Pot stills are the current descendant of the alembic still. They were among the earliest still types utilized to create spirits. Pot still are comparatively inefficient which can be a good thing when producing whiskey. For example, when making neutral spirit with no flavor and high alcohol yield you would use a reflux or column still. For whiskey you will need to produce a product that retains the flavors of mash. In this situation the pot still is best suited.
A pot still will have four main parts: We will look at each one in more detail.
Pot: The shape of the pot is normally a cylinder that is wider at the top than the base. The pot is loaded with the fermented mash and heated up with fire or perhaps an internal heating device. The majority of commercial distilleries heat the wort (aka wash) with four hundred degree steam pumped by means of tubing which is coiled inside of the pot.
Swan Neck: The neck allows the vaporized alcohol and some water\flavor to rise up and enter into the lyne arm. The neck is generally smaller at the topin comparison to the bottom making it possible for non-ethanol compounds to condense around the walls and fall back down into the wash.
Lyne Arm: The lyne arm will change the amount of non-ethanol components that make it into the distillate. For instance, while the vapors rise up the neck and into the lyne arm the temperature becomes cooler while the less volatile compounds (h2o, flavour, etc.) change from a gas into a liquid. If the lyne arm is ascending at a forty-five degree angle those compounds will flow back into the wash. This gives you a ‘lighter’ flavour and greater alcohol content in the final product. Alternatively if the lyne neck was angled down at a forty-five degree angle the less volatile compounds will condense and trickle into the condenser along with the ethanol vapors thus providing the distillate a far more flavorful, ‘fuller’, taste.
Condenser: The condenser cools the ethanol vapors to a temperature that is less than the boiling point of the ethanol. Therefore, it condenses the vapors to liquid. Condensers might be cooled by the ambient air temperature, flowing air (a fan) or water. With a water cooled condenser the cool water will be pumped through a coil or around the exterior of the tube that contains the ethanol vapors. Different types will utilize various strategies. The key is to chill the vapors so that they drip into a collection bucket versus escaping into the atmosphere.
In the long run, the distiller must test out various mash recipes, still shapes and designs to develop the end product that the distiller set out to create. In a nutshell, take notes, take your time, enjoy yourself and experiment.
To find out more about making whiskey at home, the how to distill and info on the equipment and hardware used in distillation visit your neighborhood craft distillery.