The Craft Distilling Industry’s Sustainable Future!

Introduction

Imagining a post-Covid world, where the economy recovers … what will the future of the craft distilling industry look like? Will it be a sustainable future? And under what conditions will it achieve long-term success? In this iStill Blog post our founder and CEO Odin does a deep dive on the above topics. He focusses on the US market, since that’s both the biggest market for craft distilling and it is ahead of the curve. Lessons learned in the USA are applicable internationally. They help paint a global picture.

Competition

A sustainable future depends on the ability of the craft distilling industry to make a difference, relative to the competition. Yes, there is a large customer base for alcoholic beverages, but who is going to serve that market?

Up until a decade ago, this market was served by Big Alcohol. A small number of big companies pushing out industrial quality spirits catered the market. Craft distilling is relatively new to the scene. For the craft distilling industry to attain a long-term future, it needs to take market share away from Big Alcohol. It needs to do so by growing its own market share and by then maintaining that market share.

Market share and adoption rate

What market share is needed? To what number does the craft distilling industry need to grow? More is better, but I feel there is also a very specific long-term goal. A goal that needs to be achieved in the coming decade. What that magic number is? It is 14%. For the craft distilling industry to take on Big Alcohol on the long term, 14% market share is needed.

Why? Here’s why! New technologies or innovations disperse in a standardized pattern. It is called “Wright’s Law”. At first a new innovation or technology grows at a slow pace, then that pace picks up, only to slack-down by the time full market potential is reached.

The reason that a new innovation or technology, like craft distilling, isn’t embraced immediately, has to do with how the human mind works. Some people love to try new stuff. Others hold on to what they know.

Based on purchase psychology, four categories of customers or consumers can be distinguished:

  1. Early adopters (14% of the market);
  2. Early majority (36% of the market);
  3. Late majority (36% of the market);
  4. Laggers (14% of the market).

An adoption rate of 14% is the overall minimum goal, since it means that all early adopters are wheeled into the domain of craft distilling. The strategic advantage is that this creates a defendable (and thus sustainable) market share. The more early adopters are “conquered” by craft distillers, the more difficult it will be for Big Alcohol to make intrusions in that trend-setting market.

A second strategic advantage, to conquering the early adopters market, is that it sets the industry (any industry, actually) up to grow further. The early majority will only try things that others, the early adopters, will try first. Late majority consumers and customers will only be persuaded to try something new, once most of the early majority (so close to 50% of the total addressable market!) is doing it.

Is a 50% to 86% market share feasible for the craft distilling industry? No, it isn’t. Not in any foreseeable future. Not in any sustainable future. But 14% is achievable. Achievable and important, because it creates both a defensive and offensive position that puts pressure on the competition from Big Alcohol.

Valuation

Creating a sustainable long-term future all depends on value creation. I hope the above paragraph makes that clear. But how do we measure value? Well, that’s actually pretty easy.

Money has been invented a long time ago. It serves as a great way to measure value. We can use it to calculate the total value of the total addressable market. Here is a simplified example:

If the global market is 1000 bottles big, and the average selling price of a bottle of spirits is EUR 20,-, well, then the total market value is 1000 x 20 = USD 20.000,-.

So what’s the value of the craft distilling industry, relative to the total addressable market? The craft distilling industry holds about 4,5% of the value of the total addressable market (in the USA). Big Alcohol owns 95,5% of the total market value. Quite a discrepancy. How do we bridge the gap?

Growth curve

Craft Beer has been around for a decade longer than craft distilling. Their growth curve and our industry’s growth curve match very well. The market share value of Craft Beer is currently around 12,5%. It is therefore expected to see the craft distilling industry grow with similar numbers. Given a 12% growth, year over year, a market share of 14% is obtainable within a decade. As follows:

Differentiator

But why would consumers buy craft distilled spirits? I mean, Big Alcohol has taken care of consumer demand pretty successfully for over a century and a half now. What sets craft distillers apart? What “weapons” do we bring to the battle? Simply put, craft distillers can distinguish themselves by their personal approach, via the experience and storytelling they offer, and by producing better quality spirits. Big Alcohol takes the efficiencies of scale and low production costs, as well as huge marketing budgets with ‘m.

