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Grip's 8" Crystal Dragon

edited February 2014 in Usage

OK OK! I'll start a thread!!

After a great deal of patience from Lloyd who has been brilliant (and with the patience of Job) throughout the initial stages we took delivery of our 380L boiler, 8" x 11 bubble plate Crystal Dragon column and gin basket. Ship from China arrived in port on time and three days later a truck arrived at our brewery with the two crates; smooth as silk through customs, port authorities etc.

Whilst it was in transit (about three weeks) we had a change of heart as to the heating of the boiler. We had chosen to go with propane gas, so the boiler was built with a gas skirt round the base. After discussions with various friends, more knowledgeable than I, a decision was made to go with electric immersion heaters instead. (Wish I'd had these discussions a few weeks earlier!) We have four tank fittings on order and we will probably start off with 4 x 3Kw heaters and see how we go with that. - Lloyd I'll probably be asking for a DIY controller shortly.

I am at present assembling the two sections of the column which will end up about 6'6" high (two metres if you're in Europe) making the whole rig a bit over eleven feet in total. Getting the gaskets all in the right place and seated correctly has been a juggling act and at times is a bit of a struggle, but I think I have one finished (we'll see!) and the second section I will finish this evening hopefully. When it's all together I will post a photo or two - I can guarantee that it'll look impressive. I'm well impressed with the build quality. If anything the bits look a little over engineered, which is nice and reassuring. First impression is that on a value for money this scores 10/10.

The only negative so far is that one of the glass sections got cracked in transit. I assembled the first section yesterday morning and left it in place looking fine but when I went to start on the second section last night one section of the glass had cracked. Fortunately Lloyd put two spares in for us, so apart from having to rebuild the column section (easier second time round) we're OK. I guess I must have somehow stressed it a bit to cause the split.

So to summarise - so far - well pleased.



  • Pictures please!!! Unless your teasing us on purpose! @-)

  • Not teasing, it's just been a testing time doing our first assembly involving precariously lifting a heavy section of glass column well over head height with nothing but a couple of chairs and a flimsy step of step ladders, knowing full well that a slight slip could cause the whole thing to come crashing down with disastrous results. Did we take photos? Sorry but there was more at stake. They will follow, believe me!

    No disasters, all looking good, but I'm going to bed.

  • Excellent @Grip!
    So happy everything arrived and mostly intact. We sent out four sea freights at the same time to different countries and just days before the big holiday - it was nerve racking trying to keep it all straight.
    So far, 2 of the 4 have arrived at their destinations and arrived complete, fingers are crossed for the remaining 2.

    As the proud owner of the very first 8" Crystal Dragon in Europe, you are sure to be the center of attention.

    Looking forward to seeing this thread develop over time.

  • edited February 2014

    But for a couple of connectors the cooling system is now up and running. Had a first attempt at cutting holes in the boiler for the immersion heaters and wore out a new cutter before we'd finished the first one. (What do you make these boilers from @Lloyd?) so we've ordered a few more and will have another go on Monday. Once we get the heaters wired up we're ready to go - I'm guessing end of next week.

  • Use plenty of cutting fluid, slow speed and steady pressure.

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

  • OK - will do Punkin. I'll post how we get on!

  • I used a plasma cutter to cut the round holes for my heaters. About 20 seconds a hole. :-)

  • Yes I am with punkin. If you don't have the specialised stainless hole saws, a coarse tooth cutter at slow speed with lots of water for cooling and lubrication will do it. I have even done them with a jig saw. Real noisy and slow work, but do-able.

  • When we say slow it's about 60 to max 200 rpm this will be the slowest speed on your drill start the drill and count the rpm to get a idea on veritable speed drills it will be the slightest touch you may have to just on off vary quickly but keep the speed down to the slowest you can keep plenty of cutting oil on the saw stainless likes dead slow keep good cutting pressure on don't let it rub

  • edited February 2014

    I'm getting the message - slow and well lubricated, - unless you're very flash, like @RedDoorDistillery with a light sabre!

  • @awesome I have used WD-40 as a lubricant when cutting stainless ("easy build false bottom" thread) and it worked well, main thing is to keep the tool/blade cool.

