College of Agriculture installs new still for distillation


Samuel Colmar

Construction takes place on the James B. Beam Institute for Kentucky Spirits on Tuesday, April 4, 2023, in downtown Lexington in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Samuel Colmar | Staff

Casey Sebastiano, Reporter

UK’s College of Agriculture, Food and Environment (UK CAFE) is installing a new 30-foot column still at the James B. Beam Institute for Kentucky Spirits to expand learning opportunities for students.

The institute was founded in 2019 to further students’ education and understanding of the spirits industry. It offers a multitude of research opportunities for these students.

A still heats alcohol to a boil during the distillation process, then cools it down to compress the vapor produced according to Barrel Craft Spirits, a Louisville-based whiskey and rum blending company. This process purifies and concentrates the alcohol, creating a product that has a higher alcohol proof than non-distilled alcohol. 

The still will be the “centerpiece of research and education for the spirits industry’s next generation of distillers,” according to an article published by UK on the UK CAFE website.

Seth DeBolt, director of the James B. Beam Institute for Kentucky Spirits, said there are many research projects students can currently get involved in to “make a difference in their career and their line of practices.”

Some experiments mentioned by DeBolt aim to understand and use steam recapture, energy efficiency, water efficiency and sustainability goals.

According to their website, the Beam Institute’s mission is to “lead the global advancement of the American whiskey industry through workforce education, scientific discovery, environmental sustainability, community and social responsibility.”

Joseph & Joseph Architects and Marilla Construction are installing the still. It was manufactured by Vendome Copper and Brass Works, a manufacturer of distillation equipment since 1903 based in Louisville. 

Construction is set to be finished mid-late summer 2023 and will be open for students to use in fall 2023.

“This will make our students the best trained,” DeBolt said.

It is estimated that anywhere between 50 and 100 students will be able to utilize the still over the course of a singular school year. DeBolt said he’s very optimistic about the impact this still will have on students of the Beam Institute for Kentucky Spirits. He said the still will allow for one or two barrels to be distilled per day.

“The things that this facility provides are so incredibly important. If you just watch a slideshow or powerpoint, you take the information in, you kind of get a sense of it,” DeBolt said. “But, if you walk over to the institute and say pull a sample, you get to study that sample, and you will be more prepared for this work force.”