jheising

Interest in Continuous Stills?

127 posts in this topic

Greetings,

Hope all is well!

We're a craft distillery in Washington State, and we've been using an in-house designed continuous still for 100% of our production for over two years now, and it has essentially cut our distillation labor costs to zero. At this point, we think we have enough real-world use and testing under our belts to consider productizing it. In a product form we should be able to deliver a system where the only labor involved is connecting a hose to a source of wash (be it anything from 5 gallon bucket to a tanker truck), selecting your desired proof output, and pressing START. The system should run 24x7 without any human intervention and can be monitored from your computer, iPhone, iPad or Android device. The other neat thing is that the system is entirely portable, so when it's productized, we should be able to come to your DSP facility and demonstrate it (with proper paperwork).

Ours is currently setup as a technical still (with separate and simultaneous heads, hearts and tails draws), but based on community feedback, we might offer a stripping version of it first, which can be easily converted into a technical still at a later date with an attachment.

Anyway, before we go too far into the productization phase I wondered if we might get some of the community here to help guide us by giving some of their feedback? We've setup a new website at:

http://bunkerstills.com

We also have a quick survey at https://docs.google....nX8l-U/viewform. Any feedback and ideas through the survey or on these forums would be extremely helpful and welcome!

Also, if you find yourself in the greater Seattle, WA area and want to see and discuss the still in person, don't hesitate to reach out and schedule a time!

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Jim,

Congrats on entering the still fabrication side of things. Continuous stills are the way to go and its good to see another manufacturer come on board with their offerings.

We too, use, sell, and manufacture continuous full production stills and are glad you've joined in that effort. Best of luck.

Cheers,

John

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Hey John, thanks for the welcome! From the limited info I can find through a google search, it looks like you guys have a really impressive setup!

It looks like we may be approaching different markets? Our interest at the moment is primarily in the small startup, micro-craft distillery.

It'd be really interesting sometime to get together and talk shop!

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That looks very impressive. I have some questions about the specs.

I am not sure what input volume means? Is that the volume that can be run between servicing? If that is the case is there an upper limit on acceptable solids content or particle size?

Will you have any models that run on natural gas or steam?

Thanks

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Mars,

To answer your questions:

1) Input volume: basically what we mean is that you can run it continuously from a source of wash of nearly any size. I like to say, "you could connect it to anything from a 5 gallon bucket, to a tanker truck— it doesn't really care". Unlike a batch still where you have limits on the low-end and high-end depending on what your boiler capacity is.

2) Upper Limits on solids: The still is designed to handle reasonably sized suspended solids, although we do have a pre-filter to remove anything that might clog up a 1/4in - 3/8in copper tube. Normally solids aren't a huge problem because you can take your input wash from a drum (or other vessel) that has been sitting at room temperature. Unlike batch stills, we're not stirring and/or heating the wash in a boiler which can stir larger solids into suspension and cause problems.

3) Steam and Natural Gas: While the system could conceivably run on natural gas or steam, we probably won't offer this (at least not in the near-term). Our process requires super precise temperature control which would be hard to achieve without an electric heater. Also one of the main reasons we chose electricity in the first place is that live steam typically requires very expensive equipment with all sorts of safety mechanisms. Steam would just add to cost, complexity, and safety risk. The goal here is to produce a still that is as cost-effective and reliable as possible, and it's just really hard to beat good-ol' electricity on that front. Also, we encourage you to run our still 24x7 and I think we'd probably be less likely to encourage that if there were any sort of open flame that could increase a fire risk.

Hope that helps, and let me know if you have any other questions!

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Sweet. Can you supply the chicken to peck the keys on the computer as well ? Craft. It's definition seems to mean different things to different people. But what the hell. I guess it's better than hiring Chinese children to man the pots .

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All,

Although less than eloquent, Roger has made a point that is this industry's next big hurdle....defining itself. Schisms inside the industry, those defined by what craft, micro, and other terms mean is what we all have to come to agreement upon.

