Pot Still vs Reflux Still Which Is Best For You?
So whats the difference between a pot still and a reflux still?
A POT still simply collects and condenses the alcohol vapors that come off the boiling mash. This will result in an alcohol at about 40-60% purity, with plenty of flavor in it. If this distillate were run through the pot still again, it would increase in purity to around 70-85% purity, but it would also lose a bit of its flavor.
A REFLUX or PLATED still does multiple distillations in one single pass, by having some packing in a column between the condenser & the pot, and allowing some of the vapor to condense and trickle back down through the packing. This "reflux" of liquid helps clean the rising vapor and increase the % purity. The taller the packed column, and the more reflux liquid, the purer the product will be. The advantage of doing this is that it will result in a clean vodka, with little flavor to it - ideal for mixing with flavors etc. For getting drunk, either one works well.
Which type is best for me?
The decision whether to use reflux still or pot still (also known as whiskey still) when distilling your alcohol very much depends on the kind of product you intend to make (please read on further).
Using a pot still would allow you to produce whiskey or rum. Setting it up is easy. All you need is a boiler and a condenser. Pot stills usually have a doubler or thumper as it assists in the double distillation process. Some people also use a coiled copper tube when using a pot still.
Essentially, both stills are up to the task. Most people find pot stills as versatile since it could be utilized to flavor schnapps, whiskey and rum. It also decreases a finished wash’s volume and removes yeast cells.
A reflux still is effective in creating a flavorless and odorless product. If you want to create a potent neutral ethanol, using a reflux still is advisable. For producing fuel ethanol, a column reflux still is the best equipment to use.
A reflux still column works because of the returning distillate which combines with the plates or packing evident on a large-sized still which is able to condense material that comes up. This material is then re-distilled by the vapor below. As the liquid returns and meets with the upward-moving vapor, the water present tends to condense. Water at that point can be separated from the alcohol. After which, the water falls down to the boiler in liquid form while the alcohol rises as concentrated vapor. When cool liquid combines with hot vapor, the resulting product is pure distillate.
And yes length really does matter!
The overall performance of a column very much depends on its length/height and diameter. Also relevant is how the reflux method is managed. The length/height of the packed column determines the purity of a distilled product.
Essentially, a ‘packed column’ is how much packing, copper mesh or otherwise a column height has. When a column has more packed length/height, it means there is a lot of opportunity for vapor and reflux to combine. Meanwhile, the diameter of a column determines the vapor and reflux that travels the column.
What should my still be made of, Copper or Stainless Steel?
The vast majority of stills today are either stainless steel or copper in construction. It basically boils down to a matter of choice. Stainless steel and copper moonshine stills are strong and easy to clean. Copper unlike stainless steel is much easier to work with and without the need for special welding equipment and techniques. Copper being more forgiving to work with is easily brazed or silver soldered using common torches.
Copper has been the choice of master distillers for centuries because stills without copper incorporated in their construction either in the in the column, plates, or condenser are thought to put out undesirable spirits. Copper stills continually sacrifice themselves on a molecular level. The copper itself reacts with the foul tasting sulphides, present in the mash which is there as a natural part of the grains. Sulphides are released as the yeast goes to work. Copper in the still binds with hydrogen sulfide and other acids and oils to eliminate rotten-egg, skunky smells from the spirits.
I'm sure that if the master of all hillbilly distillers, Popcorn Sutton was alive that he would also agree that copper makes "the best damn likker!"