Friday, July 4, 2014

A Few Clues About Early Wood Stills

(More fascinating stuff from Chris Middleton about wood stills.)

Scant records reveal there were no standard or systemic designs for wood stills throughout 19th century America, just many interpretations and adaptations in design format, construction and materials.

Since 1795 in Philadelphia when Anderson started manufacturing the first steam stills in ‘closed wooden vessels,’ efficiencies and volumes in daily production would begin to make larger, commercial distilleries and rectifiers financially feasible. It would have also taken time for the ideas, engineering skills and investment to diffuse such experimental stills from the Middle States out to the south and westward.

St Marc’s 1824 Belmont distillery London,
potato distillation 
As the earlier post explained, the cost and availability of copper was a manufacturing barrier for early still makers and distillers. So the use of wet coopered wood meant distillers could easily erect large capacity distilling vessels from cheap materials.

By 1820 we learn a distiller in Ohio, Embree, was using red cedar for his still construction made with 8 foot by 10 inch staves to hold 700 gallons of wash, based on the Richmond still design. The compartments (chambers) were separated by thick wood planks with holes drilled through to permit the steam to strip the charge as the vapours were sent from the singling still to the doubler, also made of wood.

He did admit the wood steam works ‘not as good a whiskey as copper works’. He recommended remedying this deficiency by rectification. There is evidence some wood stills had quality control issues in the early years.
1827 gin still at Nicholson distillery London

By 1834 a version of the St Marc still described as ‘tubes and caps throughout the series of chambers, and the addition of the first goose neck condenser appeared in Philadelphia. It heralds the introduction of a prototype bubble and cap valves construction connecting the column chambers.

Jean-Jacque Saintmarc was a French veterinarian who moved to London to work in developing potato distilling in the early 1820s. His early continuous still designs (copper) were also used in Belfast from 1824 to make some of the first Irish grain whiskey. Initially the spirit was regarded as ‘too pure.’ Ideas were immigrating to the east coast of America from the distillers of grape, grain (especially gin), molasses and tubers, and then acclimatized to meet the conditions of the emergent American whiskey industry

1 comment:

Ryan Cote said...

It is fascinating how this type of manufacturing has changed over the centuries.