Producing spirits from grains involves several steps. First, the grain is malted. Malting helps the grain kernels develop the right enzymes. As a second step, the grain is mashed. Mashing involves cracking the grain and adding warm water so that the enzymes can convert the grain starch into fermentable sugars. Thirdly, yeast is added and the fermentation phase begins. During fermentation most of the flavors and all of the alcohol is formed. The fourth step is the distillation phase, where alcohols and flavors are concentrated and selected.
iStill makes mashers, fermenters, and stills. We don’t make malting systems. There have been two main reasons holding us back designing malters. Firstly, most (if not all) craft distillers purchase pre-malted grains. The malting, in other words, is done by the grain supplier, not by the craft distiller. Secondly, malting is such a different process, that it cannot be integrated in the single vessel iStill distillery approach that we have developed over the last decade.
We are still not sure if we should design and manufacture an iStill Malter. The market is limited and our investments will be pretty high. On the other hand … craft distilling is all about creating interesting flavor profiles and malting (especially roasting) has a huge impact on flavor. Also, with an iStill Malter in place, we could become the one-stop-shop for farmers that wish to turn their barley into whisky or vodka.
To ensure that the right decisions are made, we have started a feasibility study. The study will focus on answering two questions:
- Is there a market for an iStill Malter? Do craft distillers want to (partially) malt in-house?
- Can we design a technically compelling malting system?
For the first question, we need your help. Please let us know if you are interested in an iStill Malter, were we to design, produce, and release it. To answer the second question, we have set-up an initial project group to investigate the technical side of things. We are very happy and proud to do so in close cooperation with Aristides Distilling, a distillery that has extensive experience in malting its own, locally sourced, grains.
Malting consists of three basic steps. First, the grain is wetted. Then the grain starts to germinate. it grows the beginning of a root system, and the microstructure of the cell walls, proteins, and starch start to change as enzymes are formed. As a last step the now germinated grain kernels are being dried or “kilned”. The more heat is applied, during this last kilning phase, the more Maillard Reaction will take place in the grain, adding flavor to the future whisky to be. All steps take place in a barrel-like shape that’s rotated to introduce the humidity, air, and heat to the grain, as it is malted.
Initial design specifications
An iStill Malter therefore needs a rotating barrel, to which grain, water, and hot air can be added. The malt system must be automated and should control humidity, temperature, rotation speed, and time. The software should allow for a step by step operation, where the craft distiller decides on how long steeping, germination, drying, and roasting should take, and how fast the system should rotate. The user interface should be intuitive. Remote control needs to be supported. Dimensions, power, and batch sizes will be established later.
Of course we hope that you are excited about this feasibility study. We’ll keep you posted on our progress as we move forward!
iStill Malter Rotation Control System (beta) …