When it comes to amateur distilling there seems to be a burning desire on the part of the handyman to improvise a boiler out of some odd vessel which happens to be available, and no-one should be surprised to learn that everything from pressure cookers to beer kegs to milk churns to vacuum cleaner tanks have been adapted by ingenious do-it-yourself types _^
for this purpose. However, we strongly recommend that you save yourselves a lot of time, trouble and expense by using an ordinary domestic hot water heater. In N. America these are available in all sizes from 9 litres up to several hundred litres, and are ideally suited for acting as the boiler in all amateur distillation systems. They are rugged, glass lined, already have an immersion heater installed, they are insulated, they have pipe fittings in all the right places, and are housed in attractive white-enamel steel housings. What more could you wish for? If you had drawn up the specifications yourself for the ideal boiler figure 3. fractionating still
required for a still it would not be very different from a hot water heater. In N. America they cost around $140 in all sizes up to 100 litres.
A few simple modifications to the hot water heater are required. Firstly, remove or by-pass the thermostat. We need the contents of the boiler to boil, so a thermostat which switched off at a temperature of, say, 75°C. would obviously defeat our purpose. Removing the thermostat may seem dangerous, and it would be if we had a closed system, but the system is open to the atmosphere at all times (see Figure 3) so there can be no pressure build-up. It is just like a tea-kettle. For this reason you also can dispose of a pressure-relief valve if one is installed because the pressure inside the boiler is never above atmospheric.
The pipe fittings on water heaters vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, but whichever one you choose you'll find a fitting at the bottom (the cold water inlet) and several at the top. If you need another 3A" pipe fitting at the top you may find one by removing the sheet metal cover and fiberglass insulation from the top of the housing. This is where in some models the magnesium rod used as an anti-corrosion device is installed. It can be removed because it is not essential in our application and the 3A-inch female pipe fitting may be useful to you for mounting the column.
The lower connection, the cold water inlet when the tank is used for domestic hot water production, will become the inlet for beer from the fermenter and also the drain for the exhausted beer (the stillage) after stripping. Fit this connection with a 3/4" ball valve and screw into it an adapter for connecting a rubber hose. Use a ball valve at the drain, and not an ordinary faucet, because the yeast in beer forms sticky lumps when boiled and there should be a wide opening for the yeast clumps to exit to drain.
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