Chapter

DISTILLING PLANTS: THEIR GENERAL ARRANGEMENT AND EQUIPMENT.

When we look at the manufactories of to-day with their complicated machinery, their extensive equipment, their great boilers, and engines and their hundreds of employees, we are liable to forget that good work was turned out by our ancestors, with equipment of extreme simplicity and that to-day while there are, for instance, thousands of wood-working mills, complete in every detail and covering under a multitude of roofs every variety of complicated and perfected wood-working machinery, yet there are many more thousands of small plants, comprising a portable boiler, fed with refuse, a small engine and a few saws which are making money for the owners and doing the work of the world.

The reader therefore, must be warned against any feeling of discouragement because of the cost and complicated perfection of elaborate distilling plants. Where the business is to be entered into on a large scale, to take the products from a considerable section of country and turn them into alcohol to compete in the great markets, the best of apparatus and equipment is not too good, but the person contemplating the mere manufacture of alcohol on a small scale, to serve only a small section, must remember that distillation is really a very simple matter, for years practiced with a most rudimentary apparatus and still so practiced in the country districts particularly in the South.

This is well illustrated by the fact that an illicit distiller confined in one of the North Carolina penitentiaries for transgressing the revenue laws, was able while in durance, to continue his operations unknown to the prison authorities, his plant consisting of a few buckets, and a still whose body was a tin kettle, a few pieces of pipe and a worm which he had bent himself. This example is not given as encouragement to illicit or "blockade" distilling but merely to show vividly how simple the rudimentary apparatus really is.

The simplest regular plants, those of the South for instance, comprise a building of rough lumber some thirty feet by twelve wide, with a wooden floor on which the fermenting vats rest and an earthen floor immediately in front of the still and furnace. This is to permit the fires being drawn when the charge has been exhausted in the boiler. The still is of the fire-heated, intermittent variety, such as described on page 35. It consists of a brick furnace or oven, large enough to burn ordinary cord wood and supporting a copper boiler of fifteen or twenty gallons capacity. On top of this is a copper "head" with the usual goose neck, from which a copper pipe leads to a closed and locked barrel containing raw spirits, this barrel acting on the principle of the condensing chamber shown in the still in Fig. 8 From the upper part of this barrel, which acts as a concentrator, the vapors pass to a copper worm immersed in a tub of cold water. Here the vapors are condensed and pass by a pipe to a small room, containing a locked receiving tank. This room is kept locked and is under the immediate charge of the Government officer in charge of the still, or, in the case of alcohol intended for de-naturing, the alcohol would pass to a locked tank from whence: it would be taken and de-natured under the charge of the proper Government officer.

The fermenting vats may be six or more in number so as to allow the mash in each tank to be at a different stage of fermentation. A hand pump is used for pumping the contents of' any of the tanks into the boiler or the still: A hand pump is also provided for supplying water to the vats and condensers.

In connection with the distilling and fermenting building there are small buildings for storing the grain, malt, etc., for the storage of the alcohol and for the keeping of the various books, records, and stamps required by law. Such plants as these are located adjacent to a good clear spring or even a small brook, and preferably in a position convenient to the carriage of materials and the transportation of the whiskey or other liquor produced. The buildings are of the cheapest construction and arranged in the manner which compels the least labor in filling the mash vats and turning the contents into spirits. There are no special mash coolers, no complicated stirrers. The "beer" as the fermented mash is called is stirred by a paddle in the hands of a strong negro and the mash is mixed and fermented by rule of thumb, without the use of any scientific appliances. Primitive, as it is, however, those small plants in certain sections of the country make money for their proprieters and serve a large number of customers. The spirits so produced are low grade, fiery and rough in taste, but the point is that alcohol may be and is so produced.

Between these simple beginnings and the elaborate plants of big distilleries there is a wide range, so wide that it is impossible within the limits of this book to go into detail. The makers of distilling apparatus furnish all grades of stills and to those contemplating erecting a plant it is suggested that their best course is to communicate with such manufacturers, giving the circumstances of the case, the particular product to be worked and the capacity desired. The object of this book is to give an understanding of the processes of distillation and of this chapter to give a general idea of the arrangement of a number of typical distilling plants, suitable for various kinds of work.

That the simple, direct-heated pot still such as referred to above, used for fifteen hundred years and over, is still used is largely due to the simplicity of its construction and operation, but its capacity is small, and its operating expense relatively heavy. It is still used for making liquors, but for industrial purposes it has been entirely superceded by concentrating and rectifying stills. A simple form of the latter is found in the still shown in Fig. 11 and in the distilling apparatus of Adam (Fig. 9).

Originally all stills were heated by direct contact with fire. This was open to a serious objection, namely, that the mash if thick was liable to be scorched. Stirring devices were used by Pistorious but these required constant attention. As a consequence, direct firing gave place to heating by steam, by which not only was scorching of the wash avoided but much greater certainty of operation was attained.

The steam may be used to simply heat the boiler, thus taking the place of the direct heat of the fire, but it is far better in every way to admit the steam directly to the mash as in the Coffey still, Fig. 18, and all modern stills. It is possible to apply this principle to all compound stills, but the best results with greatest economy of fuel are, of course, gotten from the plate or column stills especially constructed for steam. In order to get the best results it is necessary that the entry of steam be regulated so that there may be absolute uniformity of flow. A convenient form of regulator is that invented by Savalle, and described on page 70, but there are a number of other forms on the market each one having its special advantages.

It will be seen then that while the simple pot still, fire-heated, may be used, the practical plant for the fermentation of industrial alcohol should have a modem continuous still and rectifier and a boiler for generating the necessary steam for it and for the operations of mashing and fermenting.

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