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Stills FAQ

Continuous Flow Still Operations

How are cuts made?

The still starts putting product out in about 15 minutes (for low proof spirits) or about 40 minutes (for high proof spirits) after turning it on. This is finished product which should be collected immediately. Like all stills, there are a series of cuts made between product types made from the input beer wash. Each of the cuts is automatically performed by the PLC (Programmable Logic Controller) on the distillation system according to both the client’s recipe and standards for beverage alcohol quality.

A good reference can be seen in our cutaway process view.

What types of mash does the still distill?

Sweet mash, sour mash, set back, no set back, molasses, oats, potatoes, grain-on, lautered…you name it, we can run it, subject to the appropriate mill-spec being met.

Whiskey, gin, vodka in a single-pass distillation? Really?

Yes, really.

What happens to the heads?

Heads are continuously cut from the final beverage at a single point on the system. The range of allowable heads can be tuned to provide final product quality ranging from EU specs for methanol in vodka to precise ethyl-acetate cuts for light style Single Malt Whiskeys. Heads are fractionated away from the final product to be stored by the client for disposal at a future point.

What happens to the tails?

We refer to tails as stillage. The stillage from the system is distilled to ensure that no greater than 0.5% ABV is remaining in the stillage. This means that a greater amount of alcohol is recovered as final beverage than compared to traditional pot stills which often may have ABV percentages of greater than 10-20% in the tails cut. Due to the continuous low-level discharge from the still during operation, most municipalities allow direct discharge of the stillage to domestic sewer.

Tell me about the hearts.

Product is made between 40% and 95+%, depending on which model still is purchased and what recipe is desired. This cut is dependent upon client recipe which is programmed into the still and therefore is consistent every time the still is run. Whether it’s a heavy rye for barreling, a light Rum or a clear azeotropic neutral for vodka, the recipe will, day after day, make the consistent product desired. Additionally, the still will make Bourbon in the morning and cut over to vodka in the afternoon, on the fly, from the same wash or with a quick cutover between fermenters. No shutdown is required.

A low-proof still will put out product between 40-70% ABV.

A high-proof still will put out product between 40-95+%.

Either still will do this in a single pass.

How do programmed recipes work?

The system is programmed with the client’s own custom recipes. Headframe does this programming with our clients during still training included with the purchase of a system. Headframe can match existing distillery recipe specifications, adapted from current equipment output. This means that, regardless of the operator and their level of knowledge, the products distilled will always be consistent, within 1 degree Fahrenheit and of the highest quality.

How is the still controlled?

The still is controlled by a PLC (Programmable Logic Controller) touch-screen interface which houses the programming for each of the recipes as well as the behind-the-scenes instructions.

It is a networked device with wireless network capability enabling remote monitoring from an iOS, Android or Windows device onsite or off. Please note, Headframe never recommends a client running a still from an offsite location. For safety reasons, offsite access should be utilized only for supporting onsite production staff.

The still may be accessed (client authorization required) remotely by Headframe staff to provide troubleshooting or operational support.

What data does the PLC collect and what does it do with the data?

The PLC collects and archives operational data over time. This data is used for the client’s own internal operational knowledge, troubleshooting and product development. Headframe does not collect, monitor or otherwise access or utilize this information without prior authorization from the client and even then, only to assist the client in troubleshooting or recipe development.

Trended data includes:

Temperature: The primary data point which drives the distillation process.

Pressures & Levels: Operational indicators and control points respectively.

Inflow & Outflow: The inflow of wash and outflow of product are both monitored via flow meters. Based upon user inputs, bottoms and heads flows are calculated and estimated by the PLC based on data from the inflow and outflow flow meters.

Tell me about the Pumps and Heat Exchangers.

Unlike some still manufacturers, each of the pumps and heat exchangers utilized for the distillation process are included in the purchase of the still. The client provides power, water and steam. They provide the fermentation, mashed with an in-range mill-spec, and the still includes the rest.

We use shell and tube and u-tube bundle heat exchangers. The type depends on the location and function.

Our pumps are used for feed and level control. There are a variety of pumps, including flexible impeller, stainless steel centrifugal and mag-drive gear pumps.

I’m familiar with batch distillation but haven’t run a continuous still before. How do I wrap my head around the technology?

Many of our clients come with a background in batch distillation but without operational knowledge of continuous flow equipment. We encourage serious clients to come run the stills with us for a day here in Montana to learn more about how the technology works. Additionally, upon purchase, Headframe provides four days of hands-on operational training for our clients. Summer is a fun time to visit for folks who like to float a river, fly fish, camp, bike or enjoy other summertime activities. Winter is a great time to come ski, ice fish, snowmobile or enjoy other snowbound activities. We’re always happy to help arrange the making of some great Montana Memories.

Cleaning & Maintenance

What is the process for cleaning the still?

The still requires a 4-hour cleaning cycle for every 25-50,000 gallons of input wash. The frequency depends in large part on what product is being run. Molasses or oat washes might require more frequent cleaning than a lautered whiskey wash.

The 4-hour cleaning cycle cleans the surfaces that come into contact with grain during distillation on the first skid. When the second skid requires cleaning, we recommend producing azeotropic neutral and allowing the second skid to self-clean while making your vodka or gin base.

At Headframe, we don’t clean our still between different types of product distillation. If we were making whiskey and our current run will be vodka, we’ll take the first 4 gallons of product (containing the last of our whiskey run) and dump that back into our vodka fermenter for redistillation.

Based upon the type of grain-on distillation you may perform, you may need to pull the Column 1 internals on occasion for a more thorough cleaning.

What does the rest of the Preventative Maintenance on the system entail?

Over the life of the system, preventative maintenance is required on a small handful of rotating equipment and heat exchanger anodes. A preventative maintenance schedule and procedures are included with the purchase of a still.

Utilities & Facilities

Utilities & Facilities

CF-1000 High Proof / Low Proof

CF-5000 High Proof / Low Proof

How do I see it in action?

Reach out to us and come run our system in Montana with us. We welcome the opportunity to give hands-on access to the stills because nothing helps make it all sink in like running it yourself. Summer is a fun time to visit for folks who like to float a river, fly fish, camp, bike or enjoy other summertime activities. Winter is a great time to come ski, ice fish, snowmobile or enjoy other snowbound activities. We’re always happy to help arrange the making of some great Montana Memories.

What is the weight of the system?

Approximate weight:

Purchase & Scheduling Info

What are the different still models Headframe makes?

CF-1000 Low Proof

CF-1000 High Proof

CF-5000 Low Proof

CF-5000 High Proof

What is the schedule for purchasing?

At present, Headframe builds six units a year, each one specific for the customer who purchases it. Build slots are the 1st day of January, March, May, July, September and November.

Headframe requires a 210 day lead time from the start of a build.

For current schedule and lead time, reach out.

What is included with the purchase?

The still itself

All Pumps & Heat Exchangers

Onsite Installation

Four days of Training

Not Included with purchase

What about a Warranty & Support?

Equipment is warrantied against manufacturing defects for 1 year.

OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) warranty information for pumps and other third-party equipment is included with purchase. The Operations Manual is included with the purchase.

Software upgrades are offered at the cost of software from the OEM for 2 years.

Configuration upgrades to any as-shipped software are included as they become available.

Updates to Standard Operating Procedures and other operational data is made available as operational standards are refined.

Phone support is available at no cost for 30 days after training. Thereafter, calls are always accepted but charges may be applied depending on the scope of the issue or the frequency of the contact. No charge is applied without prior discussion and approval.

An online portal will soon be available for access to the latest Headframe updates, Q&A, user group discussions and more.

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