If you bring the price difference between craft distilled and Big Alcohol produced spirits up, it becomes clear that the craft distilling industry cannot compete on price. The 4,5% market share they have in value equals a less than 4,5% market share in bottles, simply because purchasing one bottle of craft distilled spirits is about 50% more expensive than a bottle that’s produced industrially.

This means that a personal approach to sales, the adventure of having a drink at your distillery, and – especially – the quality of your product NEED to be 50% better! That’s how the craft distiller carves out a living for himself and his family.

Sleeping with the enemy

All right! Bright future ahead then? Easy growth targets. Lots of amazing new entrepreneurs entering the craft distilling industry. All good, right? No, something is amiss. Something is seriously wrong. We – the craft distilling industry that is – has been sleeping with the enemy. And it is costing us dearly.

Craft distillers design their own recipe, produce their own spirits, and are responsible for selling the bottles they make. Leave anything out and you are either a recipe developer or a contract distiller or a producer that fakes in-house production.

Due to a lack of knowledge, a lack of funds, and a lack in modern spirits production technology no less than 2/3rds of so-called craft distilled spirits are basically outsourced and purchased at companies like MGP. Those spirits are bottled and labeled by the “craft” distiller, but they are not craft distilled spirits! Since they are bought in from Big Alcohol, 2/3rd of the 4,5% value market share is actually only 1,5%.

There you have it: the real value of the market share of the craft distilling industry in the USA is closer to 1,5% than it is to 4,5%. The real value market share of Big Alcohol isn’t 95,5%, but a whopping 98,5%.

This is harming for various reasons. First of all, with every new craft distillery that opens shop, it is actually Big Alcohol that is gaining more market share! Secondly, industrially produced spirits do not support the story telling at the distillery, nor does it provide the 50% increase in spirit quality. A 50% increase in spirit quality, that is needed to defeat Big Alcohol at their game! Here’s how the future numbers will look, if we do not change that:

As you can see, outsourced, Big Alcohol produced, so-called “craft distilled” spirits will be 9% of the total market value. Less than 5% is true craft distilling market value. Now, let me introduce a third reason why this scenario should be prevented at all costs. The USA government grants craft distillers substantial tax advantages over Big Alcohol. Based on the above numbers, Big Alcohol, within a decade, could make a successful push in terminating those advantages. Why give craft distillers an advantage, if they use it to source at Big Alcohol, whose advantageous position needed correction in the first place? Check mate craft distilling industry. Or is there another solution? Something that can turn the tide?

iStill’s mission

Our mission is – and has always been – to empower the craft distilling industry. We call out what’s wrong (see above). My team and I go the extra mile to help each and every person, that wants to become a craft distiller, with better education, better recipes, and vastly improved equipment.

iStill customers make most of their products in-house. Why? Because we educate our customers. And because we provide them with modern, efficient technology, that allows them to make spirits that are 50% better at less than half the costs.

Our customers show the industry the way forward. They win more medals, they have more success, they have better business cases than those craft distillers, that invest in expensive and outdated equipment, that invest in self-proclaimed “master distillers” that aren’t hampered by any kind of experience or information.

iStill aggressively pushes its technology, so that we can reach more craft distillers. We aggressively speak out when Big Alcohol backed old boys networks try to sell you solutions that do not support your competitive advantages.

Here’s what the future would look like, when the industry as a whole embraces true craft distilling. Where the stories that we, the craft distilling industry, tell our customers actually add up to us designing, making, and selling the product. In-house. If we do so, in just about 10 years, we will achieve a profitable and sustainable future for the craft distilling industry. For our businesses to grow, for our families to prosper. This is how the numbers, in terms of market value division, would look like:

iStill University is the industry’s leading educational facility. The iStill Laboratory has helped design over 450 recipes for customers all over the world. iStill provides the advanced distilling (and mashing and fermenting) technology you need to take the next step and to bring spirits manufacturing in-house. To become a true craft distiller. To kick Big Alcohol’s butt.

It’s the only way forward and the ball is in your court. Wanna play? I am available at Odin@iStillmail.com.

http://www.iStill.com

Wednesday Wisdom!

You can only meet people where they are.

The donkey told the tiger, “The grass is blue.”

The tiger replied, “No, the grass is green .”

The discussion became heated, and the two decided to submit the issue to arbitration, so they approached the lion.

