The following article was posted on Sept. 21, 2016. It has been reviewed and updated as necessary by the ProBrewer editorial staff.
Safety is the most important element in any manufacturing facility, and a distillery is no exception.
According to the American Distilling Institute, OSHA defines a distillery as “a plant or that portion of a plant where flammable liquids produced by fermentation are concentrated and where the concentrated products may also be mixed, stored or packaged. The main cause of distillery incidents is fire or explosion. This is caused from vapors being released into a confined space with an ignition source. The vapors can be released by leaking equipment components such as mating surfaces, leaking tanks, gaskets, valves, casks, even transfer pumps.
Ignition sources include:
- Open flames
- Torch cutting and welding
- Sparks (static, electrical, and mechanical)
- Hot surfaces
- Heat from friction
- Radiant heat
- Hazardous chemicals – cleaners, chemicals for mash pH adjustment.
- Air contaminants – byproducts of mashing and distilling.
- Physical hazards – noise, pressure in distillation equipment, boiling liquids, and hot surfaces.
- Ergonomic risk factors – working in awkward postures, lifting excessive loads, and repetitive activities.
- Electrical hazards – electrically fired boilers and ignition sources.
- Brewing hazards – carbon dioxide and sanitation chemicals.
- Confined spaces – vats, tanks, and vessels may be permit-required confined spaces.
Safe Practices (A few general tips)
- Never leave a still unattended.
- Keep the distilling area well ventilated so that vapors will not build up if there is a small leak in equipment.
- Charge the still boiler with wash at alcohol concentrations below 40 percent. Charging the boiler with wash higher than 40 percent creates an explosion risk.
- Keep the distilled alcohol receiver at as low a level as possible, which can reduce risk of a spill if the container tips.
- Use a receiver that has a small filling opening, which reduces the vapor escaping into the room and saves alcohol. If a fire occurs at the receiver, it will burn at the small opening and can be easily controlled.
- Place the receiver in a large, nonflammable, ethanol-resistant container, which can control an accidental overflow. The container should be capable of holding at least an hour’s worth of output if the receiver spills or leaks.
- Dilute alcohol before storing it to lower its flash point.
Still Safety Components: If you are in the process of sourcing an Artisan still, here are a few things to look for.
- If still is steam jacketed, make sure it includes both Pressure and Vacuum Relief Vales on the “jacket” itself.
- For additional safety, Pressure and Vacuum Relief Valves are also required on the “pot” of the still to ensure buildup of low pressure does not exceed established ratings and so a vacuum is not created during the cool-down phase.
- Some suppliers will provide a, less automated, manual relief valve for steam jacketed stills.
- If using direct fire, check proper installation procedures and ventilation of combustion chamber. Make sure to check with all local jurisdictions to ensure safe and lawful operation.
CQ – What words of wisdom would you like to offer to your fellow brewers thinking about becoming a brewstillery?
Brandon Wright: “Get capitalized and get some square footage because you’re going to need more of both!”
Clark McCool: “Come up with a long term vision. Make sure you create enough space to store your barrels, take your time and learn the craft of distilling and blending spirits.”
Eric Howard: “Start working with your city on what rules and regulations they have for distillers.”
Yusuf Cherney: “Get help with licensing.”
Kinstlick, Michael, 2018. So A 10-¬‐Year Prediction Was Quite Conservative And Left Room For A Slowdown. , , and In Fact, The Rate Of New Entrants Has Accelerated Since Then… . The U.S. Craft Distilling M 2 (2015): n. pag. Axisofwhisky.com. Web. Spring 2016.
Miller, Victoria Redhed. Craft Distilling: Making Liquor Legally at Home. Gabriola Island: New Society, 2016. Print.
Shipman, F. M. (n.d.). Distilled spirit. Retrieved July 07, 2016, from https://www.britannica.com/topic/distilled-spirit