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Soooo, this happened:


Blackheart

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Its not totally clear, but from looking at pictures on their website it seems like there are no temperature/pressure gauges or pressure relief valves on this still.. As someone undertaking the construction of a still, I am curious what safety features/procedures everyone thinks would have helped prevent this incident.

Pressure releife valve to prevent rupture. Presure test still above the reliefe valve settings to make sure seams/welds/connections hold?

If building a direct fired still assume that at some point your still will leak/crack/overflow and some type of spill guard/tray/drain system should divert the wash/low wines away from the fire?

Over-pressure switch that automatically kills/extinguishes heating fire a few degrees before the presure releife valve goes?

Not charging still with anything above 40% ABV (particularly on a direct fired still)?

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It is exactly this type of issue that we need all worry ourselves about, as an industry. Incidents such as this one, and more importantly the flippant response of the owners, is a serious red-flag to insurance companies, regulatory agencies, and other parties that can have a very large impact on our industry.

Although they may indeed be good guys and liked by their neighbors in Anderson, this issue brings to light how many people are not using proper safety practices in this industry. If indeed this still does not have pressure valves, if indeed it is direct fired, and if this was a 2nd or 3rd distillation of high proof spirit (40% ABV and up)....then they are missing some critical issues that do not suggest they adhere to "strict safety procedures" as written in the article.

To give a metric on this, in Google News, for Moonshine in the last month, this article rates as 10th out of 2700+ results. That kind of attention is what the rest of the industry does not need.

Long and short, this industry needs to stop making hooch on thumpers, non-pressure rated stills, and other knockoffs. Someone is going to get severely hurt.

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nothing wrong with running a thumper, but flour paste seals and undersized cooling worm are definite design points I would change.

I see a lot of distilleries heating with open flame as well, its not a practice I feel particularly comfortable with.

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having good equipment is the issue....looks like these guys relished "playin the part" by running some rustic lookin equipment similar to what one might find in the back woods....thin metal, poor workmanship seaming and sealing....these should be the red flags. Look at what happened in the UK last year when some not-too-bright immigrants batched up and ran some potato vodka with little, if any, ventilation in a brick warehouse....the force of the explosion was so great it bowed out the metal roll-up door and killed 5 guys.....We will indeed have trouble with public relations issues when carelessness, poor equipment, and misguided theatrics join forces and end up killing someone here. These are exactly the type of issues ADI should be front and center in addressing. Being a member should mean more than popping a sticker in the window and declaring yourself a member in good standing....It should require a pledge and a scrupulous adherance to good practices as defined by the membership......short of this we have a loose confederation of members and not a body of practicioners advancing the distilling arts under the banner of safety and general self-regulatory complance. Do it ourselves or eventually have it done to us.....

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I see a lot of distilleries heating with open flame as well, its not a practice I feel particularly comfortable with.

Heating by open flame is required for certain spirits (e.g. cognac). While I agree that steam heating tends to appease inspectors more than direct heating, the fact of the matter is that steam heating is only more safe than direct heating if every electrical enclosure in the distillery is wired class one division one explosion proof (as many of us are unfortunate enough to have been reminded by our local electrical inspectors).

I believe that wiring every inch of a distillery class one division one explosion proof is a bit of overkill, just as I believe that saying that direct fired stills are inherently dangerous is a bit of overkill. Just talk to Steve at Clear Creek. He's running direct fired stills into glass carboys (without incident, unless I'm mistaken). F'n awesome. And his pear brandy is without peer (if you think yours is better, please send me a sample and I'll gladly change my opinion if yours can beat his).

Yet I agree wholeheartedly with John that this is exactly the sort of thing that is going to bring excessive government regulation down on our industry if we don't take these issues seriously. Bragging about explosions and using preventable unsafe situations as marketing opportunities is absolutely unforgivable in my book.

Hedge, you are absolutely on the right track. Think of these serously dangerous situations BEFORE they happen.

Always be sure that your still is open to atmosphere (or vacuum, if you swing that way).

Always be sure that any potentially unsafe circumstances are wired to audible alarms.

And, what covers pretty much all of the above (and more) considerations is:

HAVE A QUALIFIED MANUFACTURER MAKE YOUR STILL FOR YOU IF YOU ARE NOT A QUALIFIED MANUFACTURER YOURSELF!

While I may have differences of opinion with John about how much the government should be involved in various ppms of compounds in our spirits, I can't stress enough how much I agree with him that we absoutely, positively, can not afford to have our industry befouled with an image of a bunch of hicks exploding stills 'cause it's what pappy always did.

Nick

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Hi Nick,

I concur with your opinion on the excellence of Clear Creek's pear brandy, it's terrific. However, judging by the pictures I've seen of that distillery, (see below) they are running 4 German steam-powered stills, with no open flames evident. I wouldn't say that direct fired stills are "inherently dangerous" but they seem definitely more risky than steam or electric heat.

PotStills.jpg?__SQUARESPACE_CACHEVERSION=1246381661075

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However, judging by the pictures I've seen of that distillery, (see below) they are running 4 German steam-powered stills, with no open flames evident.

no open flames, but still flame heat. those are gas fired, but flame is contained.

open flame is not an problem by itself, its the open flame in conjunction with a failure in vapor or fluid ethanol handling that would be an issue.

there are ways of doing flame heating that are not open or inherently dangerous as others.

the above picture (thanks Jed) is a good example of a safer way to do flame heating.

the still appears to be gas fired, and water jacketed, but the flame is contained within a proper chamber, exhaust gasses ducted out.

this creates a draft for the air, and significantly reduces the chance of the flame spreading out into the distillery.

