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This blog provides information for educational purposes only. Read our complete summary for more info.

March 30, 2013
Last updated

Distillation Column Packing - For Higher Proof

Owner of Clawhammer Supply

distillation column packing - how to increase final proof

Increase Final Proof by Packing Still Column

Before we get started, a reminder: Distilling alcohol is illegal without a federal fuel alcohol or distilled spirit plant permit as well as relevant state permits. Our distillation equipment is designed for legal uses only and the information in this article is for educational purposes only. Please read our complete legal summary for more information on the legalities of distillation.

Copper Mesh, Raschig Rings, and Glass Beads

Packing a distillation column with copper scrubbers, raschig rings, or glass distilling beads is the easiest way for a commercial distiller to increase the final proof of distilled alcohol. The packing material increases final proof by causing a slight natural reflux action in the column. Commercial distillers will find that this also makes a better tasting product. If copper packing material is used, it simultaneously removes sulfur compounds from the vapor.

As vapor moves up through the column it migrates through a network of material that is a slightly lower temperature than the boiler, etc. For example copper mesh forms a thermal bridge between the cooler edges of the column and the center of the column (because it's super conductive). It creates an abundance of surface area that is just slightly below the condensing temperature of water (but ideally above the condensing temp of alcohol), providing opportunity for water vapor to turn back into a liquid while allowing the alcohol vapor to move on.  

As water comes into contact with the packing / mesh material, some of it condenses and drips back down through the column. However, alcohol vapor moves onward due to its lower boiling temperature and ends up making its way all the way to a commercial distiller's collection vessel. As a result, final proof is much higher than it would have been without the use of packing.

Pot Still vs. Pot With Thumper vs. Packed Column vs. Reflux

Thre are a lot of different still designs out there. Clawhammer stills are essentially simple pot stills with the addition of a column to make the design more versatile. If nothing is done to the column, our stills will operate just like a pot still and first run proof will start in the range of 100-110 proof and drop from there. If the column is packed, our stills will operate like pot stills with a "thumper" and first run proof will start as high as 130-150 depending on starting ABV. A true reflux still would require the addition of a dephlegmator.

Copper: The Best Column Packing Material

An added advantage of using copper scrubbers as column packing material is that they remove sulfides from the distillate. Sulfides are found in some fruits and are also a natural byproduct of the fermentation process. They tend to get concentrated when products are distilled. This will show up as off flavors and smells in the final product. The best way to get rid of it is to add as much copper to the still as possible.

Sulfur compounds react with copper, and are precipitated out of liquid and vapor during the distillation process. If you're a commercial distiller who wants to make top shelf spirits, sulphur absolutely needs to be removed during distillation. For example, Downslope Distilling in Denver, Colorado uses a 240 gallon, 100% copper still with two large diamond shaped chambers in a column formation made by Col. Vaughn Wilson of Arkansas. The chambers contain trays that are loaded with copper mesh. Downslope's head distiller insists that this is one of the reasons that their whiskey is so good (and they have the medals to prove it). So, even if a commercial distiller isn't using a column still, it's not a bad idea to add as much copper to it as possible. Accordingly, we believe that using copper mesh or copper scrubbers is the best way to pack a column. 

Here's how to pack the column on Clawhammer's Copper Stills:

  • Add 1-2 scrubbers to column of a 1 gallon still.
  • Add 4-8 scrubbers to the column of a 5 gallon still.
  • Add 5-10 scrubbers to the column of an 8 gallon still.
  • Add 7-13 scrubbers to the column of a 10 gallon still.

    Note: A distiller MUST make sure that packing material is 99.9% copper - which can be hard to find. To make it easy we've sourced pure copper scrubbers and have them available here for purchase. DO NOT buy copper mesh or scrubbers if the product does not explicitly state, or if it cannot be verified, that they are pure copper. Some copper mesh / scrubbers contain other metals while other products are copper coated steel. Also, if copper scrubbers are purchased, remove steel clasp in center of scrubber.

    Other Packing Material: Glass Beads and Raschig Rings

    Packing a column with glass beads or raschig rings is not optimal for several reasons. First, they don't remove sulfides. This is actually a big strike against both of the materials. Removing sulfides is critically important for a commercial distiller when crafting top notch spirits. Second, they're difficult to install and secure in the column. Third, (this applies to glass beads only) actual scientific glass distillers beads are significantly more expensive than the other materials. The cost alone makes this option a no-go.

