...AND NOW THE VAN HALEN SONG IS STUCK IN YOUR HEAD WRITTEN BY JOHN MCKEE /// PHOTOGRAPHY BY COURTNEY MCKEE
n the not so distant past, a dear friend by the name of Jimmy Stice threw his arm over my shoulder and said, “Let’s make hooch in the Panamanian jungle,” to which I immediately exclaimed, “Yes!” The context might at first sound a little strange, but once you understand Jimmy’s vision, then “making hooch in the jungle” totally makes sense. A few years ago, Jimmy founded Kalu Yala in the Panamanian highlands with the goal of “creating the world’s most sustainable modern town, from the ground up.” His vision led to a community of regular students, entrepreneurs, and most recently a distiller named Willie Dale making rum from miel de caña, a sugar cane molasses. A few years ago, Headframe Spirits was asked to participate in a conference called HATCH, which embraces its mission with the tagline “a Better World.” The conference is an invite-only event for 150 people representing entertainment, entrepreneurs, artists, social activists, musicians, and people actively trying to make their place in the world a better one. It has surpassed 14 years of sharing its mission with attendees like the inventors of the iPhone companion Siri and the supercomputer Watson, Academy Award winners, organizers of the #earthtoParis and COP21 climate change summits, and others who have invented, created, and shared any number of amazing things. Jimmy had presented his vision of building “a Better World” with Kalu Yala, so, when he said let’s make hooch I agreed without even pausing to think it over. But over the next few months we had to do some pretty serious planning and work on what it means to build a distillery in the jungle. At Headframe we make stills, but they WWW.ARTISANSPIRITMAG.COM
are large, continuous flow systems which vastly outstripped the capacity, needs and utility of Kalu Yala. Luckily, that means we have a fully qualified shop capable of CAD design, stainless welding, and staffed by all around badasses, so we figured no problem! We know that there are plenty of backwoods distilleries just about everywhere and we weren’t charting new ground, but we wanted this distillery to be a number of things that most backwoods operations are not, namely:
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Safe. Legal. Productive. Provide long-term value to Kalu Yala, Jimmy’s and Willie’s visions.
WHAT DID WE HAVE TO WORK WITH? There was no time for a site visit, so we had to go off information we could get from irregular emails from Kalu Yala. Some of those details:
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No electricity, only irregular power from minimal solar charging.
WE SETTLED ON THE FOLLOWING:
»» 125-gallon pot still. »» 4 inch, 8 foot column, with random »» »» »»
packing and an internal partial condenser. 2-basket gin botanical system. Shell-and-tube final condenser and vent. Integrated pressure relief, pot and column.
»» Two 125-gallon fermenters. »» 10 cornelius kegs. »» Fittings, tools, a hope and a prayer.
We built the system around three 125-gallon stainless steel IBC totes. One tote was the still pot and the other two totes were intended for fermenters. The goal was to build the system in such a manner that we could break it down, put the pieces and parts inside the totes, nest them one on top of another and ship the entire system ready to go. On the whole, that pretty much worked out. We built a crate, packed everything up and sent it on its way.
Non-improved road for access, final traverse into Kalu Yala requires fording a river by truck. Water supplied via a local river. Propane is subsidized by Panama, but only brought in cylinders to Kalu Yala as needed for cooking.
Knowing what we had to work with, we also had to make some decisions about appropriate sizing of equipment. The system would need to be simple, durable, require little maintenance, and have an overall capacity large enough to justify the expense of running a still in the jungle.
WILLIE DALE, SAMI BIERMAN, AMBER JEAN, AND JOHN MCKEE MOVING AND SETTING FERMENTER 1. 33
Published on Jun 30, 2016