How to Choose the Right Distilling Equipment

Buying durable alcohol distillation equipment is the foundation of running a successful craft distillery. To find the right craft distillery equipment, you must begin with a general understanding of what distillation is and where in the equipment the process occurs.

1. Understand distillation 101

Distillation usually happens in the column, separating the alcohols from the wash using multiple cycles of condensation and evaporation. The alcohol vapor produced by heating the kettle rises to the column, where it finds its way through the bubble cap and, depending where you are in the run, meets the lower proof alcohol bed on the plate. As the hot vapor meets the liquid bed, the heat disperses, raising the temperature of the liquid bed and creating more steam.

This heat transfer phenomenon happens on each plate. Liquid has a lower temperature. Steam has a higher temperature. The higher purified ethyl alcohol becomes steam to be condensed the next cycle (each plate is considered a cycle). The more plate sections per column, the higher the purification.

2. Select the number of plates

If you want to make vodka, StillDragon recommends at least an 18-plate column. The more plates allow for more phase changes, creating authentic and pure vodka. However, more plates do require a longer run time.

For the whiskey makers, a lower number of plate sections is better, as whiskey requires more flavor than purity.

Note: There are no factual studies proving the final product flavor in a bigger system is greater or lesser than a smaller distilling apparatus.

3. Identify the type of still

Did you know there are multiple types of stills? Differentiating between these still types can provide insight into which will alcohol distillation equipment will create your desired spirit:

  1. Pot still – Consists of a big pot, swan neck (a.k.a. lyne arm), and condenser. Distillers heat the alcohol in the pot, forcing the steam to go through the swan neck, where some of the liquid drops back into the pot and some steam flows to the condenser. A taller swan neck creates more reflux during the distilling process, creating a lighter alcohol for the final product. A shorter swan neck has a lower temperature gap during the reflux, creating a more natural and mellow alcohol.
  2. Reflux column – Consists of a pot, column with copper plates, lyne arm, and condenser. The more plates you have, the purer the alcohol. The fewer plates you have, the more flavorful the alcohol. Reflux stills come in various types, but the three main ones are:
    1. Liquid management (LM) reflux still – A needle valve typically controls the release of liquids back down the column.
    2. Vapor management (VM) reflux still – A tee is placed under the reflux condenser, leading to a valve and the product condenser.
    3. Cooling management (CM) reflux still – A dephlegmator at the top of the column knocks down some vapor, while allowing some vapor to continue to the product shotgun. A CM reflux still also is affected by the power, or heat, thrown at the kettle.

4. Consider your craft distillery equipment budget

Budgeting for alcohol distillation equipment can be very time consuming when planning for all the accessories: irrigation fittings, heating elements, extra gaskets and clamps, etc. Time is money, so be hesitant when the price seems too low. It could mean poor quality welds, future problems, and added costs to fix the equipment in the future.

Don’t forget to do some number crunching to figure out the best size of equipment per liter. Sometimes the smaller investment can cost more per liter, whereas a larger system that costs a little more upfront could produce a better bottom line. Balancing price and quality for equipment is important for success!

5. Find a supplier you trust

Having a great craft distillery equipment supplier is another important step toward success. A good supplier has extensive knowledge of their equipment and of distilling as a whole. Your supplier should be able to answer any technical questions and advise you on the proper alcohol distillation equipment needed for your craft distillery. Following are some tips on how to research any potential supplier:

  • Look for longevity – A more established company doesn’t necessarily mean that they are the best, but it is an important standard for you to know that they will still be around in the long term.
  • Check their reputation – See what their customers have to say, ask for references, and stalk their social media accounts!
  • Evaluate their customer service – They should not only continually support their equipment, but also be able to answer questions and service distillery expansions.
  • Ask questions – This is the fastest way to evaluate a supplier’s professionalism. Don’t be afraid to reach out with any questions. There is no such thing as a stupid question!

Get answers to your distilling equipment questions now from the team at StillDragon. Contact us today!