iStill is all about introducing new technology that will make your life as a craft distiller easier. “Distilling made easy” is not just our tagline, it is the compass by which we navigate. And today we are proud to introduce the all new iStill 5000. Distilling made easier, bigger, and faster …
In this Blog post let’s first look at what distillation is al about. Then, as a next step, we can draw up specifications on what constitutes a well-designed still. Last, let’s take a closer look at what the all new iStill 5000 has to offer.
The iStill coffee mug on top of the iStill 5000 cooler and CIP …
What is distilling all about?
Mashing is about turning starch into fermentable sugars. Fermentation, the next step in the spirits production process, is about yeast consuming those sugars and turning them into alcohol and flavors. So … what’s distilling all about? Distilling is about concentrating and harvesting the right alcohols and the best flavors.
For more reading on mashing, please see: https://istillblog.com/2018/12/03/innovation-mashing-made-easy/. If you want to learn more about fermenting, please check out: https://istillblog.com/2018/12/07/innovation-fermenting-made-easy/. Here, in this iStill Blog post, let’s dive deeper into the noble science of distilling.
Odin in front of the iStill 5000 …
Distillation as alcohol and flavor concentration process
The distiller’s wine or beer, made during fermentation, has a relatively low alcohol content. Maybe 8 or 9%. Distillation helps concentrate the alcohol and make it stronger.
Given the fact that alcohol boils off with more ease than water, it’s the alcohol molecules that that are overrepresented in the gases created during distillation. When we cool those alcohol rich gases back to liquid, that liquid will be richer in alcohol. Say, for example, that we distill 2000 liters of 8% beer and we distill until we collect 1/3rd of the original boiler charge, we may expect the resulting 650 liters to be around 24, maybe 25%. Stronger than the original charge, but not yet strong enough for bottling (usually at 40%) or barreling (usually at 60%).
The above example shows that a single distillation is not enough to create liquor. That’s why usually a second distillation run is needed, where the 25% low wines are redistilled. The result of the second run? Again, a stronger alcohol concentration. Usually, depending on spirit category and still, somewhere between 60 and 80% for taste rich drinks and 95 to 96% for vodka and GNS.
As explained, distillation is about alcohol concentration. And it is also about flavor concentration. Most flavors, created during fermentation, get concentrated in low wines or final liquor we make during the first and second distillation run. As a general rule of thumb, flavor intensity follows alcohol concentration. Turning an 8% beer into a 25% low wines, concentrates the original wine or beer flavors with a factor 3. Concentrate the 25% low wines into a 75% strong Heart’s cut, and the flavor is again concentrated by a factor 3. Dilution works the same way. If you dilute a 75% Heart’s cut to 50%, using water, you loose 1/3rd of the total flavor intensity.
Assembling the iStill 5000 column …
Distillation as an alcohol and flavor selection process
Not all alcohols are created equal. Some alcohols, like acetones, boil at very low temperatures. Others, like furfural, boil at very high temperatures. Just as with alcohol in general, which has a lower boiling temperature than water, it’s the light alcohols that come over during the first part of the distillation run, while the heavier ones come over during the later part of the run (when the low and medium boiling point alcohols are depleted).
This distinction between factions is very important and is also referred to as Heads (lower boiling point infected alcohol), Hearts (the good stuff), and Tails (high boiling point infected alcohol). During distillation we want to cut out Heads and Tails, while keeping the Hearts. The reason for that? Lower and higher boiling point alcohols like acetone and furfural are not healthy. Cutting them out results in a healthier end result.
Now, let’s continue with the flavor selection part of distillation. Basically, we can group the flavors in three factions:
- Base substrate flavors (e.g. grainy flavors in whiskey, molasse flavors in rum);
- Fruity flavors;
- Root-like and nutty flavors.
Base substrate flavors are highlighted by the Hearts faction. Fruity flavors come over during the first part of the run. Root-like flavors are expressed near the end of the run.