As they approached the lion on his throne, the donkey started screaming: ′′Your Highness, isn’t it true that the grass is blue?”

The lion replied: “If you believe it is true, the grass is blue.”

The donkey rushed forward and continued: ′′The tiger disagrees with me, contradicts me and annoys me. Please punish him.”

The king then declared: ′′The tiger will be punished with 3 days of silence.”

The donkey jumped with joy and went on his way, content and repeating ′′The grass is blue, the grass is blue…”

The tiger asked the lion, “Your Majesty, why have you punished me, after all, the grass is green?”

The lion replied, ′′You’ve known and seen the grass is green.”

The tiger asked, ′′So why do you punish me?”

The lion replied, “That has nothing to do with the question of whether the grass is blue or green. The punishment is because it is degrading for a brave, intelligent creature like you to waste time arguing with an ass, and on top of that, you came and bothered me with that question just to validate something you already knew was true!”

The biggest waste of time is arguing with the fool and fanatic who doesn’t care about truth or reality, but only the victory of his beliefs and illusions. Never waste time on discussions that make no sense. There are people who, for all the evidence presented to them, do not have the ability to understand. Others who are blinded by ego, hatred and resentment, and the only thing that they want is to be right even if they aren’t.

When IGNORANCE SCREAMS, intelligence moves on.

http://www.iStill.com

Regarding Reflux …

Introduction

Reflux … what is it and what role does it play in distilling? Let’s dive in deeper and find out more on this important topic!

A definition of reflux

Gasses that phase-shift back to their liquid form, and fall or flow back down towards the boiler are called “reflux”. There you have it: the definition.

If you look at it again, please note that reflux is always liquid and that it does not leave the still. The liquids that leave the still are called “product” or “spirit” or “new make” or, well, maybe “gin”, depending on what you are making.

How reflux is made

Gasses that rise up from the boiler enter the column or riser of the still. As they meet a cooler environment, some of these gasses phase-shift back to liquid state. As liquids are a 1000 times heavier than gasses (as a rule of thumb), these liquids or “reflux” will fall down.

In a potstill the reflux falls back down into the boiler. In a column still, the reflux gets picked-up by the column’s packing or plates for further processing. What are the advantages and disadvantages to creating reflux? A good question that we’ll answer underneath. But first let’s explain the different varieties of reflux that exist.

Two types of reflux

There are basically two types of reflux:

  1. Passive reflux;
  2. Active reflux.

Passive reflux is created as a result of how stills are build. It is – so to speak – a given. Gasses inside the column or riser of any still are hot. At between 78 and 99 degrees Celsius, the inside of the column is much warmer than the outside, AKA your distilling hall. To turn your perspective around: the cooler distilling hall works as a heat-exchanger on the gasses inside the still. The room cools the metal that makes up your still. The now cooler still condenses part of the gasses on the inside, turning them into passive reflux.

Active reflux is intentionally created by the distiller. In a cooling management kinda still (traditional fruit brandy still with plates), he or she can use the dephlagmator to cool more gasses down to reflux. In a more advanced liquid management solution, like the iStill, the distiller can decide (or have the iStill decide) on how much reflux is created and returned down the column for further processing.

Disadvantages of reflux

If not all gasses make it over into the product that you are making, isn’t that an inefficiency? Yes, it is. The disadvantage of creating reflux is inefficiency. A non-insulated still looses a lot of energy to passive reflux, that falls back into the boiler and basically now needs to be distilled again.

So … if reflux is an inefficiency, why accept it or even actively create it during a distillation run? The simple answer is: because it does also creates some benefits.

Advantages of reflux

Reflux can be created and reflux can be actively managed. If you have a column with plates or packing to catch the reflux, that is. Reflux that just falls back into the boiler, well, that doesn’t help the distillation process in any way, but reflux that lands on column packing or plates does make a difference.

Reflux that is picked-up by packing or plates is both spread out and slowed down. Both processes allow the reflux to mingle with the alcohol vapors that rise from the boiler. As the gasses and reflux meet and mingle, they exchange molecules. As follows: water and higher boiling point alcohols will move from the gasses into the reflux. Remember that the reflux is heading down the column (where it is hotter), and water and high boiling point alcohols need higher energy inputs (hotter environments) to stay in gas-phase and in an upward movement.

