To open a distillery, you need a still. In our case, we wanted two. The big question was where and how to get what we wanted.
There are a pretty small number of still manufacturers, mostly in Europe. This is pretty natural when you consider that the US has had a very small number of distilleries for the last 70 years whereas Europe has long had a tradition of small distilleries scattered around the countryside. We were fortunate, in our mind, to start our search for our main still right at the time that the largest American manufacturer was scaling up to serve the growing Craft Distilling movement. Vendome Copper and Brass Works in Louisville KY has been making stills for 5 generations, mostly for big whiskey distillers in Kentucky and Tennessee. After a number of phone conversations and a visit to their plant in Louisville, we knew we wanted to work with them to build our 250 pot still. Fast forward a year and we are waiting for them to put the finishing touches on the still (and our mash cooker) before they are trucked to Delaware.
We also wanted a smaller still that we could use to make test batches and, experiment with different recipes, and prototype for batches in the big still. To do this, we needed something in the 40 to 50 gallon range, and we wanted it to be steam fired and flexible enough to make a large variety of products. We also wanted it to be inexpensive, comparatively. After looking around at a few offerings on the market, we knew we were going to have to build it ourselves. That meant schooling ourselves on still design, engineering, materials, and construction. Over the last 5 months, we have put together what we call Sandy, our “Frankenstill.” She has been described to us as steampunk meets diving-bell, and has brought a fair bit of gawking. The design is all our own, but we stole ideas liberally from other distillers we have met (legal and not so legal).
Now we just need a license so we can fire these beauties up!