  • I use a 1-1/4 conduit(actual 1.75 or so) hole saw, steady lube and steady pressure, the latest saw bit, a greenlee brand, has been going strong for more than 20 holes.. I just picked up a couple panel punches that size and want to hook up my hydraulic pack for my roll cage bender to them.. I also want to use a dimple die to create a reinforcing dimple where the ferrule welds to...

  • @CothermanDistilling, i never thought about dimple die-ing for where the ferrule welds to... That's brilliant!

  • Hole cutting (second attempt) scheduled for Saturday - thanks for all your suggestions. Hopefully with your help we'll get the job finished then.

  • We progress - all heaters fitted - 4 x 3Kw plus DIY controller on one. It's not properly in situ yet as the builders are a bit behind schedule (what a surprise!). I am, as we speak, doing the cleaning run with vinegar and water. Hoping to do the first stripping run on Saturday. Sugar, grain and kale wash using a smaller amount of turbo that recommended as I was using grain and kale for nutrients. Not sure what the strength is as I don't have the correct hydrometers yet, but it's somwhere between 14 and 17% abv; got down to that in under three days.

  • Without pictures, as they say on the net, its all just smoke.

    Give us something @Grip!!!

  • edited March 2014

    Didn't really want to post a pic until the still was assembled in it's new place and looking beautiful, but here it is anyway, in the building site! There will be more soon.

    Today saw it's first (strip) run, so here's the report:- Generally everything went well, no leaks, no hardware issues. The still is not in it's intended position so will have to be taken down and reassembled once the builders have finished (that's another story!). When we do, that slight lean of the upper section of the column will be corrected.

    It was just a stripping run, so nothing sophisticated. It was also an opportunity to iron out some bugs, so here are a few points.

    Main one - I have obviously way underestimated the power needed for an 8" column. I put in 4 x 3kw single phase immersion heaters. **This is not enough. **I am replacing one of them with a 3 phase 12kw heater, so with the others in there that'll give me a total of 21kw which in a 380L boiler should do it. It seems that 12kw is an absolute minimum for running the column but it needs considerably more to get it up to heat in a reasonable time. This morning it took two and a half hours from cold to get close to operating temp - very frustrating. The new heater arrives on Tuesday in time for the next strip. This situation was exacerbated by the fact that one of the heaters kept tripping the mains contact breaker, so all in all today's effort took far, far too long!

    Second point - On the cleaning run I did notice that there was a notable stratification particularly in the warm up. I have rectified this quite simply. In the base of the boiler I fitted two 15mm tank fittings either side of the main outlet. about 18" apart. To these I connected a small pump that I had lying around (can't remember where it came from but it's not too powerful so it seemed ideal.) The pump draws from one fitting and pumps into the other. To this one I connected a small length of plastic 10mm pipe (simple push fit at this stage), so it pumps the colder wash up to the top of the boiler and creates a sort of vertical whirlpool. It works perfectly even to the point that there is a noticeable increase in activity on the bubble plates when the pump is running. It's certainly easier than the option of fitting an agitator.

    The only negative comment on the crystal column (and it is minor and does not in any way affect the running ) is that this run has caused some brown staining on the lower glass sections. I would guess that this will be relatively easy to deal with, but to do it might mean dismantling the column - unless you know of a better/simpler way. Not sure where it comes from though.

    All things considered a fairly successful day - 80+ litres of 70% spirit - because of the heating/tripping issues I gave up at 35%. Next time I'll take it down to at least 20% if not 10.


    367 x 800 - 71K
  • Hi Grip. Please comment on your product condenser.

    StillDragon North America - Your StillDragon® Distributor for North America

  • Agreed ^^^^^ curious myself

  • edited March 2014

    Hi @Smaug / @Cambo, not a lot to say really. It worked perfectly. Did you want a particular question answering? Have I connected it up wrong or something like that?

  • edited March 2014

    Its just the standard SD 3" product shotgun condenser. He elected to use 3x2 reducers and 2" pipe to lower it to a more comfortable level. Looks great to me @grip.

    @Grip said: ...some brown staining on the lower glass sections. I would guess that this will be relatively easy to deal with, but to do it might mean dismantling the column - unless you know of a better/simpler way. Not sure where it comes from though.

