Pumps, Motors and Drives in the Distillery

By: Alyssa Ochs

distillery equipment set

There are various kinds of specialized machinery used in modern craft distilleries to produce the high-quality spirits we know and love. Among these are pumps, motors and drives, which are worth learning more about to choose the best options for your distilling needs. To kick off the new year, here are some best practices and tips for ensuring that these pieces of machinery are functional and effective for their intended distilling purposes.

Distillery Uses for Pumps, Motors and Drives

  Pumps perform many unique functions in a distillery, including bringing in water, mashing, wort recirculation and fermentation transfer. Distillers also use pumps during distillation, for filtration, to fill barrels for aging and fill bottles when the finished product is ready.

  Motors drive the pump and grinding mills using electricity. Motors serve various purposes in distilleries, including pumping cool water, charging, discharging the still, agitating tanks and transferring distillate and spirits. Explosion-proof motors are critical in a distillery as a safety precaution while handling high-proof liquids and vapors. Some motors used to make craft spirits are not explosion-proof, but the key to using them safely is strategic placement on the property.

  Drives are part of the mechanical device that brings about its dynamic movement and are a great way to streamline the bottling process.

  All of these moving parts contribute to the automation process that modern distilleries use to increase efficiency, improve safety and work around labor shortages.

Pump Recommendations and Tips

  Among the many types of pumps available, centrifugal and positive displacement pumps are common in distilleries. Distillers also use flexible impeller pumps and double diaphragm air pumps with grounding tags.

  Air-driven double diaphragm pumps work well in flammable distillery areas and are versatile and self-priming. Meanwhile, electrically-driven double diaphragm pumps tend to be more cost-effective because they do not require compressed or pneumatic air. Electrically-drive peristaltic hose pumps can discard botanical waste by pushing liquid through a rubber hose and ensuring the desired flavors and fragrances remain in the spirit.

  Typically constructed with stainless-steel and hygienic materials, air-operated diaphragms pumps can handle multiple fluid types and applications, and they can be trolley-mounted for greater versatility. Hygienic pumps comply with food and beverage safety requirements, while pumps with low flow rates can transfer spirits from tanks to barrels for maturation. However, it is important to have the capability to adjust the flow rate for different cask sizes to prevent spillage and product loss.

  Glenn Mulligan at FLUX Pumps Corporation in Kennesaw, Georgia, told Beverage Master Magazine that FLUX drum and container pumps are ideally suited for distilleries of all sizes.

  “The pumps are lightweight and portable for ease of operation in many areas of the plant,” Mulligan said. “Whether you are pumping concentrates, additives or sanitizing products or ingredients like honey, FLUX has a solution. Food-grade pump options and motors suitable for use in classified atmospheres, such as explosion-proof products, pose no problems for the equipment.”

  FLUX Pumps Corporation has been producing pump technology for over 70 years, starting with the invention of the first electric drum pump. Beyond its well-known drum pumps, FLUX’s product line includes eccentric worm-drive pumps, centrifugal immersion pumps, air-operated diaphragm pumps, flow meters, mixers and complete system solutions. The company also carries a comprehensive range of accessories to suit the needs of various industries and applications.

  Overall, distilleries need pumps that provide efficient transfer of their products over a wide range of head and viscosity conditions. Multiple seal options are also useful, as leaky seals are common. Other things to look for in a new distillery pump include clog-free check valves, durable integral mounting, corrosion-resistant materials and easy installation with quick disconnect ports.

  Jon Johnson from Carlsen and Associates told Beverage Master Magazine that using pumps in a distillery is tricky, and the only type of pump he would sell to a distillery is an air diaphragm pump. Johnson has been in the industry for over 30 years and understands that distilleries must abide by rules that vary between each city, county, state and fire department.

  Based in Healdsburg, California, Carlsen & Associates is primarily a wine equipment supplier that offers positive displacement pumps, centrifugal pumps and air pumps, along with various related tools and fittings.

  “If you use an explosion-proof, Division 2 pump––which means that all rotating devices are non-sparking and have a cast-iron frame on the motor––you can put the motor and pump in there, but you have to put the control on the outside of the building and can’t run the speed control into the room because that is still illegal,” Johnson said. “You also need to have three backups if the air pressure drops.”

  He said that air diaphragm pumps could be safely used to pump high-proof and mash anywhere in the distillery and an explosive environment. Some distilleries use positive displacement pumps, but this is only safe if not in an explosion environment.

  “Make sure the products are grounded and that elastomers in the pump are compatible with whatever you are pumping and cleaning it with,” Johnson said.

  Carlsen and Associates sells Yamada-brand diaphragm air pumps, and Johnson said that the NDP-25 and the NDP-40 pumps are the most popular options. An NDP-25 pump costs approximately $3,200, while an NDP-40 model is closer to $5,000. The main difference between the two is volume.

Recommendations and Tips for Motors and Drives

  Experienced distilleries prefer energy-efficient, hygienic and explosion-protected motors, as well as those with effective brakes and built-in encoders. Different types of pumps use different motors to power them, but distillers should seek out certified motors that are explosion-proof and have multi-phase power, as some motors only fit certain transmissions.

  Air motor pumps are small pumps used to ensure safety and prevent explosions. Air motor power costs considerably more than a direct drive electric motor; however, upgrading motors can dramatically improve safety and comply with standards.

  Variable frequency drives can provide power at low speeds and have options for efficient designs, normal and heavy-duty operation, safety functions and cooling systems. Distilleries use electric variable frequency drivers as motor controllers that vary the voltage and frequency of power. This is how the electric motor is driven within an RPM range instead of a binary on or off. Drives can be programmed to minimize hydraulic shock and provide great accuracy while maximizing the properties of heat exchangers.


  When choosing new pieces of equipment, factors to keep in mind include having access to readily available parts and quality people who can install and repair the equipment when needed. Mobile machinery and multi-functional pumps can help save valuable square footage in small distillery operations.

  Distilleries benefit from having pump-related products built from materials that conform to FDA and 3A requirements and can be quickly taken apart, cleaned and put back together. Mulligan said that this is why FLUX pumps are perfect for pumping different liquids while preventing cross-contamination. He also said that there is a common misconception that drum pumps are pieces of “throw-away” equipment.

  “While this may hold true for the lesser-quality brands, FLUX is committed to providing the best pump on the market with the lowest overall cost of ownership,” Mulligan said. “Every part for all of our pumps and motors are sold as individual components, which can result in repairs costing as little as just a few dollars. FLUX has customers that have been using pumps for over 20 years–some by just completing only the bare minimum for maintenance.”

  Mulligan also said choosing the best pump should be easy because many drum pumps on the market will solve the customer needs, but with varying degrees of customer satisfaction.

  “Selecting equipment from a manufacturer that is long-lasting, with the ability to be repaired when necessary, will result in a pump life that can be counted in decades,” Mulligan said. “Quality equipment results in less downtime and more production, ultimately adding to the bottom line. We can show you how the break-even point for the return on investment comes in just a few months, with thousands of dollars saved over the lifetime of the pump.”

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