Ethanol and lower boiling point alcohols tend to jump over from the reflux to the lower energy state rising gasses. This makes scientific sense, since these compounds need less energy and stay in gas-phase at lower temperatures, and as the gasses are rising and redistilled, the temperatures higher-up in the column are cooler.

The result? Actively created and managed reflux creates a higher alcohol percentage of the product that does come over. It also helps separate heads, hearts, and tails better.

Potstills and passive reflux: an example

Potstills do not actively manage their columns or risers. Any reflux produced is by definition passive reflux. In very slow runs, with an uninsulated riser, a steady downstream on the inside of the riser’s material can be created. This results in some molecule-exchange between reflux and rising gasses. Especially when the potstill’s riser is made from copper, which is very conductive, more passive reflux can actually create a slight boost in ABV and slightly better separation between heads, hearts, and tails.

There are two problems associated with trying to work with passive reflux in a potstill. The costs in terms of energy and efficiency losses are humongous. Secondly, the process is incontrollable. In winter you’ll get more passive reflux than in summer, simply because the colder distilling hall provides more cooling.

iStills and active reflux: an example

iStills are insulated, so if we run an iStill Hybrid in potstill mode no passive reflux is created. Yes, it is that simple: no temperature differential between distilling room and the inner-boiler – via the application of robust stainless steel and advanced insulation – prevents the formation of passive reflux.

By selecting the iStill Potstill Program, the distiller can choose how much he wants to open the robot that controls output. If he decides to go for a big opening, all product will come out and no reflux is created. Potdistilled and efficient. Does he or she decide to go for a smaller opening, more reflux is created and returned down the column. As a result of our innovative design, the exact amount of separation of factions and concentration of alcohol can be achieved, at maximum efficiency!

Now let’s move to the iStill Column Program. The distiller for example chooses to make rum in one go. The 10% wash needs to be brought to 62% for barrel aging. He or she can now simply tell the iStill what percentage the product needs to come over. The robot will actively manage the amount of reflux needed to keep the product flowing at 62% …

Reflux on an iStill Plated Still …

http://www.iStill.com

Wanna learn what the iStill University is all about?

Frank, from Pennsylvania, is a two times student at the iStill University. Esther wants to find out more …

NK Dontoh is an iStill customer from Ghana. Is Africa the next continent to choose iStill?

Vlaho, from Croatia, is new to the craft distilling industry. What’s his take on our courses?

Do you want to become a master distiller? We have a new course planned for the first week of November. We have two places left! Students rate our course with 9.8 out of 10. Please contact Veronika@iStillmail.com for more information on our educational facilities or for course registration. Do you want to order an iStill? Please contact Esther@iStillmail.com.

iStill Covid Discount Policy!

Introduction

As the Covid Pandemic keeps bothering large sections of the world and its economies, the craft distilling industry does not stay unaffected. How do you sell spirits to restaurants that aren’t open? How do you create revenue when you cannot do distillery tours. Many find it hard to start or invest in these uncertain times.

As the world’s leading designer and manufacturer of distillation technology and equipment, we want to support craft distillers in these often challenging times. Based on the great turnover we have seen during the pandemic, with distillers flocking to our advanced and hyper-efficient solutions, we are able to create a Covid Discount Policy.

Covid Discount Policy

The iStill 500, 2000, and 5000 hybrids, fully automated, stainless steel, now come with a discount. As follows:

  • The iStill 500 Hybrid Automated gets a EUR 5.000,- Covid-related discount;
  • The iStill 2000 Hybrid Automated gets a EUR 10.000,- Covid-related discount;
  • The iStill 5000 Hybrid Automated gets a EUR 15.000,- Covid-related discount.

The Rules of the Game

The discounts are only given on the above models. The discount is added (or subtracted, actually) from the Purchase Agreement. The Purchase Agreement, with the Covid Discount, will only be given out once. If there is no urgency at your end to sign the Purchase Agreement, well, then it is probably not urgent that we help out with a discount to start with. In other words: you will be offered this discount only once.

The discount only applies to orders being made in the remainder of 2021. The Purchase Agreement must be signed in 2021 and the first invoice, for the downpayment, must be paid before the end of this year.

Ordering process

Do you want to order an iStill with the Covid Discount? Please reach out to Esther@iStillmail.com.

http://www.iStill.com

Gin Butikken: Danish Distribution Story!

