There are several designs of high quality stills used since ancient times. Depending on your needs and your final product, a Bain-Marie still - also called a “double boiler” or a “water bath” - might be the answer.
The ancient design of the Bain-Marie still uses the method of insulating the product that is being distilled by heating it through a layer of water. As the water heats, it will create steam, and the heat is applied to the distilling substance slowly and indirectly.
The Bain-Marie double-boiler design is used in cooking foods and sauces, as well as in distilling. There are many Bain-Marie method kitchen items. Chefs generally use water baths to melt chocolate or cheese, and double-boilers are commonly used to maintain the temperature of heated foods.
Literally translated, “Bain-Marie” means “Mary’s bath.” Although scholars debate which Mary the design is named for, they generally accept that this bath technique is superior for certain types of distilling. It was used for centuries to slowly melt metals during experiments in alchemy.
The large pot of a Bain-Marie still is filled with water in its larger chamber. The Bain-Marie still design has an interior pot chamber that sits at the top of the large pot and is somewhat submerged in the water. The water’s insulation causes the mixture in the interior pot to heat slowly, and generally very evenly, which prevents the materials from scorching.
Depending on what you are distilling, the Bain Marie’s double-boiler design can be the most efficient. You can use a Bain-Marie to distill anything, but most commonly, the design is best for refined spirits, grappas, and essential oils.
The substance you’re distilling also has a different name depending on what ingredients you use and your desired final product - it is called “mash” in the case of spirits, “marc” in the case of grappas, or “botanicals” in the case of essential oils.
After filling the large chamber of the pot of a Bain-Marie still about 50% with water, place your mash, marc, or botanicals in the smaller interior chamber of the Bain-Marie still. Continue with the distillation process as you normally would.
In a Bain-Marie still, the interior chamber will be slowly heated as the heat is transferred from the copper still, through the boiling water and the steam it releases, and into the mash, marc, or botanicals.
Hands-down, experts agree that the double-boiler method of distilling works best for wine, grappa, and other alcoholic spirits distilled from fruit. It is also an excellent design for distilling certain essential oils that are delicate and require a slow increase in temperature and specific thermal control.
A Bain-Marie can also be run continuously. Because of the double-boiler design, the still needs very little “down-time” to be cooled, emptied, cleaned, and begin the next run.
The water does not need to be replaced often. Steam is purified by the still’s copper, condenses and falls to the large pot, and is re-used in the boiler for multiple runs. However, if leaks occur from your mash, marc, or botanicals into your water, you will want to empty and thoroughly clean the still as much as possible.
Lastly, because of the reflux and natural refining of the distillate you produce, you may have fewer cuts to make if you are distilling moonshine, whiskey, or some other spirit. The “heads” and the “tails” of your run will be a lower percentage of your product and may be cut from your run entirely.
Bain-Marie still designs are one of the most classic, easiest-to-use, and convenient. They are not necessarily for the faint of heart, as they are serious pieces of equipment, but their premium design and advanced features are unbeatable for certain distilled products.
Article by: Jim Thomas
Image credit: Wikipedia
Make your own rye flour dough to use in distilling
Distilling alcohol can be fun, but it can also be dangerous. One of the most important considerations to make is that when you heat alcohol, you deal with flammable alcohol vapors. In addition to making your distilling environment unsafe, these alcohol vapors are what condense back into the moonshine or whiskey you have so-painstakingly been producing. So, it’s essential that these vapors don’t escape from your still during the distilling process.
The main way that distillers lose these vapors is through leaks at the seams between the parts of a still. If the onion head is not properly sealed to the pot or to the column, alcohol vapor will escape. Luckily, it is easy to seal these seams using common household ingredients: flour and water.
There are many different recipes for flour paste that can be used to seal the seams of a still. Some distillers claim that store-bought dough will work just as well as the paste you make yourself at home, but opinions vary.
Rye flour holds moisture differently than wheat flour, and is a tried-and-true ingredient in most flour paste recipes. However, if you don’t have rye flour available and you’re going to try using wheat flour, that’s fine. You can also try adding a small amount of oatmeal to the wheat flour paste to achieve a thicker texture and better seal.
You will need:
Mix the water into the flour until the texture begins to resume window putty. You don’t want it too flaky or too tacky, so continue mixing until the paste is moldable into different shapes. Roll the putty into long strips, like snakes, and use them to seal the seam between the onion head and the pot, as well as along the condenser coil if need be. You can apply several layers if you need to.
Place the flour paste on the copper still as it is heating. Generally, applying it before the temperature reaches 100 degrees Fahrenheit is ideal. The paste will harden as the copper heats, but it should retain moisture on the inside of the still, causing an insulating effect. Don’t worry if some of the flour paste goes inside the still’s seam - it shouldn't affect the taste or quality of your final distillate.
After running your still, allow all the copper to cool before disassembling and cleaning it. Your dried flour paste should easily flake off the copper still, but use a mild soap and water mix on a sponge or washcloth to remove all residue.
If you make more flour paste mix than you need to seal your still for this moonshine run, keep the remainder in an air-tight container in the refrigerator. It may dry out slightly, but adding some water and re-mixing it before your next run should bring it back to life. Unused flour paste can be stored for approximately 30 days, but always follow any recommendations on the packaging.
Making a flour paste to use in distilling is a simple, but important, part of running a safe and efficient moonshine still. With common ingredients and a little elbow grease, you will run your still at ideal conditions.
Photo by: Shawn