Pot still distillation

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April 10, 2021

One of the most common conversations amongst ardent alcohol lovers is about pot still distillation.

If you appreciate the craft behind your favorite alcohol, you ought to know about pot distillation.

At the heart of making liquor lies pot still distillation. Spirit crafters swear by using the pot still distillation method for flavorsome spirits.

Though the process of pot distillation is more cumbersome, it still is the most sought.

You’ll often hear people using the pot still in combination with bourbons and scotch whiskey. It is because these spirits come out the best through a pot still.

Do these copper pot stills sound fascinating to you? Do you want to know more about the gems of the distillery?

In this piece, we’ll discuss everything about pot stills and how they’re the centerpiece of every distillery.

At the end of the article, you’ll also understand how pot distillation differs from column stills. So, let’s get going!

What Is A Pot Still?

Pot stills are favorable for producing rum or whiskey. If you desire a more flavourful spirit, this is the right choice. These are distillation apparatuses that are suitable for distilling flavourful liquors.

You should also know that pot stills operate on a batch basis. The conventional pot still material includes copper. You can spot a pot still in different sizes and shapes.

You might find the golden-to-copper color of the stills to be fascinating. The pot still’s structure will also depend on the quantity and style of liquor you are seeking.

Pot Still distillery
Pot Still distillery

The modern-day pot still descends from alembic, which is a historic distillation device. One of the largest and oldest pot stills sits in Old Midelton Distillery, County Cork, Ireland.

This pot still is almost as old as two centuries. This old guy had a capacity of 143,740 liters. However, it is no longer in use.

Also, the bootleggers in Appalachia used the pot still distillation to create moonshine. The pot stills follow a relatively straightforward process.

You should also know that distilling spirits in pots can offer 40% ABV. Also, after multiple distillations, it can top out between 60% and 80%.

Read more about How to make moonshine.

The primary reason for using a pot still is that it delivers better aroma concentration. Different components make up a pot still. You can read them below:

Construction of the pot still

  1. Condenser: Like the column still, pot stills also have condensers. The primary role of the condenser is to cool the vapor. This vapor is what yields the distillate.
  2. Pot: In this section, a significant portion of the process takes place. It is the port where the wash undergoes heating.
  3. Lyne Arm: The arm is responsible for transferring the vapor from the pot to the condenser.
  4. Swan Neck: The swan neck is the area where the spirit vapors rise and reflux.

How Does Pot Still Distillation Work?

Pot stills produce liquor on a batch basis. It means that after every cycle, you have to clean the still and start over again. Only a specified amount of mash and liquid enters the pot still to come out as liquor.

Like the column distillation, the pot distillation also uses the principle of vaporization. It uses a unique method to deliver more flavor profiles to the drinks.

The Process

To start the distillation process, the distillation must be filled two-thirds with fermented liquid. This fermented liquid can have a 7-12% of alcohol content.

For whiskey distillation, beer is the ideal liquid, and for distilling brandy, it is wine. Next, the pot is heated to boil the liquid inside it. In the earlier times, people heated the pot with coal fire.

Currently, the stills use indirect heating sources like steam to boil the liquid. The distilling liquid is a combination of alcohol and water.

Also, the liquid contains fermentation by-products like esters and aldehydes. The stills maintain a boiling temperature of not more than 78.4 degrees Celsius.

Since the alcohol has a lower boiling point than water, it quickly evaporates. It is why the alcohol concentration in the vapor phase is more than the distilling liquid.

In the distillation process, the vapor travels through the swan neck to the top of the pot still. After which, it goes down the arm and ultimately to the condenser.

The vapor cools to form a distillate with a better alcohol concentration in the condenser than the liquid. Low wines are a synonym for this distillate and have an alcohol concentration of 25-35%.

Liquors that demand a higher concentration can opt for further distillation. For example, for Irish whiskeys, the spirit might undergo distillation for the third time.

Single malt scotch whiskies and cognac only require two rounds of distillation.

Differences With Column Still Distillation

The principle of operation for both the distillation methods is essentially the same. However, there are differences in designs, types of liquor, advantages & disadvantages, and more.

Keep reading to understand how pot still distillation is different from column ones.

Differences

The pot still is more basic between the two. It follows a simple process of condensing and collecting the alcohol vapors that the boiling process emits. They offer a low purity but a high concentration of texture and flavor.

On the flip side, the column still can reach a 96% ABV level. As a result, the spirit from the column still is more neutral, pure, and cleaner.

Also, the column still uses a process that can effectively eliminate congeners. Pot stills are more feasible for distilling small quantities, whereas the column stills can deal with large batches.

Another essential difference between the two is their construction
material. Pot stills use only copper, but the column units might use a mix of stainless steel and copper.

Both pot and column stills have advantages and disadvantages.

Resulting Spirits

You already know that pot stills capture more flavor and texture in the process. For this reason, the pot stills are ideal for more robust liquors.

Generally, the pot stills are famous for producing single malt whiskies, Irish whiskies, bourbon, cognac, mescal, and rhum agricole.

Also, the column distillation has a high proof, so they cannot prepare bourbons and whiskies.

As for column stills, the resulting spirits have a more neutral flavor. Vodka and gin manufacturers generally use column stills because of their high clarity and pureness.

Copper Role In Pot Still Distillation

One thing that intrigues many people is what is the role of copper in pot still distillation. Is there any specific reason why pot stills adopt copper for their structure?

Column stills use a mix of copper and stainless steel, but not pot stills.
Since its inception, pot still has been using copper. No, it’s not only because of the aesthetic touch.

One practical reason for employing copper is for the taste of the liquor. Firstly, copper is one of the most vital elements for stills.

The presence of mash and liquors in the still is very abrasive. Adopting copper allows the pot still to last as long as 25 years.

Another reason why pot still uses copper is that it can be
molded into any desirable shape. Also, copper material is a perfect heat conductor.

Having a copper structure allows the stills to heat the mash evenly. Coming back to the flavor, coppers can improve the taste of the
distilled liquor.

Copper helps to remove the highly volatile sulfur compounds present during the distillation process. It cancels out the sulfur-like taste present in the liquor.

Because of the presence of sulfur, the end product can have a bitter or sour taste. Copper binds the sulfur to itself and creates copper sulfate.

The copper sulfate sticks to the still after the process is complete. And in this way, copper can eliminate sulfur from the flavorful whiskeys and bourbons.

What Spirits Do They Produce?


If you are looking for spirits that offer a burst of flavor, make sure they come out of a pot still. Pot stills are best for making spirits that demand a rich texture and flavor.

With these distillation units, you can achieve a 40-60% of purity in your alcohol. The manufacturers mix the rest of it with flavorful organic compounds and water.

Thank the mash for all the extra texture and flavor in the spirit. However, they are not ideal for preparing rectified spirit.

It is because these units are incapable of separating congeners. Some of the spirits that use pot stills are:

  • Single-malt scotch
  • Borbon
  • Whiskey
  • Rum

The Bottom Line

To wrap up, we can say that pot stills are here to stay for more than a couple of decades.

Pot still is capable of producing some of the most impeccably flavored spirits. If you visit a distillery with pot stills, you’ll never be able to forget the steaming and warm alcoholic coziness.

Now you know what pot stills are, how do they work, and what do they make. Make sure to share this valuable piece of information with your fellow spirit enthusiasts.

Also, you are now clear about how the pot distillation units are different from column ones.

Hopefully, this article could offer you all the information about pot stills you were seeking.

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