Roadmap 2021 and Beyond!

First, we are going to develop a solution to the copper particle contamination issue, that plagues such a large part of the craft distilling industry.

We’ll then introduce a line of automated and robotized copper stills in order to help those craft distillers out that, by law, are not allowed to use stainless steel for the production of certain spirits.

Thirdly, we will introduce a webshop where we’ll sell various after sales parts and distillery components that aim to make craft distilling easier.

Power-Boost Your iStill 2000!

As a result of our continuous innovation, the iStill 2000 just got a power-boost. By how much? That depends on if you run your iStill 2000 with direct or indirect heaters. Currently, both systems have 36 kWh of power available. We have upgraded the indirect heaters to 40.5 kWh. The directly heated iStill 2000 goes to 45 kWh. That’s a 12.5% and 25% power-boost respectively.

The advantages of the power-boost? Faster heat-up times and faster production runs. Yeah, that pretty much summarizes it.

Any iStill 2000, ordered from today onwards, will get the power-boost. Due to our constant focus on cost control, we can add this innovation without raising the price of the unit.

Existing iStill 2000 customers can upgrade as well. The direct heating upgrade package costs EUR  4.000,-. The indirect power-boost costs EUR 5.000,-.

The retrofit package consists of additional heaters, wires, breakers, and more. It takes a qualified elektricien about half a day to adapt the PLC and to install the new heaters professionally.

If you want to order the retrofit package, email Finance@iStillmail.com. They’ll provide you with a payment-link and invoice.

Never Mash Again! (1)

Since grain sugars are stored very efficiently in long starch molecules, getting access to them requires mashing. Mashing is the process where, via the addition of warm water and enzymes, the starches break down into fermentable sugars. The process of creating alcoholic spirits from grains is labour intensive and consists of the following steps:

  1. Mashing;
  2. Fermenting;
  3. Distilling.

Water is heated up, grains are added, enzymes are added. Both water temperature and enzyme activity are carefully monitored. And when all starches are converted to fermentable sugars, the mash needs to be cooled to fermenting temperatures. Now, yeast can be added and the fermentation takes off. Temperature and pH management help create the right flavor profile consistently. When fermentation is done, start your iStill and make a whiskey or vodka.

Compare the above extensive procedure to how rum is made. Rum has readily fermentable sugars. No need to mash. This is how the process of creating alcoholic spirits from molasses takes place:

  1. Fermenting;
  2. Distilling.

Yeast is added and the fermentation takes off. Temperature and pH management help create the right flavor profile consistently. When fermentation is done, start your iStill and make a rum.

What a difference, right? And what if we could skip mashing in grain-based spirits as well? What if we could simultaneously mash and ferment? If only such a thing would exist: a world where we do not have to perform that most arduous step of mashing, wouldn’t that be a great world for the craft distiller to live in? No more clumping, no more potential scorching, no more additional grain, water, and enzyme handling or cleaning.

The best process is no process. The best part is no part. The best solution to any problem is to deal with the problem in such a way that no solution is needed. Here’s the good news: we might have found a way to actually achieve this!

Follow us on our journey to investigate how whiskey or vodka can be made from grains without the need of a separate mashing step. This will be a thread of multiple posts and you’ll have to stick with us, since we have many, many projects going on right now, and this one isn’t our top priority, but we’ll get there, even when it takes a bit longer. Where we’ll get and how we’ll get there? Let’s dive in deeper!

The ultimate goal I want to achieve is to design procedures that help craft distillers in making grain-based spirits without a separate mashing step. How we’ll get there (and I am pretty sure we can) is via testing, and with some trial and error probably.

The road ahead begins with an amazing starting point and an assumption that needs further research. The starting point is that in traditional Japanese sake making as well as in traditional Chinese baijiu production, strands of yeasts and fungi are used that can simultaneously convert starches to fermentable sugars and ferment those sugars into alcohol. In sake and baijiu production no separate mashing step is needed.

My assumption is that, since rice is a grain, the sake and baiju yeasts and fungi should be able to perform this amazing double trick on other non-malted grains as well.

How to investigate? We’ll take it one step at a time. First, I want to acquire more experience with sake and baiju protocols, then we’ll migrate and apply what we have learned to other grain bills, that are more suitable to whiskey and vodka making.