Introduction

Here’s an interview with Jesper on how he started distilling his own gin first, but now distributes globally made gins via Denmark’s biggest craft gin network. I hope you find it an inspiring story, that stimulates you to think out of the box regarding your own local distribution. Or maybe Jesper’s initiative offers you iStillers a springboard to enter the Danish market with your gin, rum, or whiskey? If so, and if you want to learn more, please don’t hesitate to reach out to Jesper directly via: jesper@begincph.com.

Jesper, can you tell us a bit more on how you got involved in the alcohol industry?

It was a coincidence that I ended up in this industry. About 3 years ago my wife was fired from her job as an international sales manager in a big Danish company, as the company was sold and moved. As a consequence she had a lot of time home with a salary from the job.

She wanted to start up a company, but didn’t know what. We were following a lot of sites who sold companies, and suddenly we saw that BeGin Copenhagen was up for sale. At that time BeGin was a concept developed around a RTD (gin/tonic) by two students – as part of their exams. My wife e-mailed me the case and 48 hrs later we owned BeGin. We then started to produce RTD. So by a few random factors I ended up as Co-owner in BeGin – first as a RTD producer.

BeGin’s gins …

And what about Gin Butikken? How did it come to be?

Ginbutikken.dk was one of our biggest customers in BeGin Copenhagen. Ginbutikken.dk is one of the largest gin-webshops in Denmark – with around 500 different gins on the shelf. I started to work with Ginbtuikken.dk as one of the first customers in BeGin Cph.

A year ago my wife had the opportunity to buy a part of another company in Denmark, why I took over BeGin Copenhagen myself. I needed someone to help me with sales, marketing, and staff. On the side I run a law-firm as well – so I had my hands full to be honest :)I started to work with Ginbutikken.dk as a lawyer as well – as I helped them with company setup, knowledge and so. As our cooperation started to grow on several fronts we decided about 9 months ago to join the two companies.Today I own 50% of Ginbutikken.dk and BeGin Copenhagen, and my partner Kenneth owns the other 50% of the companies.

6 months ago we moved both companies to a new location, setting up our online webshop with new facilities. We will open a new showroom/shop in about a month. We just finished our new distillery at the same site, and are currently building a gin school after some good inputs from Shakespeare Distillery (also iStill Customer) in the UK. Big thanks to those guys 🙂

We currently employ 4 people beside Kenneth and me – so we are growing. The idea is to make Denmark’s most exciting gin-house, with a shop with all kinds of gin, a gin school and the distillery.

Over 500 gins are being distributed …

What makes Gin Butikken different or special for the consumer?

First of all – we do everything to please our customers and to give them the best experience. We import a lot of gin from the craft distillers ourselves. We do that from all over the world. We love that, and that is our main goal. We prefer to be the first mover. Some of the things we import we also sell to bars, restaurants, and events. People know we have a wide selection of gins and other liquor. So we also have a wide range of B2B-sales.

The consumers love our variety – love we have the gins they can’t find anywhere else in Denmark. They also love our prices, as we often can sell to a reasonable price, as we do our own import.

How could Gin Butikken help out craft distillers?

We would love to import spirits from craft distillers and expand our range of superb quality. We could provide a good starting position for export to Denmark and a growing market.

Croatia’s famous “Old Pilot’s Gin” is already represented by BeGin …

The Gin Butikken model is mostly tailored towards bringing in gins from all over the world but distributing them primarily in your home country Denmark. Would the Gin Butikken model work for other countries? Would you enjoy playing a role to maybe scaling this initiative up to 1. Other countries; 2. Other drink categories?

At the moment we only sell to Denmark mostly. But we are finalizing some cooperation plans with a partner which would give us access to some of the Scandinavian markets, as they are state owned. That would give us some very interesting export solutions. We also have other spirits than gin – but gin is currently our main goal. We would love to do more whiskey and rum as well – and are buying more and more of this. Again, we would love to have what you can’t find all over. iStill owners might both do rum, whiskey and gin – and that could be very interesting to have a whole range of that in our shop.

Craft gins from around the world on display …

What is your connection to iStill? How did you find us and what is your feedback on working with us?

