How to Set Up a Reflux Still

With StillDragon’s Modular Systems, setting up a Reflux Still is much like assembling a lego set (except it’s for big kids, of course).

What Is a Reflux Still?

A Reflux Still is essentially a Column Still. It typically generates a much higher proof, yet much less flavorful alcohol, than a pot still. The width and height of your reflux system will greatly determine the purity of your product and the speed that it produces distillate. (Column diameter = speed. Column height = purity.) Cleaner products equal more mixing variety for cocktails… or a greater likelihood of getting drunk without fear of the dreaded hangover. Either end goal ‘tis fun!

The term reflux applies to phase change from vapor to liquid. This phase cycling is the outcome of a cooling management setup, which is what most stills are. Other types of reflux stills are liquid management (LM) and vapor management (VM). Today, we are only discussing cooling management (CM).

Decisions, Decisions…

Before getting started on the assembly process, there are a few things to have figured out and purchased by this point. You’ll want to know whether you are using a kettle or the less expensive keg that most DIYers modify. You’ll also need to decide between the different types of columns – CrystalDragon, Copper Tees, or Stainless Steel Tees – and you will have already chosen between the Bubble Caps or the more efficient ProCaps. For the ease of setting up today, we are using the StillDragon 6” ProCap Dash with the 6” x 6” x 3” Stainless Steel Sight Glass Union Tees with ProCaps.

Phase One

StillDragon reflux columns use copper plates with copper Bubble Cap or ProCap assemblies, which have the widest operating range of all the plate systems — hooray! Let’s get drunk… I mean, let’s make purer alcohol. We would recommend that you assemble your copper plates first. It can be considered the most redundant and tedious part of the process:

  1. Grab a 10mm box wrench and loosen the nut on the bottom of your ProCap (for Bubble Caps, use a 5mm Allen wrench and stick it in the keyhole to loosen).
  2. Take your ProCap apart and place the screw back through the hole of the side that looks like the top of an umbrella, and then line it up with the hole in your plate.
  3. Next, slide that other copper piece through the hole on the plate so the two pieces are fitted together with the plate in between. (If bubble caps are used, simply tighten that cap screw back on there with your Allen wrench and call it a day.)
  4. Add a washer to the bottom of the ProCap and add your flow director.
  5. Place the 2nd washer, and then finally the nut.
  6. Tighten with your 10mm box wrench and bam, that’s it.
  7. Repeat these steps until all your caps have been attached to your plates.

Phase Two

Another decision we forgot to mention is whether you want to use a starter collar. In our situation, we are using a 6” x 4” TriClamp Reducer as the starter collar, because our column connection is 4” and we want to use a 6” column. You may choose to use a starter collar to keep any puke (boilover) from getting onto the first assembled ProCap plate. To start building your column, attach the pipe section of choice to your kettle or modified keg. Use a plate gasket in between the starter collar and TriClamp Tee, and then rest your assembled ProCap plate right on top of the ferrule inside the plate gasket, keeping the side that looks like the top of an umbrella on top with the flow directors pointing downward.

Flow directors are used with ProCaps so that the liquid drips onto the plate below, rather than entering the top holes of the ProCaps in the plate below it (the first plate inlaid in a system does not necessarily need flow directors).  Finally, clamp your pipe section down to tighten the seal and ensure no leakage. Continue this step for each tee until your desired height. Once again, the taller the still, the higher the proof!

Phase Three

Once you’ve reached your desired plate count, attach your Reflux Condenser, aka the Dephlegmator. There is no “top or bottom” to our dephlegmator, so place whichever end to your column as you would like. Once again, place your gasket in and clamp that baby on there! Your dephlegmator acts as a partial reflux condenser. It’s essentially a heat exchanger that condenses a percentage of vapor and sends the alcohol-enriched liquid back to the plates to further enrich forthcoming vapor. The process described stabilizes the ABV of the product collected compared to basic pot stilling.

Phase Four

Once the dephlegmator is secure, the StillDragon standard is to reduce the piping to a 2” bend. Depending on your preferences, there are several to choose from on our site. You’ll need a 180-degree bend to lead to the Product Condenser / Shotgun, where the vapor is completely knocked down into ethanol.

Phase Five

The bottom part of your column is going to be the Parrot kit. From the Product Shotgun, you’ll attach your Vent / Surge breaker, which ensures a more controlled flow of liquid, to the Parrot body. The final bits to add are the sanitary valve, ferrule (which acts as a downspout), and the alcometer, which gets gently placed in the Parrot body center,. Let’s see that proof!

Phase Six

The last task is to connect the irrigation. This is where the small TriClamp to threaded adapters get clamped to the ports on your Product Shotgun. You can then attach rubber hosing. (Tip: Using blue hose vs. red hose can help you differentiate between temperature.) Attach your red hose to the top port of your condensers with our push-connect attachments. The same goes for the blue hose, but this is attached to the bottom port. Cool water is forced into the condensers and hot water is pushed out. This cooling agent is what aids in condensation. Very cold water will have a slower flow rate and room temp water will have a faster flow rate.

Voila! Now you have successfully assembled your reflux still.

Check out our blog or YouTube channel to see how to set up your DIY controller. Or, feel free to give us a shout at (561) 903-4784 or for assistance.