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jheising

Interest in Continuous Stills?

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In our 2GPH model we draw around 750 watts at operating temp, so hopefully that's not a concern for most no matter where you're located.

That sounds about right. We have a 40KW heater, but during spirit runs we are at about 5GPH, and it is cycling on about 5% to 10% of the time, or 2KW to 4KW.

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Just curious, is that 40 KW heater 460/3/60?

Nope, 208/3/95 high delta

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I'd like to also point out, on the subject of heating, that one of the primary factors is not efficiency, per se, but caloric density. In brewing (which has been my primary occupation for over a decade) one of the issues of boiling wort is controlling Maillard reactions. The reason steam jackets have become so ubiquitous is that it is virtually impossible to "scorch" your wort with steam, whether you are using a jacket, an internal calandria, a tube and shell hx, or a so-called "Chinaman's hat." However, the direct fire approach increases the energy load per square inch...you may be able to have the same energy in the bottom of the vessel, but in a smaller area. Hence a higher "caloric density." In some beer styles, this scorching is in fact a benefit. MacEwan's Extra Strong is a pale beer that has been excessively boiled to concentrate the sugar and flavor, and it is almost black, despite having no dark malt in it. Impossible on a steam system.

Any flame based heated vessel is going to have this problem, and while you can extract a lot of energy from burning stuff, it's hard to direct. An enclosed firebox will increase efficiency, though.

The issue with steam, is that you first have to heat water, then transfer it. Even though your boiler may approach 98% efficiency (ours does) you still have to move the heated water to your jacket, and the pump and the heat loss in that transfer further eats away at your efficiency.

The great thing about using an electric coil is that theoretically you have almost 100% efficiency, as almost all the heat being generated goes into the liquid. But all that heat is concentrated into a very small area, so electric heating has the highest caloric density, and is the most likely to scorch your wort. Conventional electric heating, anyway.

I figure all this is pretty obvious, and translates to my still. BECAUSE I knew I wanted to play with distilling high viscosity "on grain" mashes, I knew I wanted a steam jacket. I hate scrubbing burnt junk off anything. But I must admit, if I knew I was going to be using well-fermented, relatively aqueous washes, I'd probably have gone for an electric still (even though electricity is horrendously expensive around here) because it would have been efficient enough to offset the additional price of piping steam and condensate over 400 feet from the boiler.

I suspect that Jim's continuous still uses a wrap around element that is essentially a very small nichrome element embedded in a ceramic matrix...this way you can use relatively low input while using the thermal mass of the ceramic to store heat until the system begins to bleed...into the pot. It's a great approach, and if I'm right, then his still probably takes quite a long time to come up to operating temperature. Once the still hits operating temp, the solenoid would dose a small amount of wash, and the process would begin. I'm guessing, here, but it's how I would do it.

I recently tried some local moonshine that had a definite "scorched" flavor. I'm not sure I liked it, and it makes me wonder what his still looks like.

My wife says I'm too wordy. This is the proof.

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I suspect that Jim's continuous still uses a wrap around element that is essentially a very small nichrome element embedded in a ceramic matrix...this way you can use relatively low input while using the thermal mass of the ceramic to store heat until the system begins to bleed...into the pot. It's a great approach, and if I'm right, then his still probably takes quite a long time to come up to operating temperature. Once the still hits operating temp, the solenoid would dose a small amount of wash, and the process would begin. I'm guessing, here, but it's how I would do it.

Natrat, you hit the nail on the head! The still actually does take a while to come up to operating temperature (about an hour or so). Although we probably could warm it up quicker, there are some technical reasons why we don't (mostly stability related), and like you say, we have to essentially heat up a lot of thermal mass of the copper column itself.

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Hey all, just thought I'd post something fun we're currently working on here— our still telemetry and monitoring system. It will allow you to remotely monitor the operation of your still from any location.

You can check out a live feed for our prototype still here: http://dashboard.bun...id=1291d1ffb033

It's updated every 5 seconds with real-time telemetry data. And yes, we run it while we sleep :)

Enjoy!

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C'mon Roger— I know you're a huge fan of automation, but you don't have to bash the old ways like that. ;) Humans were put on this earth to sit around all day to adjust valves and dials, and we are way more efficient than a chicken pecking a keyboard. Machines will never adjust valves and dials better than we do. And really, when you own distillery, there is nothing better that you could be doing right?

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Joking aside. Don't get me wrong, I love the idea of doing things the old fashioned way— it's one of the reasons I love to sail. But if I were opening a shipping business, I certainly wouldn't last very long doing it with a sailboat.

In my experience, there are only three types of (legal) distilleries that exist:

  1. Profitable (or close to profitable) ones who have invested in automation and big machinery.
  2. Profitable (or close to profitable) ones who buy (and/or mix) bulk alcohol that they've bought from someone else. Usually from the #1 type.
  3. Ones who are not profitable and will eventually go out of business, or become a #1 or a #2.

And keep in mind, this is ALL irrespective of market demand— you can have great demand for your product, but in order to meet that demand you'll have to eventually become a #2 or #1.

I would absolutely love to see someone buck the system and succeed outside of this mold, but I have yet to see it. We didn't set out to find automation, it found us.

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You seem to completely miss the point of craft distilling, and my position. The idea is to work at a "craft" in a manner and scope that therein elicits an appreciation and associated price point, of sufficient premium to maintain profitability in the face of:

Imported bio-ethanol and or continuous and or automation distillation by both big and small producers who pretend they are "craft" so as to elicit some segment of the "premium" price point that "craft" affords, while actually operating in a manner with said automation to allow for the "undercutting" of actual "craft pricing" , thus harming actual craft distillers.

