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Whiskey Helmet

edited September 2017 in Accessories

Can anyone tell me the benefits of fitting a copper whisky helmet to my 4" bubbler?



  • It would be much more useful being run in a pot-still mode.

    With bubble plates - it's essentially providing additional copper contact, and the equivalent of a fractional plate worth of additional distillation. Well, and it looks cool.

  • Essentially room for expansion when you are making all-grain whiskey. This stuff really foams, you will also need power control to equalise the foam ball. Don't turn your back on it when it is coming up to temp or it will puke up the plates and out. Sorry grim but the combo would be really good for this, the best single malt I have made, hands down was with a bubbler.

  • does Anti-foam not work?

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  • I don't use antifoam anymore, I don't seem to have any issues anymore.

  • edited September 2017

    I do use antifoam on whiskey runs, and it does work. Of course, it needs to work because I'm doing the runs with too little headroom, due to fermenter and mashtun sizes.

    If I only filled the boiler half full I could heat to a boil really fast, and (probably) get by without an antifoamer. Of course, that's not what I do, and I approach boiling very cautiously.

    Zymurgy Bob, a simple potstiller

    my book, Making Fine Spirits

  • I usually overfill my 1000 liter (265g) boiler by 10-15 gallons.

  • edited September 2017

    I probably use 10% boiler head space normally and maybe 20% for single malts. We use anti-foam on every run, but this is next level foaming, could be a combination of the grain I use and my rig maybe, hobby size. Seems to be a thing with FSW. I am considering buying a helmet.

  • Seems like an expensive solution for puke protection. A piece of spool and a sight glass would do it. Look, I think it's worth it just for the eye candy, but that's just me.

  • I agree on the eye candy aspect.

  • A Copper Helmet is the classic myth to the story. Give it a hard knock for a one of a kind dent to add the one thing no other distillery can reproduce. That's how the old Scotch distilleries see it. They very much care for their whiskey helmets, because they are irreplaceable for what they do. :)

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  • I have always wondered why they invented the helmet in the first place - the puking thing shines a new light on it.

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  • edited September 2017

    Grim's useless history of the day...

    Remember that helmets and other capita on stills were invented and used before plates were.

    Helmets rely on an old theory of rectification called dephlegmation, as compared to the fractional distillation that we talk about today. Coincidentally, this is where the dephlegmator (partial condenser, reflux condenser) inherited it's name from.

    Dephlegmation is rectification through passive contact between liquid and vapor passing each other, versus fractional distillation which utilizes active contact (think plates and trays). If you are saying to yourself right now, so ... a packed column is a dephlegmator - you would be correct based on the original definition and use.

    But, move backwards in time, and forget everything you know about distillation today. Those old dead guys couldn't make shell and tube condensers, they probably didn't have any way to include active cooling to a reflux condenser either (at least not for a few hundred years).

    So, now think of the funny shape of a helmet. Why? Why go through all that trouble for the funny shape? What the hell does the funny shape mean? Well, it has significantly more surface area than a pipe, no? With more surface area comes more passive heat transfer, and with more passive heat transfer (on the outside), we get more condensation (reflux) on the inside.

    Now we have the liquid side of dephlegmation taken care of, also consider that the funny shape induces turbulence in the head, and thus increases vapor-liquid contact.

    In addition, all this increased surface area increased copper contact of the vapor.

    So put yourselves in their shoes, 800 years ago. You ain't making trays or a reflux condenser, but what you can do it put a big bubble at the top of the still to increase passive reflux and induce more vapor/liquid interaction (dephlegmation) - and you would have a better performing still. Especially so running after harvest, in the cooler fall air - passive reflux would be maximized. Heck even Fischer esterification would be amplified.

    But, in terms of distillation, we're not even talking about providing a full plate worth of distillation - a helmet will not result in higher purity than two runs would.

    So why bother?

    Flavor, primarily.

    Keep in mind one thing, one very important thing, the impact produced by adding additional distillation stages (plates, runs, whatever) - is NOT LINEAR. THIS IS HUGELY IMPORTANT. Imagine rectification as being distance.

    The distance between no plates and 1 plate is a football field long. The distance between 1 plate and 2 plates is significantly less, probably half the distance of a football field. The distance between plate 10 and 11 is now the size of the football. The distance between plate 20 and 21 is a human hair. And so on.