Roger, I assume you don't grow or malt your own grain and feedstocks. If so, does that make you less craft than those who do? If so, how much?

I think that Jim is offering something that your Holsteins do not. When you've actually run them for a while, rejoin the discussion and offer some experience based discussion points.

Until then, help us all work on how we define ourselves as an industry. I personally have distilled over 1,000,000 gallons, I don't call myself a Master Distiller. Do you? Do others? What makes a Master Distiller? What makes Craft? What makes Grain to Bottle? What makes an NDP? What makes a.........

Once we have some better ways to define our industry, we'll all be in a better place to offer fruitful suggestions.

Cheers,

McKee

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I think we shouldn't define ourselves at all and that each individual company will fit under some very, very basic guidelines in it's own way. Why would we want to fit into a mold?

Sorry, for the topic shift.

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To get back on track... John @ Headframe... where can I also learn about your continuous stills? I've already contacted Jim @ Bunker and will likely try to go visit his set up. But I'd like to gather as many perspectives as I can when making my still decision.

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Nobody gets me :)

No, I am not a farmer, nor do I intend to be. And yes I love technology and innovation. I invented and put in place the custom sewing equipment in the garment company I started 24 years ago, and made a lot of money producing hundreds of thousands of garments, all Made in The USA. But I would never have considered that craft". Our "hook" was the Made in The USA.

But we as "distillers" can't rely on the USA branding to have a significant marketing impact. Instead we must rely on the "craft" concept. And why? Because that "added value" as perceived by the potential customer is what allows the products we all produce, to command a premium price point.

We can all profess that we make or will make the best darn shine ever to come out of them thar hills, but the reality is, the story of it coming out of the "hills" is what makes your price point. In this industry, we are all responsible for all of us. And while unfortunately there will always be people in every industry who will chase each other to the bottom, at the very least it should be done behind closed doors. This so the general public doesn't think that all "craft" distillers, are automatons looking for the quickest dollar, with the least effort.

It won't take long for the industry to become over saturated, once automation overtakes craft. Then it will just be a price battle. But you can't stop regress. I mean progress.

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Roger, I think I get you :). But perhaps there's another way to look at this:

First off, in the state of Washington the term "Craft Distillery" is fairly well defined by laws, so I use the term to describe distilleries who produce a relatively small amount of alcohol. But if I understand, I think perhaps your point was more that automation might come at the expense of the "craft" of distilling? I can see why you might think that, but I disagree, and let me explain why— An automated continuous still doesn't automagically transform your wash into some new form of hybrid-automated industrial generic alcohol that is devoid of any character. In the end, what you get out of your batch still, is the exact same stuff you're going to get out of a continuous still.

So, if you are truly judging the "craft" or "character" of a product based on its unique taste, then there is no rule that says it can't be exactly the same for both methods. If you are going to judge the "craft" or "character" of a product based simply on the distiller's expertise and knowledge of batch distilling— well, then I guess that's up to you, and I can't argue with that.

Now, you might say: "Well hold on there! A continuous still is nothing like a batch still. There is a lot of "craft" that comes from the experience of knowing when to make your cuts. You can't automate that."

Yes it's true, unique character comes from the "craft" of understanding when to make heads/tails cuts, but a continuous still does not take that away from you. It just simply changes the way in which you do it, and makes the process way more efficient and repeatable.

Here's how I'd describe the difference:

Batch Still: You "craft" character by adjusting the time (based on a flavor) from which you start collecting your hearts to the time you stop collecting your tails.

Continuous Still: You "craft" character by adjusting the flavor (based on a ratio) of how you collect and combine your hearts and tails.

In the end, they can both contain the same amount of hearts and tails, and therefore have the same flavor profile. But with the continuous still, you can adjust for the proper flavor the moment you start, and it will remain the same for as long as you keep feeding it wash. Whereas with a batch still, as you know, your flavor profile is constantly changing and thus requires constant monitoring— you can't leave it alone!

