The simplest standard distillation equipment is commonly known as a pot still, consisting of a single heated chamber and a vessel. Pot stills operate on a batch distillation. Traditionally constructed from copper, pot stills are made in a range of shapes and sizes depending on the quantity and style of spirit desired. Nowadays by law, cognac, Irish and Scotch malt whiskies, and single pot still whiskey must be distilled using a pot still.
During distillation, this vapour travels up the swan neck at the top of the pot still, the lightest particles are the first to reach the lyne arm, after which it travels through the condenser, where is cooled to produce a distillate with a higher concentration of alcohol than the original liquid.
Components of a traditional pot still:
- Pot – Where the wash is heated
- Swan Neck – Where the vapours rise and reflux
- Lyne Arm – Transfers the vapour to the condenser
- Condenser – Cools the vapour to yield distillate
The alcoholic vapour that is boiled off is broken into three parts, the Head, the first vapour to emerge, the Heart, the middle, and the Tail, the last part of the vapour. Only the Heart should be used for alcoholic beverages. This separation of the unpleasant and unwanted substances (Head and Tail) is called rectification. The Head and the Tail contains high concentrations of methanol. The Head contains toxic aromatic elements and is strong in the nose, while the Tail is bitter and strong in the mouth.
In the 1970s most pot stills were yet fired with coal. Today indirect heating with hot steam is widely used. Additionally, a pot still incorporates only one condensation, actually in the case of many Irish whiskeys, the spirit is distilled three times. However, Cognac and most single malt Scotch whiskies are only distilled twice.
The largest pot still ever used was located in the Old Midleton Distillery, County Cork, Ireland. Constructed in 1825, it had a capacity of 31,648 gallons (143,740 L) and is no longer in use. The largest pot stills currently in use are coincidentally located in the neighbouring New Midleton Distillery, County Cork, Ireland, and have a capacity of 75,000 L (16,498 imperial gallons).
The reason why distillers are still using the pot still is because this device has changed very little over the past hundred years. It’s an old-fashioned device, whose size, shape and cut point impact on the final flavour of the liquor, making it exclusive. The copper material is considered the best one for distillation because contributes to the removal of certain impurities from the alcohol, adding more flavour and character to spirits than any other still.
These are some example of some brands which are using the pot still in their distillation process:
- Green Spot and Yellow Spot
- Tito’s Vodka
- Grey Goose
- Ketel One
- Dingle Vodka
- El Dorado
- Secret Treasures Selection Privée
- Black Tot
- Dodd’s Gin
- Dingle Gin
- The Distillation Cut
- Diagram of a Pot Still
- Whisky Magazine
- The Whiskey Wash