Trevor

(Direct) Heat Source for 120 Gallon Alembic?

22 posts in this topic

I'm working to open a farm distillery in Virginia and so far the best option I've found for a still on my budget is a 450L/120 gallon copper alembic (http://www.copper-alembic.com/en/soldered-copper-moonshine-alembic-stills/450-l-soldered-copper-moonshine-alembic-still-premium). What heat sources are good options? The manufacturer sells something that looks like a big Bunsen burner and no BTU output is listed. The picture below shows a heat box/ stove. I've read threads that mention immersion heaters. What are some good, cost effective choices?

 

 

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best to avoid direct fire altogether if possible. Fire hazards are high and there are many better alternatives (steam) 

If your budget is so tight that you can only afford direct fire you may be a bit underfunded and need to take a hard look at raising more capital.

 

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That's some shady advice there.  Nothing wrong with direct fire when used correctly, same as using other heat sources correctly.  Plus you get 2000 years of experience to draw from.  Of course one must ensure the local authorities feel the same way.

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Id call it sunny advice. There are alternatives to direct fire that make for a far more safe distillery, and your local authorities will likely agree with this view point

 

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So what "safer" hear sources are there?  Electric?  It looks like I need about 220K BTU to heat roughly 100 gallons? Hot plate?  Immersion elements?

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Electric is a good option. Immersion heater elements is one way to do it, but you will be limited to running distilling clean wash. Hot plate may work if the base of the still is thick enough to disperse heat and not scorch your wash. 

Bain marie is also an option

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To step back a bit, have your tried your producing your product on this type of still? If so then it's all good, but if not you might need to put a bunch of work into redoing your mash bills & production processes to achieve the same flavor profile are currently producing. If you're new probably not a huge deal, but if you have existing product the flavor is going to change. 

It looks from the website that any changes to the still are going to need to be DIY. They don't seem to offer steam/oil coils or electric Tri-clamp heaters as an option. If you want a turn key solution than I don't think this is the one if you want something other than direct heat. 

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Any recommendations on names of companies that make powerful enough electric heaters for this purpose and maybe product numbers?

I'm also looking at building a bath heater/bain marie. It's an attractive option. A copper tub big enough seem cost prohibitive but I would think bi-metellac/galvanic corrosion would be a problem if the outer container is galvanized or stainless steel. Anyone with experience?

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If anyone on this group has one of the "Iberian Coppers (copper-alembic.com) stills, I'm trying to interpret the dimensions without luck.  For the 450L model, what is the still diameter? From the dimensions I would assume 1280mm but emailing them directly they said they don;t know because they don;t have one on hand. The website says 1980 mm x 2100 mm x 1280 mm overall.

 

 

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Why are people recommending direct immersion? Are ATEX/IECeX certified elements plus hazardous area certified electricians and electrical equipment cheap in the US? I would think the cheapest route would be steam heated, locating your steam boiler outside of the hazardous zone??? A flame is just not even an option, not unless you have a gazillion dollars and some great lawyers.

Before you consider your heat source, understand the underlying safety legislation and the requirements of your fire inspector, building inspector, council etc. You may find your idea of heating doesn't match with the authorities or...your heating solution will 10 times that of another option.

Cost & Compliance, you can't consider heating without factoring in those two components as well.

Cheers,

Mech.

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Well, I'm setting up a farm distillery about 5 miles from the George Washington distillery. They use wood to hear their stills. And there are endless examples of US distilleries using direct heat and oil bath heat. Col. Vaugh Wilson (http://coppermoonshinestills.com/)  and Joeseph Dehner (http://www.dehnerdistillery.com/) both suggested oil bath too.  Plus all the previous discussions on the topic. 

http://adiforums.com/index.php?/topic/1267-direct-flame-fired-stills/

 

As far as compliance, I'll have to propose design and see how they respond. It's a bit of a grey area since I'm setting up a farm distillery and "Nonresidential farm structures" are exempt from state fire code. I plan to walk my proposed distillery layout by the local fire marshal.

 

large_distillery10_02.jpg

 

 

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Ah, gotcha. All the best Trevor. Hopefully the fire marshal can work with you to help realise your dream. Keep us posted.

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Trevor, Direct flame obviously is an option, sounds like you are unlikely to have fire code issues with your situation.  Indian Creek near Dayton, OH has antique stills supported on custom metal frames with a brick furnace built around the stills.  They might be a worthwhile road trip to check out.  If you can get the masonry work done for at an affordable cost this might be a viable option.  One thing about direct flame is the turndown ratio.  A standard burner might have high fire & low fire only.  A high turndown burner might be 20:1 and burners are normally quite large to get the ratio that high.  This still might not be enough turndown on the low end.  Consider a two burner option, both on for heat up and turn the large one off for run off.  One big advantage of steam beyond those already discussed above is the turndown ratio can be very high allowing fast heat up and slow runoff.

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I used direct flame on an alembic (Hoga - which I think is iberian now) 100 gal.  No problems expect when the grain boiled over and plugged the parrot...that was scary. We had a $80 burner from glacier tanks I think - was a few years ago.  I'd probably encase the bottom and use a jet burner these days but you shouldn't have any issues as long as the fire marshal is cool with it.  