    How to Install Copper Scrubbers / Mesh

    Installing copper packing material in the column is very easy. First, the material goes in the column (not the boiler, not the condenser, etc.). If a distiller is using scrubbers (after removing steel clasp that holds scrubber together) simply push the scrubbers up into the column. The more the better, but do not use force to install them. They should fit in the column loosely and there may even be a tiny bit of space between them. Scrubbers will need to be unraveled before being installed in a 1 gallon kit. Though, they fit very nicely in the 5 and 10 gallon columns.

    Where to Buy Copper Scrubbers / Mesh for Columns

    Pure copper scrubbers are available on our website. Click on the picture BELOW to purchase. Note: we do NOT recommend, nor do we have a good source for raschig rings or glass beads. 



    Kyle Brown is the owner of Clawhammer Supply, a small scale distillation and brewing equipment company which he founded in 2009. His passion is teaching people about the many uses of distillation equipment as well as how to make beer at home. When he isn't brewing beer or writing about it, you can find him at his local gym or on the running trail.

    • How often do the copper scrubbers need replaced?

      Posted by on November 13, 2021
    • Nice information but no answers to the questions.

      Posted by Angus on November 13, 2021
    • Quit asking questions on this page they make it quite clear! They will not answer!!!

      Posted by Tim Cobb on November 13, 2021
    • hi there i am building a still out of a 50ltbeer keg still, i would like to know what is a good length for the column, i have made one out of 2 1/2 inch stainless pipe about 5 ft high but it looks a little large ,, any advice would be handy

      Posted by Neil Murray on January 11, 2021
    • How do I access the answers to the questions above?

      Posted by Deanna on April 28, 2020
    • Great questions I would ask….but where are the replies and answers…

      Please help direct me to the answers…

      Thank you

      Kendall stephens

      Posted by Kendall on January 20, 2020
    • How many times can I use copper mesh in the still.

      Posted by Clem on December 12, 2019
    • will copper scrubbers work on 10 gal pot with thumper

      Posted by charles cooper on January 20, 2019
    • Do I need copper mesh in a copper column still?

      Posted by on January 20, 2019
    • I have the 10 gallon copper still… how do i remove the copper column packing for cleaning? Just made my first run & it turned out great !!!

      Posted by Flint on November 02, 2018
    • Can you use the copper mesh over and over or do you use it only once. Also I have used it once and the some of the copper has turned a darker color. Can it still be used?

      Posted by Mark Drake on August 13, 2018
    • I have a 2” copper colum reflux still. And use copper mesh for the scrubbers, how much should I use of the copper mesh?

      Posted by Marvin on April 30, 2018
    • How long does the copper mesh/scrubbers last when using them in the column?

      Posted by Mike on April 30, 2018
    • What height should my column be?
      Do i pack the whole column or just part of it?

      My still is all copper approx 35gal capacity

      Posted by Theo on January 31, 2018
    • Nice blog, I think packed column is better than plate column.It plays vital role in chemical packing and distillation column. According to my knowledge finepac is best Column Packing manufacturer in world

      Posted by Akshay Joshi on January 15, 2018
    • I have a stainless pot still that I made. The copper tubing comes out of the lid into my condenser coil. Can I add a scrubber to that?

      Posted by Johnny on August 11, 2017
    • Can i use the regular Walmart brand of copper scrubbers to fill my column or could this method be dangerous?

      Posted by Reset on June 25, 2017
    • A good copper Rashig is made with 2 pennies that are pre 1995. They are only copper plated after that but before that they are pure copper. Cut each penny half way across with a zip saw and push the two together so they make a ball. Use as little lead free solder as you can to keep them together. I made 150 of these things to fill my column. They work great and the cost is minimal. 3 bucks in pennies and some time.

      Posted by Franklin Newhart on December 12, 2016
    • I have a 3 gal pot still with a thumper. Do you make a column to fit the lid if I would like to redesign my pot still into a column still? How tall would my column have to be, and do I still use the thumper? Sorry for all the questions but I have only been doing this for a year and I am really enjoying making my own whiskeys. Will a column help me make a better quality, and perhaps a good start on Gin or vodka?

      Posted by Deb on September 29, 2016
    • Awesome site folks. Very very helpful to a fella just starting down the path. . .

      Posted by SEan mCculloch on September 14, 2016

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