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As you browse distillery equipment, you’ll notice that there is a wealth of options available to you. The distillery equipment you choose will depend on a number of factors, including price, productivity, maintenance efficiency, and the specific properties of your product or products. It’s not easy to make a decision given all the possible options, but consider the following key questions:
While the basic distillation process is the same across the various types of liquor production, when selecting equipment to start or updating your own distillery, it’s important to be sure all equipment meets the exact specifications of your product.
Grain auger: The grain auger is used to move grain from trucks, grain carts, or grain trailers into grain storage bins (see below). A grain auger may be powered by an electric motor, a tractor, or sometimes an internal combustion engine mounted on the auger. The helical rotates inside a long metal tube, moving the grain upwards. On the lower end, a hopper receives grain from the truck or grain cart. A chute on the upper end guides the grain into the storage bin.
The auger you choose to move your malt and grist is an integral part of your malt handling system, as the right auger will help insure that you maintain the quality of your malt and grist all the way to the mash tun.
The appropriate size for your auger will be calculated based on the height of your bins.
Grain storage bins: Grain storage is another critical piece of a successful distillery operation. Grain bins typically come in the non-stiffened or stiffened variety. Non-stiffened bins are constructed using high gauge steel sidewall sheets and can be further fortified with wind rings for extra stability. Non-stiffened bins are generally used for storing smaller capacities.
Stiffened bins utilize lighter gauge sidewall sheets and a skeleton of stiffeners. They typically weigh much less than their non-stiffened counterparts, but are more tolerant to high wind situations. The lighter gauge sidewalls often make stiffened bins the more economical choice.
Grain roller mills: Grain roller mills are used to crush malted grain, exposing its starches, before it can be sent to the mash tun. Roller mills come in a wide range of sizes and capacities. They typically range from two to six rollers. On basic two-roller mills, material is crushed between two rollers before it continues in the process. The spacing between these two rollers can be adjusted by the operator. Thinner spacing leads grinding out smaller pieces. As the number of rollers increases, so does the grinding options and ability to crush material into even finer particles.
The four roller configuration mill can be utilized for both cracking and grinding. The two sets of rolls provide more versatility and can increase yield. The more sets of rollers in the mill, the more grinding options available for smaller particle sizes.
3. What production equipment do you need?
Distillation stills: Distillations stills generally come in two main varieties: a pot still and a column still. A pot still simply collects and condenses the alcohol vapours that come off the boiling mash. This will result in an alcohol by volume (ABV) of around 25-45%, with a good deal of flavor. Distillation in a pot still can be repeated to increase alcohol content, which will also result in reduced flavor.
While a pot still provides the benefit of better controlling alcohol level and flavor, it is a rather inefficient start-and-stop process. The column still system is set up as two large stacks, with one column acting as a distiller and the other as a condenser. The still is made up of a series of plates with holes. The mash is added from the top and steam forced from the bottle. As the mash moves down through the hole the steam heats the alcohol, separating it from the mash. Using a column still allows you to reach ABV levels as high as 96% very quickly.
Fermenters: Depending on the type and volume of the liquor you are producing, there are a wide range of fermenters available. Two of the most common larger scale fermentation tanks are conical fermenters and variable capacity tanks. Conical fermenters slope down to a point to help collect sediment at the bottom that can easily be removed by the use of well placed valves. They come in a wide variety of sizes to meet your required capacity - anywhere from 3 BBL into the 100s. Variable capacity tanks have the ability to adjust themselves down to the exact size of the batch you wish to make. A 13 gallon model, for example, can accommodate batch sizes from 1 to 12 gallons. The lid fits inside the stainless steel tank and seals itself with the aid of an inflatable gasket.
Mash tuns: The mash tun holds the grains while they are being heated in order to break down the carbohydrates of the grain into fermentable sugar. It is insulated in order to maintain a constant interior temperature.
Transfer pumps: There are two main types of transfer pumps; centrifugal and positive displacement. Centrifugal pumps spin at a high speed and transfers centrifugal or kinetic energy into the liquid in the form of velocity and pressure. Positive displacement pumps transfer a precise measured amount of liquid from the inlet to the outlet for each rotation or stroke of the pump. Centrifugal pumps are best suited when you are transferring liquids with little to no solid content and you need high volume and low pressure.
For transferring mash, positive displacement pumps are typically used. Common variations include the positive rotary, the progressive cavity, and diaphragm pump.
4. What packaging equipment do you need?
Bottle washer: While bottles are normally sanitized when produced, dust, debris and other contaminants may reach the bottles during shipping or storage. For this reason, you may choose to include a rinsing machine on your packaging line. Rinsing machines may use either air, water, or a cleaning solution to remove debris from bottles before the product is introduced.
Bottle washers come in semi-automatic and fully automatic varieties. In addition to reducing human error, automatic machines offer higher production rates since the rinse and/or vacuum cycles occur continuously as the bottles move down the power conveyor. Automatic machinery also ensures a consistent and thorough rinse with each cycle. However, these inline rinsing machines will have a higher cost than their semi-automatic counterparts and changeover can lead to some downtime if the bottles vary greatly in shape or size.
