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

May 1, 2018
Last updated

Bubble Plate Column vs. Hybrid Column

Chief Operating Officer at Clawhammer

What type of still should I buy?

What Type Of Still Should I Buy?

We get a lot of questions on the difference between our 8 gallon bubble plate column still and our 8 gallon standard "hybrid" column stills.

The question we hear the most is "Which Column is best for making ____ final product?" The answer is "It Depends." In general, columns can be categorized into three different groups: forced reflux, reflux and non-reflux columns. Use the following guidelines for selecting the column that will work best for the product you want to make (assuming you have the proper permits).

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.

Clawhammer's Hybrid Column:

copper distillation columnThis is our original column design and it is the most popular column that we sell. The reason we sell more of this design is the fact that this column is multi-functional. The hybrid column can be used to distill many different final products. This column falls into both categories -- it can be both a reflux and non-reflux column depending on how it is used.

If you use the hybrid column without any packing it will run like a pot still. This is great for distilling water, essentials oils, and more. If alcohol is being distilled, and the column does not contain any copper packing, first run will start in the range of 100-110 proof and the proof will drop from there. If the column is packed the still will start producing higher (between 140-160 proof) depending on the amount of packing, the starting ABV of the wash, and how quickly the still is running, and will drop from there.

Using our hybrid column allows you to easily add or remove packing depending on the product you are distilling. To add natural reflux simply add copper packing material to the column. If you want to remove the reflux simply don't add the copper packing to the column. Also- the amount of packing added to the column will affect how much reflux the column creates. These are some basic guidelines for adding packing to our hybrid columns.

  • 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 a 8 gallon still.
  • Add 7-13 scrubbers to the column of a 10 gallon still.

A commercial distiller would use a hybrid column for everything except fuel alcohol, gin, and vodka.

Clawhammer's Bubble Plate Column:

bubble plate columnThe bubble plate column is another type of natural reflux column. A commercial distiller would use this for making vodka & gin instead of an open, non-reflux column. A distiller with a fuel alcohol permit would use this to make fuel alcohol rather than an open, non-reflux column. This reason for thi is because bubble plate columns are designed to offer higher average proof while simultaneously stripping nearly all of the flavor from the final product. If the end goal is to create a high proof final product, quickly, then this column will do the trick. To take it a step further, if maximizing proof is the goal, professional distillers will use a dephlegmator in addition to the bubble plate column (more on that below).

How The Bubble Plate Column Works:

Vapor comes into contact with the plates and caps inside the column; causing vapor to condense back into a liquid. As vapor rises, it condenses and pools. Some liquid drips back down through the column, some of the vapor moves on. The liquid that falls is eventually forced back up though the caps and plates. This process of being forced to run though the caps and plates multiple times creates an end product that has essentially been distilled multiple times in a single run, which results in a higher proof when compared to an empty column. The bubble plates perform a similar function as the copper packing in the hybrid column, but does so more efficiently. When running a bubble plate column the first run will start in the range of 145-170 proof and the proof will drop from there.

Forced Reflux Stills

Ydephlegmatorou can achieve even higher proof by adding a dephlegmator to the top of the bubble plate column, which actually forces reflux to take place. A dephlegmator is basically a condenser that attaches to the top of the column. Water flows though the dephlegmator (but does not mix with the distillate) which condenses some of the vapor that passes by it, sending the liquid back down the still. However, it does not condense everything depending on the temperature, allowing high proof vapor to pass through while sending lower proof distillate back, increasing the average proof of the final product.

If a dephlegmator is attached above the bubble plate the still will start producing between 170-193 depending on the amount of cooling in the dephletmator, the starting ABV of the wash, and how quickly the still is running.

Assuming one has the proper permits, the bubble plate column dephlegmator combo is our best option for fuel alcohol, gin, vodka.

Emmet Leahy is the Chief Operating Officer and lead product developer at Clawhammer Supply, a small scale distillation and brewing equipment company. He loves the process of developing new equipment for making beer at home just as much as he does using it to brew his own beer. He's also passionate about teaching people how to use distillation equipment to produce distilled water, essential oils, and with the proper permits, fuel alcohol and distilled spirits.

  • What is the best for a begainer that wants to start at age of 64.

    Posted by Glen on January 02, 2024
  • If you were making gin, wouldn’t you not want something like a bubble plateb reflux column that strips all the flavour out?

    Posted by Nate on July 13, 2023
  • We are interested in the 8 gallon Stainless/Copper still to distill lavender. What accessory parts do we need besides what you provide with the still to distill? WE will start out with lavender buds then next year distill stems when it blooms.
    Scott and Cathy Smith
    Lavender rhapsody

    Posted by Scott Smith on November 28, 2022
  • Thank you for this informative page on the three types of distilling Columns.

