which practice is best for you. Acid is Phosphoric Acid it helps to remove beerstone which is an calcium oxalate. And, adds a thin film over your stainless steel to protect it (if you are doing passivation on your tank.) Yet again after your cycle is done you will rinse your tank. When your tank cools down (because heat causes PA to neutralize), you will start your sanitization cycle. Peracetic Acid is the sanitizer that most professionals use. It literally is just a cold disinfectant. After your cycle you are done. 

With distilleries, they are not worried about the disinfectant part, you don’t have to worry about that since you are already disinfecting your spirit no matter what. What I’ve learned so far about how distillers clean their equipment, like their kettle it’s pretty simple. It looks like the best practice if you have just purchased your new DoubleDragon Baine Marie Kettle that you should run some kind of soap through it to remove metal shavings and oils from us. Home distillers say dish soap to caustic. After backflushing the kettle a lot of our customers do a vinegar wash to a citric acid wash due to not using phosphoric acid as much as a brewery. With this cycle they are ensuring that every little bit of particle in the kettle is removed. It’s the same as an acid cycle with breweries, just different chemicals for the same result. After you will back flush or burst rinse your kettle and are ready to take off! 

All in all how breweries and distilleries CIP their equipment is close, except for one aspect that brewers have to worry about cross contamination a lot more. 

If you are interested in any StillDragon equipment or have any questions, please reach out to me, Emily Ellsworth. My email is right here.

Making Money with Vodka

Creating income distilling is a crucial part of keeping your distillery doors open unless you are already independently wealthy or just in it for the love of the craft. One way to get revenue flowing quickly is to have an unaged product or two in your portfolio since it’s very difficult to have a two-year-old product in less than two years. There are several kinds of unaged spirits that you can choose from and the two most common we’ve seen in the market are gin and vodka. Both need somewhat specialized equipment so you’ll want to do some planning and make sure what fits your operation the best. We’ve already gone over what it takes to start a Gin Distillery so we’ll focus more on vodka in this article.

Creating income with vodka can be as easy or as complicated as you’d like it to be. Since it takes more plates to make a neutral spirit than most other spirits, you can add to your existing still to bring your total number of plates to where you need to be to produce the 95% ABV spirit that the Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) requires in order to have the word vodka on the label. The rule of thumb regarding the number of plates needed to produce a 95% ABV spirit is that the more plates the better. It is theoretically possible to make a spirit pure enough to be called vodka with a shorter column but it will likely take multiple runs and your input costs will go up exponentially with every run. The amount of work it takes to go from 90% ABV to 93% is only a fraction of what it takes to get the 93% spirit up to 95%. By adding plates you are letting the equipment do the work for you so that you don’t need to put in as much time and it will lower your utility unit costs as well. We had one customer upgrade from an 18-plate to a 30-plate column to make his vodka and he reported that it took him less time and lowered his utility costs per run compared to the same batch size on the shorter column. 

Before you go out and buy more plate sections to add to your existing still or order a dedicated vodka still you should consider how this fits into your overall operation. It can be inefficient to switch over your column and piping when you want to make a change in your production schedule. You may want to use a side column for vodka or even have a dedicated vodka still. We wrote a whole blog about that as well if you’d like to learn more about that equipment configuration. Another benefit of using two stills is that it takes away a lot of the opportunity costs of running multiple products on the same equipment. If you’re trying to build barrel inventory in your rickhouse one of the last things you’re going to want to do is to stop production of your aged product to make an unaged and lower dollar value product. 

Another way to make money off of vodka is through your tasting room if you’re lucky enough to be in an area where you’re allowed to serve cocktails. Vodka cocktails are traditionally pretty popular and your margins on a spirit that you produce in-house and sell at retail cocktail prices are a very wonderful way to increase revenue for your operation.  

Creating distillery income isn’t a one size fits all proposition and you’ll have to see among the multitude of options what fits your operation the best. Figuring out your long term plans will help you narrow down your options so that you do what makes the best sense for your business. We’d be more than happy to help you with selecting the right equipment and figuring out how to achieve your goals. Give us a call at 561-845-8009 or shoot us an email at info@stilldragon.com to start the conversation about your next steps in growing your business.

Black Button Distilling: StillDragon Customer Spotlight

Black Button Distilling is the first grain-to-glass craft distillery in Rochester, NY since prohibition. Founded in 2012 near Rochester’s historic Public Market, Black Button Distilling specializes in farm-to-still products, using unique and all-natural ingredients from local farms. Distributed in 12 states and Japan, Black Button Distilling has crafted over 2 million bottles of award-winning spirits in the last ten years.

