Using a pair of needle-nose pliers wrap the bare copper wire around and between each coil in the chiller to brace the coil and hold its shape. Do this in four places around the coil. See Figure 1.
To hook up the cold water supply and drain hoses, cut two pieces of 3/8" vinyl hose, one to reach from the nearest water faucet to where the chiller will be employed, and one from the chiller to the drain. The supply hose should be connected to the end that leads to the bottom of the coil, and the drain hose to the other end. Attach the female garden-hose coupling to the other end of the supply hose. Secure all three connections with hose clamps.
To connect the female garden-hose coupling to the water faucet, unscrew anything such as an aerator that would be attached to the faucet and screw the faucet-to-garden-hose adapter onto the faucet.
To use the immersion chiller, place the chiller in the mash about 10 minutes before you will be chilling. This will sterilize the chiller. Screw the chiller supply hose to the faucet and lead the drain hose to the sink or to a floor drain. Start the cold water running at a fairly brisk rate, and gently stir the mash while it's chilling. If you don't stir it will just take longer.
Monitor the temperature while it is chilling. When it's down to fermentation temperature, usually about 38oC (100oF), the cold water can be turned off and the chiller removed.
Beer Stripper (Optional)
Beer stripping is a fast, crude primary distillation of the fermented mash in a high volume pot still in order to obtain most of the alcohol and the impurities in a smaller volume of water. This smaller volume, about a quarter of the original volume of the mash, is easier and cleaner to handle in the smaller precision equipment (i.e. the spirit still) used for the final spirit-run.
The purpose of beer stripping in the production of whiskey is purely for operational expedience. It enables a comparatively large volume of mash to be quickly reduced to a much smaller volume that can then be refined to the finished whiskey in the smaller spirit still, thereby increasing the output of a single run in the spirit still by up to five times.
However, the beer-stripping step can be omitted and the fermented mash can be loaded straight into the spirit still and refined directly into the finished whiskey. In fact, many distillers, including the author, contend that whiskey produced by a single spirit-run has a fresher, more natural flavour than one produced by the usual double distillation.
So, if your batch sizes are kept to the 30L of corn mash described in this book, then you would be better off not building a beer stripper and going directly to the spirit still after fermentation. In fact, the spirit still (described below) is actually large enough to accommodate exactly two 30L batches of corn mash. 30L of corn mash yields 20L of liquid to be distilled after straining. Two such batches would yield a total of 40L to be distilled. The spirit still has a capacity of 45L.
Another point to consider is that beer stripping can be conducted in the spirit still if necessary. It's certainly slower but will work just as well in the end if an unusual requirement arose where it were desirable to do so. As much as 300L of corn mash could be strained then stripped in five runs using the spirit still. The resulting 30 to 35L of distillate could be placed back in the spirit still along with a 5L adjunct of feints, for a single spirit-run that would produce about 25L of 40% alc/vol whiskey and about 10L of 91% alc/vol feints.
An effective and fairly inexpensive beer stripper can be fabricated from a 113L (30 US gallon) domestic electric hot water heater. A sketch of the water heater and the modifications required are shown in Figure 2.
The following is a list of all the components required to build a beer stripper. With the exception of the thermometer and the cork, all of these components can be purchased at home building supply stores and/or plumbing supply shops.
113L (30 US gallon) electric hot water heater 3/4" copper or brass male adapter (male thread to female sweat) 3/4" copper union //" x 1^" copper coupling 30 cm (1') //" copper pipe
11" copper pipe 11" copper tee 11" copper elbow 3/16" copper tubing 3/4" ball valves
3/4" plumbing to garden-hose adapters
humidifier tap-valve kit (1" saddle valve and 8M (25') 3/16" plastic tubing laboratory thermometer (0 o-110 oC (32 o-230 oF)) 11" cork
90o electrical box connector 240V electric clothes drier cord lead-free solder kit Teflon tape
The various adapters and fittings used for the modifications are connected together by either threaded plumbing fittings or soldered sweat fittings. Teflon tape should be used on all threaded connections to ensure a watertight seal. Simply wrap the Teflon tape around the male threads two or three times before inserting the connector into the female fitting.
Most solder contains lead, an element known to be deadly poisonous. Only lead-free plumbing solder should be used for the soldered connections in a still.
A %" inlet for cold water is provided by the manufacturer on the side at the bottom and another %" hot water outlet near the top. A %" female pipe connection will be found on the top of the boiler by removing the sheet-metal cover and fibreglass insulation from the top of the tank. This is where the magnesium rod (i.e. the anode) used as an anticorrosion device is installed. Remove it since it is not needed in our application and we need the %" female connector for the installation of the steam-condensing system.
The anode is usually torqued in very tightly, so the best way to remove it is to place a socket wrench (often 1 1/8") on the anode fitting and use a 1M (3') length of pipe to extend the socket drive. Secure the water heater firmly and use the pipe and socket wrench to turn the fitting in a counter-clockwise direction to loosen it. Once loosened, it will remove easily.