For the first step we’ll do the following:

  1. Build an 1,000 liter iStill Fermenter;
  2. Purchase broken rice;
  3. Acquire sake and baijiu yeast strains;
  4. Use the fermenter to make hot water (80c);
  5. Mix in the broken rice;
  6. Cool to fermenting temps, while agitating (30c);
  7. Add the sake and baijiu yeast strain;
  8. Ferment;
  9. Distill.

We’ll go for a 1:4 ratio of grain (rice) to water, aiming for a 7 to 8% rice wine. Fermentation temperature will be around 30c, while maintaining pH of around pH 3.5 to pH 4.0. I expect the fermentation to take a week or less. After that, we’ll use an iStill 500 Plated to make us some tasty rice likker. When the rice spirit is mastered, the next step will be a grain mash made from more traditional grains, used in the whiskey or vodka industry.. We’ll keep you posted on this very exciting and potentially industry changing project!

iStill Blog Statistics 2020!

Over the past 7 1/2 years the iStill Blog has become the industry’s largest library of modern craft distilling information. Last year, 2020, saw another strong increase in visitors and views. Here are the statistics (with 2019 between brackets):

  • 272 new posts (212);
  • 55.409 visitors (36.331);
  • 118.033 page views (83.426).

We are incredibly proud of the continued success and growth of the iStill Blog. It reaches tremendous amounts of people. Over 150 visitors per day use the iStill Blog to investigate and research and learn.

In 2020, these were the five most popular articles:

  1. Odin improves a poorly designed still!
  2. Odin’s opinion (9): legacy still manufacturers BS!
  3. Plated still by iStill!
  4. FTOD 2015: Odin on whiskey column design (1)
  5. Potstill by iStill!

Posts from yesteryear that keep on going strong are:

  1. Homepage/archives;
  2. Odin’s easy gin;
  3. About iStill.

Please rest assured that the iStill Blog will remain pivotal in our efforts to further empower the craft distilling industry. Us sharing more and better information translates into you, as a craft distiller, being able to make better choices and better decisions.

If you have have stories to share or topics you want us to investigate, please reach out to our CEO directly, via Odin@iStillmail.com.

Accelerated growth – this is what the diffusion of innovation looks like:

 

Our Best Wishes for 2021 and Beyond!

Let me start by wishing you a happy new year! Last year was full of surprises. Most of them were negative and correlated to the Covid-19 pandemic. I pray that 2021 will be a year full of positive surprises, with a recovering economy, and businesses opening up again.

As weird as it is, from now onwards, the only way is up, isn’t it? And even weirder: 2020 wasn’t a bad year for iStill and for many of our customers. Are our innovations finally becoming mainstream? Are our customers more innovative and therefore more resilient to the crisis? Not sure, but iStill grew with well over 25%, last year, and the feedback we are getting from many customers is that they are doing relatively okay. And that in a market that nose-dived 35% globally …

In a nutshell, here’s what I think is happening: nothing accelerates innovation like a crisis. A crises means decision makers have to reevaluate their positions, their decisions. Choosing innovative technology that allows for the production of better quality spirits at lower manufacturing costs makes sense in any situation, but especially in times of crisis. Saving a buck on a bottle’s manufacturing costs can make the difference between making a profit, even in today’s challenging economy, versus selling at a loss. Our innovative approach to distilling helps our customers stay in business. The economic advantages of choosing iStill are such that more and more distillers purchase our equipment.

But as our market share has (again) grown dramatically over the past year, and the iStill brand is establishing itself as the world’s leading manufacturer of distillation equipment, distillation education, and recipe development … where does that leave us? As we have rapidly grown into the role of market leader, instead of contender, what does that mean for our plans and strategies moving forward? What should we focus on in 2021 and beyond? Please join me as I dive in deeper.

There is a contrast between innovation and the customer. A company introducing an innovation does so by not listening to its existing customer base. Henry Ford, when confronted with the Ford Model-T only being available in the color black, answered that, had he done what his customers had asked, he would have produced faster horses. Any innovation starts with zero customers. And as organizations grow and customer orientation becomes more important, this usually means that this once innovative company now becomes less of an innovator. In any industry, it’s the challengers that innovate, while the market leaders focus om improvements.

