Stills Part 2 - The Column Still Process

After the Pot Still  procedure in the last week, we would like to devote ourselves to the Column Still  procedure today. 

The column combustion process, also called Column Still, Patent Still or Coffey Still process, is in contrast to the Pot Still process, a continuous combustion process. The different names of this procedure are due to the different developers. On the one hand, Aeneas Coffey developed this process further after it was invented around 1826 by the Scotsman Robert Stein. The innovation of Coffey was to attach a second column to the distilling port instead of just one column in order to filter out even more water vapor in the distilling process and prevent it from mixing again with the alcohol obtained in the collection container. 
It was only around 80 years later, around 1908, that the Belgian engineer Cellier-Blumenthal applied for a patent for the distillation column, hence the name Patent Still Process. 

This distilling process was originally developed in order to be able to meet the increasing demand for whiskey in the 19th century, because the pot still process had the decisive disadvantage that between the distilling processes the still had to be cleaned, refilled and reheated. 

The Column Still process is a continuous distilling process, since new mash can always be poured into the still and large quantities of alcohol can be produced without interruption can. This makes the column still process ideal for the industrial production of alcohol.
The end products from the column still process can contain up to 94.8 percent by volume. This high alcohol content can be achieved by the rectification column with several bubble trays, in which the condensed water is repeatedly drained off in order to obtain the purest possible alcohol. Due to the many bubble trays, not only the water is filtered out of the distillate, but also many aromatic substances. Therefore, this distilling process is mostly used for the production of neutral agricultural alcohol, neutral vodka or spirits, which only later get their flavors from aging in wooden barrels, for example. 

The process itself begins with the filling of the mash. The fermented mash is introduced into the distillation process while it is still cold. From here the mash then runs through the so-called spirit chamber, in which it is heated. The heating is carried out by water vapor flowing past the outside of the pipes. Arriving at the bottom of the first column, the Rectifier, the heated mash is transferred to the second column, the so-called analyser. 
The special feature of the analyzer are the bubble trays, on which the mash is further heated from below with hot steam. This allows alcohol and flavorings to be released from the mash and returned to the rectifier in a gaseous state. These backflowing gases are divided into three groups. 
Substances such as essential oils that can only be released from the mash at very high temperatures. Since the essential oils can have a positive effect on the taste of the subsequent distillate, these substances are returned to the analyzer and the mash via a separate transfer system. 
Substances that are in the boiling range of alcohol are routed in the rectifier over several levels to an outlet in the middle of the column. Here one speaks of the middle cut or heart of the run.
All substances that are released from the mash at a relatively low boiling temperature, comparable to the forerun in the pot still process, are already derived in the analyzer and thus filtered out of the distillation process. 

In the Column Still process, mash can be continuously refilled and distilled without interruption. Another advantage over the pot style process is the material from which these systems are made. Steel is usually used to manufacture the fuel columns. Steel is far sturdier and less vulnerable than copper, which is traditionally used for pot stills. Therefore, one can also assume a cost saving here.

The type of distillation used depends on the system used, but also on which spirit is to be produced and where the priorities lie.

In our second part on the techniques and processes of distillation, we took a closer look at the continuous distillation method and its advantages and disadvantages.


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