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SlickFloss,  We have built several stills from Groen and other, electric over steam, jacketed cooker kettles.  We have several of the cooker kettles and columns for them in stock.  We rib the lids and weld them on solid and add manways etc.

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There are a few more things to consider when deciding on a direct or indirect fired stripping still:

1. Costs;

2. Speed;

3. Scorching;

4. Maillardization.

Direct fired boilers are cheaper to build for a manufacturer. Less work and less material involved. Direct fired stills are also faster. Less material to heat up. Direct control over vapor speeds. Now in stripping that control is less important, but in finishing it is crucial. A huge trade-off is that with direct fired stills, you create temperature differences in the boiler. Smaller heating surface and peak energy outputs that are more localized will do that. This enhances the risk of scorching, especially during the mashing process. Not so much during stripping, because at that time most sugars are converted so no caramelization of for instance heating elements could take place. Depending on wattage per cm2, a direct fired still can easily handle 3% residual sugar. And then there is Maillardization. A browning reaction that uses a little bit of the residual sugars or starches that any wash will have and turn it into a taste cascade. The temp difference now works for you while stripping in creating more taste rich spirit. We found that boiler design and (close to) perfect mixing are the solutions of combining the advantages of direct fire while preventing the potential of scorching.

I hope this information helps the OP.

Regards, Odin.

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I build Stills also, I would lean towards steam or get a smaller continuous still. You can buy a 360,000 btu steam boiler by SLANT FIN for about $4500. You can find them on ebay. They work really well and steam will save you so much money and time in the long run. Don't cheap out on the HEART of your distillery.

thats my 2 cents

Take Care.

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