INC. 5000 LIST (2018, 2019 & 2021) – Black Button Distilling is one of the fastest-growing private companies in America, and the fastest-growing distillery in the Northeast.

NEW YORK GROWN & CERTIFIED (2019) – The first distillery in New York to obtain the New York State Grown and Certified status for commitment to locally sourced ingredients and high standards of quality. 

Every batch of bourbon, gin and vodka is distilled, aged, bottled and labeled in the Rochester, NY distillery.


As a child, Jason Barrett worked alongside his grandfather in his family’s Rochester, NY button factory, where suit buttons worn by Presidents, Popes, Kings, and businessmen the world over have been produced for four generations. Black Button Distilling pays homage to Barrett’s grandfather and the world he knew –where real men worked hard and drank real pot distilled whiskey. 


  • 2012: Founded by Rochester, NY native Jason Barrett at only 24 years old
  • 2014: Black Button distillery, tasting room and retail store opens in Rochester, NY 
  • 2018: Black Button Farm & Forestry, a farm in South Bristol, NY is born 
  • 2018: Black Button Distilling earns a spot on the Inc. 5000 list 
  • 2019: Black Button Distilling earns the New York Grown & Certified designation 
  • 2022: Black Button Distilling celebrates its 10th Anniversary





* THE GIN GUILD (2017): Jeff Fairbrother and Jason Barrett were welcomed into the Gin Guild as Warden Nominated Rectifier and Warden Rectifier respectively, only the 2nd and 4th Americans installed in this prestigious organization. 

  • American Craft Spirits Association Awards: Bronze Medal – Citrus Forward Gin (2015)
  • Wine Enthusiast magazine scored Apple Pie Moonshine at 92 points, making it the magazine’s highest rated moonshine 
  • Food & Beverage Magazine Named Citrus Forward Gin “The Official Gin of Summer” 
  • NY State Governors Cup – Citrus Forward Gin: Best Craft Spirit in NY state 
  • Spirits of the Americas: Citrus Forward Gin – Bronze Medal in Contemporary Gin Category
  • Spirits of the Americas: Bespoke Bourbon Cream – Silver Medal in Cream Liqueur
  • American Craft Spirit Association Awards: Silver Medal – Four Grain Bourbon (2016)
  • Bourbon Cream 2017 won Silver at American Craft Spirits Association (2017)
  • Best Whiskey in New York State at the Heartland Whiskey Competition (2021)



  • Black Button Distilling Four Grain Bourbon
  • Four Grain Straight Bourbon Whiskey
  • Cask Strength Straight Bourbon Whiskey
  • Single Barrel Straight Bourbon Whiskey
  • Port Cask Finished Single Barrel
  • Straight Bourbon Whiskey
  • Apple Brandy Barrel Finished Single Barrel
    Straight Bourbon Whiskey
  • Pre-Prohibition Style Straight Bourbon Whiskey
  • Empire Straight Rye Whiskey


  • Bespoke Bourbon Cream
  • Bespoke Coffee Liqueur
  • Bespoke Empire Apple Liqueur

Gin & Vodka

  • Citrus Forward Gin
  • Lilac Gin
  • Loganberry Gin
  • All American Corn Vodka

85 Railroad Street, Rochester NY 14609 cheers@blackbuttondistilling.com • 585-730-4512 • www.BlackButtonDistilling.com

A Guide to the 3 Chamber Still

For those of you new to the distilling world, a 3-chamber still is a semi-continuously fed still that has a reputation for producing very robust, aromatic finished spirits. Most notably rye whiskey and rum. Evidently, this type of still became popular during the mid to late 1800s. The earliest iterations of this still were manufactured by incorporating wood into the design. Later, these still designs were no doubt strengthened and improved with the use of metals.

By comparison, double Retort systems (for example) also have a strong reputation for producing very heavy-bodied rums. The double retort operates with a larger primary kettle and two smaller ancillary kettles that derive their heat parasitically from the primary kettle. For heavy rum production, the primary is typically charged with a rum beer, retort #1 is charged with a low-wines mixture, and retort #2 is charged with a high-wines mixture. See the below diagram.

traditional rum distillation process

The combined makeup of kettle charges coupled with the amount of dwell time that each charge has been previously exposed to heat is what ultimately contributes to the heavier, more robust aromatic finished spirit. I’ll touch on that here in a bit.

I digress here to mention that Stephen Shellenberger of Boston Apothecary frequently talks about the hows and whys of the reactive environment inside the still that is responsible for many of the aromatic qualities found in your favorite spirits. Especially rum. I would absolutely head over to the Boston Apothecary website and read through everything that Mr. Shellenberger writes about. The content there is very insightful. 

