The growth of craft distilleries has been phenomenal. If you want to join them, you need to know how much it will cost and where to look to get started. The process of opening a distillery, from acquiring the necessary equipment and materials to completing the maze of required paperwork, can be intimidating.
Find out what it takes to put it all together, and you won’t have to start from scratch again. Looking for some distilleries? Check out perth distillery.
What Equipment Does A Distillery Need?
To set up a distillery, you’ll need various equipment to facilitate the process of producing spirits. Here are some essential pieces of equipment typically found in a distillery:
1. Mash Tun
A mash tun is an essential piece of equipment in a distillery used for the mashing process. Here’s some additional information about the mash tun and its function:
The mash tun is a vessel designed to hold the grains and water during the mashing process, which is the first step in converting the starches in grains (such as barley, corn, or rye) into fermentable sugars. The mashing process involves mixing the crushed or ground grains with hot water in the mash tun.
The temperature of the water and the duration of the mash are carefully controlled to activate enzymes naturally present in the grains. These enzymes break down the complex starches into simpler sugars, such as maltose. This conversion of starches to sugars is crucial because yeast can ferment these sugars to produce alcohol during the subsequent fermentation process.
Mash tuns are typically insulated to maintain a consistent temperature during mashing, and they often have mechanisms to stir the mash to ensure even heat distribution and maximize sugar extraction from the grains. The vessel may have a false bottom or screens to separate the liquid wort (sugary liquid) from the solid grain particles, allowing for easy transfer to the fermentation tanks.
After the mashing process is complete, the liquid wort is transferred to fermentation tanks for yeast inoculation and fermentation. The spent grains left in the mash tun, known as “draff,” are often repurposed as animal feed or for other agricultural uses.
The size and design of a mash tun can vary depending on the production capacity of the distillery. Small-scale distilleries may use relatively small mash tuns, while larger distilleries might have larger vessels capable of handling larger volumes of grain and water.
Overall, the mash tun plays a crucial role in converting starches into fermentable sugars, which is a fundamental step in the production of spirits.
2. Fermentation Tanks
Fermentation tanks are essential components of a distillery where the fermentation process takes place. Here’s some additional information about fermentation tanks and their significance:
Fermentation tanks, also referred to as fermenters, are vessels specifically designed to hold the fermented mash or wash during the fermentation process. The wash is the liquid mixture of water, sugars, and yeast that results from the mashing process in the distillery.
Here are a few key points about fermentation tanks:
- Size and Capacity: Fermentation tanks come in various sizes, depending on the scale of the distillery and the desired production volume. They can range from small tanks with a few hundred litres of capacity to large tanks that hold thousands of litres.
- Material: Fermentation tanks are typically made from materials that are suitable for food and beverage production. Stainless steel is a commonly used material due to its durability, resistance to corrosion, and ease of cleaning. Food-grade plastic, such as high-density polyethylene (HDPE), is also used in some cases, particularly for smaller-scale distilleries.
- Temperature Control: Fermentation tanks often have mechanisms for temperature control. This is important because yeast activity and fermentation rates are influenced by temperature. Cooling jackets or coils integrated into the tank allow for precise temperature regulation, ensuring optimal fermentation conditions.
- Airlock and Pressure Release: Fermentation produces carbon dioxide as a byproduct, which needs to be released from the tank. Fermentation tanks are equipped with airlocks or pressure relief valves to allow carbon dioxide to escape while preventing outside air from entering the tank, minimizing the risk of contamination.
- Sampling and Monitoring: Fermentation tanks may have sampling ports or valves that allow the distiller to take samples for monitoring purposes. These samples can be tested to assess the progress of fermentation, check alcohol content, measure specific gravity, or monitor other relevant parameters.
- Cleaning and Sanitization: Fermentation tanks need to be thoroughly cleaned and sanitized between batches to prevent the growth of unwanted microorganisms. Tanks should be designed with appropriate access points and features for effective cleaning, such as spray balls or CIP (clean-in-place) systems.
Fermentation is a critical stage in the production of spirits as it allows the yeast to consume the sugars in the mash, converting them into alcohol and producing flavorful compounds. The duration of fermentation depends on the type of spirit being produced and can vary from a few days to several weeks.
Overall, fermentation tanks provide a controlled environment for the conversion of sugars into alcohol, enabling the development of the desired flavours and aromas in the distilled spirits.