BeGin Copenhagen is a customer of iStill – and we just set up our brand new distillery with iStill equipment. We love it. I was introduced to iStill by a friend of mine who works in the beer-industry. I asked him a few years ago which still I should buy when I should set up my new distillery. He told me to look at iStill, and a month later I bought a Mini, completed the course and started testing and testing. I love to work with the Mini. So far I have enjoyed every moment of cooperation – always friendly, direct and easy to communicate with iStill and the employees.

Any final thoughts or ideas you’d like to share with the audience?

All iStillers are more than welcome to visit us in Denmark – to see our setup. If anyone is interested we would love to get in touch to start up cooperation or exchanging liquors.

BeGin’s own gins are produced on iStills …

Post Scriptum by Odin

Many years ago we thought it a good idea to help create a global distribution network for craft distilled spirits. With education, training, and the efficient production of high-quality spirits solved by iStill and the iStill University, it made sense to tackle the next big problem, AKA distribution.

The idea resonated through the industry, but never really became more than, well, just that: an idea. Analyzing why such an a priori good idea didn’t become a success taught us that a global craft distilling network could not be organized centrally. It HAD to be a bottom-up, grass-root movement. By and for the craft distiller. Not by iStill.

Do we see, in BeGin’s approach, the beginning of such a bottom-up, grass-root movement? To be perfectly clear: I do not make any claim that we helped inspire this. Not at all! I am only stating that the approach explained above is inspiring. To me and hopefully to many other craft distillers.

I find it inspiring that craft distillers wanting to enter the Danish market now have an outlet. Or a market entry, for that matter. I find it even more inspiring to think about what power it brings to the craft distiller that decides to become an importer and distributor of other craft distilled spirits, from other countries and continents. The B2C sales helps you bypass other distribution networks. And B2B sales might benefit hugely, because you now have so much more to offer than “just” your drinks!

iStill Supports Your Recipe Development!

Introduction

Craft distilling is about the distiller designing his own recipe, producing his spirits in-house, and selling the product successfully. Starting-up a craft distillery usually kicks-off with the distiller developing recipes.

At iStill we support recipe development in multiple ways. We provide courses. We do recipe development. And we have the iStill Mini as the industry’s leading recipe development still.

There is a particularly interesting way in which we support craft distillers in their efforts to create the best possible whiskies, rums, brandies, vodka’s, gins, and liqueurs. Let’s dive in deeper!

A Three Step Model to Recipe Development

  1. Purchase the iStill Mini and iStill University combo and educate yourself;
  2. Start recipe development, using the iStill Mini and what you’ve learned via the iStill University;
  3. Send your results to iStill for evaluation.

The iStill Mini can be purchased for EUR 5.000,- to EUR 6.500, depending on options. It comes with the online distillation and recipe development course, provided by the iStill University, included. The course teaches you how to develop recipes.

Now, as a second step, use your knowledge to put the iStill Mini to work and start creating your first recipes. As a student of the iStill University, you get access to the iStill University Network. This means you can reach out to hundreds of other distillers and exchange experiences and ideas.

If you feel your recipe is ready, or nearing completion, send it to iStill. Our expert recipe development team will assess your recipe and give you final feedback.

Your Benefits

  1. You get access to the best training on distilling and recipe development: the iStill University;
  2. You acquire the industry’s leading training and recipe development still: the iStill Mini;
  3. Both above points combined, allow you to do multiple runs per day and speed up your recipe development;
  4. You get access to the world’s biggest craft distillers network for help and support;
  5. iStill’s recipe development experts – with over 450 recipes designed – give you final feedback;
  6. Your amazing recipe can now scaled up to your production unit: you are in business!
  7. For a total cost (including iMini and training) of well under 10k …

Grains, herbs, processes, procedures …

http://www.iStill.com

The Advantages of Stabilization!

Introduction

This is a more technical post on a distilling procedure or technique called “stabilization”. Underneath, we’ll explain what stabilization is, what the advantages are to using stabilization protocols, and what stills offer you this option and which ones don’t.

What stabilization is

Stills that have managed columns (see: https://istillblog.com/2021/09/15/liquid-management/) can cool rising gasses into liquids, and return this as reflux down the column for further processing. “Stabilization” is the situation where all the rising gasses are cooled back down to liquid phase and returned down the column. No product comes out of the still. The still – and column – are in a stable state, where the boiler creates certain amounts of gasses and the column cooler or dephlagmator cools these gasses down into reflux that is returned (all of it) down the column. The still should be able to stabilize for prolonged periods of time, like up to an hour.

