By: Alyssa L. Ochs
Tanks are an essential part of operating a distillery, and there is a lot to know about this particular type of equipment. While there have been many improvements made to tanks and tank systems in recent years, distillers are still looking for more features and options from these products.
Types of Tanks Used in Distilleries
Tanks are used for numerous functions in a distillery, primarily for blending, fermenting, storing, distilling and filtering. Since tanks are used for multiple purposes, it is crucial to use the right type of tank for each job.
Storage tanks are typically single-wall tanks that store a spirit before proofing, filtering and blending. These tanks commonly come with volume indicators, scales, vent pipes, pressure release valves and access ports. Meanwhile, blending tanks mix spirits and water during the blending, proofing and hydro-separation processes. These come in a range of standard sizes and can have a motorized agitator, sampling port and temperature gauge.
Derrick Mancini from Quincy Street Distillery told Beverage Master Magazine that his distillery uses polyethylene tanks for fermentation. Quincy Street is a small distillery in Riverside, Illinois, and the distillery’s modest size is reflected in its equipment.
“These are Ace roto-molded types,” Mancini said. “We ferment a wide range of materials in them, such as whiskeys and Eau du vies, and we do not use any cooling. But in the smaller ones, we may use some heating when required, as for rum.”
For the storage of spirits, Quincy Street Distillery uses 400-liter stainless Letinas for high proof final spirits and high wine.
“Intermediate distillate may be stored in plastic 55-gallon drums or 275-gallon IBC totes,” Mancini said. “We have a 150-gallon stainless mash tun as well. In addition to tanks, we have 12-gallon and 25-gallon stainless fustis and 6-gallon glass carboys for small container storage.”
When asked about the pros and cons of the tanks he uses, Mancini said, “Plastics are cheap, but over time can wear enough they need to be replaced. They are not suitable for very high-proof spirits and somewhat harder to sterilize than stainless. Stainless tanks are great, but far more expensive to initially purchase.”
Meanwhile, Ethan Poole from Vance Metal Fabricators told Beverage Master Magazine about the many fermenters that his company has fabricated for distilleries, as well as hot liquor tanks, cold liquor tanks and storage tanks. Headquartered in Geneva, New York, Vance Metal is an ISO 9001:2015-certified, large-capacity metal fabricator and weld shop that serves many industries, including heavy manufacturing, technology and agriculture.
“These fermenters have very efficient cooling and heating jackets placed on the main body sections of the tanks that can be used with glycol or steam since they are rated for high PSI,” Poole said. “We can also place jackets on the bottom or top heads if the producer needs more coverage. Our strength at Vance Metal is customizing tank setups for each producer’s specific needs.”
Matt Kramer, the regional sales manager for beverages at the Paul Mueller Company, described the three products his company offers that craft spirits distillers commonly use: fermenters, bulk spirit storage tanks and the maxxLūp infusion system. Headquartered in Springfield, Missouri, the Paul Mueller Company has been in the processing equipment business since 1940, and specializes in stainless steel tanks, heat transfer and industrial construction services. Tank Services offered include inspection, modifications and alterations, repair and relocation.
“Our fermenters are most commonly used to accurately control the temperature during fermentation of the mash,” Kramer said. “We have jacketed heat transfer that maintains the proper temperature and an internal CIP system for ease of cleaning to stop unwanted bacterial growth and prevent off-flavors. Our storage tanks can be built up to 40,000 gallons and come with or without heat transfer.”
Kramer went on to describe how flavor infusion has become increasingly popular among distilleries and how Paul Mueller’s maxxLūp flavor infusion system has revolutionized the way that distillers innovate.
“The maxxLūp’s system allows users to extract aroma and flavor out of ingredients in much less time than other traditional methods,” Kramer said. “Users have seen up to a 50% reduction in ingredient usage because of the design of the equipment. All of our equipment is designed, fabricated and finished to beautiful aesthetic standards in Springfield, Missouri. The level of quality will make them a showpiece in anyone’s craft distillery!”
Tank Improvements in the Industry
Tank manufacturers have been getting more innovative over the years and making improvements to their products to serve distillery customers better.
“The improvements made to our tanks over the years at Vance Metal are laser welding the jackets to the tank bodies; using square tube legs instead of an open back style (so there is less surface area to clean); 2b prime finish on the inside of the tank; and #4 finish on the outside,” said Vance Metal’s Poole.
“Using insulation and cladding can improve the efficiency of your tank as well,” Poole said.
Kramer from Paul Mueller Company noted how the maxxLūp has upped the game on infusion and how the circulation tank is the most versatile and efficient adjunct-dosing system on the market.
“With a removable screen design, it can handle a wide variety of adjuncts and use less of them for the same flavor profiles,” Kramer said. “The maxxLūp sits on casters so it’s easily mobile and a safe alternative to infusion that doesn’t require entering a tank.
Kramer also mentioned that distillers are typically working at around 78 degrees Fahrenheit and not getting a lot of condensation or energy loss. Still, for those needing more temperature control, insulation can be added.
“We use beadboard, Styrofoam and poly-iso type insulations on our fermenters,” he said. “Insulation prevents temperature fluctuations and brings greater energy savings.”
“For stainless steel storage tanks, we craft them to the customer’s specifications,” Kramer said. “We have highly experienced fabricators in a state-of-the-art manufacturing facility, and we possess all the accreditations and certifications needed to meet your specifications, including ASME code, complete weld passivation and turnover packages.”
However, there are still tank improvements that distillers would like that would make production easier and more efficient. For example, Mancini of Quincy Street Spirits would love to see more incorporation of weighing scales into larger stainless-steel tanks.
New Tank Buying Considerations
There are many features to look for when you are in the market for new distillery tanks, whether you are just launching a new business or upgrading your current tank systems. Mancini from Quincy Street Distillery said that the top considerations his distillery takes into account are quality and price.
Concerning the significant differences between tank systems, Poole said, “We see the most difference in the heavier gauge material we choose to use, making our tanks more rugged, customized options for each producer’s needs and building requirements.”
Kramer of Paul Mueller Company explained how the type of heat transfer on Paul Mueller Company equipment is unique.
“Our Temp-Plate inflated heat transfer is manufactured using resistance-welding, which is more cost-effective and precise than laser welding,” he said. “Our maxxLūp infusion system brings the notes and flavors to your spirit in less than half the time of typical infusion methods. No one has the proprietary design of our maxxLūp.”
“Whether you’re buying a storage tank, fermenter or an infusion system, you need to know what your size and process requirements are, any dimensional constraints at your facility and access considerations to the building,” said Kramer. “When buying a fermenter, we recommend keeping a height-to-diameter ratio of about 1.5:1 to 2:1. Sometimes, customers will request to go taller to preserve space in their facility, but you have to remember that the taller the fermenter, the greater the liquid-height pressure on the yeast. Yeast doesn’t like too much pressure, and this can be harmful to the fermentation process.”
“Make sure you discuss the future of your operation when planning your building layout and making your equipment purchases to leave yourself options for growth,” Poole of Vance Metal Fabricators offered as a piece of advice to distilleries. “Everyone operates under a budget, but planning for certain aspects will save you time and money in the future.”