With us now claiming market leadership for the second year in a row, where does that leave iStill? Does it mean that we should focus less on disruptive innovations and more on gradual, incremental improvements? Does it mean we shouldn’t just focus on the early adopters in the craft distilling industry, but also on the late majority? Are the iStill Potstills and Plated Stills a foreboding of that trend? And what’s next? Copper iStills?

I think innovation comes in many guises. Some innovations are disruptive. Other innovations are simply improvements. Introducing the first stainless steel stills was disruptive. Introducing the first packed columns was disruptive. The iStill Liquid Management Technology and our square boilers were disruptive innovations. A still that can strip and finish? For sure a huge technological breakthrough. Insulation? Idem. A machine that can mash, ferment, distill, and age? Don’t get me started. Our introduction of automation, software, WiFi, and robotization to the craft distilling industry have also been huge disruptors.

Looking at the iStill Potstill, can a case be made that it is more of an improvement than an innovation? Yes, for sure. Potstills have been around for many centuries. But further investigation shows that an iStill Potstill offers 10x the accuracy. Maybe that isn’t a game-changer for an existing iStill customer, familiar with our hybrid technology, but it certainly is a disruptive innovation from the viewpoint of someone that has used a traditional potstill without our control systems in place!

Innovation, as we can learn from the above paragraph, is in the eye of the beholder. And if it is, and if our goal is to empower the craft distilling industry, could a wider focus on that craft distilling industry open our eyes to new opportunities? The plated still has been around for 150 years. The iStill Plated Still offers 10x more accuracy and 4x more performance. From the perspective of the innovative craft distiller, that owns an iStill 500 Hybrid and an iStill 2000 Hybrid, the performance of the iStill Plated Still does not add much. But what if your company has used traditional plated stills for decades and you feel you want to keep on using plated stills? From that perspective, again, the iStill Plated Still is a huge break-through.

Thinking out loud, may 2021 be a year where we give our technology a broader reach? And what if we don’t? What if we stay where we are right now, where “Mr. Right” meets “Mr. Knows-it-all”, and don’t change a thing? With our global market share of around 30% on new still sales, aren’t we reaching the limits of our growth? I mean, we have pushed the percentage of stainless steel stills, of insulated stills, of liquid management stills, of square boilers, of packed columns, and of single-vessel distilleries … from 0% to 30% in under a decade. Do we cater to the remaining 70% by sticking to our guns? Or do we accept that not everyone out there is an innovator, and do we cater to their more traditional needs as well?

If our goal is to empower the craft distilling industry, how do we reach the remaining 70%? If our current policies do not appeal to the remaining 70%, are we really empowering the craft distilling industry as a whole?

I don’t see us make wood, gas, or steam-fired round copper stripping and finishing stills. Innovation runs in our blood, and in order to empower, we need to help craft distillers make a difference. But how about our amazing control systems on a traditional still, even when that still is manufactured somewhere else? Or how about we design a copper square plated iStill? It’ll offer 10x the accuracy and 4x the performance. It will help us cross over into the remaining 70% of more traditional craft distilleries …

Not to confuse the regular readers of the iStill Blog, it is important to make clear that we killed the copper iStill project half a year ago, because copper is toxic. Copper particle contamination contributes to non-alcohol induced fatty liver disease and – via the formation of ethyl carbamate – to cancer. Intoxication is one thing, poisoning is something else. Not a step we are willing to take.

But as we take a fresh look at where we can make a difference, and if we assess correctly that innovation runs deep in iStill’s DNA and culture, shouldn’t we focus on solutions that rid the industry of copper particle contamination, since it affects over 70% of the craft distilled products out there? Not just by delivering stainless steel stills, but maybe by finding a solution that helps fix the problem for so many owners of copper distilling equipment? And with that question comes another one: if we were to invent such a solution, should we provide that to our stills only, if we were to revive the copper iStill project, or should it be a tool we provide others with as well?

I hope to get this across: as we grow into a mainstream position, we need to do a lot of soul-searching on what kind of market-leader we want to be. Do we want to be exclusive? For the few? Or do we want to be inclusive, as we have always been, inviting others in, rather than pushing them out? Sharing information rather than monopolizing what we learned? I feel that being inclusive and inviting is as much part of our DNA as is our focus on innovation.

The future will be interesting, so much is sure. 2021 will be a heck of a year. Please know you are invited to the ride.

Sincerely yours,

Drs. H.E.J. (Odin) van Eijk, MScBA, etc.

CEO of iStill.