Pot Still vs Column still: what you NEED to know before you buy!
So, you have decided you want to make moonshine but need to know where to start. One of the most important decisions you can make is your choice of still. After all, not all stills are made the same and not all will give you the same type of shine.
Researching all you can before you invest in a still is not only smart, but can also save you lots of money in the long run. After all, it is always cheaper to buy the right still the first time.
To those new to shining, moonshine stills can appear pretty intimidating. After all, these are pieces of equipment most of us have never used in real life and some may have never even see a still before committing to purchase one.
So how are you supposed to know what kind of still you should buy? Well, thinking about what type of shine you want to make is key in knowing what type of still you need to purchase in order to make it.
How to Make Moonshine
Making moonshine is a three step process with distillation as the third and final step.
The first step is where you make a mash which are the ingredients that will make up your moonshine. In general, these recipes are made with a grain, fruit, or sugar base. The recipe you choose will affect both your final taste but also your final proof.
The next step is fermentation. This step takes the most amount of time but also requires the least amount of effort. You are basically waiting for the fermentable sugars in your mash to be turned into alcohol by yeast. The time this step takes will vary depending on the recipe, conditions, and type of yeast used.
Finally, once fermentation is complete, distillation can take place. Distillation is the process in which the alcohol is removed from the water in the mash
What is a Pot Still?
A pot still is also often referred to as an alembic still. Traditionally these stills have been made from copper. The reason for this is two-fold: copper is a great conductor of heat and it also removes sulfur from your mash which can taint both the taste and smell of your final product.
While a copper still may be ideal, it isn’t always the right option. First, copper is a very expensive material which makes even the smallest copper stills very expensive.
Secondly, copper is difficult to clean and maintain which is not ideal for pot stills which need to be very clean to run properly.
Today many pot stills are either a mixture of stainless steel and copper or stainless steel with the ability to add copper to your still. This is often a great compromise which allows the shiner to purchase a better quality still at an affordable price.
A typical pot still has several different components. The main pot is called the kettle. This is where you pour your mash before you begin distilling.
As you begin to heat your still your fermented maash will evaporate and the vapors will travel up until it reaches a spiral shaped tube called ‘the worm’ which is attached to the condenser.
As the name suggests, the condenser condenses the vapor back into a liquid to be collected and fractionated.
Advantages of a Pot Still
Generally, pot stills are an affordable option for those who want to start moonshining. Because the largest component of the still is basically a large cooking pot, these stills can seem less intimidating and more familiar for those just starting out in their moonshine journey.
In general, pot stills are ideal for those who want to make spirits that are full of flavor and texture. It is a great option for aged spirits such as whiskey, rum and tequila.
Pot stills are known for their ability to add desired congeners to the spirit responsible for aromas and flavours in the spirit.
Usually with a pot still you will get 40-60% pure alcohol output with 60-40% water mixed with flavorful organic compounds which add flavor and texture to your spirit.
You can do a second or third run to increase your alcohol output, but you will lose flavor in the process.
The Magnum All-in-One Moonshine Still
The Magnum is a great option for those who want to make large quantities of shine with rich flavor and texture.
The Magnum has a large 50L capacity to accommodate even larger mash recipes. Its kettle is able to do double duty as both a still and a fermentor, which saves you both money and precious storage space.
The Magnum has the versatility of being used on a stovetop or induction burner which means it is a great option no matter where you want to shine.
Disadvantages of a Pot Still
Pot stills are less efficient than reflux stills and are considered a ‘batch’ distillation versus the constant distillation possible with a reflux still. This results in a higher cost per proofed gallon when using a pot still.
Pot stills can produce less consistent results with many factors such as proper operation of the still and proper cuts affecting your final product.
Make Your Own Pot Still
It is actually possible to make your own pot still instead of purchasing one. Some shiners really want to put the DIY in moonshine by making their own still.
Of course, making your own still doesn’t offer the same safety guarantees that a commercially produced still has. It is important to get your blueprints from a reputable source and follow the directions properly.
Check out How to Make a Moonshine Still
What is a Column Still?
A column still is often used in industrial and mass commercial alcohol production. This is likely because producing moonshine with a column still is a lower cost in terms of proof per gallon.
Column stills are also referred to as coffey still or continuous still. While pot still distills moonshine in batches, a column still can do a continuous run. This is both efficient as well as a great way to keep a consistent output.
A column still is designed so the alcohol is derived directly from the fermented mash.
Column stills are often stainless steel or a mixture of stainless steel and glass. You can add copper mesh to your column still to get the benefits of copper while using this type of still.
Column stills include a kettle at its base which has a tall column attached at the top and is divided into chambers using perforated plates.
This still is heated from the bottom and the fermented mash is heated and sent through the column as vapor.
When the vapor passes through the perforated plates it condenses the heavier particles and only the vaporized alcohol continues to the top and travels to the condensers where it is converted back to a liquid.
Advantages of a Column Still
A column still is a great option if you want to produce a neutral, high proof spirit like vodka, gin or white rum.
While column stills do produce a neutral spirit, they are also often able to have gin baskets either attached into the still or you can make a DIY gin basket to add into your column.
A gin basket allows you to add flavor to your spirits during the distillation process. It is called a gin basket because of the unique botanicals that are used to give gin its distinct flavor.
Check out How to Make a Gin Basket
Disadvantages of a Column Still
Typically, a column still is a bigger investment that a basic pot still. If you are just getting into shinin’ you may be such a big spender.
Column stills are also known for their ability to run continuously. This is a great advantage for commercial production, but not as likely to be needed for the average shiner.
A column still also strips a lot of flavor from your final product. Depending on the type of spirit you want to make, this may not be the right still for you.
Is an Airstill Right for You?
While both a pot still and a column still are great options for making your shine, there is also a third option-an air still.
An airstill uses an internal fan and electricity to heat up and condense your mash in a simple hands off approach.
An air still is about the size of your kitchen kettle and just as easy to use. The air still uses plug and play technology where you simply press a button, set the temperature, and wait for your moonshine to appear.
Our Moonshine Cherry air still is a great option for a simple solution for making your shine. The Moonshine Cherry is a great option for making a simple sugar shine but lacks the sophistication to make more complex recipes that require fractioning and cuts.
If you want to make a simple neutral spirit that can be flavored to replace the expensive liqueurs in your favorite recipes, the Moonshine Cherry air still is for you.