I hope the chicken understands the dynamic,

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Roger, come back to reality. Do you really think that in a capitalistic society we can preserve our little "craft" premium pricing by simply all agreeing that we're going to voluntarily stick to some definition or recipe for "craft" that you've laid out? This is a free market! The market will set the price of your alcohol, just like it will everyone else's. In capitalism, little guys compete with big guys in two ways:

  1. Doing things smarter
  2. Doing things better

If you believe that the average consumer associates "better" with "It was made on a batch still, very slowly, by someone who was very knowledgeable in batch distillation", then go ahead and try it. The consumers we see are ones that associate "better" with, "These guys make an excellent and unique product, and I can drive down the road to hang out with them any time I want and actually see how they make their products"— this is why they pay a premium price. The "smarter" part is how we can do all of that, and stay in business by automating certain aspects of what we do.

No one is out to "harm" the craft distillers premium price. The only people who can harm us, is ourselves.

Anyway, I'm not here to try to convince you. You've made up your mind on how you want to run your business and that's commendable and admirable. I'd just like to save some people who are newly getting into this business a bit of trouble as they start to work out the numbers for themselves.

P.S. I'd be careful as to how you describe this idea of somehow preserving premium pricing for craft distillers. It borders on collusion, and that's illegal.

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Jim

If its all right with you, I'll take my marketing and legal advise from marketing and legal experts, and my distilling adivse from distilling experts. When I'm looking for a tea pot hooked to an iPad, I'll have my people contact your chicken trainers.

Best regards

Roger

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Well, at the risk of succumbing to the use of technology to communicate and thus having to get over my own angst over the lost art of letter writing, I think the continuous still option is brilliant. Maybe the market only will reward those who market making their own cuts one run at a time; but maybe some portion of the market place will reward something that is tech-savvy also. Either way, the work here to bring a product to market on a production basis is commendable and I look forward to learning more about it. Jim--I sent you an email if you could kindly take a look at it. Cheers.

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Jim,

I really appreciate all the work you're doing. There is absolutely nothing un-crafty about innovation. I've tasted your stuff.

B

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I don't know how everyone else feels about this ongoing debate, but I like the innovation. To me, the craft comes not from the still, but from the overall process. I grow my own cane, but I have no dogmatic view that if you don't also grow your own inputs you aren't truly a craftsman. I started out handling the first couple of acres on my own, but now I have a farmer who manages the growing. The fact that I don't water and maintain my fields doesn't make my product less of a farm-to-bottle product. Creating something great requires time and patience. Automation and innovation are brilliant because they free up time to try new things. Kudos to you, Jim.

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So what happens when you blow a water line? My concern isn't so much in the concept but leaving the damn thing alone.

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CountySeat,

if I understand Jim's still (and I've never seen it other than a webcam feed) then I believe it has no water line. In fact, I bet it works better if you don't enter the room or check on it.

I think that because the volume of wash/vapor active at any time in the still is so small, it presents very little hazard. The finished spirit draws are probably the highest hazard areas... and there's no reason the stowage for the heads/hearts/tails/dunder couldn't be outside the room. Peristaltic pumps are wonderful little things. :D

And if the wash inlet solenoid fails, it will drown out the still and stop it. It's only 750 watts. And I'm going to bet that if anything goes out of parameter, it will call Jim on his phone and tell him so! And then shut down and wait for instructions...which he can probably issue from his phone.

Sorry, Jim, didn't mean to answer for you :P

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Sorry guys for taking a few days, been on the road.

Natrat, you did a great job!

Like Natrat said, Peristaltic pumps are great things. If the power goes out or otherwise fails, the pump by it's very nature, stops the flow of any wash into the still. You essentially get a pump and a normally off valve in the same package. So while the control system is electronic, the flow of liquids into the still is very much a mechanical system with a default state of "off".

Now, to be realistic and to satisfy the lawyers out there— any system where you have fluid going through pipes, you always run the risk of leaks. But in terms of real risks, I wouldn't say you are at any more risk than letting your dishwasher or washing machine run while you leave the house. And probably even less risk, because dishwashers and washing machines use solenoids which can fail or become stuck. Peristaltic pumps are about as simple as you can get.

We've also considered offering a simple liquid sensor that you'd mount to the floor to sense any leaks and automatically shut the still down, but again it adds to complexity and cost. Maybe we offer it as an add-on for those who are more concerned about it.

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Any kind of pro that has lost sleep out of a batch run that started late and went on forever in the final heart cut can appreciate what Jim brings. On the other hand, whomever thinks that the craft is limited to or more greatly influenced by the alcohol separation process just hasn't ever fed his kids out of his trade. I've alway found that ingredients, brewing methods, spicing, blending and ageing were by far more noticeable to my consumers than what type of still or method of distilling I used. In a holistic purview EVERYTHING is important, each and all details, but in a business efficiency and the bottom line have got to be balanced in too. And I can tell you something: Jim's continuous still checks in all my requirements for a still, batch or otherwise.

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Jim, and John

I just wanted to put my two cents in. Some of you I Probably talked to about this, but I just wanted to say it again.

I am currently starting a new manufacturing business making stills and still components made in the United States not China. One of them I'm working on is my continuous still that is currently a prototype right now, But I do use it for my own distillery. It can process 3/8 of a gallon per minute and I'm working on to increase it to 1/2 of a gallon per minute processing. My output is easily 80 to 85%. Although it does not take out forshot, heads, body, and tails, I use it for stripping only.

It is the cats pajamas!

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Lol @ cats pajamas. I have seen joes still and it is very impressive. Just the innovation on it and the fact that he has it working at a craft distillery size is amazing. How much "craft" are you really putting into your stripping run anyway?

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