Aspects of Distillation (9): cleaning the still!


“Aspects of Distillation” is a series the iStill Blog hosts. It aims to cover as many aspects as possible. Aspects of – you guessed it! – the distillation process. Think alcohol formation, flavors, mashing, distillery design … and more. In fact, if you have a suggestion, please email us the aspect you want us to dive into. Via Today’s topic? Cleaning the still!

Different protocols for different situations

There are four situations I want you to consider, when it comes to procedures for cleaning the still:

  1. Cleaning protocols stainless steel stills;
  2. Cleaning protocols copper stills;
  3. Cleaning protocols when switching between spirits;
  4. Distilling one and the same spirit over and over again.

Stainless steel is chemically resistent. This means that it does not rust and nothing easily “clings” to it. Stainless steel can be cleaned with water or alcohol or vinegar, but never with a detergent. Detergents are so aggressive that they can damage even stainless steel. Instead of detergents, preferably use water to flush the column and boiler.

Copper stills oxidize and rust. The rust formation causes copper particle contamination in your drink, so cleaning the still is important. The oxidation layer also traps flavors that present a contamination risk for the next run.

Cleaning copper stills with detergents is essential. The detergent is so aggressive that it eats the copper rust away, thus limiting copper particle and taste contamination of your spirits. Even though this compromises your still’s longevity, and adds to your working hours, a daily clean with detergents is obligatory, when running a copper still.

The risk of taste contamination is biggest, when switching from one spirit to another. If you use your still to do gin run and then a vodka run, you do not want the vodka to taste like the gin.

In a copper still the detergent, used in the daily cleaning protocol, eats away the copper that touched the gin of the previous run. For most stainless steel stills a cleanse with either water or a water/alcohol mixture will do the job.

When distilling one and the same product over and over again, taste contamination is – though limited – still a risk. The tailsy flavors from the end of the previous run can contaminate the next run, resulting in higher overall tails smearing and – especially – a growth of rootlike, nutty, and earthy flavors.

In a copper still, a daily clean with a detergent is needed. Even between same product runs. In a stainless steel still a water clean after the initial run will prevent the risk of additional tails smearing.

Features & Benefits

iStills use the last bit of alcohol to sanitize the still. The iStill also uses the first bit of alcohol of the next run to clean out the column at the beginning of the next run. These cleaning protocols happen after and before each run, and they happen automatically.

iStills have a CIP (Cleaning In Place) that flushes your column. Cold water is all that is needed to clean out an iStill. Cold water and five minutes of your time.

Cleaning is a breeze …


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