Pot Stills Vs. Column Stills: The Two Kinds of Spirits

This piece was written by David Wondrich back in September 2010 for Esquire.com – the link to the article is here:


I’ve quoted the entire thing because in think it’s a really good (and short) explanation of the two types of still used in the production of spirits, and it’s a good introduction to the rest of the piece on how in the rum world, the two combine to create expressions. Before we get there, over to you Dave:

From a tech point of view, there are only two kinds of spirits: pot distilled and column distilled. Pot-distilled liquor comes from the old-fashioned copper thing with the big coil attached to it — basically, the moonshiner’s still of popular iconography. At something between 60 and 80 percent pure alcohol, the rest being water and various flavorful organic compounds (not all necessarily good ones), it’s not exactly pure, but it is thick-textured and can be pretty damn tasty.

The second comes from a tall, very efficient steel column of the sort used to refine crude oil into gasoline. At well over 90 percent alcohol, it’s a lot purer (and a lot cheaper to make), but there’s not much room for subtleties such as flavor and texture.

Both kinds have their purposes: For vodka, white rum, London dry gin — clear spirits — you want the column still. For single-malt Scotch, mescal, navy rum, or anything rich and funky, you want the pot. (The great exception here being bourbon and rye, which are made in columns but run at pot-still levels of efficiency.)

For getting drunk, either one works

Couldn’t agree more with that last sentence – and in a way, the point he makes is that no one is better than the other. In fact, in many rums we enjoy, the flavour and expression comes from a blend of pot and column.

Only yesterday evening I went to a really enjoyable and unique Rum Club tasting event at Trailer Happiness (Ladbroke Grove) which was held in collaboration with St Lucia Distillers. The event was to provide the Club attendees with firsthand insight into the relaunched Admiral Rodney range so the live Skype session with the team in St Lucia went down particularly well!

As we went through the range, they explained that both the Princessa and Royal Oak were created with a combination of the pot and column distillates. The idea of single still being better is not necessarily true (as my previous post alluded to) – the different combinations are the key to making rum interesting, but also to maintain a consistent quality. Over time, I will review a number of rums and amongst other things, I will highlight the production method, and how that has influenced the tasting notes for each expression.

If you ever get the chance to see any distillery in action go for it – they are fascinating! At some point over the next few months I will head down to Guyana and give you a walkthrough of the Diamond distillery where they are the only distillery in the world to have 3 original wooden pot stills in use: Port Mourant, Versailles and Enmore.

Watch this space…