Pot stills are the current descendant of the alembic still. They were one of the earliest still types employed to create spirits. Pot still are in some ways inefficient which can be a good thing when making whiskey. For example, when making neutral spirit with no flavor and high alcohol yield you would use a reflux or column still. For whiskey you will need to create a product that preserves the flavors of mash. In this case the pot still is best suited.
A pot still has 4 main parts: We will look at each one in more detail.
Pot: The shape of the pot is typically a cylinder that is wider on top than the base. The pot is loaded with the fermented mash and heated with fire or perhaps an inner heating mechanism. Generally commercial distilleries heat up the wort (aka wash) with four hundred degree steam pumped via tubing that is coiled in the pot.
Swan Neck: The neck permits the vaporized alcohol and some water\flavor to rise up and enter into the lyne arm. The neck is often smaller at the topcompared to the bottom allowing for non-ethanol components to condense around the walls and fall back down into the wash.
Lyne Arm: The lyne arm will impact the amount of non-ethanol compounds that make it into the distillate. For instance, as the vapors rise up the neck and into the lyne arm the temperature becomes cooler and the less volatile compounds (h2o, flavour, etc.) change from a gas into a liquid. If the lyne arm is ascending at a forty-five degree angle those compounds will run back into the wash. This gives you a ‘lighter’ flavor and higher alcohol content in the finished product. On the other hand if the lyne neck was angled down at a forty-five degree angle the less volatile substances will condense and drip down into the condenser combined with the ethanol vapors thus supplying the distillate a far more flavorful, ‘fuller’, taste.
Condenser: The condenser cools the ethanol vapors to a temperature that is less than the boiling point of the ethanol. Therefore, it condenses the vapors back to liquid. Condensers can be cooled by the ambient air temperature, moving air (a fan) or water. With a water cooled condenser the cool water is pumped through a coil or around the outside of the tube that contains the ethanol vapors. Different styles will utilize different methods. The key is to cool the vapors so they drip into a collection jar versus escaping into the air.
Ultimately, the distiller must experiment with different mash recipes, still shapes and designs to develop the end product that the distiller set out to produce. Bottom line, take notes, don’t rush, enjoy yourself and try new things out.