DISTILLING EQUIPMENT FROM V-BREW
With 70 years of experience, Santa Efigenia manufacture the vast majority of distillation equipment for craft distillers in South America. They now export their equipment and expertise to Europe Argentina, Australia, Portugal, Ecuador, Paraguay and Uruguay.
Vitikit Ltd, and V-Brew are the agents for Santa Efigenia in Europe, and supply equipment for the production of Rum, Gin, Vodka, Whiskey, Whisky Brandy and more.
The Still, from a solely practical perspective, is the equipment where a mixture is separated according to its members boiling points. Our fermented mixtures contain water and ethanol, but also methanol, esters and other volatiles. However stills are not only utilitarian. Their shape and colour capture the romantic imagination of even the stiffest pragmatist. Images of stills are the mainstay of distillery marketing and peculiarities in a stills shape, no matter how slight, give rise to legends about its influence on flavour.
There is a story from a chemical engineer, who when visiting a project to upgrade an old whiskey distillery noticed chalk marks on the brand-new copper still about to be swapped for an old veteran still. The chalk was to show where dents should be made, to match the dents in the old pot – so that both would behave in exactly the same way. The dents probably would have affected the distillation but how detectable, or even measurable, is questionable – the real value of the dent story was probably in the hands of the marketeers.
It’s more likely than it has probably ever been for a small distiller to be granted a licence from HMRC, and so now is a good time to look over the types of still in operation.
Pot stills are the simplest and least expensive type of still and give the crudest (and so most flavourful) distillation. Like all stills, the material of choice is copper; because of its ability to remove sulphur. Copper is expensive, however, and so some cheaper stills are made from stainless steel but with copper components.
A Pot still is simply a boiling pot, a lye arm, (exit pipe) and a condenser. The length and angle of the lye arm influences the reflux (condensation and potential re-evaporation) and so the purity of the spirit. Usually it’s necessary to pass a spirit multiple times through a pot still to gain purity.
Pot stills are used in Irish Whiskey and Scotch Whisky distilleries, with at least a double distillation being used. They are also used for small rum producers, brandy producers and sometimes for rectifying Gin.
A column still has no pot and is not a batch system. Instead a constant stream of preheated, fermented wash can be introduced into the column, with distillate exiting at a constant purity and de-alcoholised wash being discharged from the column bottom.
The Column is made up of ‘plates’ or ‘trays’, which are designed to bubble vapour through a reservoir of condensate and to drain excess condensate to the plate below. The vapour and condensate exist in an equilibrium where the vapour gains alcohol (and other volatiles) and loses water as it bubbles through. Because each plate works at a lower temperature than the one below, the volatile components become more concentrated as they rise.
The still works by introducing steam into the bottom of the column and wash near to the top. Then, the wash fills the reservoir of the plate and some of the volatiles are lost to the vapour, which continues through more plates to the top of the column, and the remainder overflows and drains to the plate below.
Few true column stills are in use in craft distilling, but there is one example in London which has a sprawling 46 plate column. This still is put to use making a wheat mash Vodka, and a neutral spirit to produce their ‘grain to bottle’ Gin.
Column stills are common in the large rum and cachaca producers, also in vodka and neutral spirit (the base for gin) production.
A hybrid still is one that combines aspects of a pot and column still and, because of their flexibility, they are very popular with craft distillers. Usually it would consist of a pot still with a small or large column to one side – this column can be bypassed in pot still mode, or the vapour can be directed through the column and its plates. The column is often fitted with a dephlegmator or pre-condenser. This allows chilling water to be introduced to the column top and controls reflux.
In full reflux, no vapour can pass and instead condenses and flows back into the column. This increases contact time with the copper and gives a smoother spirit. Hybrid stills are common for all kinds of craft distiller, but more expensive than a simple pot still. The automation available and flexibility means that one still often produces a range of spirits.