Somewhere on the side of the tank is a %" female pipe connector where a pressure-release valve would normally be installed. For our purposes we will not be installing a pressure-release valve so this connector will need to be plugged. Take the anode removed from the top fitting and unscrew the magnesium rod from the %" male plug fitting and discard the magnesium rod. The male plug fitting can then be used to plug the pressure-release valve connector.
The steam-condensing system, as shown in Figure 2, is made from 1^" copper pipe. A series of adapters will be needed to go from the //" female pipe thread in the top of the boiler where the anode was, to the 1^" copper pipe used for the rest of the system. See Figure 3. Connect a //" copper or brass male adapter (//" male thread to //" female sweat) to the female pipe thread in the top of the tank. Next, solder a 7^ cm (3") piece of //" copper pipe into the sweat fitting of the adapter. On the piece of copper pipe, solder the flare-and-nut end of a 3/4" copper union. Now, solder a 1^" x //" copper coupling to a 30 cm (1') piece of 1^" copper pipe. Solder a 5 cm (2") piece of /" copper pipe into the other end of the 1^" x /" copper coupling. Solder the other end of the /" pipe into the male-thread end of the copper union. The 30 cm (1') piece of 1^" copper pipe can now be connected to and disconnected from the boiler by means of the union.
It's useful to use some Teflon tape at the interface of the union to ensure a good watertight seal.
On the 30 cm (1') piece of 1^" copper pipe, solder a 1^" tee as shown in Figure 2. Solder a 60 cm (2') piece of 1^" copper pipe horizontally to the tee, then to a 1^" copper elbow, then from the elbow to a 90 cm (3') piece of 1^" copper pipe.
As shown in Figure 2 the 1^" copper tee permits the fitting of a cork and laboratory thermometer (range 0-110o C (32-230o F)) to read the temperature of the vapours distilling over. These vapours are condensed by means of cold water running through 3/16" copper tubing inserted in the down stream vertical section of the 1^" pipe. Use 5M (16') or so of 3/16" copper tubing wound around a piece of 1" copper pipe to form a coil about 60 cm (2') long which can be inserted in the vertical 1^" copper pipe as shown. The coils of copper tubing should be wound as tightly together as possible. The two ends of the 3/16" tubing are either brought out through holes drilled in the top elbow where they are soldered into place or, more simply, brought out through a large cork inserted in a copper tee. However, corks require replacing periodically, and in that way are somewhat problematic.
As for supplying cold water to the 3/16" copper coil, known as a heat exchanger, a standard forced-air furnace humidifier tap-valve kit can be used. Such a kit consists of a saddle valve and about 8M (25') of plastic tubing designed to connect to 3/16" copper tubing. The saddle valve clamps around a standard cold-water pipe, and by turning the valve it pierces the pipe. This leaves you with a needle valve supplying cold water to the plastic tube. The plastic tube can be cut in two at a suitable place so the piece connected to the saddle valve can be connected to the inlet of the heat exchanger, and the other connected to the output and led to a drain.
As a rule, heat exchangers make most efficient use of cooling water when the cold water is input at the opposite end of the coil to the end where the hot vapours are approaching the coil. So in the case of the beer stripper, the cold water should enter the tube that leads to the end of the coil closest to the bottom, and exhausted at the top of the coil.
It's interesting to note that this design of heat exchanger is remarkably efficient, and requires a surprisingly slow trickle of cold water to thoroughly condense the vapours. When the beer stripper is boiling and in full operation the output water should not feel hotter than lukewarm to the touch. If it's hotter, then the flow of cold water needs to be turned up slightly.
The thermostat, which controls the temperature of the water in the hot water heater, must be removed or bypassed. Since we wish to boil the mash and collect the vapours, a thermostat that switches off the current at a temperature well below the boiling point of water would obviously defeat our purpose. At first thought, disconnecting the thermostat may seem dangerous, and it would be if we had a closed system, but as can be seen from Figure 2 the top of the boiler is constantly open to the atmosphere via the inverted U vapour line and heat exchanger so there can be no pressure build-up. It is no more dangerous therefore than a boiling kettle of water.
There is very little point in actually removing the thermostat unless it can be used somewhere else. It's easiest to just bypass it. After opening the thermostat access panel, you will see four wires connected to the thermostat. See Figure 4. Two wires are connected at the top, and two wires at the bottom. Simply take a screwdriver and undo the wires at the bottom and connect them each with their corresponding wires at the top (i.e. left bottom with left top, and right bottom with right top).
Small domestic hot water heaters of this size will probably have a single 3000W, 240V immersion heating element at the bottom. However, some models may have a top element as well (as there is in larger water heaters).
If there is a top element, it must be disconnected permanently because as used in this application the top element would not always be immersed and would burn out. If there is a top element that requires disconnecting, it's possible the lower element is only a 1500W heater. If this is the case, it should be replaced with a 3000W one. A 3000W element should provide about 6L of distillate per hour.
There will be a hole at the top or side of the sheet-metal cover of the hot-water tank where the wires to the 240V immersion element come out. Connect the wires to a 240V electric-clothes-drier cord. The drier cord will have four wires: black; red; white; and a green or bare ground wire. The two wires to the 240V immersion heater will be black and red, and there will be a green or bare ground wire, but there will be no white wire. Connect the corresponding coloured wires of the element and the drier cord together using wire connectors, leaving the white wire on the drier cord free but covered by a wire connector or electrical tape. The drier cord is then secured to the sheet-metal cover using a 90o electrical box connector.