    I got the same thing on my prototype 5" CD with SS plates (it is a prototype after all) and copper bubble caps. It only appeared on the bottom edges of the two bottom glass sections. Very easy to wipe away but it does require you to break down the column. After 2 additional runs so far the discoloration has not come back.

    In the old days when I was soldering copper together, I'd do a vinegar run (about a quart of cheap white vinegar per gallon of water) and then do a cleaning run of my worst feints and discard what was collected and drained the boiler and flushed it all out with fresh water.
    Nowadays I just just give it a cleaning run of feints and maybe a quick fresh water flush.
    Never had a problem til the grime appeared on the 5" CD.

    I don't own a dishwasher (because I live in China) but if I did, I'd have run all the parts through the dishwasher before assembly (except the silicone gaskets of course).

    Cooking all the copper in a mild citric acid solution or hot vinegar solution and then a good rinse with fresh water would probably do good too. The grime could easily have come from the SS fittings though (especially the dephlegmator) because the polishing process produces a lot of fine dust that it not washed away by the factory.

    There's a very good chance that you won't see it again. My guess is that the very high alcohol dissolved and washed the grime from the top of the column to the bottom where the bottom plates are poor in alcohol and rich with water. When the grime reached the water rich and alcohol poor lower plates it settled in. Surly much was washed into the boiler so while you have your column off or your manway door open - you'll need to wipe away the grime that was deposited there as well. I know I had to.

    I now remember adding a new 4" super dephlegmator to the 5" CD when I put it together. Betting that is where my grime came from.

  • @Grip said: Hi Smaug / Cambo, not a lot to say really. It worked perfectly. Did you want a particular question answering? Have I connected it up wrong or something like that?

    No, no. Just curious to know how well it performed for you. We are trying to dial in some parameters for stripping with different configurations and merely looking for any feedback is all.

    StillDragon North America - Your StillDragon® Distributor for North America

  • Hi @Smaug -The strip run went fine with a couple of hitches, mainly that the boilier heating is at the moment insufficient at 12Kw, especially when the power kept tripping out if I used all 4 elements. I think that there is a fault on one of them, so a lot of the time I was running on 9Kw (much too low). Having said that the vapour temperature at the top of the column was 78-82 degrees pretty constantly and the condenser worked faultlessly. I'm upping the power to 21 Kw next (3 x 3kw and 1x 12kw) so it will be interesting to see what happens then. I'm imagining that the right amount of power will be in the region of 12-15Kw, at least that what I hope :-S

  • 2nd strip run today, this time with the new 12Kw (3 phase) heater in place. What a difference! Initial heat up using full power. Main run varied between 12Kw at minimum to about 15-17kw, so I'm thinking that the configuration I now have is just about right - with a DIY controller on one of the 3Kw heaters I have the flexibility I need. Tripping issues sorted. I now have over 160 litres of 60% abv to do a spirit run - can't wait!! - I think that I now have most problems sorted. When I move the still to it's rightful home (soon I hope) I will attend to the staining on the glass, which I suspect is just manufacturing crap that will not come back now that I have 'broken in' the still

  • edited March 2014

    1st spirit run yesterday. Mainly a success! About 300 litres into the boiler at 45% ABV. Up to temperature using all 21kW - about an hour - full reflux for an hour at 12kW then gently took off a couple of litres of fores before it smelled sweet. We hit 95+% pretty much straight after that (see photo) and there it stayed! Took of a couple of litres of heads and then reduced the power down to 9kW and we were pulling a litre of very nice clean tasting vodka every 3 minutes. I got greedy after 45 litres and tried to up the power to increase output and paid the price. The quality immediately went down (slight metallic taste) although the %age stayed right up there next time I'll be more patient, once it's up there I will leave the power at 9Kw or even a bit less, take more time. As it was I got best part of 80 litres of very useble tails for the next run.

    Down side

    1. My coolant chiller (1500 litre tank with a flash chiller connected) was, I felt, not quite up to the job. Maybe the chiller was not working well, I'll check that out. Toward the end of the run I resorted to main water as the tank was getting warm. I did think that perhaps the condenser was not big enough but on reflection, 24 hours after the event, I'm more inclined to think that with a fully operational water chiller the condenser would have been fine, certainly when I shifted to mains water any slight steaming, out of the surge controller, stopped.