As for size, can't answer exactly but the pot was about 3' diameter If memory serves

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My grandfather distilled using indirect heat with his 400 gallon copper pot still.  He was one of the last moonshiners around that distilled on the grain.  He used wood as his heat source.  He built what he called an arch under his still.  The arch was made of fire brick.  The bottom of the still set on the arch and he used field stone to "rock up" around his still and the stones were laid so that they covered the sides or the still all of the way up to the top of the liquid level.  There was space for a fire under the arch.  The fire heated the fire brick and stones and the fire brick and stones heated the still.  He never used a thermometer or a hydrometer.  He used smell taste and a tamping jar.  Most people think that the old time moonshiners allways used direct fired stills.  That was not the case before 1912.  Around 1912 cheap sugar came along and things changed, but he did not.  My grandfather was 28yrs old in 1912.  He distilled for 60 years after that.

 

If you are going to use mashes that are predominantly corn or rye direct fire is a bad choice and you will regret it.  If you are going to make rum from mollases or whiskey from Barley then direct fire will work, however open flame indoors is dangerous.    We have electric heating systems for direct fire and we sell the copper parts so that you can use to modify your copper direct fire still to direct fire electric.  Also, we have Baine Marie stills for the best prices in the business.  Call Paul at 417-778-6100 email paul@distillery-equipment.com http://distillery-equipment.com

http://moonshine-stills.com

 

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You can build a metal frame to support the hogs and have a flu vent installed by an hvac professional and it will properly vent just like a propane stove in ones home.  Same exact btu and setup almost.  Maybe twice the btu but probably quite close for a moderate sized main room in a home.  

All you need for protection is a way to shut off the burner when the distillate temps exceed condensed temperatures bc the condenser coil is not able to cool vapor.

this System is so basic and just gently heats and cools vapor.  It's not a column still with plates that can clog or build pressure.  There aren't places for the vapor alcohols to travel except out the cracks of the pot which probably won't happen ever or forward and stay in vapor form which would shut down the furnace circuitry and stop the vapor immediately reversing the building of vapor by cooling off.  No input heat to absorb and the flow of vapor stops.  

 People who point out the home made still that exploded also fail to point out heavens hills epic fire which had to do with vapor fire potential not direct fire. 

Direct fire has plenty of far superior product out there vs steam.  Quality of something that has not avoided Maillard reactions caused by direct flame scorching taste far different from the cooking and caramelization that steam is designed to avoid.

Spend the time here to find the types of cheap fire sniffing devices and alcohol sniffing ppm devices which can alert you to trouble.

Cooling water temperature should be optimal to keep a pot still operating in a very safe manner.  

Discus has info on much of this.  There have been some amazing people here who have given much input on fire safety devices and fire codes.  I'd look there before I'd listen to people who say 2000 years of distillation in all parts of the world before steam were wrong.   It's not that cut and dry.  Problems start with trapped pressure which isn't possible in a hoga pot still.  Vapor pouring out is a problem with a simple fix stated above.

 

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One other thing that may be worth mentioning is explosion proof exhaust fans that can be turned on by ppm sniffers like fire alarms.  

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Also, if you can get a mixer built into your still.  As Paul says, on grain will be likely to burn but with a mixer its more likely to succeed.

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Southernhighland - I've pondered issues distilling on the grain. Last month I visited the company that makes the stills. The guy we talked too made it sound like adding a sieve plate to the bottom of the still would solve any issues. But I just picture myself trying to scrape burnt muck out from the bottom of the still. 

mendodistilling- Do you have any links to the DISCUS discussions? From talking with the still manufacturer, they don't really do those kind of mods anymore. I've pondered hiring a welder to add a flange to work with dairy fittings. Seems do-able. So far no luck finding someone who works with copper.

 

Thanks for the great information!

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Hoga (not sure why my spell check keeps saying "hogs" )provides the welded stainless platform to mount the pot.  You have to brick it and vent it using fire brick and / or kaowool (Rockwool insulation).

Armindo is pretty accommodating. Ask him the options.  Ward burner can help with the controls.  See if he can work with someone to build you a switchboard so you don't have to fool with too much and just get to wire it all up vs. having to fabricate the whole process.

You'll need some ceramic diffuser or fire diffusers to hit the flame and spread it.  Al common.  There is a thread on here somewhere that gets into suppliers for each of these odds and ends furnace parts.  Been done many times before.  You need a cast iron door or something fire proof and have the proper air flow into the furnace.  This is why I suggest having a company that deals with mechanical and furnaces help younhere.  Or ask Armindo for btu and air flow calcs.  He probably knows references at the least.

I didn't realize he doesn't make parts anymore for support but he probably has experience from it.

On grain will require steam, it's not suggested to do it in a pot.  Caustics and acid cleaners will help break all that char up but prob best to try and avoid a high solids content. 

Steve beam may be able to point you in a good direction if he still has his going.

He's in Kentucky and had the goofball from Moonshine's tv series making stuff in his distillery.  Prob one of the nicest guys I've had the pleasure of spending time with.

 

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