Every drink has a specific flavor profile, with an emphasis on taste intensity, fruity flavors, and more root-like, nutty flavors. Fruit brandy, for instance, has a strong emphasis on fruity flavors. Single malt whisky and pot distilled rum have an emphasis on root-like and nutty flavors. Do you start to see why distillation is so important? Distillation, supported by a well-designed still, helps you concentrate and harvest the right alcohols AND the correct flavors, given the spirits category you want to make!
The iStill 5000 is fully automated …
What’s important in a still?
Given the above, what does the (informed) craft distiller look for in a still? Well, the following five qualities are important, when investigating what still to purchase:
- Ease of use;
Distillation is a process that often entails (at least) two distillation runs. A stripping run first, and then a finishing run. Versatility means that you invest in a still that can do both stripping runs and finishing runs. Or look for even more versatility: how about a still that can finish in one run and saves you the trouble of doing two runs? (For more reading on versatility, please see: https://istillblog.com/2016/05/22/revolutionizing-craft-distilling-once-more/).
Okay, strip runs, finishing runs or a one-run-distillation approach helps versatility, helps you play into market developments and changes. But how about flavor? Most flavor is made during fermentation, but if you choose a directly fired still, you can actually gain up to 25% additional flavor due to the Maillard Reaction. If the still can handle on the grain or pulp distillation, there’s another 20% of flavor to be gained. So maybe you are looking for a still that is directly fired and can handle grain and pulp distillation? (For more information, read: https://istillblog.com/2016/05/06/on-boiler-design-agitation-and-taste/).
When fermentations aren’t managed well enough, distillers beer and wine can develop sulfur infections. Part of the flavor (correction) process may be that a copper catalyst is needed to help polish your drink. For more reading, please see: https://istillblog.com/2018/12/10/copper-column-math/.
Selecting the right flavors is all about control. Heads and Tails smearing may be needed – depending on the spirit you are making. Heads and Tails cuts are decided by temperatures in the still’s column or riser (in combination with air pressure, air resistance and vapor speeds). More control translates to an enhanced capability to create the exact liquor you wanna make over and over again.
Control has a secondary benefit and that’s ease of use. Knowing what’s going on lets you know what needs to be done. And automation can help make distilling even easier, since computers are great at doing dull tasks like monitoring. You shouldn’t have to take care of your still. Instead, since your time is precious, your still should take care of you. And of making the best possible liquors in the world, while you are busy selling them, telling your story.
Efficiency is important too. Distillation is about heating up a wine or beer, and bringing it to a boil. That’ asks for a lot of energy. The more efficient your still is, the lower your price point will be. Lower costs allow for higher profits and a more sustainable business model. Here’s an interesting read, if you want to learn more on variable costs: https://istillblog.com/2016/08/22/tuesday-tech-talk-7/.
Longevity, last but not least, is another quality where stills should score high. If you buy a cheap, low quality still, it may well run you out of business. Down-time can eat away at your liquidity at a tremendous rate. A well-designed, well-build still is a tool that should help you make money instead of it causing you downtime, expenses and nightmares.
iStill Whisky Distillery …
What still technology is currently available?
Looking around at what’s available is disappointing. Most still technology available to craft distillers is based in the Classical Era (pot stills) or the 1800’s (plated stills and continuous stills) Let’s share our findings:
- Most stills out there score low on versatility. In general, pot stills are either strippers or finishers but seldom both. A one-distillation-approach is theoretically possible with a plated still, but comes at a cost: root-like and nutty end of run flavors hardly come over, creating a less interesting, 2-dimensional rum or whisky;
- Most stills are indirectly fired (via a steam boiler and/or jacket), meaning they don’t give you the Maillard Reaction. Some stills (especially the smaller ones) have direct submersible heaters. They could help create the Maillard Reaction, but cannot distill on the grain or pulp, limiting flavor gains;
- Existing still technology, at a craft distilling level, offers only manual control. This results in the distiller’s subjective taste deciding on flavor composition. Optimized cuts and repeatable spirits production become impossible to realize;
- Ease of use is essential for day-to-day operations as well as brand development. The craft distiller needs to be out there telling his story and selling his drinks. If he (or she) is locked-up behind the still, those two essential roles cannot be fulfilled. And remember: making drinks costs money. It’s selling drinks that keeps the lights on! Unfortunately, since manual control is the standard, most (if not all) stills need constant supervision and human control, taking the distiller out of the branding and marketing operation;
- Efficiency. Most units are not insulated, use non-integrated heating systems, and are not designed to optimize for energy consumption;
- Longevity. Our research shows that most stills are designed to last. The exceptions are some Chinese and Central/Eastern European still builders. The complaints we heard about some Chinese manufacture, is that it can be made from lower quality stainless steel or that coolers do not work efficiently enough. We haven’t witnessed this ourselves though. The complaints towards a specific Central European still builder is that sheeting is too thin, that they use (corrosive!) iron instead of (promised) stainless steel, and that electronics and agitators fail. Unfortunately, we have proof (pictures and customer testimonials) that these complaints are real.