    2. I was a little clumsy with the alcometer and managed somehow to put a hairline crack in the base. Nearing the end of the run the ABV as expected went down to 80%, then 70%, then 60%, then back up to 95% !!! I wondered how that could possibly be the case so I took the alocmeter out of the parrot only to find that it was filling up with water, but not until I had collected about 20 litres of virtually distilled water! Thankfully Uncle Lloyd put two spares in the box so I.m OK for a while.

    I've got a couple more stripping runs to do now before I have enough virtually neutral spirit to do a gin run with the GB4, which is going to be interested.
    At first I took the fact that the gin basket at 400gm max was a bit of a disadvantage but I'm now thinking that, as each basket load will flavour about 40 litres of 95% gin (am I right in this???), I'm going to have the opportunity to either modify the flavour as I go through the run, or do a variety of different flavoured gins to do some market testing with. Not done it yet so it's just a bit of conjecture at this point - I'll keep you posted.


    450 x 800 - 59K
  • Great feedback Grip. Thank you.

    StillDragon North America - Your StillDragon® Distributor for North America

  • I would be seriously tempted to do a few runs with just a single botanical at a time. In effect make some botanical essences that you can use for blending, until you get a flavour profile that you like. It is the same process that some of the commercial suppliers use.

  • I did exactly that @Myles because I didn't know what I was doing. Figured it would be easier to develop a flavor profile based on blending the essences together and working forward toward blending the botanicals together in the basket with the experience gleaned from single botanical extracts.

    In the end, the juniper and coriander were used for the gin and most of the rest was used to cook with. Ginger and cracked pepper corns was a big hit when a splash was added to a soup or stir fry.

    I figure gin takes a learned tongue that I do not possess. Never really drank much gin.
    But the GB4 opened up a whole new way for me to extract some flavors, though some like banana and pineapple, still seem out of my grasp. Can't seem to get those to carry over. Nuking bananas was nasty because they strongly resist filtration and the wanted flavor does not seem to carry forward.

    Sorry, I digress and am dragging @Grip's thread off track.

    @Grip, 20 liters an hour of great, very high proof stuff is certainly an accomplishment and you should be rightly proud. Your vision has been many months in the making and I can only imagine what else you will achieve in the months to come. Kudos old friend.

    Months to get the order ready, months to receive it, months to play with it til it bends to your will. What do you figure, year from start to finish? (Assuming there ever is a finish).

  • @Lloyd hope you are finding time to relax a bit now in your new surroundings. It's important that you do, especially at your age :-j

    New wash to do tomorrow. Last time I got it a bit wrong and clogged up the pumps, underback and heat exchanger with sugar. Had a bit of a tense couple of hours with our brewer, Ben, who didn't find it funny at all. He's an employee, but he doesn't think like that - it's his brewery and I'm ***king it up for him. How can he brew decent beer when I am screwing up the equipment? Why don't I do my experiments somewhere else? Why am I employing him?

    Ah yes, I remember now. He brews the best beer I have ever tasted. He has a passion for the product. He is totally reliable. He is obsessive about brewing hygiene. He looks a bit like a younger version of me. Need I say more?

    This time I'm mashing in with more grain to give a better grain bed / filter. (on a Saturday, you'll notice, when Ben is not around) Hopefully this will allow me to sparge whilst adding the sugar (and a dose of Kale) - thus avoiding the clogged pumps etc. (and hopefully improving my relationship with Ben the brewer. This will give us more nutrients too so I will reduce the turbo yeast a bit as I'm not particularly bothered about the fact that it may take a day longer to ferment out. I'm going for about 800 litres of 12-14% which will give me 2 full charges for the boiler (380 ltr).

    As ever I'll let you know how I get on.

    Just a thought - Ben calls me "Boss" - Why don't I feel like one? Is he being ironic? Does he really mean it? Am I being paranoid in thinking that everyone in the world is out to get me? Or is it only one person that is out to get me - but noone will tell me who it is?

    I'm going to go with - Ben loves me - he just has a strange way of showing it - deep breath .....and relaxxx.

  • shit bro... you um, need a hug over here? :P

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