The still is indeed the centrepiece of a distillery and is used for the process of distillation to separate alcohol from the fermented wash. Here’s some further information about stills and their different types:
A still is a specialized apparatus designed to heat the fermented wash, vaporize the alcohol, and then collect and condense the vapour to obtain a more concentrated alcoholic liquid. Distillation allows for the separation of alcohol from other components in the wash, such as water, impurities, and flavorful compounds.
There are several types of stills commonly used in distilleries:
- Pot Still: The pot still is the oldest and most traditional type of still. It consists of a large, pot-shaped vessel with a swan neck or lyne arm leading from the top of the pot to the condenser. The wash is heated in the pot, and the vapour rises through the swan neck, condensing in the condenser to produce the distilled spirit. Pot stills are known for producing spirits with rich flavours and complexity, making them popular for producing whiskies, brandies, and artisanal spirits.
- Column Still: Also known as a continuous still or Coffey still, the column is a tall, vertical apparatus with multiple plates or trays. It allows for continuous distillation, where the wash flows down the column while steam rises. The plates or trays help separate and purify the components of the vapour, resulting in a higher-proof spirit. Column stills are commonly used in the production of neutral spirits, such as vodka, and are also employed in large-scale operations for efficiency and high-volume production.
- Hybrid Still: A hybrid still combines elements of both pot stills and column stills. It includes a pot still base, similar to a traditional pot still, but also incorporates additional column sections above the pot. This design allows for more control over the distillation process and can produce a range of spirits with varying flavours and characteristics. Hybrid stills offer flexibility and are utilized by distilleries aiming to balance efficiency and flavour profiles.
The choice still depends on the desired style of spirit, the production volume, and the distiller’s preferences. Pot stills are often favoured for small-batch or craft distilleries seeking to emphasize flavour, while column stills are commonly used for larger-scale production or when a neutral spirit is desired. Hybrid stills offer a middle ground, providing a balance between efficiency and flavour complexity.
It’s worth noting that within these general types, there can be variations and modifications based on specific distillery requirements and regional traditions. Distillers often customize still designs to achieve their desired flavour profiles and unique characteristics.
The still is a vital tool in the distillation process, allowing distillers to separate alcohol from the wash and shape the final character of the distilled spirits.
A condenser is a critical component in the distillation process of converting vapour into liquid form. Here’s some further information about condensers and their role in distillation:
A condenser is a device used to cool the vapour produced during distillation and convert it back into a liquid form. After the fermented wash is heated and vaporized in the still, the resulting vapour carries the desired alcohol and aromatic compounds.
Here are a few key points about condensers:
- Cooling Mechanism: Condensers utilize a cooling mechanism to bring down the temperature of the vapour. This can be achieved through various methods, such as passing the vapour through tubes or pipes surrounded by a coolant, circulating cold water around the condenser, or using a refrigeration system. The cooling causes the vapour to lose heat energy, leading to condensation and the formation of liquid droplets.
- Heat Exchange: The vapour passes through the condenser, and as it comes into contact with the cooler surface, heat is transferred from the vapour to the coolant. This heat exchange facilitates the transformation of the vapour into liquid form.
- Condenser Design: Condensers can take different forms depending on the type of still and distillation process. Common condenser designs include shell-and-tube condensers, where the vapour passes through tubes and the coolant circulates them, or plate condensers, which use a series of metal plates for heat exchange.
- Water Management: Many condensers rely on the use of water as the cooling medium. The water can be supplied from various sources, such as a cooling tower or a chiller unit. Proper water management is essential to ensure an adequate supply of cooling water, prevent excessive water usage, and maintain the desired temperature control during condensation.
- Efficiency and Control: The design and efficiency of the condenser impact the overall performance and quality of the distilled spirits. Efficient condensers maximize heat transfer and cooling, resulting in more effective condensation and higher purity of the collected liquid. Distillers may incorporate features such as adjustable valves or flow control mechanisms to optimize the condensation process and achieve desired results.
By cooling the vapour and converting it back into a liquid state, condensers play a crucial role in the separation and collection of alcohol and desired flavour compounds during distillation. They contribute to the purification and concentration of distilled spirits, enabling the production of high-quality, potable alcohol.
It’s important to note that the specific type and design of condensers can vary depending on the distillation system and the scale of the operation. Distilleries may employ different configurations and technologies to suit their specific needs and objectives.