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Hi Nick,

I concur with your opinion on the excellence of Clear Creek's pear brandy, it's terrific. However, judging by the pictures I've seen of that distillery, (see below) they are running 4 German steam-powered stills, with no open flames evident. I wouldn't say that direct fired stills are "inherently dangerous" but they seem definitely more risky than steam or electric heat.

PotStills.jpg?__SQUARESPACE_CACHEVERSION=1246381661075

I agree with my homboy Jedd

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Hi Nick,

I concur with your opinion on the excellence of Clear Creek's pear brandy, it's terrific. However, judging by the pictures I've seen of that distillery, (see below) they are running 4 German steam-powered stills, with no open flames evident. I wouldn't say that direct fired stills are "inherently dangerous" but they seem definitely more risky than steam or electric heat.

Gas-fired bain-marie, I think.

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no open flames, but still flame heat. those are gas fired, but flame is contained.

open flame is not an problem by itself, its the open flame in conjunction with a failure in vapor or fluid ethanol handling that would be an issue.

there are ways of doing flame heating that are not open or inherently dangerous as others.

the above picture (thanks Jed) is a good example of a safer way to do flame heating.

the still appears to be gas fired, and water jacketed, but the flame is contained within a proper chamber, exhaust gasses ducted out.

this creates a draft for the air, and significantly reduces the chance of the flame spreading out into the distillery.

Thanks for the clarification, and I agree that it is the failure in ethanol handling that is the primary issue. Once there is a failure there, a flame, a spark from a relay, exhaust from a forklift, even static electricity could lead to a catastrophy. This is why we all need to either have a very good grip on these issues, or trust qualified manufacturers like yourself to take care of the issues for us.

I just think it's funny when people point out how "safe" their steam fired still is when all of the electrical wiring around it is not explosion proof and there are other sources of sparks nearby. Steam heating is easy, economical, and effective; plenty of reasons to utilize it as far as I am concerned. But safer? If you've got ethanol spewing all over your distillery, you've got a pretty unsafe situation already. Steam vs fire isn't going to do you much good...

And if you're in the permitting phase of your buildout and hoping not to have to wire your entire facility class one division one explosion proof, you might not want to brag to your electrical inspector about how your still is steam fired because if it was heated with a flame your distillery would explode. He just might get a little scared and go overboard trying to cover his ass. Want to see temperature sensors on fermentation tanks wired explosion proof? Swing by Santa Fe Spirits and I'll show you some.

Nick

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That thread is really something, Max. Pot stills aren't pressure vessels??

What happens when your lyne arm or parrot gets clogged with mash or botanicals, folks? Or when a careless worker doesn't vent the still for hot CIP fluids followed by a cold rinse?

Pot stills need to guard against pressure and vacuum. Fellow distillers, if you're running a still that does not have both pressure and vacuum relief on both the pot AND the jackets, you're putting everyone in the plant in danger. It costs a couple hundred bucks to protect a still against vacuum and pressure. Buy these fittings, install them correctly, and above all... keep these fittings clean and test them regularly. A spec of mash can be enough to make those fittings stick and eventually fail.

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If anyone gets the full story on what happened please let us know.

In the meantime there is some evidence from the photos and the story.

It looks as if the still is made from very thin copper and the joints are made with soft solder.( not containing lead I hope)

Soft solder may be OK for a one gallon still but not one that big.

If it was soft solder, that is probably what let go and spilled alcohol onto the flame.

But then it may have been the soft solder that saved them from a powerful explosion.

An explosion will generate a lot of pressure in a strongly welded still, but a still with weak joints will let go before much pressure builds up which doesn't make much of a bang.

I could go on for a few pages on what makes a good explosion but I hope you get the basics of what I have written.

Some friendly advice to those who wish to build their own stills: The stronger you make them, the bigger and better your pressure releif devices need to be.

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If you look at the cap, it has what looks like a ring of solder on it a few inches up from the bottom. Looks like this was soldered to the edge of the cone with no flange. A weak joint but in this instance a handy safety device, if my observations are correct.

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If you look at the cap, it has what looks like a ring of solder on it a few inches up from the bottom. Looks like this was soldered to the edge of the cone with no flange. A weak joint but in this instance a handy safety device, if my observations are correct.

pretty sure that was flour paste to seal the cap to the boiler.

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From the images on their web site it looks very like soft solder, on all the joints

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  • 1 month later...

They're up the road from us, so we took a gander. Looks like there is no seal on the boiler itself apart from the weight of the head and lyne arm resting on the vessel. Their distilling apparatus looks the part they want it to be; something hidden behind an old chicken house.

On close inspection, rupture appears to have happened at the union above the thumper. It's since been repaired with some brackets and wide metal strapping. I was sincerely glad they weren't in a run when I was there.

The distiller did mention that the corn/sugar charge was 250 gallons and they distill about 50 gallons of usable spirit per run (!). Didn't get an answer on whether or not that included any gns added in the process, nor was any mention made of making cuts, but I think we can draw some conclusions there.

Oh, and in case you wanted a mini-replica of their operation, they were selling 2.5 gallon mini-stills for use on your very own stove for about $2750.

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  • 2 weeks later...
Oh, and in case you wanted a mini-replica of their operation, they were selling 2.5 gallon mini-stills for use on your very own stove for about $2750.

Where's the "facepalm" smiley when you need it? :mellow:

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