Benefits explained

The benefits of stabilization are basically twofold:

  1. Compaction of the heads cut;
  2. Spirit collection starts at higher proof.

Since less distillation cycles equals more flavor (see: https://istillblog.com/2021/09/02/less-is-more/), the second point is important. A still that allows you to stabilize, supports a higher proof output. A distillation run that produces hearts at a higher output ABV (alcohol by volume) in one single run results in less distillation cycles needed. Less distillation cycles equals less work, better efficiency, faster throughput, and more remaining flavor.

Going from, for example, a double distillation approach to a single distillation approach, using the above stabilization technique, results in 33% more flavor. The total workload and efficiency advantages are in the neighborhood of 50%.

Another advantage of the stabilization technique is heads compaction. If you start your distillation run with a stabilization period, this gives the column time to collect and concentrate all of the headsy molecules into a small faction. In a normal run, without stabilization, heads come over in the first part of the run, but they are basically a mixture of good ethanol with some heads. By putting the still in stabilization mode, more and more headsy molecules are presented to the column. The column can now concentrate all of these headsy components near the top of the still, resulting in much smaller heads losses and a better separation between heads and hearts.

Benefits quantified

On a typical 2000 liter gin run, we end up with one to two liters of heads, using stabilization. Compare that to a distillation run on a still that cannot stabilize and looses 20 to 25 liters easily. The stabilization protocol produces 40+ additional bottles per run!

On a typical 1.5 distilling 2000 liter whisky finishing run, the stabilization approach results in heads losses of less than one (1!) liter. Compared to that, a standard potstill looses of 20 to 30 liters to its heads cut. That’s over 10% of a barrel fill!

Stills that support stabilization

Stills with actively managed columns potentially allow you to stabilize. Stills without active column management do not. So, just to keep things easy, potstills cannot stabilize. Their columns are passive (and therefore called “risers” instead of columns).

Stills with the 1870’s cooling management technology (AKA fruit brandy stills with dephlagmators and plates) theoretically can go into stabilization mode. Adding more cooling water will result in more and more gasses becoming reflux. There is a caveat though. Cooling management columns do not have air pressure equalization. Stabilization potentially results in pressure build-up in the still. The bigger the still, the greater the chance is that the still will become, well, basically a very dangerous piece of equipment. We therefore advise not to use stabilization procedures in these types of stills (provided by Mueller, Holstein, Kothe, DYE, StillDragon, and Vendome). The benefit isn’t worth the risk.

The only type of still that can successfully and without any risk perform stabilization procedures are stills that have liquid management columns. Liquid management columns equalize for air pressure, so pressure cannot build up during a run or during stabilization. You probably guessed it by now: iStills are the only stills with liquid management columns, iStills are the only stills that give you the amazing benefits of stabilization. Liquid management is iStill’s proprietary technology.

A real-world example

See the picture underneath and allow us to explain what you are looking at. In the first column you see the numbers at which the master distiller wants the iStill to cut. As you can see, the iStill will heat-up until the temperature near the top of the still is 45 degrees Celsius.

The last column in the picture, the one to the right, tells you that heating up takes place at 100% power. At 45 degrees Celsius, the power switches down to 80% and fores (the first bit of heads, used to clean out the column) are taken.

At 82 degrees Celsius, it moves over to the heads faction. You can see, in the second column on the picture underneath, that it will first stabilize for 30 minutes, and then take heads (1 time) until the column is 79.5 degrees Celsius. When this heads separation step is done, the iStill stabilizes again for 20 minutes before taking hearts.

The procedure shown underneath and explained above, allows the master distiller to make amazing tasting rum in one go. It brings a 10% rum wash to the perfect barrel aging strength of 62% in one distillation run, saving him a second run, and resulting in a more flavorful product. As iStill customer John puts it:

“So … I did my first 1.0 rum run today. I have ended up with a great tasting rum at 62% ABV in one go and have probably halved my rum production time going forward.”

In the run underneath, the customer stabilizes for heads (30 minutes) and hearts (20 minutes) …

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