So yes, our process to produce a continuous flow of heads, hearts and tails in our continuous still is completely automated, but what you do with them could never be automated, because that is exactly what a master distiller gets paid (or not) to do— to leverage their knowledge and experience in their craft to determine the right amount of hearts and tails to produce a consistant flavor and quality that is worthy of their product's name.

Hope that helps clarify a bit more.

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I love technology, and I'm a farmer, too. :)

Jim, great clarification. I don't think I've ever seen such a succinct description. I think you will sell a lot of stills.

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craft:

[kraft, krahft] Show IPA noun, plural crafts or for 5, 8, craft, verb

noun

1. an art, trade, or occupation requiring special skill, especially manual skill: the craft of a mason.

2. skill; dexterity: The silversmith worked with great skill.

The only exception I took with anything in this whole issue was as related to the word "craft". If you harm the definition, you harm it's viability as a price point driver. The fact that a distillers production output may be "small" is not the same thing as said production being "craft".

But one can alway hope that the customer is clueless. Yeah, that's the ticket.

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craft:

[kraft, krahft] Show IPA noun, plural crafts or for 5, 8, craft, verb

noun

1. an art, trade, or occupation requiring special skill, especially manual skill: the craft of a mason.

2. skill; dexterity: The silversmith worked with great skill.

The only exception I took with anything in this whole issue was as related to the word "craft". If you harm the definition, you harm it's viability as a price point driver. The fact that a distillers production output may be "small" is not the same thing as said production being "craft".

True, but most small distillers would fall under the first definition, since they execute a trade requiring special skill and often manual skill. Nothing says the person meeting the first definition has to be GOOD at the craft! We all might want something labeled "craft" to imply quality, but in fact that is not required under the first definition.

The meaning of craft in this case would be in opposition to automated or factory or large scale industrialized, etc

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Again, I'm not trying to convince anyone who has a personal belief that the term "craft" must mean "entirely without automation". If that's the case, then an automated still probably isn't your cup of tea, and that's okay. But for me, I wouldn't consider a blacksmith or a glass blower who uses a computer controlled furnace to heat their materials to precise temperatures any less of a craftsman than one who uses foot operated bellows. The art is in what they do with those materials, not in how they heated the materials in the first place.

Anyway, thanks everyone for the interest. Will keep everyone tuned in with progress! Looking forward to sharing more soon.

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We're in the process of getting our distillery on its feet, and our building is under construction now. We had initially planned on using a pot still setup, but this continous still intrigues me. The big questions I have is after a run with the continous, will another run have to be made before preparing to barrel, and how is the heads issue resolved? It appears that it is the most efficient process out there, but the second run and the heads issue has me hesitating...Thanks for the input!

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Good morning,

Regards your questions about Spirit run and heads, a proper continuous still can:

  1. Fractionate and strip the heads components while under operation.
  2. Allow congeners and tails products to the spirit plate in the ratios that you deem appropriate for your specific product lines.
  3. There are no "Stripping" and then "Spirit" runs. All distillation is handled in a single pass.

Cheers

McKee

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Very interesting thread. I'm still in the biz-plan/startup phase, but I've never had an intention to using anything other than a continuous still.

My comments ....

1/ With 160-190pf output range, your lowest proof output is right up at the federally defined 160pf upper bound for American whiskies. IOW your still seems to over-rectify and therefore remove important wash flavors where whiskey is the target. I don't really care abt vodka & gin & GNS myself, but the 190pf is the lower bound for these. My *understanding* is that the big-boy continuous bourbon stills pull the main draught only 4 physical plates above the wash feed, and can barely squeak out 120pf in the column so they use a doubler to get just above barrel strength (130-140pf). You don't want to go to 160pf for whiskey unless you intend only mild grist & fermentation flavors, like Canadian whiskies. I have doubts that a continuous still useful for american whiskey can also be used to make vodka/NGS without removing plates.

2/ Assuming an 8%abv wash, then 2gph feed at 85% efficiency is only ~ 1 barrel at barrel strength per 10 days. At ~11.5%ABV (too high IMO) wash you can produce just 1bbl/week at bbl strength. That's far below my needs, but I think you'd want a 50-100% higher capacity to merely replace some of the energetic pot distillers. Your 4gph future model *looks* like a better upgrade/replacement for pot stills to me.

