Direct Flame vs Bain-Marie


I'm a winemaker in California and am about to purchase a SD copper pot still solely for the production of grape brandy and maybe a little grappa. The majority of the brandy will be "pisco" style and will not be aged. Which style of heat would produce the best quality brandy?

It looks like it will cost me about $4-5k more for the direct flame option, however there might be considerable savings using natural gas direct flame vs the cost of the electricity with the Bain-Marie.

Thanks in advance for any input. It is greatly appreciated.



  • My six cents .... electric because you have more heating control

  • I seriously doubt your fire Marshall is going to allow you to have an ignition source inside your hazardous zones.

  • edited January 6

    Steam jacket if you have any aspirations of doing grappa, along with an agitator. I did a test run of a small amount of straight pomace, no water, and it's very easy to scorch (I run steam+agitator). Not that it would char like in a direct fire, but the kettle walls were covered in residue with plenty of stuck grape that had to be scrubbed off.

  • Hi @grim... not quite understanding the steam part for grappa. It's understood that if you are without water there's a problem. But likewise surely also okay for electric heating ???

  • edited January 6

    As I understand it, traditional grappa does not add any water to the crushed pomace off the press, nor is it chapitalized. Perhaps the presses that the pomace came out of was too good (too dry), but we're talking about the equivalent of moist grape sludge. Post fermentation it was slightly loose, but was significantly thicker than a on-grain mash after fermentation.

    Loaded this into the still, turned the agitator on high, and ran it.

    Yield was very low, I would imagine I'd need to strip 6 bins of pomace to have enough low wines for a spirit run (1000l).

    We have a company that does crushing for hobby wine makers who produces a good amount of pomace through wine season, thus our desire to pilot grappa. They are in the same town as us, and are begging us to take pomace.

    I can completely understand why grappa producers have gone to steam injection/steam stripping stills for grappa. Adding 10-20% water immediately before distillation would make the process easier, but with the low alcohol content, pretty much guarantees you need to strip really deep/long to get enough usable yield.

  • Thanks for all the feedback. The Fire Marshall has approved the direct flame method but the fact that it is considerably more is the reason why I am thinking of the Bain- Marie. I will probably run this 380 liter still around 40-60 times per year. Does anyone else have any input regarding if direct flame will produce a superior product? Once again, I am going to probably do very little Grappa and nearly all will be clear brandy. A friend said that Germain Robin (possibly the top Brandy Distiller here in the US) had told him that direct flame was the way to go but just was looking for a little more input on this. Also does anyone have any input on the efficiency? Electricity is pretty costly and natural gas is moderately priced here.

    Take care, Chris

  • The million dollar question is whether you require the "MAILLARD REACTION" or not. If yes, then the BM is not the way to go.

  • I am an absolute novice. do you think I need the Maillard reaction to produce great white brandy? From what I just read about MR it would seem maybe more beneficial for barrel aged brandy? But that is just a guess....

  • I've been doing quite a bit off grappa lately, using direct fire and a false bottom, with just enough water added to the first distillation to steam off all the goodies without running dry. By smell, I'd say there's zero Maillard reaction.

    For subsequent runs, I fill the boiler with sorta dry pomace, over the false bottom, and wet the pomace with the all low wines from the previous run. Repeat as necessary, and the fruit flavor is wonderful.

    Zymurgy Bob, a simple potstiller

    my book, Making Fine Spirits

  • If I need to say it, potstill of course.

    Zymurgy Bob, a simple potstiller

    my book, Making Fine Spirits

  • If your remaining liquid in the kettle at end is brown in colour, then you have gone through Maillard reaction. BM does not have the same brown colour at end.

  • Thanks for chiming ZB. Nice info.

    @leucadiawino I'm not sure if Chris mentioned to you, but we can put a side hatch to make raking/cleaning your pomace out of the kettle more user friendly. Also that would allow for a false bottom if you should choose to utilize the technique that @zymurgybob is using.

    @zymurgybob can you also talk a bit about yield based on your kettle charge? Are you doing single runs or double?

    StillDragon North America - Your StillDragon® Distributor for North America

  • @zymurgybob said: I've been doing quite a bit off grappa lately, using direct fire and a false bottom.....

    Like a huge inline gin basket to remove alcohol... brilliant!

  • Well, we were using triple runs, but I mis-read one of the partner's label, and the last run was a 4-timer, and the flavor intensity and smoothness was the best yet. As far as yield goes, we fill the keg-based still to the upper ring, about 2/3 full, minus the volume under the false bottom, and we got close to 5 gallons of ~120 proof grappa on that 4th run.

    I think we'll stick with 4 runs.

    Zymurgy Bob, a simple potstiller

    my book, Making Fine Spirits

  • Thank you ZB.

    And of your 4 kettle charges, what were the ABVs for each? Did you dilute at all for any kettle charge?

    StillDragon North America - Your StillDragon® Distributor for North America

  • We were given about 80-90 gallons of cab sauvignon pomace, not pressed terribly dry, which we collected in 2 55-gallon poly barrels. I moistened each barrel with about 10 gallons of 1.060 sugar water, more to stabilize and keep the pomace damp, than to generate more ethanol, and every few days attempted to lift the moist pomace on the bottom up to the top, sorta like backwards cap-punching, although a _**lot **_more work.

    Because of the relative dryness of the pomace, I can't really say what the (wash?, junk?) ABV was, but in each still run, I'd take the head temperature to 210F before stopping. I can tell you that on the third run, I collected a bit over 3 gallons at about 122 proof collective.

    The only wash dilution was that first (perhaps) 1.2 gallons to generate vapor to pass through the pomace. On all following runs, the only liquid added to the pomace was the low wines from the previous still run.

    Sorry about all the imprecision, but this all started as just test/evaluation runs to see what we could do with the pomace from a local friendly winery.

    Zymurgy Bob, a simple potstiller

    my book, Making Fine Spirits

  • Thank you ZB

    StillDragon North America - Your StillDragon® Distributor for North America

  • Okay so you use pomace to make grappa. Do you ever use the juice pressing + pomace to make grappa or is it just not done this way. I am thinking that it has to have so much more taste and flavour if you use juice pressing + pommace.

  • edited January 14

    Wouldn't that just fall in to the brandy type? YMMV depending on country.

    “Fruit brandy” is brandy distilled solely from the fermented juice or mash of whole, sound, ripe fruit, or from standard grape, citrus, or other fruit wine, with or without the addition of not more than 20 percent by weight of the pomace of such juice or wine, or 30 percent by volume of the lees of such wine, or both (calculated prior to the addition of water to facilitate fermentation or distillation).

    Compared to pomace brandy, which is clear - "after the withdrawal of juice":

    “Pomace brandy”, or “marc brandy”, is brandy distilled from the skin and pulp of sound, ripe grapes, citrus or other fruit, after the withdrawal of the juice or wine therefrom, and shall be designated as “pomace brandy”, or “marc brandy”, qualified by the name of the fruit from which derived. Grape pomace brandy may be designated as “grappa” or “grappa brandy”.

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