Why I designed my still the way I did.

Pot still design and discussion

Why I designed my still the way I did.

Postby Bob9863 » Wed Jun 01, 2022 4:31 pm

I thought I might explain a bit about why I put together the still I did, or rather the stills I did.

We will start with what I consider to be the basic pot still set up.

This one is a little deceptive, there is actually a bubble plate in the bottom copper section that I soldered about 1/3rd of the way up with an Alcoengine pot still head on top.
It's a very efficient system and very fast, the Alcoengine head is very water efficient and I would cool it with a pond pump in a water barrel.
While it was fast to run and very efficient on water I would take the traditional stripping run for multiple batches usually 3 and then do a final run. So I would make 6 25lt washes in total which gave me around 30lt of low wines.
Id runn that and after cuts I'd get about 10lt of decent spirits.
But I had an extra boiler and wanted to move to a more customised system so I sold that and started over with this one.


I'd hoped the two bubble plates might remove the need for a stripping run and if I ran a power controller it did, it was a, slow process but much faster then doing 3 stripping runs and a spirit run.
Instead I could do 2 slow spirit runs and yield about 16lt from only two runs but not as smooth as if I did I did a stripping run and a spirit run. But still surprisingly close, that's when running low and slow really started to dawn on me.
So after having started with thumper but having a negative opinion based on my original elcheapo ebay system I found the parts I needed at my local supplier.


This became a very different beast, I could get the same output as before but at a much smoother and higher quality as if I'd done a spirit run. I actually put some copper tubing into the thumper and that helps a lot although admittedly it makes a hell of a racket.
Eventually I put some coper mesh in there instead, the effect was I could get about 3/4 of what I could from a stripping run as a spirit run, the combination of a power controller and thump keg was definitely a winning one.
I always wanted to use a keg as a thump keg but a thumper really shouldn't be more then 50% the size of a boiler let alone 100% (although I am interested in trying that one day now I have a PRV).
I also stopped taking cuts with this one, I had discovered over the years that if a run started at say 85%, then by the time it had dropped to 80% there was a very different smell and taste that signals I've hit the hearts.
I always felt using 1lt jars that a good portion of hearts got mixed in with heads and never made it into the final product.
I also noticed that tails had a similar effect but it would go sort of week and tasteless before it went really bad and funky.
I've also figured out that I have never had a run that mid way through the hearts went bad and then turned good again, the same with the tails, either is either good or gone bad but it never picks up once it goes bad so cut it there and leave it at that.
So I started doing one large collection based purely on taste and it's improved my output and my quality.
But after seeing a monster keg while ironically looking for a 20lt one I put this one together based on things I had learnt and ideas that had been kicking around in my head.


Now with this I've got something that works perfectly with those principles in mind.
I open the bottom of the Parrot and let it run until I notice the change, I put that copper pipe in the downward flow sections of strait pipe and still use the mesh in the mini thumper (although I also increased its size a little by replacing the flat 4"-2" connector with a tapered one) I also run my thump keg more as a slobber box hybrid really, I run it dry and it fills up with excess water as the run progresses. I don't loose any flavour this way and I get a much increased ABV as a result packed full of flavour and absolutely smooth.
I also put a tbs of rinced activated charcoal in the surge catcher between the condenser and the Parrot, that strips next to no flavour but really smooths the run out, and pretty much only happens in the 1st 1/4 of the run.
I originally ran this with a 3200-3400w element, but it would trip the power controller and if I just let it run then it went to fast and if I ran a rum in particular I'd get some bad puking.
So now I run a single 2400w element and power that down as I run, it adds up to 45min to start things running but the benefit is low and slow is definitely the smoothest way to go with a pot still.
Even heating you wash quickly will alter its flavour even if you throttle it back once it starts running, to get the best from a pot still you need patience, it starts with the mash, spending the time to make it the best possible. I even triple filter my water before using it.
But it definitely ends with patience when running the still, don't rush it just take it slow and steady, that's the most important lesson I've learnt.
But the benefits I've found is I can take any ingredients and make a mash that once it's run is as smooth as anything that can be made with filtered neutral and essence.
There's faster ways, maybe even more efficient ways but for what I like to do this is what works best for me, I like to craft something from scratch that is mellow and silky smooth just to sip on ice.
I still lean a lot of new things as more and more runs are made, little steps particularly in making the mash and when ageing that generally make newer runs better then the old.
But I've also learnt a lot about lack of patience and over oaking when it comes to the final product, and once again patience and time are your best friends.
But it would get pretty boring if we ran out of things to learn, and there's a whole lot more I want to learn and tweek as I go.
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Re: Why I designed my still the way I did.

Postby Yarns » Wed Jun 08, 2022 8:13 pm

This is a great and interesting write up Bob, I have read over it a few times and have quite enjoyed it.

I feel like im almost coming in at your second iteration. I noticed you have one and then two thermometers as you progress through the build. Do you use them for tracking the progress of the vapour on start up? Or are they used as a factor for driving the still?

Im very interested to see how the 2" bubble plates load without any active reflux, although I have the mini dephleg just in case.
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Re: Why I designed my still the way I did.

Postby The Stig » Wed Jun 08, 2022 8:23 pm

They won’t “load” as they should at all
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Re: Why I designed my still the way I did.

Postby Bob9863 » Wed Jun 08, 2022 10:49 pm

Actually two 2" bubble plates on a 50lt keg with a 2400w element even at 60% power load beautifully.
3 definitely won't IME.

I had hoped that the single 4" would on this one but set up as it is it definitely didn't perform like the 2" do.
I had given up on it but decided I would give it one more try, but this time I replaced the 4"-2" tapered reducer with a 4"-2" flat reducer to see if that causes enough back pressure to load the plate properly. I'm not confident it will but I have it and think I should try to make it work before moving it on, half the reason I do this is because I love to experiment.
Filling the thumper with 15lt of mash should also give extra pressure that might help it work without having to run a hotter element, if it won't work then it's easy to remove it and run it more traditionally.


It's only a minor change, but sometimes that's all that's required.

The other option if I just can't get it to work and don't want to undo and resize things is gust remove the plate and run it as a strait sight glass.
Posts: 106
Joined: Tue May 24, 2022 9:35 pm
Location: Albury NSW
equipment: 118lt keg still with 50lt thumper, gin cadfy/mini thumper and shotgun condenser
5lt copper pot still

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