A Pot Still is more artful, but it’s like the difference between an abacus and a calculator. We all love art but, there are times when science reigns supreme.
Not the Pot Still vs. Column Still argument!
As with any recipe, it’s fun to stir it up and see what results. Nothing riles craft distillers more than the fiery debate of “Pot Still vs. Column Still.” So, let me take us out of the tug-of-war by pronouncing that – if we care about the environment… and we all should — there is no debate. The evidence confirms that for energy efficiency, Continuous Column Still is the eco-conscious choice.
Pot Stills make great whiskey!
Operating a Pot Still is thought by many to be artful; requiring careful, experienced attention from the distiller. A Pot Still is more artful, but it’s like the difference between an abacus and a calculator. We all love art but, there are times when science reigns supreme. When it comes to whisky and the environmental imperative, I’ll choose science.
Before Pot Still enthusiasts draw breath to blow, let me say that there is no doubt that Pot Stills make great whisky. I’m saying that the significant energy efficiency of a Continuous Column Still goes a long way to reducing a distillery’s carbon footprint. Every still design has different characteristics, but in round terms, a large Continuous Column Still uses one third of the energy. Continuous Column stills also use one quarter the labour, leaving the distiller more time for other tasks.
Column stills also make great whisky!
In fact, most of the world’s great whisky is made on continuous column stills. So why the resistance? Continuous Column Stills are expensive – their cost is prohibitive for small producers. Committing to a Continuous Column Still is just the beginning of what will need to be addressed through the entire design process. To get a good return on investment using a Continuous Column Still, it is essential to produce a lot of whisky, which requires more equipment, a larger facility and a larger team of sales and marketing people.
Isn’t craft supposed to be small?
In this case, green requires bigger to be better. An Eco-distillery with a Continuous Column Still is a monster that needs to be fed by an efficient brewhouse, multiple fermenters and a bottling line. To build an Eco-distillery requires millions of dollars, which is a stretch for a small crafter with great intentions and a limited bank reserve.
Fortunately, there are new options…
There is a new manufacturer of Continuous Column Stills, Headframe, that is making stills specifically for craft distillation. According to Headframe, their computerized interface makes for simple operation and consistent results. The Headframe still maybe the smallest practical Continuous Column Still available. Even this relatively small still produces 116 cases of whiskey in an 8 hour shift. That’s a lot of whiskey to bottle, market, and sell – in 8 hours!
For smaller start-ups, a combination pot/column still may be the most financially feasible option. There are many manufacturers of pot/column stills, and the quality of some may be questionable. German stills are a gold standard, but they are expensive and perhaps not as versatile as they appear. A Canadian manufacturer, Specific Mechanical, is producing high quality pot/column stills and are gaining market share. North American distillers might consider North American companies like Headframe and Specific Mechanical before they look off-shore.
Building any distillery is a daunting task requiring seemingly countless design decisions – each one requiring a balancing of priorities. The good news is that building an eco-distillery for the twenty-first century narrows the field of choices. A Continuous Column Still is not only better for the environment, it ultimately delivers a better profit margin through labour and energy efficiency as the eco-conscious choice.
The jury may rest. The verdict for an eco-conscious distillery is in: the Continuous Column Still is the choice.
Michael Rosser, co-owner of Church Spirits and Ales, is a perpetual student in ancient and contemporary distilling methods. His curiosity and yearning for knowing has made him somewhat of an expert. Join him for unique, amusing twists on the road to discovery. This article is part of a ten-part series which is reflects Michael’s musings around distilling great whisky, being mindful of sustainability, and “making water fun.”