    Thank you for Identifying each type by Function and Performance. Your no-nonsense information is the real treasure I had been mining the internet for. You used standardized terminology and have removed the veil of mystery of HOW it works. I wasted a whole lot of time looking at YouTube’s that were entertaining eyecandy/weird-salad but also were horribly and boringly uninformative. The well informed and educated make better decisions when they know the underlying  science of what it is they intend to do. You should get an award for this informative page: S.T.E.M. rules !

    I was wanting to make some distilled water for plating and had made a one-soda-can column on a counter top electric hot water pot that kind of worked but now that I understand a few more things, am moving on to buying the water at the store. I keep thinking of how a cooling tower at nuke plants work: they dump tonnes of water in recovery. I just like science in action. As a youth I had read about and studied a solar still from a Solar Science DIY booklet in my first exposure to distillation and water purification in 1969. Later in middle school and high school chemistry teachings and labs, I was introduced to Fractional Distillation principles and techniques of Recovery. We watched the thermometer for the next distillate to reveal and that was as fascinating as it was fun to chart. If I was deep into this I would make a small sample still to identify the temperatures and run times with a data logger and use that information in my production instrumentation, process control and recovery. Everyone could use one and would want one for better quality to have a fast-forward chart of what it is you are running.

    I would love to fab a copper column and still but that is not practical here for many reasons. I am sated now just reading about them here and seeing your products to enjoy and appreciate them. I find the simplicity and design built into your products very inspiring and frankly an economy of design that must have been fun to develop  -it is a simple hard-to-beat design; practical science.  Your craftsmanship and overall products are superior.  Good on you for using good science and great materials and craftsmanship.

    best to you,
    Romans 10:9

    Posted by Jim on June 07, 2022
  • Which still is best to create the highest proof Moonshine?

    Posted by REggie on December 17, 2021
  • Hi, What all do I need to convert my 5 gal. stainless steel still? I have been running it with gas, and I would like to convert it to electric. Thanks

    Posted by Audie on December 01, 2021
  • I’m looking at your 8 gallon All SS or the 8 gallon SS with the copper column. Can you tell me what the benefits are one over another. I mostly make corn whisky and some brandy.


    Posted by Dave D on November 13, 2021
  • Same question as posted by Marty on Nov 23, 2020.

    Posted by Joe on November 13, 2021
  • Hello

    Looking for a small 1 gallon still and want to know soup to nuts on what to purchase, main goal is vodka and flavored vodka. Do the whiskey flavors work for vodka?

    Can you provide a stock list

    Posted by on November 30, 2020
  • curious if I were to buy the essenti8al oil setup with the boiler and the still, could I use it essentially as a steam jacket boiler and make whiskey with the mash in the still and use the boiler for the steam and heat source so i don’t scorch the solids in my still? would this work well, or would I most likely loose too much heat?

    Posted by Justin on November 30, 2020
  • Hi, Newbie here. Firmly believe in buy it once buy it right. would like to make all products (brandy, whiskey, gin and vodka). this is going to be a father/sons adventure! Thinkings of hybrid still which can be used for all settings. 10-20 gal.
    range. complete setup would be best. Thanks for your input

    Posted by Marty on November 23, 2020
  • Not so much a comment as a question and It might be a stupid question of that but what is the difference between your still and your distiller

    Posted by JAson on September 09, 2020
  • heLlo thanks for the explanation I want to make vodka and gin so i want buy a bubble plated column as u recommend and I want to understand the relation between the volume of the boiler and the number of the plates in the column , also if their a video explainig how to operate such kind of still I will be happy to watch it, best regards .

    Posted by IMad aBboud on June 30, 2020
  • In this day and age it’s unusual to get advice, recipes, tips and general support from a company without making a purchase first. Emmett has been very generous with his advise and suggestions and I haven’t even bought anything…………. yet.

    Posted by ROman on May 27, 2020
  • I would like to buy a still I can make every type of drink with including flavors. I am thinking the 8 gallon Hybrid what do you think.

    Posted by Peter on April 09, 2020
    Posted by robert on December 11, 2019
  • Looking for a complete 10 gallon set up ….soup to nuts
    Yes I’m a beginner, just looking for a new hobby… but want outside set up
    Thanks ,
    Rob D

    Posted by Rob D on December 10, 2019
  • I’ve very interested in your 10gallon copper still. However, I really like the idea of having a thumper keg that will allow me to experiement with different flavors, such as adding fruit to give brandy different flavors. Is there any option for this? Thank you!

    Posted by austin on December 10, 2019
  • What is the best indoor still to buy…

    Posted by Phillip Walters on November 11, 2019
  • I need a complete set of a still with out buying any add ones. beginner and just want to buy and make booze. say around the 5 gal of less. Is electric a still a better buy for a beginner?

    Posted by bryon berry on September 01, 2019

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