The beer stripper can now be plugged into a standard 240V electric-clothes-drier socket. If you are fortunate, the beer stripper will be located in a place near an electric drier and can take turns using its socket. If not, you will have to install a 240V service with a clothes-drier socket.
An electric-stove socket will also work, but it's different from a drier socket because a stove requires a higher-amperage circuit. If an electric-stove socket were handy, then wire the beer stripper with an electric-stove cord instead.
The two side connectors to the boiler (%" male-threaded plumbing connectors) should be fitted with %" ball valves. Fit each ball valve with a garden-hose adapter. It's wise to avoid the temptation to save money by fitting the side connectors with standard garden-hose faucets. Garden-hose faucets are quite narrow internally, and can get plugged up with yeast deposits. Also, they are very difficult to flush out, and restrict water flow when rinsing out the boiler.
The upper and lower ball valves on the boiler are used in conjunction with the transfer hoses described above. Typically, the upper ball valve is used to siphon the mash into the beer stripper, and the lower one is used to drain it. Although, some arrangements may best use the lower ball valve for filling as well as draining.
To fill the beer stripper, the container with the strained mash is placed at a level higher than the boiler. The filler-hose is connected to the upper ball valve of the boiler and the other end with the siphon starter is placed in the mash container. The operator then opens the upper ball valve and, ensuring the bottom one is closed, operates the siphon starter to initiate the siphon from the mash container to the boiler. When the transfer is complete, the upper ball valve is closed and the filler-hose is removed from the boiler.
After the beer stripping is complete, the still can be drained by attaching the drain hose to the lower ball valve. Lead the drain hose to a drain and open the lower ball valve.
After the beer stripper has been drained, it can be flushed out by connecting the flushing-hose to the top ball valve and a faucet. With the bottom ball valve still connected to the drain hose and with both valves wide open, the operator can flush water from the faucet through the boiler to rinse it out.
The upper side connector where the upper ball valve is connected is a %" pipe that leads into the centre of the hot-water heater and bends upward and leads to within a cm (^") or so from the very top of the tank. This is because, as a hot-water heater, the hot water must be drawn off the very top of the tank. In this application it serves very well to create a fountain effect inside the boiler when you are flushing it out.
The crude distillate from the beer stripper, or the raw fermented corn mash if a beer stripper is not employed, is transferred to a fractional distillation apparatus called the "spirit still" as shown in Figure 5.
The fractional distillation apparatus described here is a high-separation still capable of producing pure alcohol, and would not normally be viewed as a spirit still appropriate for producing whiskey. However, as explained later in the chapter on Distillation, the fractionating still can be operated in a manner that reduces the separation to a level suited to producing whiskey. This design was chosen in order to afford the amateur a more consistent and systematic mode of operation, unlike the precarious and temperamental operation of a more traditional whiskey still. Also, traditional whiskey stills are much more predisposed to yielding an excess of fusel alcohols into the distillate if they are inadvertently operated too hot or too late into the process. A fractionating still offers much more control over separation making it easier to guard against this.
Note: An excess of fusel alcohols (formerly called fusel oils) does not create a poisonous condition in the whiskey, but it will make the whiskey taste base and grainy, and will cause the consumer to get a very bad hangover.
An obvious advantage to building a fractionating still to make whiskey is that the still can also be used to produce pure alcohol for making gin, vodka, and essence-based spirits.
Material of Construction: There are three materials that stills are commonly made from, and they are: glass; copper; and stainless steel. Glass is the most aesthetically pleasing, but not at all practical.
A glass still would be very expensive to make, could not typically be made by one's self at home, and would be very fragile.
Stainless steel is an excellent material for a still, but again is not one that an amateur will find easy to work with. Parts such as stainless steel tees are difficult to find and can mean the fabricator would have to do some cutting, shaping, and butt-welding. Also, stainless steel requires very skilled high-temperature welding. And, stainless steel parts are very expensive.
Copper is, by far, the most practical material for making stills. The parts are relatively inexpensive, and are readily available from any home building supply store or plumbing supply shop and, most importantly, it can be worked with and soldered together easily by amateurs.
Commercial whiskey distilleries have used copper stills for centuries so it is clearly a very acceptable metal to use. In fact, it's important that there be some copper in the construction of any still. Even if the still were made of glass or stainless steel, some components such as the packing should be made of copper. Fermentation produces small amounts of sulphides such as dimethyl sulphide and hydrogen sulphide. Copper reacts instantly with these sulphides thereby removing them from the distillate. If a still were made with no copper, and sulphides persisted into the finished whiskey, the whiskey would have a rubbery, cooked cabbage smell and taste to it. Fortunately, sulphides will dissipate from the whiskey over a period of a few weeks. Anyway, this becomes one more reason to choose copper.
Construction: The following is a list of all the components required to build a fractionating spirit still. With the exception of the thermometer and the cork, all of these components can be purchased at home building supply stores and/or plumbing supply shops.
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