Producers of the finest spirits rely on the capabilities and effectiveness of the distilling equipment it utilises throughout the process. At Vitikit, we supply whisky (whiskey), rum, cachaca and gin making equipment. From all sizes of still – 50 litres to 1000 litres – we will have an option for you.
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.
Distilling Equipment from Vitikit
Our team of experts (mainly Kieran) provide distilling equipment for the production of spirits to individuals and companies throughout the UK and further afield. We’ve struck up a fantastic rapport with an esteemed manufacturing company that provides us with distilling equipment for the production of gin, rum, whisky and more. Vitikit has supplied the vast majority of distillers with Cachaca stills. Cachaca is made from sugar cane, where as we in the UK are more used to rum made with molasses.
At Vitikit we not only provide groundbreaking distilling equipment, but in-depth courses in rum and cachaca production. See the Rum School for more information on this and talk to us about booking your place if you’re interested.
In terms of our whisky stills equipment, Vitikit tailor your whisky still to an exact specification, provided by yourself. We also supply with some of the very best gin making equipment at affordable pricing. The stills can be fired by open fire sources electricity and or steam.
Produce Fine Spirits with our Stills Equipment
We are continually adding to our stills equipment range and can take custom orders at any time. Please contact us if you would like to learn more about the distilling equipment we provide. If you are an established producer of spirits and would like to enquire about any of the equipment that can be found on our site, call us directly on 01395 233031 to discuss.