Semi-automatic machines can offer a more economical option for facilities with lower production runs or lower cleaning requirements. Some will use the frame and components of a fully automatic rinser, but will require an operator to put the bottles in place. This type of machine is optimal if you expect production demands to grow in the future, as it can be upgraded to a fully automatic operation later. Others will stand alone at a station that allows the operator to rinse a specific number of bottles at a time.
Bottle fillers: While there are a variety of options when it comes to bottle filling machines, in most cases, distillers will use one of two filling machines types for their products: overflow fillers or gravity fillers. Both overflow and gravity filling machines can be manufactured as semi-automatic or automatic equipment to suit the needs of the bottler. You can also read more about bottle fillers here.
Overflow filling machines are ideal for spirits packaged in transparent containers since they are aesthetically appealing with each bottle filled to the same level. However, this means volume may vary if the interior of each bottle varies slightly. When using this method, you must be sure the internal volume of your bottles does not vary more than is permitted in the industry.
Alternatively, gravity filling machines allow for a more accurate volume in each container, but if interior bottle volume varies, the fill levels will differ on each bottle. For non-glass bottles or bottles that are not transparent, the non-level fills may not be an issue.
Bottle capper: The bottle capping machine used for a distilled spirit packaging line will depend on the type of closure being used on the bottles. Like many other products they can be both automatic and semi-automatic. Screw caps are sealed with a spindle capper or a chuck capping machine. Pilfer proof caps are applied with a ROPP capping machines, used specifically for roll on pilfer proof lids. You may also choose to incorporate neck bands or tamper evident sealing, both of which will require specific machinery.
Bottle labeler: The type of labeler you choose will depend on a number of factors. Bottle labels come also come in manual, semi-automatic, and automatic. Labels may be glue applied, shrink wrapped, or pressure sensitive. While often more economical, if your bottles will be cold or wet when labeled, pressure sensitive labels may be difficult to apply. The size and shape of your bottle may also dictate the type of labeler you purchase. For example, some semi-automatic machines can only apply labels to oval or round bottles. If you plan to label several types of bottles or label materials, you’ll want a machine that can easily convert to handle each of these jobs. To learn more about bottle labeling, check out our how-to guide here.
Case packer: Purchasing a case packer can protect your products, increase efficiency in distribution preparation, prevent injuries, and reduce labor costs. Choosing the right case packer will depend largely on the scale of your operation and the specifics of your products. Case packers can be semi-automatic or fully automated systems. Beyond the basics of budget, machine type, and speed, typical factors that can also play a part in your decision may be specific needs such as delivery time, changeover time between sizes, parts availability, and service capabilities.
Palletizer: A palletizer provides an automatic means for stacking your product onto a pallet. There are two major types of palletizers, conventional and robotic. Robotic palletizers typically take up less space, can adapt more easily to changing pallet patterns and product types, and can handle a wide variety of products and cases. Palletizing rates can vary anywhere from 8 to 30 cases per minute for a single robot depending on the specifics of your set up.
A conventional palletizer can be broken down into low-level and high-level palletizers. A low-level palletizer starts with products being conveyed and rotated as required by the pallet pattern. The cases then hit an end stop and back up against one another to form a row. A high-level palletizer operates in a similar manner to a low-level palletizer, except instead of raising and lowering full layers of cases and depositing them onto a pallet, the case layers remain stationary and the pallet is raised and lowered as required. High-level palletizers also allow products to be formed into layers at much higher speeds than low-level palletizers.
Conveyers: The type of conveyer you choose will depend on the size of the bottles, the fragility of their contents, and whether the bottles will be stored in larger cases before conveyance. A roller conveying system works best when bottles will be stored in large cases first, due to issues with stability. Generally, a roller conveying system should only be used when the conveyed item (whether the box or product) can fit three rollers underneath it. If the bottle contents are fragile, a belt conveyor is preferable, as it is more gentle on the contents of the bottle. Belt conveyors can also be built to a substantial length, making them a good choice for bottles being transported a longer distance.
Forklift: When deciding to purchase a forklift, its specifications have to match the particular facility where it's going to be used and the tasks for which it will be used. When used indoors, considerations include aisle width, maximum weight capacity, maximum lift height, and overhead obstructions. When used outdoors, tire type and fuel source must be taken into account.
The size and capacity of your operation is going to be a major deciding factor when it comes to selecting the specific equipment required. A small microdistillery will generally maximize its annual output at no more than 50,000 proof gallons per year, or just over 68 ½ 9-liter case a day. Larger players such as Smirnoff and Absolut sell about 29-46 thousand a day. As a start up craft brewery, you may be able to easily meet your initial production goals using the most basic manual and semi-automatic equipment available. When setting up shop, it is vital to calculate potential future output and how the machines you buy today will handle meeting these goals down the road. Increasing your workforce over time will also affect your output and potentially require additional equipment to keep up with production goals and demand. Over time, the decision to automate your process may arise. Keep in mind, there is no exact time to make the change to automation. Until recently, even large scale distilleries such as Wild Turkey maintained their manual distilling process. For them, automation meant an increase from 5 million proof gallons per year to 10 million, an output increase that affected every level of their production process. For smaller companies, doubling production will still have a large impact on how your facility is run. Being sure of your budget, capabilities, labor requirements, and potential growth will all help you to properly choose the equipment best suited to your needs.