Launches New Site, New Features
How Column Distillation Works: Pot-Column Still Edition

How Column Distillation Works: Multi-Column Rum and Vodka Edition

DonQLogoPositiveAt the Tales of the Cocktail convention this year, I moderated a panel with three distillers who run column stills; one 5-column rum still, one continuous bourbon still, and one pot-column hybrid. 

Liza Cordero is the Process Director for DonQ rum, made at the Serralles distillery in Puerto Rico. She runs a pretty gigantic 5-column still. It makes DonQ rum and also custom products for other brands. The information below is from the seminar as well as what I've learned in my distillery visits around the world. 


The stills that make DonQ Rum


In my last post, we discussed how bourbon is made in a single column. The single bourbon column specializes in being continuous (as opposed to a batch-run pot still) and separating the alcohol from the water and from the solids in the low-alcohol beer that is put into it. 

In a 5+ column still, this is also what is happening, but just in the first column or two. (It seems that columns can be split or divided in two according to purpose, or in some cases just to keep the height down so that airplanes don't hit them.) The center  columns are for refinement of the spirit. The final column is for recycling of waste alcohols. 

 I can't claim to fully understand what is happening in each of the three middle columns exactly (yet!) but between the seminar, a detailed description of Grey Goose, and two Absolut vodka distillery visits it seems that the columns do five different things:

  • The first columns separate solids from liquids, and the alcohol from water. The alcohol can be partially refined in this column above the level at which the beer enters the still (as mentioned in the previous post).
  • In one (or more) columns they dilute the newly-distilled spirit with water and redistil it, and remove certain components. This is hydro-selection.
  • In another one (or two) rectification columns they take out other components - "high and low oils". At Grey Goose, this is split into two columns; one that uses pressure to separate components and another than uses a vacuum. 
  • One column removes methanol from the final spirit. 
  • Sometimes a final column captures waste alcohols pulled from other columns and processes them into a recyclable form. 

So that's what I think I know about multi-column distillation for high-proof products like rum and vodka. If you have any questions, let me know and I'll try to get them answered. 



Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.


can I make vodka in a rum distillery?Am I going to need a lot of equipment or mainly 1 or 2.


It's very interesting, not many people tell us about stills. Thank you!

Do you know what inside the rectification column and the methanol removing one? How can these columns do it?


Camper English

That's beyond my knowledge.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)