So, understanding what makes for a successful still made looking at what’s available in the market place quite disappointing. Its either good build quality and poor control (USA, Germany, UK) or some control and bad build quality (Central/Eastern Europe). Time for the next question: what does the iStill 5000 have to offer? Or any iStill, for that matter.
Cheap Polish still breaks down on its maiden run …
The all new iStill 5000
And here’s what makes our new iStill 5000 unique. Using the same coatrack applied when judging the still technology currently available, we can differentiate between versatility, flavor, control, ease of operation, efficiency, and longevity.
The iStill is the most versatile stills on the market. You can use them to make taste rich product as well as vodka or GNS. Without replacing any parts! The iStill 5000 can strip and finish, or do a one or one-and-a-half distillation approach. Heck, equipped with the agitator and boiler radiator, the unit can even mash and ferment.
The iStill can help you create more flavor than any other still, because it is both directly fired AND can handle on the grain and pulp distillations. Additionally, the copper catalyst can take care of any sulfur infected washes.
The iStill 5000 offers automation and robotization. It basically comes with a digital master distiller to help you out. Here at iStill we are so anal about helping you make the best cuts, about harvesting the best tasting drinks, that we have 0,1 degrees control on our thermometer probes. The robot has a resolution of 0,01 mm. We measure air pressure with an accuracy of 0,1 hPa. Why? Because it helps you make better product consistently.
The iStill 5000 is very easy to operate. On the one hand you can just select your recipe and expect the unit to do the run for you. On the other hand, you can dial in or change any parameter you want to create your own recipes.
As a rule of thumb any iStill can process 7,5 to 8 liters (2 gallons) of wash per kWh. Most other stills score below one liter per kWh spent! This means the iStill is the most efficient unit on the market.
Longevity? Every iStill is designed to run 24/7 and to do so for decades instead of years. We use the highest grades stainless steel, and sheet thickness on the iStill 5000 is an unprecedented 5 mm.
Our digital master distiller is at your service via the iStill Spirits Library …
iStill 5000 specifications
- 5,000 liter net capacity;
- Insulated flush square boiler design;
- Newly designed 12 inch diameter column;
- Gin hooks;
- Weight: 1350 kilo;
- Sizes: 250x255x450/600 (wide, deep, high, in centimeters, potstill/column);
- Power: 90 kW;
- Stripping, gin distilling: 200 liters per hour at 30%;
- Finishing brandy, rum, and whisky: 120 liters per hour at 60%;
- Finishing vodka: 75 liters per hour at 95%;
- Run time: 8 – 12 hours (stripping, finishing taste rich, finishing vodka);
- iStill Boiler Radiator for direct (instead of indirect) cooling;
- Manholes: 40/60 cm diameter, one at top, one near bottom;
- Supports on the grain, potato or pulp distillation;
- Patented indirect heater system;
- PLC system and touch screen computer, with:
- Automated distillation programs;
- Cuts, time, temperature, agitator, power management and air pressure control;
- Internet connectivity, smartphone & computer management and control;
- Optional: WiFi, pot still column, glass column sections, extractor, etc.
iStill 5000: the complete package …
Pricing, availability and delivery
We have build the first series of three all new iStills 5000. Two got sold to Australia, the third one will go to Scotland in a few weeks.
Assembling the iStill 5000 …