What Is A Carter Head Still?

The Carter Head Still is a type of still that is used in the production of gin. This type of still is named after its inventor, James Carter, who designed it in the early 1800s.

The Carter Head Still is a packed column still, which means that it has a column packed with copper mesh or metal plates. This column is filled with neutral spirits, and the gin is distilled by passing hot vapors through the column.

Originally, the Carter Head was invented as a way to rectify crude spirits, but it is now used to make a few select, premium gins. The two most well known are Hendrick’s and Bombay Sapphire.

The advantage of this type of still is that it can produce a very high-quality gin, with a very clean flavor. The disadvantage is that it is a bit more expensive to build and maintain than a simple pot still.

The Carter Head sits between the still and its condenser and contains a basket that holds the botanicals. 

One method is to place charcoal filtered vodka into a small still and run it very slowly. The vapor travels through the botanicals basket and comes out at around 75% alcohol gin. It is then diluted with purified water to produce a 40% abv (80 Proof) final product.

The Carter head still is a popular choice for those who want to make their own gin or a type of moonshine referred to colloquially as “white lightning.”

gin still

How to Make Gin in a Carter Head Still?

To understand what a Carter head still is, we must first understand the process of distillation. Distillation is the process of heating a liquid to its boiling point and then collecting the resulting vapor. This vapor is then condensed back into a liquid, which is usually at a higher concentration than the original liquid.

So, a Carter Head still is a type of still that uses a series of perforated plates to help form a partial condenser. This allows for a greater surface area for the vapor to condense on and ultimately results in a higher purity final product.

The final spirits produced from a Carter head still are much more subtle, with light floral notes and sweetish fragrances. Its method of production is quite unique, with only the neutral spirit and water being added to the pot at the beginning of the process. 

All botanicals are added to a “flavor basket” at the very top of the still. Rather than aggressively boiling the botanicals, which creates the strong, pungent spirit of the Bennett still, the Carter-Head washes the botanicals in the alcohol vapors only.

As the evaporated alcohol moves through the botanicals, it extracts their flavors efficiently. The flavors are carried out of the basket along with the alcohol until they reach the condenser. Only the lighter, sweeter, and floral flavors can be extracted by this method, which gives the spirit its distinctive character.

The Benefits of Using a Carter Head Still

There are many benefits to using a Carter Head still, especially the fact that it can produce a very high-quality product. This type of still is also very efficient, meaning that it can produce a large quantity (yield) of essential oils or absolutes in a relatively short amount of time and with fewer impurities..

If you are thinking about using a Carter Head still for your next batch of alcohol, here are some of the potential benefits you could experience:

  • A higher quality end product: One of the main benefits of using a Carter Head still is the fact that it produces a higher quality end product. This is because the longer distillation time allows for more impurities to be removed from the final product.
  • Better flavor: Another benefit of using a Carter Head still is the fact that it can produce a better-tasting product, with subtle floral notes. This is because the flavors of the alcohol are not as concentrated. 

How to Use a Carter Head Still

A Carter head still consists of a round, flat-bottomed vessel with a fitted lid and a column that extends from the top of the vessel.

The Carter head still is used in a process called steam distillation, which is the most common method of essential oil extraction. In this process, water is heated to boiling and the vapor is passed through herbal ingredients, such as flowers or leaves. 

carter head still

And then those small droplets of flavor molecules hit the surface of this flowing water and sink down into it. The moment that heat hits that cooler water the alcohol evaporates right back into the mixture. 

Carter Head Still for Gin Manufacturing 

There are a few different ways to make gin, but the Carter Head still is considered to be the best method. This is because it allows for a more pure and distilled product.

Additionally, the Carter Head still can produce a higher yield than other types of stills.

Carter heads usually have a pot capacity of about 3,000 Liters (600 to 700 Gallons). The last Carter head stills were manufactured in the 1960s, although we considered reviving this design in the 1970s and then again in the 1990s.

The Carter head still is used to produce Hendrick’s Gin, Bombay Sapphire Gin and also Reyka Vodka is produced using a new Carter head still, specially made for the purpose in Scotland on behalf of William Grants & Sons.

If you are looking to start a gin business, or if you are simply looking for the best way to make gin at home, the Carter head still is “still” the way to go!

Some Tips for Using a Carter Head Still

If you’re new to using a Carter head still, here are a few tips to help you get started.

1. The first thing you need to do is choose a fermenter. This can be anything from a simple bucket to a more complex conical fermenter.

2. Once you have your fermenter, you’ll need to add your ingredients. For most Carter head stills, you’ll need to add water, yeast, and sugar.

3. Once you have your ingredients in the fermenter, you’ll need to attach the still to the fermenter. Make sure that the still is securely attached so that there is no risk of it coming loose.

4. Once the still is attached, you’ll need to start the fermentation process. This can be done by adding a bit of heat to the fermenter, or by adding fresh yeast and stirring it in. Once the yeast is added, the fermentation will begin within a few hours and will continue for about a week.

Once the fermentation is complete, you’ll need to remove the still from the fermenter. This can be done by CAREFULLY loosening the screws that attach it to the lid of the fermenter. Be careful not to let any liquid spill out of the still while you are removing it.

Once the still is removed, you’ll need to transfer the liquid into another container for storage. I like to use mason jars, but any clean container will do. Be sure to leave enough headspace in the container so that it doesn’t overflow when you screw on the lid!

Carter Head Still – FAQ

What is a Carter Head Still?

A Carter Head Still is a type of pot still that is typically used for distilling gin. It is named after John Carter, who invented it in 1821. The Carter Head Still is characterized by its long, flat-sloped head, which helps to increase the contact time between the vapors and the botanicals. This gives the gin a more floral flavor.

If you’re interested in learning more about distilling your own gin at home then check out the other gin articles on our website. We also have a distilling kit and some recipes for you to try, as well as lots of informative articles!

Robert Kaser
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