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Sipsmith specifies steam for traditional still system

09 June 2015

Sipsmith Distillery installs steam boiler from Fulton.

Established in Hammersmith in 2009, Sipsmith Distillery is a small, independent business that, using the first copper still to launch in London for almost 200 years, crafts truly artisanal gins and vodkas of uncompromising quality. 

The distillery gives female names to each of its stills and the first, Prudence (designed and built by Carl Distilleries near Stuttgart, Germany), originally used electricity to power elements in the steam jacket surrounding it. But, as Sipsmith’s export market grew and production increased, the founders realised additional stills were required to meet demand. The company’s second still, named Patience, is another 300 litre still that also used electric elements to heat the steam jacket. But it wasn’t until a third and larger still – the 1,500 litre Constance – was required that the company decided to switch from an electrically-heated process to one using a steam boiler.

Commenting for Fulton, sales and marketing manager Doug Howarth says: “We visited Sipsmith Distillery when they were using German electrically-powered stills but wanted to install a gas-fired steam boiler for their new, larger premises. Our area manager discussed the specifications and options with them and an order was subsequently placed for a Fulton 20J vertical boiler and associated ancillaries. We continued to provide assistance and technical support throughout the installation and during commissioning.”

As Doug goes on to explain, many craft breweries and distilleries start off using electric but, as they reach the right size and output, quickly move to steam-based systems such as those from Fulton. “While electric systems can be quite efficient, they only heat the water required for the steam jacket, so are not as manageable or controllable as steam boiler based systems.” says Doug.

Felix James, Head of Operations at Sipsmith Distillery says: “For us, the difference is the same as cooking using electric or gas. Prudence and Patience both used electric elements initially but, to control the water temperature, you could only switch on or off the four elements in the steam jacket. And then there would be a delayed response as it would take time to transfer the energy through to the stills. With steam, once it’s turned down or off, the stills are very quick to shut down or respond to the temperature change.”

He goes on to say that unlike ‘big plant’ distillation processes that can produce a spirit in less than two hours, each Sipsmith gin or vodka distilling process takes up to eight or nine hours to complete. 

Steam from the Fulton 20J boiler is gradually introduced into the still’s steam jacket until the alcoholic wash inside the still reaches 78.3 degrees centigrade, the boiling point of alcohol. As the wash boils and turns to vapour, it rises through the still’s helmet and swan’s neck before returning to liquid form in the condenser. After the initial ‘heads’ cut (containing methanol) and the final ‘tails’ cut are disposed of, the 1,500-litre Constance produces approximately 950 litres at still strength (82% for the gin and 90% for the vodka). This distilled liquid is then cut with water to create a bottling strength product that produces up to 2,500 bottles. The smaller 300 litre stills Prudence and Patience can produce up to 500 bottles each per run, with Patience currently being used to produce predominantly new products or for product development. 

Explaining the reasons for specifying Fulton, Felix mentioned the ties with nearby Fuller’s Brewery which uses Fulton’s boilers in the brewing process. “Fulton are very well respected and, being a UK manufacturer, are very easy to deal with. We undertake our own water analysis every month but do have a service contract with Fulton, which visits the site every three months to conduct its own analysis and check the condition of the boiler and the system. This proved invaluable on one occasion when, between Fulton visits, we had dosed too much chemical into the feed water tank. However, Fulton was on hand, its technician was very helpful and offered the correct procedure for a solution.” 

An additional benefit for the distillery is that all condensate from the boiler’s steam raising process is returned to the feed tank to reduce energy and further improve the system’s efficiency. 

Looking to the future, Felix says that with the Fulton boiler only being used to raise steam at 0.7 bar for the process, there is plenty of scope for expansion when the time comes to further increase production capacity.

The eight models in Fulton’s ‘J’ Series vertical boiler range can be supplied with gas, oil or dual-fuel burners, covers outputs from 96 to 960 kg/h and can raise its full steam output in just 20 minutes. Its simple design and robust construction makes them ideal for most brewing and distilling applications.

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