CHOOSING THE RIGHT STILL FOR THE JOB W R I T T E N & P H O T O G R A P H E D B Y M AT T S T R I C K L A N D
WHAT DO YOU WANT TO MAKE?
hen folks ask me what still they should purchase, my first question is, “what do you want to make?” Forget price (we’ll get to that). Forget lead times (we’ll get to those too). Forget what the distiller in the next town is using (who cares?). What kind of products are you trying to make? The reason that I ask this is that despite what many manufacturers out there will claim (and boy am I going to take some #$@% for what I’m about to say), most stills are not great at making everything. That’s not to say that there are only whisky stills, and gin stills, and brandy stills, and so on. But I’ve noticed a lot of companies making the claim that you can make excellent gin, vodka, whisky, rum, shochu, and whatever else on their still. It’s the one-size-fits-all tactic, and it sounds great to unsuspecting start-ups just trying to get their first bottles on the shelves. Sorry to say, it just doesn’t work like that. I get it. Technically you can make brandy, gin, and whisky all on the same still, but that doesn’t mean that you’re going to get the best results. The primary issue at hand is style. A German-made still with loads of plates and reflux points is great for Austrian-style brandies and some lighter style rums, but it may not be the best at producing high congener spirits like some American whiskey styles or French-type brandies. Are there ways to push those stills into making a multitude of spirits? Sure, but it requires some clever thinking and technical know-how. Therefore it’s not necessarily the best way to start a distilling program. Ideally if you want to make a ton of products then you’ll need more than one still to do them correctly — kind of like having several different wrenches in the same tool box. For folks just beginning to get their operations on-line,
purchasing a still can be a nerve-shattering task. There are so many factors to consider, and it can make even the coolest of cucumbers feel like they’re in a pickle. Let’s go down a byno-means-exhaustive list of some important questions to ask yourself before purchasing a still. You may or may not think all of these are important, but everyone will find something in this list that causes them to think hard about their choice of distillation equipment.
> > Should I purchase
> > How much space
a continuous, pot, or hybrid system?
is this system going to take up?
> > What size of still
> > How much is the still
should I get?
going to cost me?
> > What still geometry do I need? (What does that even mean?!)
> > Should I use a shellin-tube or wormtub condenser?
> > Should the whole thing be made of copper or can I use steel?
> > Do I need trays/plates and if so, how many?
> > How should I heat my still?
> > Is copper thickness
> > How long is the lead time from order to delivery?
> > How easy is it to use? > > How are cuts done? > > Should I get a wash still AND spirit still in one?
> > Is it purrrty? > > Where is the still made?
> > Does the company provide technical support?
important? Holy list fatigue, Batman! That’s a lot to consider, and that’s just what I came up with Hemingway-ing (read: drinking and writing…I ain’t no Hemingway) through a dram of Scotch. And WWW.ARTISANSPIRITMAG.COM
The magazine for craft distillers and their fans.