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Jun 08, 2022 View:

Best microdistillery technique for buorbon

I understand that the major buorbon producers (except Woodford) do double distillation, first on continuous still and second on a pot still (doubler or thumper). Apparently there are some undesirable molecules that they are not able to remove in the continuous process. Is the same thing true with the pot-column type still with plates favored by most microdistillers?

Has anybody tried to emulate the process of the big boys by doing first distillation in a hybrid pot column still and a second distillation in a traditional whiskey or alembic type pot still?

Of course, one can do two distillations in a traditional pot still, but I don't think you can readily achieve a high proof whiskey this way. I assume that is why Woodford Reserve is doing triple pot still distillation in order to get to 155 proof.

I know that this is a controversial topic and that a number of microdistilleries are making whiskey/buorbon in a single distillation on a hybrid pot column still. I am hoping to stimulate some good discussion that may help me decide which direction to go. I am currently in distillery planning stage.


Reply:

actually, no.

Makers mark does strip distilling by continuous column, then final distillation by potstill, but most large commercial distillers distill exclusively on continuous columns.

Batch distilling seems to be the domain of the Microdistilleries.

A continuous column can be tuned to cut the higher and lower compounds out in the distillation process, its never perfect but close enough.

This method doesn't have any real benefit for flavor, the benefits are economical, since its cheaper to run a continuous still then a batch still.

Considering the size of the columns the big boys are using, and the throughput, its difficult to scale down such an apparatus. Difficult but not impossible.

I've had a number of requests for such a design, but no one yet has ponied up the money for an experimental design, because thats ultimately what you will have.

there are so many factors involved in running a continuous column, that even a slight variation in your mash bill, or change in yeast can upset the whole system.

balancing all the factors is difficult, but not impossible. if you were able to get a reliably set up continuous stripping system going, your production would be infinitely scale-able (up to the point you're running 24 hrs a day)


Reply:

I've been to Makers Mark for the tour. They do double distill but you only see the continuous still on the tour. I was interested to see the shape of the pot still but it was not shown. Based upon Chuck Cowdery's comments on other forums, I had assumed that other large buorbon makers were using a similar process but maybe that is not true.

Continuous distillation on a small scale sounds interesting, but I too am not weel-heeled enough to finance that experiment. Still trying to decide which way to go for whiskey making - double pot still distillation vs. single distillation on a pot column still.

One question I had is whether using a modified pot still with a few plates or at least a dephlegmator in one phase of the double distillation would be helpful to give better control of output and to raise final proof. Woodford Reserve triple distills to 155 proof and I think most of the other modern buorbons are fairly high proof as well. Makers says their final proof of 130 is the "lowest in the industry". For a microdistillery, a higher proof, "cleaner" whiskey with less congeners should taste better with shorter aging time than a lower proof whiskey.

I don't think it is feasible to get 150 proof product from double distillation in a traditional pot still without packing the column or other manipulation but I am a novice and maybe this thought could be incorrect as well. Of course, this is easily achievable with a 4 plate pot column still but I sense some prejudice among purists that pot still whiskey is better.


Reply:

I do not yet have a distillery, so I can't comment directly on what works and what does not, just give some thoughts.

Firstly, many of the big boys, beyond just Makers, do use a doubler or thumper after the column still. This is still a continuous, not batch, process, and so would not be correctly called a pot still, which I think led to the confusion from Violentblue. I've attached a picture of the thumper at Four Roses as an example.

As far as column versus pot, that's a great question and a tough call. I'm leaning toward pot myself, but will have to decide as far as double or triple distillation. Every pot still is different, and variables that can be controlled by plates in a column still are often a result of size and shape in a pot still. An alembic or gooseneck with a shallow neck will come out with lower proof, higher congener whiskey, whereas a gooseneck with a very tall, broad neck will be higher proof, lower congener. Do a google image search for the pot stills at Glenmorangie to see how tall these stills can be. The angle of the lyne arm also has a big effect.

Remember also that exit proof is not the only determiner of whiskey flavor. There is no doubt that whiskey from a pot still and whiskey from a column still that are distilled to the same proof will be two different whiskeys, or even whiskey from two different pot stills for that matter. There is also no doubt that great whiskey can be made from either type of still. Without being able to buy both a column and pot still and run test batches then age them out to determine which I like better (which is what my analytical mind wishes I could do) for me it comes down to looking at my favorite spirits and what stills they are made in, which has me leaning toward a gooseneck pot still. I also think there is something to be said for the marketing value of the image of a pot still.

My two cents.


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Without being able to buy both a column and pot still and run test batches then age them out to determine which I like better


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What are the compounds that they are not able to remove? If there was something that they were particularly concerned about removing they could do so on a side stream draw. Some might be doing this but from what I have heard, they only do one side draw to get the bulk of the undesirable congeners they want to remove. I agree information on this is pretty hard to obtain. If one could show that the product off of a pot and kettle or pure pot still was indeed superior, that would be perfect for marketing, but I doubt this is really the case and it is certainly not easy to prove even if it is the case. I guess you could try and get some white dog from a distiller from each type of system you are considering and run a gc analysis looking at levels of "undesirable compounds". Of course, remember that if whiskey has no fusel alcohols I think it is called something weird...vodka.


Reply:

Heck...I think people are more fascinated by column stills than pot stills. For one thing, they cerainly appear more intricate than pot stills and the makers today can build so much functionality in them to emuate what the pot stillers do...When I was in Scotland it seemed people swooned more over the legacy of the operations, mostly how old many of them are. Of course a big pot still looks impressive but as Master Builder noted, the lyne arm angling and length of some of them pretty much apes the functionality of column stills, especially in terms de facto refluxing. Fascinating topic for sure....