Can You Have Too Much CIP?

For those not yet in the know, CIP stands for clean in place.

CIP is a system primarily used for sanitation applications that allow the equipment operator to clean and sanitize equipment without having to either partially or fully disassemble one’s tanks and related piping. For large systems, this can be a big time saver.

The answer to the question that the title of this write-up implies is that aside from the expense associated with incorporating a CIP system, it’s not going to hurt to have too much CIP. The real question is where will CIP provide the least benefit if the budget matters? The answer to that if you are a boutique distillery operator, it is your still.

The distillation process separates ethanol from the kettle charge and forces ethanol vapor through the distillation apparatus. Ethanol is a solvent.  Many solvents (including ethanol) act as very good cleaning agents. The problem is that fusel oils can also get carried into the distillation apparatus. This is particularly true toward the end of the run when most of the ethanol has been liberated and the remaining constituents in the kettle are what the old-timers would call back-ins. Basically, this is spent or depleted beer or wine that once vaporized will carry heavier, oily constituents into the distillation apparatus.

However, the next distillation will then force more ethanol through the apparatus and effectively clean the system.

Now I’m not saying that over time the distillation apparatus will not require cleaning. I’m simply saying that the still does not have to be cleaned after every run beyond a basic hose down in the kettle.

How big is your equipment? If 80% (or so) of your still is accessible from the ground or a small step stool, you would be wasting money on a CIP system in my honest opinion. Simply remove your parrot if you have one, connect a (distillery) hose to the discharge end of the system, and backflush the system from the product condenser back to the kettle. Allow the kettle to fill to an appreciable level, fire the kettle, bring the liquid in the kettle to a boil and then blow steam back through the column without any coolant flow through any of the heat exchangers, and voila’! That is usually enough to keep things tidy on the inside most of the time.

The caveat to that as mentioned can be an accumulation of oils present within pretty much all agricultural products. These Fusel oils can coat the inside of the distillation apparatus during long-term operation. Rum oils produced from blackstrap molasses fermentation come to mind. This accumulation of sticky oils can build up within the apparatus and become very difficult to remove even with an integrated CIP system. Manual cleaning would be necessary at this point if one finds that the accumulation of oils adversely affects the operation of the still or adversely changes the flavor profile of the finished spirit. CIP spray balls very likely will not have the ability to clean this tar-like accumulation of material out of the still. Seriously, this tar-like substance is bullfrog tuff stuff.

Ok, let’s regroup. What was the question? Perhaps it should be when is too much CIP not enough!

For larger systems that are not accessible from the ground level, CIP can certainly expedite the labor associated with routine cleaning inside the apparatus. CIP is also extremely handy when applying a sanitizer over the interior surfaces of large cookers and fermentation equipment. Cookers with false bottoms, fermenters, pumps as well as “sanitary” piping is especially important to keep clean and sanitary, but trickier to clean and sanitize well enough to avoid any unwanted bacteria that may bloom inside the vessel’s nooks and crannies. All of this is more easily and thoroughly done manually if the equipment is easily accessible from the ground level or from a step stool. Large facilities will absolutely benefit from CIP systems.

Another thing worth mentioning is that spent beer is fairly acidic. Soaking stainless steel and copper parts in spent beer is a great way to bring back the shine to those parts.

Can you have too much CIP? Well, that depends. Is CIP helpful? Absolutely.