Distilling Celtic Spirits

The art of distilling spirits is on the rise. There are many people beginning to look at this old Ozarkian art as a potential new business. As we have mentioned before, we even have our first (legal) micro distillery in the Ozarks. The owner of Copper Run Distilleries is even now doing some consulting people wanting to learn the business. In a time when the Federal Government is looking for more revenue, the old moonshiners may end up helping the cause. I know on the $20 bottle of Ozark Moonshine I purchased recently, there was just over $2.00 in taxes.

So, what is distillation by shere definition?

Distill- Dis*till”\, v. t.
1. To let fall or send down in drops.
2. To obtain by distillation; to extract by distillation, as spirits, essential oil, etc.; to rectify; as, to distill brandy from wine; to distill alcoholic spirits from grain; to distill essential oils from flowers, etc.; to distill fresh water from sea water.
3. To subject to distillation; as, to distill molasses in making rum; to distill barley, rye, corn, etc.

Source: Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary, © 1996, 1998 MICRA, Inc.
The Distillation Process

Put simply, distillation is the process used to seperate your alcolohic wort into separate elements. It will help to get rid of gases, water, and other such things, and leave you with a purer alcohol. The process of boiling the liquid turns it to steam, then condensation will return the left over product to a liquid again. Only now, the concentration of alcohol is greater than the basic 10-14% achievable by mere fermentation.

The basic still is made up of 3 basic parts:

(1) A flask with an outlet tube,
(2) A condenser, and
(3) A vessel.

Distillation Simplified

So basically, we are going to use a still to separate alcohol from our base product: various kinds of fruits, wheat, rye, corn, wines, and beers. We have to start with a simple wort, that has been fully fermented. Then, we will heart the fermented wort. The various parts of the fermented product will boil off, at different points. (i.e. not all elements reach a boiling point at the same time.) The product is then collected is some kind of bottle, can, etc. There are three classic parts of this process: the head, the heart, and the tail. What we are after is the heart. The other two parts are the undesireable part of the process, and can even cause physical harm.

Types of Stills Used in the Spirit Industry
  • Alembic Pot still – The oldest and most recognized still design. The flask or kettle is typically copper and resembles a huge onion shape, which liberates the alcohol from the mixture. The vapors rise and pass through a narrow pipe and then through a serpentine coil, a cold-water bath condenses the vapors in the coils, converting them back to liquid form.
  • Reflux or Column still – A ‘technological’ advance over the pot still. It is more efficient, requiring only a single distillation done in one continuous operation. This type of still allows for exact separation techniques. Also, changing the reflux rate provides great flexibility to create the style and quality of the type of spirit produced.

The reflux still is not only more efficient, but also is equipped to reduce potential cyanides and ethylcarbamate that are harmful if too much of them are present. So, that’s the basic on the two types of stills commonly in use.

Some Basic Equations for Figuring Cost and Consumption
Here are some basic numbers on cost and consumption. Please understand that these are estimates, and may not reflect the actual experience you would have.
Water consumption per batch: For every 600 liters of batch, estimate about 1200 liters of water needed. The water is required for cooling and should not exceed an inlet temperature of less than 20 °C. The water outlet temperature is ~ 70 °C. If the costs for water are high, there are technical solutions to circulate chilled water. The temperature of the output distillate should be about 20°C.

Steam consumption: about 100 kg/hr is the standard value for a capacity of 600 liter, assuming 1-hour time to bring the mash to boil. To finish the process, you need about an additional 1.5 hours consuming approximately 70 kg steam per hour.

For the calculation of the energy consumption the following basic numbers are valid: Net 170,000 BTU is required per hour. For gas fired steam boilers this means a 220,000 BTU on input. Based on the BTU value of your natural gas or propane, you can calculate to cost of fuel.

I have attempted to provide very basic information on the distillation process. The best thing to do is get the help of a real mentor. If you are considering entering the business, I would be happy to put you in touch with someone who can help you do the process right. Not only do you have to know how to distill, you will have many other tasks involved to get a legal micro-distillery up and going.


Raymond C. Province

The Celtic Ozarkian.

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