Typically, a still can be made of anything, aluminum, copper, brass, even iron. However, depending on what is being distilled, some materials come with better advantages compared to the rest. Stainless steel, a hybrid or purely stainless stills, is preferred often over other metals and for good reasons. It is fairly cheaper, quite durable, easy to clean, requires little maintenance, and can be used for every element of the still set-up. Its price especially has attracted distillers who are just starting out who may not be ready to part with so much just to learn how to distill alcohol and this is perfectly understandable.
Copper is also a popular material for steel construction because it excels in eliminating sulfur-based compounds formed during fermentation and is a good heat conductor. Still, there are situations where copper material will not be the best option for a still. For this reason, hybrid stills have come up that have been made with both copper and stainless steel materials.
In this article, however, we are looking at why stainless steel is a suitable material for still construction. Apart from distilling alcohols like whiskey, bourbon, rum, vodka, gin, and moonshine, stainless steel still is also a good choice for distilling water and fuel alcohol. In distillation, choosing the right distillation equipment will not only facilitate an efficient process but also help you produce consistent shines.
Advantages of stainless steel stills
Stainless steel is generally a tough and durable metal. This makes it longlasting but on the other hand not easy to fabricate because of its toughness. There are more advantages attached to stainless steel.
- It is a strong material and is highly resistant to damage. For this reason, it is capable of retaining its shape under high pressure hence it is best for the production of high proof spirits like Vodka, rum, and fuel alcohol.
- It has a high melting point and can withstand temperatures of up to 1400 °F (760 °C).
- It is resistant to corrosion making it a good choice for use in a range of environments.
- Stainless steel is generally easy to clean. Also, its surface does not favor the growth of bacteria. This makes it best for making equipment that is used in environments that require high levels of hygiene.
- When constructed well, stainless steel apparatus seal quite well making them ideal for the production of high-proof spirits.
- Compared to copper, stainless steel is less costly.
- Finally, it has and will retain an attractive appearance because it does not easily lose its luster.
Disadvantages of stainless steel stills
It’s a given that even the best materials have some disadvantages and stainless steel stills are not an exception. Some advantages associated with stainless steel stills include:
- Because of its high melting point, stainless steel is not as good a heat conductor as copper material. The heating and distillation process will, therefore, take a bit longer and consume more energy.
- Stainless steel is a tough metal. It is not malleable hence not easy to fabricate especially for those who will opt to build their own stills.
- Stainless steel, unlike copper, does not bond with sulfides to eliminate these compounds from your alcohol. Unless the stainless still is made of copper column packing, these compounds will end up in the final distillate and ruin its flavor
What to look out for when purchasing stainless steel still?
When it comes to selecting your stainless steel distilling equipment, you would want to trade your money for the best quality that it can fetch. Here is what you need to check when purchasing your stainless steel alcohol distillers.
- It should be made of pure food-grade 304 stainless steel.
- Consider a still with a port for an electric heating element. Others will go for stills that give them an additional option of being heated over an open fire. In this case, have the necessary permit for producing moonshine the traditional way.
- A removable lid makes it easy to clean on the inside.
- A still with integrated thermometer port in the boiler and column for optimal temperature monitoring.
- Condenser with ⅝-inch ports.
- It should include a copper mesh or copper rings in the column to eliminate sulfur compounds.
- Pressure-release safety valve and pressure gauge port.
- Discharge hose that is heat-resistant.
- Built with features that enable easy mobility and storage.
How to clean your stainless still steel?
As mentioned, stainless steel stills are among the easiest to clean. Here are some guidelines to help you clean your stainless steel still.
- Take your still off the heat or switch of the heat and take off the removable lid to let it cool off.
- Unplug the heating element and thermometers.
- Separate the column from the kettle.
- Run hot water through the column to clean off oil and other residues.
- Also, use water to rinse off the kettle.
- Once you have eliminated the residues use a cleaning detergent and hot water to wash your column and kettle to ensure all the oil is eliminated.
- Rinse your equipment and dry it thoroughly before storage.
The high melting point and the inability to eliminate sulfides aside, stainless steel is a perfect metal for still construction. Additionally, it is important that you get the right capacity still that will fit your production without you doing many rounds. With good care, your stainless steel stills last much longer than their counterparts and can be used for distilling high-proof spirits without giving in to the pressure. And all this, at a cost less than that of copper. You could always purchase a copper mesh to eliminate the sulfur compounds and still end up with fine-flavored spirits.