What inspired me to write this post, is the horrific “advice” that many distillers get, when considering to purchase new equipment. Advice offered by still manufacturers and their consultants alike. Advice that sucks and that needs to stop. Advice I hear more and more about, over the last few months, as I speak to leads and potential customers myself. Advice that favors the equipment manufacturer and their “consultants”, and earns them money at your expense.
Maybe the Corona crisis has something to do with it? Are legacy still manufacturers so desperate that they need to resort to more aggressive approaches, in order to sell? I know their market for traditional still sales is hit by a 40% downturn, but screwing over your customers is not the way forward. And since it isn’t, here are six ways in which their “advice” does exactly that: six ways in which they promote their own business at the expense of yours.
“Buy a copper still because it will help create better flavor!” (1)
Copper tastes horrible, but it does catalyze sulfuric flavor compounds that may have developed during fermentation. Legacy still manufacturers rather have you spend your money on their stills than on better fermentation equipment.
As a bonus, copper stills oxidize. They have a short and predictable shelf-life. As one of the legacy still manufacturers told me, when we launched iStill: “Stainless steel is a bad business model! My columns are eaten away gradually. I exactly know when a customer needs to order again. Copper stills make for returning business!”
“Buy a still for every product you make!” (2)
Modern technology and the application of state-of-the-art materials allow a still to make multiple products. But that’s not what legacy still manufacturers want you to know. They rather sell you multiple stills. One for whiskey, one for gin, and one for vodka.
That their stills are mostly made from copper helps a lot. Since copper rusts, it traps flavors and needs extensive cleaning protocols before another product can be produced with it. But it is self-serving advice. Selling you more stills makes them more money.
“Buy a small still so you can run faster!” (3)
Smaller stills don’t run faster. If the ratio of boiler to column is too small, yes, your run will be faster, but your total production volume will actually be lower. Smaller stills that lead to shorter runs simply lead to more downtime, related to filling, emptying, cleaning, and heating-up between those short runs.
There are three real reasons for the promotion of smaller still purchases. The first has to do with smaller stills being more affordable. In todays difficult market, selling a small still is better than selling nothing.
Secondly, buying too small a still is a very common practice in the craft distilling industry. It usually leads to a follow-up purchase of a bigger still within one to two years of the first one.
Thirdly, copper stills produce ethyl carbamate, which is carcinogenic (meaning that it can cause cancer). Due to stricter regulations on the amount of ethyl carbamate found in spirits, shorter runs are needed. Shorter runs translate into less ethyl carbamate formation, where as stainless steel stills prevent ethyl carbamate formation!
“Buy a plated still because it is a much more modern technology than potstills!” (4)
Yeah, if you consider 1870 to be “modern”! Plated stills aren’t modern. Not by a stretch. And potstills are amazing, if you find the right one for the product(s) you want to make.
The real reason why many legacy still manufacturers want to sell you plates is twofold. First, their business model – and the way in which they compensate their sales force – centers around selling plates. More is better. For their bottom-line, not necessarily for yours.
Secondly, potstills (at least the column / riser part) are cheap to manufacture and do not sell with a whole lot of margin. Plates are much more complex and offer better margins to the legacy still manufacturers that push them.
What they don’t say is maybe even more important: plates were designed as tails traps in fruit brandy production. They prevent the distillation of complex whiskies, rums or gins for the same reason they are good at making fruit brandy: the prevention of early tails smearing.
“Fast heat-up times are good!” (5)
If you promote short runs (see above), than shorter heat-up times are critical. But short run times come at the expense of flavor composition. Longer heat-up times allow for more taste formation, where shorter heat-up times generate a less flavor full product.
“Indirect heating is great, for instance via Au Bain Marie! double boilers!” (6)
What they mean is that indirect heating is great for them. A double boiler still holds more material and asks for more labor input. In general, indirectly fired stills are more expensive and provide the manufacturer higher margins.
The other reason why so many legacy still manufacturers push indirectly fired stills is because you now need to purchase a steam generator. If you go for an indirectly fired still, the whole associated power and steam and electricity certification process all of a sudden falls on your shoulders. On yours, not on theirs!
Now that you know, you can counteract the strategies applied by legacy still manufacturers and make decisions that favor your business, not theirs. But be aware! This opinion article is written by a guy that manufactures stills himself. For sure iStill benefits. For sure this blog post is self-serving as well?
Yes, you are darn right that it is! But there is a major difference, a major distinction with what legacy still manufacturers are doing. Here it is: our benefits align with yours, where the “benefits” they promote are at your expense.
Examples? iStills are build from stainless steel (and at double specification), that does not rust. They do not deteriorate, which is good for you. It is good for us as far that it shows – with each and every iStill we sell – how amazing and reliable the quality is of what we offer. But we do not get business automatically, like copper still manufacturers do.
We make stills that help you produce any drink you want to make. For sure we’d make more money telling you that you need multiple stills for multiple drinks, but if you can keep that money in your pocket, maybe you can spend it on your bar or marketing? On those places that make you money? Self-serving? Yes! Customer-serving and self-serving. If you become successful you’ll come back for more.
We do not produce double boiler design, indirectly heated stills. We do not dodge responsibility or find ways to artificially raise prices. Instead, we build according to the certification you need. Everything. The whole still. CE, UL, ULC, ATEX, IECEx, and more.
This makes us aligned instead of opposed, and I find alignment important, if we want to move forward together, as one craft distilling industry, taking market share away from Big Alcohol. So … legacy still manufacturers, could you please stop spreading this kind of nonsense? It hurts craft distillers and it hurts the industry and – even though it might create you some additional income short-term – mis-information is not a viable, long-term survival strategy.
Legacy still manufacturers, stop the …