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The Difference Between Pot and Column Stills

If you are just getting started on your whiskey-distilling journey then you will need to know the difference between the pot still and the column still.

The Pot Still

The pot still has changed very little over the last hundred years or so and with good reason. The design is easy to use and it works very well, so why mess with a good thing?

How does the pot still work?

It all starts with the big chamber at the bottom, which is the “pot” that stores your whiskey. Once you apply heat to this large chamber, the contents will begin boiling and the vapor will start moving up the chamber into the large, narrow tube, known as the “Swan’s Neck”. At the end of this narrow tube is a condenser, which cools the vapor using cold water, turning it back into liquid form to be passed to a collection vessel.

As mentioned, this is a fairly easy method to use, which is why it is still around today. 

The Column Still

Although it is a little more complicated than the simple pot still, the column still creates higher alcohol levels in the final product, making it perfect for creating higher-gravity spirits.

How does the column still work?

Picture a large column filled with numerous pot stills on top of each other. The column still creates these chambers using perforated plates.

This still is constantly being heated from the bottom, so when you pour your mash in to the cooler top portion, it instantly begins falling. As the mash hits the steam, it vaporizes and sends the alcohol and other volatile particles back up the still.

Every time the alcohol-carrying vapor hits one of those perforated plates (or chambers) it condenses and drops out the heavier particles. As the vapor continues up the tube, only the alcohol remains and is eventually passed through a condenser at the top, turning it back into liquid form.

Those are the two most poplar stills in the industry and although there are others, they all work in a similar fashion to these two historic distillery methods.

Posted by Jason Stone on


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