5. Spirit Safe
A spirit safe is a secure compartment used in distilleries to collect and monitor the distilled spirits as they flow out of the still. Here’s some additional information about the spirit safe and its role in the distillation process:
A spirit safe is typically positioned near the sill and acts as a control centre for the distillation process. It provides a controlled environment for collecting, measuring, and managing the distillate as it comes off the still. Here are a few key points about the spirit safe:
- Collection and Separation: The spirit safe is designed to collect the distillate, separating it from any unwanted components or impurities. It receives the distilled spirits from the condenser and ensures that only the desired liquid is collected for further processing.
- Glass Vessels: The spirit safe often contains glass vessels, known as “receivers,” where the distilled spirits are collected. These glass vessels provide a transparent view of the liquid, allowing the distiller to visually inspect the quality, clarity, and colour of the distillate. The vessels may be marked with volume indicators for accurate measurement.
- Valves and Controls: The spirit safe is equipped with valves and controls that enable the distiller to manage the flow of the distillate. Valves are used to direct the liquid to different receivers or to regulate the rate of flow. By adjusting the valves, the distiller can make precise cuts during the distillation process, separating different fractions of the distillate, such as heads, hearts, and tails, based on their desired characteristics.
- Hydrometers and Gauges: Spirit safes may feature hydrometers or other measuring devices to assess the alcohol content or specific gravity of the distillate. These instruments help the distiller monitor and control the distillation process, ensuring the production of spirits with the desired strength and characteristics.
- Security and Legal Compliance: The spirit safe is typically secured and locked to prevent unauthorized access and tampering. This ensures the integrity and traceability of the distilled spirits, particularly in regulated distilleries where compliance with legal requirements is essential.
The spirit safe serves as a vital control point in the distillery, allowing the distiller to make informed decisions about the separation and collection of the distillate during the distillation process. It provides a means to assess and adjust the quality and composition of the spirits, contributing to the production of consistent and desirable final products.
It’s important to note that the design and features of a spirit safe can vary between distilleries, depending on the specific equipment and processes used. However, the core purpose remains the same—to collect, monitor, and control the distilled spirits as they exit the still.
6. Aging Vessels
If you plan to produce aged spirits like whiskey, you will need barrels or casks for maturing the spirits over time. These vessels contribute to the flavour and character development of the product.
7. Storage Tanks
Large containers for storing the distilled spirits before bottling or further processing. These tanks should be made of a material suitable for alcohol storage, such as stainless steel.
8. Bottling Line
Equipment for filling, corking, labelling, and packaging the finished spirits into bottles. This may include a bottling machine, a labelling machine, and associated conveyor systems.
9. Pumps And Pipes
Various pumps and pipes are required to transfer liquids within the distillery, including moving the wash, transferring spirits between tanks, and pumping water or other necessary fluids.
10. Quality Control Instruments
Instruments for measuring and monitoring the alcohol content, pH levels, temperature, and other parameters to ensure the quality and consistency of the spirits.
11. Cleaning And Sanitization Equipment
Distilleries require proper cleaning and sanitization to maintain hygiene and prevent contamination. This includes equipment like cleaning brushes, hoses, sanitizing agents, and dedicated cleaning systems.
12. Safety Equipment
Fire safety equipment, ventilation systems, safety alarms, and appropriate personal protective gear for the staff are crucial to maintaining a safe working environment.
In conclusion, a distillery requires a range of equipment to carry out its operations efficiently and safely. Key equipment includes a mash tun for mashing grains, fermentation tanks for the fermentation process, stills for distillation, condensers to convert vapour back into liquid form, aging vessels like barrels for maturing spirits,
storage tanks for holding the distilled spirits, bottling lines for filling, corking, labelling, and packaging, pumps and pipes for liquid transfer within the distillery, quality control instruments for measuring and monitoring parameters, cleaning and sanitization equipment to maintain hygiene, and safety equipment to ensure a safe working environment.
Each piece of equipment plays a crucial role in different stages of the distillation process, from raw materials to the final product. They contribute to the production of high-quality spirits, consistency, and adherence to regulatory standards. Additionally, safety equipment and protocols are necessary to safeguard the well-being of staff and maintain a safe working environment.
Distilleries should carefully select and maintain their equipment, ensuring they meet quality standards, comply with regulations, and prioritize the safety of employees and visitors. By having the right equipment in place and following best practices, distilleries can optimize their production processes, maintain product quality, and create an environment conducive to the art and science of distillation.