    Now, think of this in terms of flavor (purity) output. The difference between no plates and 1 plates is huge.

    This is why helmets, passive reflux, and things like thumpers can make a big difference, a noticeable difference. You have a whole football field of flavor to play with. If the "distance" between distillation stages was linear/fixed, these methods would have never been invented, as their impacts would be largely unnoticeable, like trying to determine the difference between running 20 and 21 plates only using taste and smell.

    This is the reason why we see variations in helmet shapes, and sizes, and lyne arms that skew up and down, and all of those crazy 1700s and early 1800s still designs. When you are playing on the football field between pot still distillation and adding one additional theoretical distillation stage, you have tons of variations that absolutely will have an impact.

    Hope someone takes the time to read this and enjoys the history as much as I do.

  • edited September 2017

    Perhaps easier to understand visually?

    See, the first distillation you get for free - pot distillation, this has the biggest impact - turning beer into spirit - you follow? Massive difference between beer and whiskey? You can't argue that, they are completely transformed.

    But then look at the distance between pot and 1 tray, it's nearly as big as the difference between beer and whiskey. This is the vast football field that thumpers, helmets, and lyne arms play in. It's not bullsh*t.

    Now look at distillation 3, 4, and so on. Diminishing returns, they make only very minor impacts to overall purity.


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  • edited September 2017

    So now think about all these things operating in terms of a partial tray (expressed in decimal, like 0.20 tray, or 0.60 tray), as opposed to thinking about adding whole trays, running 4, 5, 11, 20 trays. We're talking a small fraction of 1 tray.

    Cool? So, just for the sake of discussion, I'm going to make up some numbers for illustration:

    So an upward facing lyne arm (more passive reflux) - might operate as a 0.45 tray.

    A downward facing lyne arm (less passive reflux, more distillate) - might operate as a 0.15 tray.

    A small helmet made of thick copper - might operate as a 0.25 tray.

    A large helmet which is thin due to decades of use - might operate as a 0.40 tray.

    Look at the graph above, and look at the difference between 0.0 and 1.0 tray, it's ENORMOUS.

    It's plausible that a dent, or copper thickness, or specific helmet shape COULD be MORE impactful than 2 or 3 trays added to a 4 tray column (I am talking the marginal increase, not total).

    Think about it this way, the distance between 0 and 1 plate is nearly the same as the distance between 1 plate and azeotrope.

  • edited September 2017

    So now when you think about what a helmet does, it seems a little bit boring and disappointing if all it does is be your puke bucket, no? At the same time, adding 0.25 of a tray equivalent to a 6 plate stack? You are adding the helmet for eye candy, because at 6 plates, adding a fractional plate worth 0.25 is nearly meaningless.

  • @grim, Now that's how you explain things!

  • Thank god someone read all that, I would have wasted an hour of my life otherwise.

  • Personally, I thought it was great and insightful. It also made me feel completely out of the mainstream.. For instance, simply decreasing pukes for a given boiler capacity is wonderful, while increasing purity (by the way, your "of flavor (purity) output" confuses me; I've always thought they were polar opposites) seems like it's just getting closer to vodka, which to me is a disappointment (although I do run a vodka still, a CCVM, but one of the partners is a vodka fan, and besides, it make a good gin base).

    Can you really mean that the good folks at, say, Lagavulin, would really improve their whisky by dumping the potstills and upgrading to plated columns? I'm confused, and (probably) a troglodyte, i guess.

    Zymurgy Bob, a simple potstiller

    my book, Making Fine Spirits

  • edited September 2017

    Yeah I agree with you, my language was probably confusing. Fewer theoretical stages, the greater the flavor will be in the distillate, more stages added, the greater the potential to reduce the flavor (or increase the purity). I'm not saying good or bad flavor, just flavor. I should have probably said (impurity) there, because when I'm saying purity I'm saying pure ethanol/azeo, and flavor being all other congeners.

    Not saying that Lagavulin should do anything, what I am saying is the shape and style of their stills is absolutely impacting the flavor of their product, and it isn't necessarily bunk.

