Managing the distillation run is crucial for craft distillers, since it helps control flavor composition and concentration of the spirits they produce. This post dives into the technologies available. We distinguish between power management, cooling management, and liquid management.
Power management is the simplest way to manage your still and distillation run. If you want to go faster, you just crank up the power. Throw more wood on the fire. Open the gas tap. Feed more kilowatts to your still.
Increased power results in more gasses being created, leading to a faster run. It also results in more smearing. More heads and tails molecules will enter your hearts cut. More fruity as well as rooty and nutty flavors will be added, resulting in a more complex product. A more complex product that needs longer time to age to maturity.
If you decrease power, the run slows down. Slower runs mean less smearing. Cleaner, crisper spirits are produced, that do not need a lot of aging.
Power management is the only management technology available to pot distillers. A potstill doesn’t have an actively managed column, so power management is the only management tool the distiller has to influence his spirit’s flavor profile.
This technique is as old as the potstill itself. How old? Thousands of years. Power management is an easy, yet crude way to manage your distillation run. Smearing always takes place. Reproducibility is difficult, unless your still is fully insulated, to minimize for outside influences.
The 1870’s saw the invention of cooling management, the first technology that allows for not just the pot, but also the column to be managed. Power management manages the pot. Column management manages the rising gasses as they come from the pot.
The way in which cooling management does this is as follows: as gasses rise, part of them are cooled back to liquid phase and redistilled on plates in the column. The additional distillation cycles on those plates result in a higher proof and a better separation of heads, hearts, and tails. The cooling is done by a heat exchanger 2/3rds up the column. The heat exchanger is called a dephlagmator or dephlag.
Adding more coolant to the dephlagmator results in more gasses being cooled down to liquid phase. More liquids or reflux created contributes to more distillation cycles taking place and less smearing of heads and tails into hearts. Limiting the amount of cooling water to the dephlagmator results in less distillation cycles and more smearing.
Adding column management to a still was a huge step forward. You can look at it like this: power management creates a crude form of input management where column management creates a form of output management. Power management defines what enters the column or riser. Cooling management gives a crude selection as to what portions come out of the column and make it over into the drink you are producing.
Even though two management techniques are better than one, cooling management comes with draw-backs. The amount of control it gives is limited, because of four confounders:
- The temperature of the cooling water varies;
- The water pressure varies;
- The temperature in the distilling hall varies;
- Air pressure varies.
Warmer cooling water in (e.g.) the summer results in less reflux and less redistillations and more smearing. A higher water pressure during some parts of the day results in more cooling and in less smearing. The colder distilling hall leads – in an uninsulated column – to more reflux being generated, resulting in less smearing, less fruity and rooty flavors in your hearts cut. High pressure weather fronts lead to different (higher) boiling points of the various distilled factions, resulting in a slower run with better separation between cuts.
iStill introduced liquid management to the distilling industry 10 years ago. With this invention, we aimed to perfect column management, and to get rid of the imperfections caused by the 1870’s cooling management technology, that we addressed above.
Liquid management is not influenced by temperature variability of the cooling water. Is the coolant warmer or colder? Our liquid management technology doesn’t care. It simply delivers the same product quality over and over.
Liquid management is not influenced by water pressure. Again, iStill’s liquid management technology doesn’t care and simply delivers a totally consistent output, over and over again.
Is your distilling hall warmer in the summer and colder in winter? Given the insulation we use, there is no impact, so no variability. Again, with liquid management the craft distiller can consistently deliver high-quality spirits.
Air pressure variability? iStills column management measures the actual air pressure on a second-to-second basis. If the air pressure changes, the cut points are automatically adapted. There you have it again: total control over flavor composition and concentration.
For the craft distiller to produce his spirits at the highest quality level possible, and to do so consistently, liquid management is needed. Craft distillers do not enjoy the economies of scale that Big Alcohol has. This means that craft distilled price levels will be higher. To compensate for this disadvantage, the quality of your drinks needs to be higher. It takes iStill’s liquid management technology to get you there.
I expect this post to clarify how we help revolutionize (and energize!) the craft distilling industry. And it also helps explain why so many of our customers win medals all over the world! See the link for a selection: