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First Time Running Still - Where Did I Go Wrong?


Today I have done my first run on a 4 plate 2.5" Baby Crystal Dragon with a 50 litre milk can and 3kw element. Generally I feel like it started off OK, but then went a bit wrong. Nothing lost, but hopefully gained some knowledge and with some guidance hopefully i can correct where I went wrong.

I have been making myself plenty of wort to distill so I can practice my runs.

I have a corn and barley mash consistently coming out around 7%. The total wort i end up with is between 18litres.

Here is the process I did today. Please forgive me if I did anything terribly wrong :)
I put the wort into the milk can, turned on the element, the plates started to fill and bubble, before they started to bubble i turned on the pong pump to pass water through the dephlegmator and condenser. The dephlegmator connector was half open and the condenser connector was fully open.
After the plates were bubbling for a while i turned the PID controller down to half, the bubble plates seemed consistent and after a while the parrot was starting to fill up.
Spirit started dripping at 90%, after i collected about 300ml of spirit the bubble plates started to calm down, so i increased the power to the element slightly. At this point spirit started to trickle out slowly.
I collected 4x 150ml, then something somewhere must has gone amiss as it went from 86% to 72% very quickly without much spirit being collected.

The bottom plate at this point wasn't bubbling, but had liquid falling back down on it, the other 3 plates were bubbling fine. I pulled back the element power, this started reduced the flow of spirit to 2-4 drops per second, but kept the spirit % more consistent.
I ran with this for a while, the bottom plate didn't start bubbling again, but seemed to be working ok, the 3 plates above seemed fine.
Oddly the spirit % seemed to increase, but only with a flow rate of 2-3 drops per second.

Did I do something obviously wrong?
I am looking for guidance on how i can improve the next run. Maybe it involves me being a bit more patient, or getting colder water to the dephlegmator and condenser?

Appreciate your help and feedback.


  • This sounds fairly normal to me. Distilling straight from a wash of 7% with 4 plates I'd absolutely expect the output abv to start dropping off after you've pulled off 75/80% of the alcohol that was in the pot.

    You're 50 liter milk can will probably take two of your washes in one go, or you could look into doing some stripping runs followed by a spirit run.

  • Doesn't sound far off.

    Likely your estimate of 7% is a little bit higher than actual, and consider distillate collection efficiency isn't 100%.

    So 18 liters at around 6% is only 1.08 liters total alcohol. A tight hearts cut of 57% yield is only 0.62 liters total alcohol. At 80% is only .77 liters.

    I think it's going to be much easier for you to run this rig with more wash. Push to 40 liters and while it will take much longer, the transitions won't be so fast.

  • yeah, overall looks fine. in every run, there comes a point of diminishing return when the ABV in the pot gets low. you could continue pushing more alcohol through and collect for re-distillation at some other point

  • Suggest tipping all that you have collected in with your next wash. Suggest the next wash be 35-40 litres. Watch for foaming with wort too.

    StillDragon Australia & New Zealand - Your StillDragon® Distributor for Australia & New Zealand

  • Thanks guys. Makes me feel better :) I will definitely try what you guys suggested and keep you posted.

  • One quick question.

    At what % should i start collecting the heads, for example, if it starts running at 90% and I collect the foreshots, should the rest after that be as heads, or would it only be heads until it reaches a certain %, say 86%


  • It depends on many things unfortunately.

  • edited September 2016

    Yes, unfortunately you kinda just need to learn by smell and taste. Temperature and abv is a guide at best. Collect Everything in small, numbered jars and air them out for a day before smelling and tasting each jar to see how the run progresses.

    This is useful:

    Kiwi's Guide To Cuts

  • I'd also dismiss the idea of foreshots from your thinking. To me they are just very early heads. if you are making heads cuts you are making heads cuts, it doesn't make sense to make heads cuts and then make heads cuts.

    StillDragon Australia & New Zealand - Your StillDragon® Distributor for Australia & New Zealand

  • Very useful. Thanks again.

  • If you're going to perpetually recycle the heads cut into the next wash run then a small foreshots cut makes more sense to me, to stop the heads building up too much. Not many whisky distilleries actually do that though so it mustn't be a problem.
    I still can't work out how this works, but it does :-??

  • edited September 2016

    Whoever came up with the idea of collecting by proof or abv was just being silly, this works but only in trying to repeat an identical run on the same rig.

  • But isn't that what we commercial types do a lot of? After first establishing the cuts by nose and taste, of course.

    Zymurgy Bob, a simple potstiller

    my book, Making Fine Spirits

  • Sounds like a holdback from the days where the spirit safe had the tax collectors lock on it.

    The numbers only hold true of you are running nearly identical wash in an identical still with identical operating parameters.

    Using tongue and nose is repeatable regardless.

  • Thanks guys. I am running again today with the advice given, will let you know how I get on.

  • edited September 2016

    I have just completed my second run, I used 2 batches which was 38 litres in total. The whole thing ran a lot smoother this time. There were a couple of little things, at one point the top plate got really flooded (right near the top), i managed to sort this by bring down the element power slightly. Most of the time i have the element at 70% and did some minor adjustments on the dephlegmator flow.

    I got 14x 150ml samples (I only went down to 30% coming off the still) which took in total 4.5hrs from turning the element on.

    All in all it fills like more of a success.

    Generally is this the level of spirit I got what you would expect to get, just so I know as a bench mark.

    I will now being to smell and taste each jar and get used to the different parts.

  • edited September 2016

    Top plate flooding is usually due to running the reflux condenser too cold. Causing lots of sub-cooling and making a good portion of the vapor to condense when it hits the cold liquid.

    I never ran a baby, but 3kw element at 70% - for the guys who do - does that seem a touch high?

    Once you make your final cuts - mix your product together and take another gauge - let us know what proof, volume, and temp, and we can say ballpark or not.

  • edited September 2016

    Running a 4", but what I'm doing with whiskey or other stuff lately where I want lots of flavor to come through is to keep the power fixed and "tune" my ABV output to 80ish at the beginning of the rum for maximum flavor.

    If you're having flooding issues as @grim suggests, then your whiskey might come out too light / vodka-ish.

  • With 4 plates whiskey we start collecting hearts a touch over 80%.

    Slight heads compression - starts coming off at 87-90%.

    We keep the delpheg cool through heads and the warm it up and start speeding up after the heads cut.

  • @grim @Unsensibel Thanks. I will be sure to keep playing around. I will let you know what the final product is after the final cuts.

  • The Ace of Hearts sits well at 2000 watts by all reports.

    StillDragon Australia & New Zealand - Your StillDragon® Distributor for Australia & New Zealand

  • Been having more fun and getting improved results.

    I have been running the element at 60% (~2000watts), getting a lot more consistency and spirit.

    One thing I am noticing is the glass on the crystal dragon setup is starting to get a brownish mark around the whole glass, at the level of the bubbles, is this common?

    Thanks for your help, I look forward to playing around a little more.

  • Yes very common. Pull down and wipe out or a dilute citric bath in situ.

    StillDragon Australia & New Zealand - Your StillDragon® Distributor for Australia & New Zealand

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