We are starting a new service. We are starting the iStill Laboratory! The goal? To further empower the craft distilling industry. How and why? Let’s dive in deeper!
What’s craft distilling’s main USP?
Well, that’s easy. It is quality. Spirits quality. As craft distillers offer a story, an adventure to the consumer, it has to be a better story and a better adventure than Big Alcohol can serve. And that story or adventure always starts with the quality of the spirit served and the pride of the craft distiller that talks about his products.
Price? Not an issue. I mean, yes, it is a big issue, but it is out of the craft distiller’s control for a big part. In the competition with store bought products from Big Alcohol, craft distillers can never compete on price levels. Not even when using iStills. Big Alcohol simply has too much economy of scale behind its business model.
That’s why craft distillers need to focus on quality. If your products are going to be costlier to make than those of Big Alcohol, the only way to carve out a niche for yourself is via quality.
What is quality?
A difficult, yet not impossible question to answer. Those that studied at the iStill University might find it easier to answer than others, because of the models we teach. So, for craft distillers not yet versed in Odin’s Holy Trinity of Distillation, here’s the gist: a high-quality spirit matches the taste profile of the category it belongs to, while maximizing associated flavor and minimizing toxicity.
An example? A whisky is a three-dimensional drink. It needs to hit the front, center, and back of mouth and tongue and throat and the flavor needs to last well over 20 seconds. A whisky where the front has gone (usually through oxidation while in the barrel) has lost a dimension and is no longer a three-dimensional drink, so not a high-quality spirit anymore. And if we compare two whiskies that are both three-dimensional, the one with more flavor offers the better and longer experience, as long as we off-set it with toxicity. If the flavors are “off” or bad, they don’t count. At least not in a positive manner.
A three-dimensional whisky is made according to its category, where a two-dimensional one isn’t. A whisky with a higher ester (taste molecule) count is a better whisky than one with a lower ester count, as long as we deduct for potential impurities and toxins. Impurities and toxins can add flavor, but these are both bad and unhealthy, and not markers of a high-quality spirit.
Another example to help clarify quality. Let’s compare two gins. Gins are two- to two-and-a-half-dimensional drinks. The ones with a front and a middle are great for G&T’s. The tonic will provide the back-end flavor. The gins that also have a bit of back-end from themselves, a taste count of 10 to maybe 12 seconds, are great sippers. To be enjoyed by themselves. Or to be mixed with more carefully selected small-batch tonics that “sit” where the gin still leaves a flavor gap.
A two-dimensional gin that has only a middle and an end is not a good gin. In fact, it is normally hardly identifiable as a gin. It is not a high-quality spirit. A gin with a front and middle is good, where a gin with a front, a middle, and a bit of back-end is high-quality indeed.
But there is more. How about flavor intensity? How many esters are there, when we compare two gins that both follow the category’s flavor profile. And how many impurities do we detect? The gin with more esters and a lower level of toxicity is better.
How is quality made?
If quality can be defined, how can it be achieved? Via the right mashing, fermentation, distillation, and aging techniques, mostly. And by using quality ingredients and tools, of course. Manipulating the right ingredients in the right way with the right tools results in high-quality spirits. Want to learn more? Reach out to Veronika@iStillmail.com and register for the iStill University, please. We teach 200 students per year how to make better spirits. And y’all should know by now: craft distilling is all about making better, tastier spirits.
How does the iStill Laboratory help?
How do you know if you have created a high-quality spirit? To measure it is to know it! And that’s where the iStill Laboratory comes in. The iStill Laboratory scientifically analyses your spirit, gives objective feedback on the results, and even provides advise on how to improve.
The iStill Laboratory offers two levels of support to help you improve (or at least monitor) your spirit quality:
- SET Analysis (Smearing, Esterification & Toxicity Analysis);
- SOP Advise (Standard Operating Procedure).
Smearing, Esterification & Impurity Analysis
Your spirit is judged on the amount of heads and tails smearing that made it into the hearts cut of your spirit. The outcomes are compared to the specific product category and compared to category benchmarks.
Your sample will also be tested for total and specific ester count. Specific ester count relates particular esters to the front, middle, and back-end flavor sensations. Both total and specific ester count are compared to industry standard products from Big Alcohol. An analysis is made, where you get feedback on how your spirit scores relative to the category definition and Big Alcohol benchmarks.
The iStill Laboratory also establishes the amount of impurities. What’s the total level of impurities and what are the specific scores for the most important ones? Think sulfuric compounds, methanol, carcinogens, and copper particle contamination. Again, your spirit will be rated against Big Alcohol benchmarks.
Standard Operating Procedure Advise
If your spirit follows the category’s flavor profile and you outperform the Big Alcohol benchmarks, all is fine. You can use the Smearing, Esterification & Impurity Analysis to show your distributors and/or customers that you make better quality spirits, that are worth paying for. But if you feel you lag behind or didn’t completely hit all the boxes, well, you might want to dive in deeper. That’s where SOP Advise comes in.
SOP Advise goes a step deeper. The iStill Laboratory asks you for your current standard operating procedure (SOP) and confronts it with the findings from the SET Analysis. Based on the available chemical and practical distillation knowledge, an advisory report will be drawn up that helps you change your SOP to the effect that it will improve your spirits.
The SET Analysis can currently be ordered for EUR 1.495,-. The SOP Advise also costs EUR 1.495,-. These are introduction prices for the first ten customers. After that, prices will rise to a commercial level still to be established.
If you want to order the iStill Laboratory’s analysis or advise, please reach out to Robert@iStillmail.com. He will send you an invoice so that you can pay. After payment is made, ship us two bottles of the spirit you want the iStill Laboratory to test. The tests have a throughput time of 1 month. Outcomes and SOP’s are considered confidential. You can use the outcomes as you like, but we can not. Not unless we have your explicit consent.
How to use the services the iStill Laboratory offers? Here you go:
- Test your spirit against Big Alcohol benchmarks;
- Test your spirit against a specific competitor;
- Spirit improvement;
- SOP improvement;
- Substrate assessment (how does a new ingredient affect taste);
- Chemical spirit signature (does my spirit still have the same flavors as before);
- GNS-testing (how pure is my GNS and which one should I buy).
Our chemist Willem performing inductively coupled plasma atomic emission spectroscopy …