Interview with Paul Caldwell of Confederate Stills of Alabama

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Paul Caldwell has made quite a name for himself with his CSA (Confederate Stills of Alabama) business.  Paul builds unique cypress fermentation tanks as well as distillation equipment.  Paul has a long history in engineering including Auburn Engineering, Navy Nuclear Power, and 27 years at Farley Nuclear Plant as a Sr. Reactor Operator and work week manager.  Paul started Confederate Stills of Alabama in 2011.

What got you interested in building distilling equipment?
My Great Grandad was in the Ala. 34th infantry during the civil war. Other that toting a gun, his function was to make liquor for the regiment. Used before amputations to numb up the victim, and after the surgery to pour on the bandage. His name was Henry Jackson Davis, my Grandmothers daddy. Years ago when I was at a family reunion, I got a copy of his discharge papers from a POW camp, and a copy of his “recipe”. Now forward to about 2008, I became interested in seeing what Great granddads shine was like, so I started researching stills. Wasn’t too long, I had built a 125 gallon pot still in my garage, built my own controller and column too……first time I ran it – 182 proof.

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How has your background in engineering informed your still building?

I know heat transfer and fluid flow (Thermodynamics) pretty well. 8 years of Navy Nuclear power followed by 27 years at Farley Nuclear Plant.So I can calculate heat up times, BTU ratings needed for a proper condenser, ect. But really, distilling is a very simple process, just has a lot of variables in how a mash is produced and just how the still vapor process occurs.

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Tell us a little about cypress fermenters and your preference for building those?  Why should distillers consider cypress for fermentation?

When I had my first still in the garage, I wanted a wooden fermenter like Jack Daniels has…..no one on the internet had them. I had run a cabinet shop as a side line business for years, so I knew my way around a table saw pretty good. So, one trip to a sawmill in Georgia, and I found me some cypress.
Built my first 200 gallon tank, held like a champ. After a few pictures on the internet, I started getting request…..one of those light bulb moments. I had a product that people wanted. Hence the beginning of CSA.
Can you tell us a little about some of your favorite custom still builds?
I have a few….
1…Jug Creek – 250 gallon steam still with 8″ column – pics below
2…Marble Distillery – 500 gallon whiskey still, pot head, thumper, worm, very traditional – pic below
3…Tennessee XXX distillery – 250 gal, moonshine still – pic below
4…Missouri Ridge Distillery – pair of 250 stills with massive 8″ dia, 8 ft long packed columns on a 45 degree angle.  You’ve already got that pic.

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As a distiller I certainly have my preferences in equipment design but I have to ask you worm or shell and tube condenser and why?

That’s an easy one – a well built worm will always outperform a shell & tube condenser. Let me explain why. Let take for example your average 500g Chinese still – it has a condenser with either 8 to 10″ dia with about 20 tubes inside it each about 1/2″ dia. Length of condenser about 4 ft.
Now you alcohol vapor coming from the still hits the condenser and is dispersed into the 20 tubes, but the vapor is only in contact with the tube for 4′ before reaching the outlet chamber before the parrot. Barely enough time to condense. This why so many customers complain about outlet liquor temp being too high on a shell & tube condenser…..Even run at a very slow rate.
Now a worm- my 500 gal. stills normally have a 300 gallon worm tank, that’s a huge mass of cooling water. (shell & tube has about 8-10 gal) The worm is 100 ft of 1.25″ copper tubing. So this vapor coming from the still has plenty of time to completely cool down to ambient water temp before exiting the parrot. This same size worm could easily handle a 1000 gal. still. Video below – Tenn XXX trying run hard to overheat their worm. Couldn’t do it….30 gal/hr off parrot, 188 proof, 69 degree liquor temp.
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What is your favorite dram?
Soldier Valley 6 Bourbon – from Patriarch Distillers in Nebraska. Great Bourbon in the most unique bottle on the market.
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