The double retort system does however have a much different process flow compared to the 3 chamber still. The double retort system is a true batch still in that it is the primary kettle that gets recharged with fresh beer after each subsequent run. The primary kettle does not typically get its heat from direct steam injection. Unlike the 3 chamber still, the double retort system is not really known for having an integrated beer preheater. Certainly, it is possible to replicate the process flow of the 3 chamber still with a double retort. But in doing so some inefficiencies with respect to material handling and heat loss would quickly become evident. 

Elevating each retort would allow the operator to exploit gravity when the liquid transfer part of the operation becomes necessary. But then there would be the expense of building the structure to support each retort as well as potentially gobbling up a larger footprint. For any similarities between the two systems, there are equally the same differences.

It is a bit confusing to me the more I think about it. I wonder why it was the 3 chamber still that went all but extinct rather than the double retort still? The 3 chamber still is objectively better technology. The 3 chamber system is more sophisticated than the humble pot still but just not fast enough to keep up with the column stills. The 3 chamber seems to have gotten lost in that space between basic and the need for speed.

If you have not already run across the story about this system’s resurrection, Todd Leopold from Leopold Bros. deserves the credit for rediscovering this lost design. Taking inspiration from whiskey blogging luminaries such as Chuck Cowdry and David Wondrich, and by reading through various historical source materials, Mr. Leopold discovered that the largest distillery in the world (at the time) used a chamber still even though they also used the more productive column stills. Mr. Leopold speculates, “why would a company like Hiram Walker, which already had a column still and is the most efficient way to make whiskey, why would they use the chamber still?”. Mr. Leopold then asserts “and the answer is flavor”. Todd and his brother Scott put their money where their mouth was and put forth a commission to have the still designed as they understood it to be built. 

With the exception of a few brief characterizations, there really was no actual instruction manual for how to run one of these beasts. Stephen Shellenburger does post a brief start-up instructional taken from American Commercial Methods of Manufacturing Preserves, Pickles, Canned Foods, ETC, by Charles A Shinkle. But really there was no reliable training manual for this still. So, Todd was basically going to have to rely on his experience and also employ some on-the-job training to run this still.

There are several design illustrations of this type of still. Though not near as much documentation compared to more well-known designs.

Here are a few illustrations that most inspired the StillDragon version of this design concept for your viewing pleasure.

three chamber still
distilling drawing

So why does this design produce a heavier more aromatic spirit? Well, it seems the secret sauce is dwell time. Or to put it in terms that nearly everyone can visualize, longer cook time. Very often I have used cooking as an analogy for getting my head around distilling profiles. I’m simply not smart enough to take the chemE road to understanding why the reaction occurs. Though I do seek out how to make the reaction occur. 

Let’s move back to the secret sauce, literally. For me, a very good analogy is the classic Italian Sunday gravy. So if you can imagine we are in the kitchen and we’ve now prepared and installed all of our favorite red sauce ingredients into our big sauce pot. 5 or 10 minutes into our simmer, the sauce starts to smell good. We can smell the aromas wafting throughout the kitchen. Within 20- or 30 minutes time, the aroma has intensified and smells even more delicious. But if we lightly simmer our Sunday gravy for several hours the entire house is consumed with the most amazing, delicious smell ever. This same progression of aromatic intensification occurs with other foods being cooked as well. Bread and cakes, Beef and chicken are all pretty good examples of how as foods run through the progression of being first applied to heat and allowed to continue cook to completion progressively smell better though-out the process.

Mr. Leopold mentions in several of his interviews that the beer being fed into the column still only has about 90 seconds worth of dwell time in heat before it finds its way out of the column as effluent. By comparison, Mr. Leopold exposes his beer volume to as much as 90 minutes under heat in the 3 chamber. 

I suspect the operating range of the 3 chamber still can be somewhat dependent on the individual user. But if we consider that slow heat-up times, 100% reflux mode on the short batch column, sour mashing, dunder recycling, and perhaps a few other methods used to promote esterification all have one thing in common, protracted exposure to heat.

I liken the above example to exactly what happens in the 3 chamber still. The goal here is to of course distill out the ethanol. But a by-product of the process is that it requires more dwell time to do so with the 3 chamber design concept. More cooking time very often means more lovely aromatics. This may have represented an inefficiency in the eyes of the old-time distilleries that shelved this still. I suspect at the time that distillery owners that used these old stills did not afford themselves the luxury of exploiting the inefficiencies of going slower than the column still and likely didn’t think highly enough of the finished product to influence what was ultimately the decision to shelve this still design once prohibition was in full swing?

Keep your eyes peeled for the StillDragon version of this design. We’ll be producing a recipe development-size version of this system to drag to next year’s trade show destinations. Please stop by our booth and have a look in person.

three chamber still