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I currently run a 15 gallon pot still with thumper and I want to upgrade to a reflux column so I can make some vodka. Could someone help or point me in the right direction as to making the reflux column up in the most efficient way?
Can you be more specific?
In distilling, the word "efficient" is a bit of a two faced word.
Do you wish to add actual plates or theoretical plates?
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Sorry for being vague. To be honest I’m not entirely sure how the reflux and bubble plates all work as I’ve only ran a pot still but I’m wantimg to turn my hand to vodka and I’m just looking for some direction and advice how to go about this and ordering the correct equipment.
Ah,, sure @Woody. On the hobby level, you can produce 94-95 ABV with as little as 6 plates if your manage you heat input and reflux ratio accordingly. But be mindful that just because your abv is high, does not mean that your product is as clean as a vodka snob might prefer.
Adding additional plates will allow you to scrub your ethanol molecules for a more clean product. Or, allow you to run a bit faster with out compromising your abv.
Here in the US, we would always recommend to the upstart professional distillers that they should not really go bellow 10 plates for vodka production. At the pro level it is far more common to see 16, 22, 24 plates in the line up for vodka production.
A column with structured packing may help you keep your costs down. Though the operating range on a plated column is so very forgiving.
If you have a 4" column o below it's fairly straight forward to add a packed section between the top of the plates and the reflux condensor. This will give you more purity. If you wish to build a purpose built column then 1500mm of packing in a 3" column (scrubbers, structured mesh etc) and then a capable reflux condensor over a valved outlet (see Vapour Management) will do you good service.
Some good basics and more here;
Column design considerations for information - Packed Columns @ AD
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No problem using a 4 plate still, however you will have to run two washes as a enhanced stripping run. Collect the Foreshots slowly, should be about 1/1000 of the wash 25 ml for a 25 L wash. Then collect maybe 75 mL as heads a little bit quicker ( keep for next run), now run the main run (hearts and light tails) at almost full speed and a low refluxrate. At some point (latest at 40 %, but i would go for 60 % for the first runs ) you begin to collect the tails at full speed ( forced reflux off) till you drop till ? I would go quite deep. The tails and heads you dilute till 10 % and add to the next wash. This way you dont let your wash sitt and burn for to long. And for the same reason dont waste to much time at full reflux before starting taking out product.
Collect these two runs ( without the tails and heads from the second run) and dilute to the double wash strength. Run a proper spirit run (clean the still before) (discard the foreshot) and keep the heads and tails for the next wash (diluted of course), this run is with much more reflux as we have no wash to burn.
Running twice also gives you the possibility to do a chemical treatment between the runs...
And again The reason to dilute is that we are not looking for strenght but separation...
If you decide to do a more conventional strippingrun the dilution factor after the run will be to low for a proper separation in the second run but you can still treat it with potassium permanganate and raise the pH for the next run. I would not try that. Except if you use a 3 stage evaporator, but this is the industrial way.
If time is an issue and you can afford more plates 7 plates or more is the way to go. However running twice (in fact 3 runs instead of 2 runs on two washes) can still make sence. Sittning with 16 plates and just running it slowly is just wrong except if you heat with steam injection perhaps but it depends also on the wash. If it can handle that then OK.
And to smaug, with 20 plates or more the pressure and temperature will raise in the boiler.. if the wash does not support this dont do it... but thats just my opinion, its not based on any deeper research from my side.
Thanks everyone for all the information and helping me out. I'm looking at the 4inch dash and I was wondering if my 15 gallon still is big enough?
Slightly off topic, what's you opinion on perforated plates to bubble plates? Just trying to make sure I get everything right as it's so expensive I don't want to get anything wrong.
Perforated plates have a significantly smaller operating range than bubble caps. Bubble caps are more flexible with regards to run speed, power input, reflux ratio, and are generally more forgiving than perf plates.
If 15 gallons is big enough? Yes
(Think like this, the top tray is about 12 sq inch big and covered with a half inch of Foreshots and heads. The volyme must be about 100 mL and you want to collect about 50 mL of heads to discard and about 150 mL heads to put back...
7 gallons would be to small... then you would need to put a significant part of the hearts back inte the next run with the heads...
I'm not implying 20 plates on a 15 gallon kettle. Simply saying that there is a difference between hobby vodka that someone gives / shares with you (for free) and professionally distilled vodka that the average cheap ass consumer would actually pay money for,,,,,if you see my meaning?
I agree. The demand for my "hobby vodka" far outstrips any level of pro vodka I offer for free next to it in my bar. That vodka is also the base spirit for my hobby gin.
I do 3X:
A fast and dirty wide open stripping run on fermented wash - no cuts (think volume reduction)
A spirit run on low wines diluted to 25-30% - cuts for foreshots, heads and tails
A second spirit run diluted to 25-30% - no foreshots/heads cut needed - 2nd tails cut made.
The only chemical treatments are made to insure the healthiest fermentations possible.
Being a hobbyist, me, it's about quality not economics, so I choose to go the extra run, and take deep hearts cuts. Also as a hobbyist, there is as much enjoyment in the journey as there is in the destination.
“Do I have to explain everything? Can’t you just be amazed and move on?”
I'm absolutely with Kapea, although I tend to value my whiskeys than in my vodka. I'm just not much of a vodka drinker.
Zymurgy Bob, a simple potstiller
my book, Making Fine Spirits
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