Making whiskey with the new iStill 50 Manual!


I hope you read the previous posts on the iStill 50 Manual, its target audience (homedistillers), and specifications (phenomenal). This post builds on the posts I published before. What I want to deal with? Well, the title gave me away, right? Let’s put the iStill 50 Manual to work … and let’s start making some whiskey!


If you want to make whiskey, you first have to make a beer. Don’t boil it. Don’t add hops. But make sure you liquify the starches and then convert them into fermentable sugars. Add yeast, check temperature and pH … and make some distillers beer. Without distillers beer you cannot make whiskey. Aim for an 8% beer. That’s optimal.

Next step …

When you have your beer, and you are sure it is well degased … fill the boiler of your iStill 50 Manual. You can put in 40 to 50 liters. The boiler has a fill indicator.

After that … close the boiler and fire the iStill 50 Manual up. How? By pushing the power to 4 kw. Do that for around an hour. When the temperatures in the column start to rise, I want you to dial back to 2 kw.

Now make sure there is cooling water flow. And close the needle valve. When the column is heated-up, the first thing you want to do is collect Heads. “Heads” represent the first part of the run. Heads have many lower boiling point alcohols in them. Heads cause head-aches. We don’t want that and here’s what you need to do to get rid of them:

Collecting Heads

To collect Heads, we let the iStill 50 Manual boil with 2 kw power input for around 20 minutes. The needle-valve is closed, so the Heads can slowly assemble near the top of the column.

Next step? Open up the needle-valve a little it. Until you collect like 3 to 4 drops per second. Collect that during around 20 minutes. Taste will tell (Heads are fruity), but 20 minutes of Heads collection usually gets rid of them. Right, since this Heads Faction causes head-aches, I want you to toss it.


Hearts is where the real whiskey is found! The Hearts faction is collected by slowly opening the needle-valve further. Look at the middle temperature gauge. that’s the one you want to monitor. What temparature you are aiming for? Easy, aim for 90 degrees C.

As the chart below will tell you, at 90 degrees C, the gases will be around 63 to 64% strong. Perfect for barrel aging! Please look at the chart:


Now, as the run progesses, more and more alcohol is taken from the initial boiler charge. In other words: the boiler contents get ever lower in alcohol. This will influence the gases in the column. The lower the alcohol percentage in the boiler, the lower the gases will be in alcohol as well. Lower proof gases translate to higher temperature in the column.

As you can see in the above chart, higher temperature gases relate to lower proof output. We don’t want that. So, during the run, you slowly need to adjust the needle-valve. Close her down bit by bit, as to create more reflux. Remember that more reflux activates more of the micro-distilleries in the column? Please do. If you don’t remember, please read the previous post as it is quite important that you wrap your head around that!

Closing the needle-valve more and more, during the run, will keep the alcohol percentage at around 60 to 65%. Aim for 90 degrees C and you will be fine.

Other advantages? I mean other than this being easy? Yes! Later on during the run Tails can come over. Tails stand for the last bit of the run, that’s contaminated with higher boiling point alcohols that cause stomach aches. We don’t want them in the drink either. And here comes the really good part: towards the end of the run, when you create more reflux by slowly closing the needle-valve … you also create more redistillations in the column that act as a buffer for Tails.

By upping the reflux amount, you get better Tails control!

Tails – the end of the run

When to stop the run? Prior to when excessive Tails come over. But at what temperature is that? That’s really depending on what product you make, how long you want to age it, and how well mashing and fermenting went. As a general rule of thumb: stop distilling when the temperature at the lowest probe reaches 96.5 to 97 degrees C. That’s not the temperature at take-off, higher up in the column, but low in the column.

Alternative procedure: distill 1.5

Here’s an alternative approach. Do a stripping run on around 50 liters of distillers beer by leaving the needle-valve wide open all run, while keeping the power input set at 4 kw. Until the temperature at the bottom is 99 degrees C. Like this, you will strip 50 liters of 8% beer into 10 liters at 40%.

Now clean out the boiler and column … and add the 10 liters of 40% low wines back into the boiler. Top up with 40 liters of fresh wash. You now have pretty much twice the amount of alcohol in the boiler.

Proceed as in the first example: stabilize, take Heads, then collect Hearts at 90 C, et cetera.

The advantage? Because you now get to play with twice the amount of alcohol, transition points between Heads, Hearts and Tails take a bit longer. Easier for the beginner to learn how to distinguish them …

See the knob? That’s what you control reflux with …


4 thoughts on “Making whiskey with the new iStill 50 Manual!

    • Thanks, Royston! It is based on knowledge – true knowledge – of what distilling is about that we can progress and make ever better stills.

      • I frequently I look on your blog and enjoy, when I see, you have written something new.
        “Aim for 90 degrees C and you will be fine.” That’s, what you recommend for whiskey. What do you recommend for malt whisky and what for brandy?
        I ask, because I use the same method (adjusting the needle valve to maintain a fixed temperature) with my LM. Often I shoot for 88°C, but I’m not sure, if it is the best temperature.

      • 88 C is fine. Bit highter ABV, but well below 80% in output, so great. I’d do the same for single malt and other taste rich drinks.

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