3/ The short height and small diameter of your still is a implies that perhaps you have a packed upper column to get so many effective plates ? What sort of lower (beer) plates ?

4/ Is there a dephlegmator ? Is it's flow automatically controlled ?

5/ Column insulation ? Small diam columns temp control is difficult I read.

6/ Condenser isn't described. It looks like water flow. What is the rate for the 24x7 water flow ?

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Sorry it's been a few days— been on the road. To answer some questions:

Very interesting thread. I'm still in the biz-plan/startup phase, but I've never had an intention to using anything other than a continuous still.

My comments ....

1/ With 160-190pf output range, your lowest proof output is right up at the federally defined 160pf upper bound for American whiskies. IOW your still seems to over-rectify and therefore remove important wash flavors where whiskey is the target. I don't really care abt vodka & gin & GNS myself, but the 190pf is the lower bound for these. My *understanding* is that the big-boy continuous bourbon stills pull the main draught only 4 physical plates above the wash feed, and can barely squeak out 120pf in the column so they use a doubler to get just above barrel strength (130-140pf). You don't want to go to 160pf for whiskey unless you intend only mild grist & fermentation flavors, like Canadian whiskies. I have doubts that a continuous still useful for american whiskey can also be used to make vodka/NGS without removing plates.

I would agree with you if the difference between 190pf and 120pf was only just due to the fusel alcohols in the tails, but in my experience it's usually not. Yes, at 120pf you may have more tails, but there is usually a lot of water in there as well. With our still there are no plates in the column to add or remove. When we talk about 160-190pf, we're talking about the proof specifically at the point where the hearts are extracted from the still, which is mostly pure ethanol and very little water. The tails are drawn through an entirely separate draw and can be re-combined with the hearts as they exit the main column to achieve nearly any flavor profile you would with a batch still. What we see is that nearly all the tails come out through the tails draw (with very little water). Essentially, to sum up, you have all the same components (including your tails) to work with, but just much less water.

2/ Assuming an 8%abv wash, then 2gph feed at 85% efficiency is only ~ 1 barrel at barrel strength per 10 days. At ~11.5%ABV (too high IMO) wash you can produce just 1bbl/week at bbl strength. That's far below my needs, but I think you'd want a 50-100% higher capacity to merely replace some of the energetic pot distillers. Your 4gph future model *looks* like a better upgrade/replacement for pot stills to me.

Yes, the 2GPH simply won't be fast enough for some distillers, and our larger models in the future should address that. Although, most people are pretty surprised when they run the numbers. Not sure if you saw the new calculator we put up at http://bunkerstills.com (half-way down the page), but if you put in 8% abv wash, distilled to 120pf and bottled at 40pf you still end up with a production capacity of over 1,000 750ml bottles a week. Not a large scale operation when compared to Jack Daniels, but certainly orders of magnitude more than a craft distillery on a smaller budget can accomplish with batch distillation.

3/ The short height and small diameter of your still is a implies that perhaps you have a packed upper column to get so many effective plates ? What sort of lower (beer) plates ?

Yes, almost the entire column is packed. The upper half is packed with copper scrubbies and the bottom half is packed with raschig rings. But again, the basic principle of the still relies more on creating a precise temperature gradient through the still, rather than "plates". You can think of the precise temperature gradient as creating conditions whereby the various types of alcohols are "contained" and refined in the section where they are to be drawn from.

4/ Is there a dephlegmator ? Is it's flow automatically controlled ?

The flow is tightly and automatically controlled with a peristaltic pump. The peristaltic pump is nice because it regulates flow very precisely and tends to be fairly "foul-proof" from solids.

5/ Column insulation ? Small diam columns temp control is difficult I read.

There is no insulation, except for a small amount around the heater at the bottom. And yes— controlling the temperature is difficult! We have a pretty sophisticated custom control system which feeds from a number of sensors including temperature and barometric pressure.