    Sometimes it's more fun to play in the dirty end of the curve, sometimes the product dictates it. Maybe in the Lagavulin example, if they replaced that with even just a 1 plate column, their product would be very different.

    Azeo is easy, just throw as many possible theoretical plates as you can muster, and you'll hit the wall, eventually, hopefully (it's not that easy).

    But what happens when you want to play around in the dirty part of the curve, between 0 and 1 stage? It's fun down there. Even 1 plate becomes too much.

    Even more interesting, what happens when you want even less purity than 1 distillation stage? Load up some thumpers with heads and tails, and you can actually make your distillation even less efficient. There's lots of fun stuff down there in the fat belly part of the curve.

  • edited September 2017

    Also as grim has mentioned in the past (and confirmed with a report from Lyon Distilling), it is entirely possible to actually get a,,,,,dirtier finished product with reflux (and plates) than with a pot still. Bear in mind that I'm not talking specifically about good or bad flavors. I'm only noting that entrainment is real...

    R1 is pot stilled.

    R2 is a two plate (hybrid)

    R3 is a six plate column

    Test Results (PDF)

    Test Results.pdf

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  • Thanks for clarification Grim, and yup, I'm happiest down in that " fat belly part of the curve.".

    Zymurgy Bob, a simple potstiller

    my book, Making Fine Spirits

  • edited September 2017

    Heads cut appears to improve as you go from pot to 6:

    EA goes from 135, to 116, to 42.

    But what happened with the tails cut?

    What was the methodology on this anyway? Samples of only the heart cut from each run? Almost seems like he went shallower into the tails on the 2, and way deeper into tails on the 6.

  • @grim said: Heads cut appears to improve as you go from pot to 6:

    EA goes from 135, to 116, to 42.

    But what happened with the tails cut?

    What was the methodology on this anyway? Samples of only the heart cut from each run? Almost seems like he went shallower into the tails on the 2, and way deeper into tails on the 6.

    I didn't really get a chance to talk at length about the methodology. My impression was that the distiller rendered out a perceived "center" on a hearts cut for each sample batch. But I have no idea what controls were used.

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  • @grim Brilliant in depth post and with great capability of understanding / explaining, especially for those like me whom are not yet there.

  • edited September 2017

    Great posts there Grim. My thought while reading them were ' @Moonshine is there a plug in here for a +1 rep thing for good posts, a good post button?'


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  • edited September 2017

    I didn't comment because we are all trying to learn as much as we can, and I didn't want anyone to get upset. I am obsessed with single malts. I don't think it is really possible to replicate highland or Islay methods at home.

    Anyway IMO much of the discussion has been extraneous because, even though some single malt distillers use a single pot, most of them use a line of three, they are all different sizes and shapes for specific reasons. Probably a plate still could be closest to approximate that at home, but we would struggle to match their fermentation techniques. Even triple distilling with a pot would only approximate because of the interaction of the different shaped pots.

    Thanks for posting the plates diagram grim, we understood this effect as soon as the first modular components appeared and we added more plates. That is why hybrids, and experiments with different types of packing happened almost immediately.

    Cheers for the chemical analysis Smaug, interesting, I'll need some time to research and really understand the effect of the fractions.

    If you can be bothered to watch some in-house videos (there are heaps out there), check out what the operator is doing. Also take notice of the depth of understanding that these people have of their craft.


  • Was over in your home town yesterday @rossco . Next time i'll catch up for sure.

    Maybe i'll relocate the SD AU headquarters, such a beautiful part of the world.

    I'm enjoying the conversation here and the thing that strikes me is that basically you both agree, the helmet combined with the plated column is an aesthetic thing that provides a real benefit in puke protection.

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  • edited September 2017

    Thanks Punkin agreed.

    If you were trying to mimic 3 pots at home, just from experience 4 plates comes close, kind of... Its funny that we have spent so much time working on the recipe you posted years ago, but we still use it basically in its original form. It sure does make next level foaming.

    The Scotts get it too, I think they just assume it is part of dealing with protein produced by barley fermentation, and it doesn't rate a mention in their literature.

    This video is interesting because he talks about how to make a light whiskey with a pot that is the wrong dimensions. Also 48-50hrs fermentation and he recons that is a long time.

  • Would imagine the harder part is waiting around for 18 years...

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