Behind the Scenes with Dry Land Distillers: Custom Whiskey Stills

April 14, 2023

The Dry Land Polish Still

Community and collaboration are core values at Dry Land Distillers. We’re proud of our work to build an authentically local distillery that creates delicious Colorado spirits and provides a comfortable, inviting community space. Our focus on community extends into many areas of Dry Land, including our equipment and operations.

This month, we’re introducing you to one artisan who helped to bring Dry Land to life from behind the scenes. Zach Arias is the proprietor and artisan behind Pot and Column, a Broomfield-based fabrication shop that creates copper and stainless stills that are works of functional art. Zach took a chance on us when we approached him in 2017 and agreed to tackle the design and fabrication of our custom hybrid still.

Creativity and Innovation

I met Zach many years ago when he was working for a welding company and dabbling in freelance work. We needed a tiny wood stove for a small cabin tucked away in the Sangre de Cristo mountains. There were no commercially available wood stoves that would fit such a tiny space. Zach had posted an ad for freelance welding and fabrication that caught my eye.

One phone call later, Zach was at our house with tape measure and sketch book in hand. Zach was 25 years old at the time, and it was one of his first freelance fabrication projects. He was brimming with creativity and excitement and an infectious optimism that brightened our day.

Zach came up with an original, innovative design for a tiny wood stove that looked amazing and functioned beautifully in its simplicity. We were thrilled and impressed with the craftsmanship and care Zach placed in his work.

Zach Arias Next to his Custom-Fabricated Still

Reconnecting Through Dry Land Distillers

Several years later, Teresa and I embarked on our distillery adventure. We had researched and priced stills from different manufacturers, but none of them seemed right for the spirits we wanted to create. When we decided to contact independent fabricators, we were met with resistance and nervousness. Somewhat frustrated, Teresa suggested I should track Zach down – after all, he had tackled our earlier project to great success. We dug out the paperwork from our filing cabinet and placed the call. Luckily, Zach was not only still around, but he had opened his own fabrication and welding business focusing on custom railings, metal artwork, and signs.

Without hesitation, Zach agreed to meet and review the project, even though he’d never built a still before. We met around our kitchen table, literally sketching out our proposed design on a napkin. Zach approached the project with enthusiasm, knowing it would mean stretching his capabilities as a fabricator in new ways. He dug in deep, doing research for months on copper welding techniques, thermodynamic calculations, materials research, and still designs.

Dry Land Polish Still

Once we decided on the style of the still, we sought help from a mechanical engineer who gave us direction and guidance on technical design and measurements – a huge help that gave Zach the information he needed to start cutting metal. The original Dry Land still took approximately 9 months to fabricate. It is an original design, built specifically to capture the flavor profiles we wanted from our ancient and local wheats. The still is a 200-gallon modified pot still with a stainless pot, a stainless steam heat coil, and a 5-plate copper column with a large, uniquely-shaped boil ball. We also designed a large condenser, a separate device that cool the hot alcohol vapor coming from the still and condenses it back to liquid form for collection.

Custom Fabricated Bubble Plates for the Dry Land Polish Still

Zach fabricated every piece of the still by hand, including extremely difficult components such as the copper bubble plates which are embedded in the copper column to assist in the distillation process. He decided to use pure copper welds to avoid any potential heavy metal contamination, something that we now know is rarely, if ever, done due to the difficulties of welding pure copper. Zach had to fabricate his own tools, dies, and jigs to create each piece. He even built and programmed his own version of a CNC cutting machine using motors, metal tracks, and a welder.

Dry Land Whiskey Still During Fabrication

“This was the most challenging project I’d ever tackled. It was scary, I admit. I knew I could do it, but at the same time I was nervous that it was a completely original piece – and there wasn’t an instruction book anywhere. I had to figure everything out on my own, which is not for the faint of heart,” Zach admitted, reflecting on the experience.

“We had complete faith that Zach could pull this off,” Teresa remembers, thinking back on the day that Zach and his wife Brianna, came to deliver the still. “Although I’ll never forget the look of sheer terror on Zach’s face when, as we were unloading the column from the truck, I asked, ‘So how do you know this will work?’ It was an innocent question, but I didn’t think about how stressful the project was for him!”

Of course, the still worked perfectly from day 1. It’s built like a tank, with thick copper and stainless steel, easily ensuring a 50+ year lifespan. It’s already processed hundreds of distillation runs without a single problem. Even getting disassembled and moved into the new Dry Land Distillers location caused nary a glitch.

Dry Land Distillers Custom Fabricated Condenser

Dry Land Stripping Still

The project was so successful that we commissioned our 1,000-gallon pot still from Pot and Column. Similar in design, but much larger and more complex due to the size, Zach completed our second still that was installed in July of 2022. (You’ll see more about the big still in another newsletter.) Today the two stills work together to vastly increase the capacity of Dry Land to create our award-winning whiskey and Cactus spirit. It also led to significant growth for Zach.

Pot and Column Fabrication

Today, he has moved the focus of his fabrication business to build custom stills for the craft distilling industry. He’s currently busy fabricating several other original stills, including a completely original still installed at Haykin Family Cider in Aurora. He’s working on crafting one of the few 3-chamber stills in the US (Leopold Brothers operates a rare example of one of these stills).

Dry Land Distillers Original Custom Whiskey Still

“Building stills is as much art and design as it is fabrication. That’s what I love about these projects. They are an opportunity to craft something that will last a lifetime – and importantly, they are a machine that helps to create something that’s delicious and meaningful,” he reflects.

You can learn more about Zach and Pot and Column by visiting his Web site, https://potandcolumnco.com/. You can see his traditional metalwork on Instagram under @rodandforge.

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