6/ Condenser isn't described. It looks like water flow. What is the rate for the 24x7 water flow ?

Actually there is no external condensor that requires water. Since we maintain such precise temperatures at the draw points, the vapor exits the column at just slightly above its condensation temperature. Just a small amount of ambient cooling in the draw tube is enough to bring it back to liquid, well before it reaches the output. Although there is no water required for a condensor, we do require a water source in the beginning to warm up or "wick" the still (although technically you could do it with wash, but it's somewhat wasteful). From the picture on our website, you might see what looks like a condensor on the right side of the still, but it's technically not. We just use that to cool down the distillate (from warm) to room temperature so we can take quick measurements with our hydrometer without having to let it sit.

I've really been enjoying this discussion, so please keep up the questions and comments!

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Thought I'd post some early screenshots of what the "virtual" control system will look like from your computer, iPhone, iPad, Android device, etc.

post-5768-0-30946400-1372044169_thumb.jp

The black box on the right hand side behind the computer is the control system that runs everything (including the proportional power controllers for the heaters).

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Great thread here guys. When it comes to automation vs. no automation, like most things in this industry, this is just one more way to skin the cat we call distilling. John's product is top notch stuff, and you can tell in the taste. I am in a much different boat with a Holstein still, and Bavarian tanks. The unique thing about my set up is that we have pneumatically controlled valves and a control panel that remotely controls pumps, agitators, temperature, etc. The reason we didn't go with an continuous still is we have one of the smallest production areas around. Subsequently there is a ton of back breaking work to make this system work, in the small space we have to work with.

I certainly do not think less of any distillery taking a good hard look at all of their options when it comes to the equipment, because it makes their product AND process unique. Much akin to choosing which grain your mash will consist of.

Cheers!

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Hey Jake ....How small is your space???... btw I love the stuff going on on your facebook page .... I was stationed in the missile fields of Montana in the early 80s.... Knew Dutton and Conrad well!!!!.....

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This is my first reply to any forum on this site and all I can say is wow. Everyone will have a definition in their mind based on their individual experiances as to what the term craft means, in my mind it is not being a big player, it means creating custom flavors, it means knowing every aspect of your run. It seems like a good debate to have while sampling each others product, a spirits summit. ;) that was a ploy to get free drinks...

I have been working on a rig like this for some time, as I have told my wife before "if I have tought of it, someone else has already produced it". I am a tweaker, not inventor, with a touch of innovator...

Price, bottom line is how much are you anticipating the market will bear for this? I know how much I have invested while playing around, not cheap, what is a turn key unit retail price?

Thanks, I am really enjoying the good information and perspectives provided by ya'll.

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This is my first reply to any forum on this site and all I can say is wow. Everyone will have a definition in their mind based on their individual experiances as to what the term craft means, in my mind it is not being a big player, it means creating custom flavors, it means knowing every aspect of your run. It seems like a good debate to have while sampling each others product, a spirits summit. ;) that was a ploy to get free drinks...

I have been working on a rig like this for some time, as I have told my wife before "if I have tought of it, someone else has already produced it". I am a tweaker, not inventor, with a touch of innovator...

Price, bottom line is how much are you anticipating the market will bear for this? I know how much I have invested while playing around, not cheap, what is a turn key unit retail price?

Thanks, I am really enjoying the good information and perspectives provided by ya'll.

bkdadto3 I like your style (spirits summit and free drinks) :lol: !

To answer your question about pricing our goal is to try and keep the price point (for our small 2GPH model) below $20K (possibly as low as $12-15K). I should be able to answer how much below in a couple of weeks here (as we finalize our manufacturing process). And again, sub $20K is our goal, so I can't promise sub $20K until we know more about our manufacturing process in the coming weeks, but I can promise you that we're going to work hard to make that happen.

The other idea is that we're throwing around the concept of a pay-per-proof-gallon option as well. There would probably be a minimum monthly commitment, but then it would just be charged based on usage above that, so your costs would start small but gradually increase as your production and company grows.

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