Sean’s take on it!

Odin, you are disrupting the industry! I think you should take pride in your honest and transparent approach. It’s where the market is heading and though I’m sure it doesn’t feel like it, you’re rowing with the current.

Your product is an excellent product for craft manufacturers because of the mash, ferment, and flexible distillation ability all in one unit. That’s less square footage to rent, less permits to get, less construction to install. I can honestly say the iStill has saved our company six figures on startup costs alone as compared to traditional equipment manufacturers.

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http://www.iStill.com

Machine Learning for iStill Customers!

Introduction

We decided to make the practical training, that follows-up on the online iStill Distilling University, a one-on-one experience. One-on-one as in “one distillery at a time”. At iStill HQ. Where you make your recipe on a set-up similar to the one you purchased. Supervised by an iStill Master Distiller. The goal? To help increase your operational competence.

Machine Learning for iStill Customers

With a wink to our machines being pretty advanced, we call it “Machine Learning”. But it isn’t about the still learning new tricks. No, instead the new customer learns how to make his exact recipe on the new iStill equipment they purchased, exactly configured the way you ordered it.

Create operational competence!

Group-training is a great way to teach all of the participants the same thing. But if we want to help new customers gain more operational experience faster, we strongly feel that training should be perfectly tailored to the spirit they want to make, given the machinery they want to use. A more specialized educational experience generates more operational expertise, specific to your distillery, to your spirits, to the flavor profile you want to highlight, and to the distiller you want to be.

Not open-ended

Since gaining operational competence is based on passion, the willingness to learn, and on the wish to own all the processes related to running a craft distillery, iStill’s Machine Learning Program is not open-ended. Instead, we ask for your commitment, resulting in you coming to the party well-prepared. If that doesn’t make sense, please read:

Two Types of Machine Learning Programs

We foresee two types of Machine Learning Programs. The first one centers around the craft distiller making their own alcohol via mashing and fermenting and distilling. The second one centers on the craft distiller redistilling GNS with herbs.

“Distilled Machine Learning” is for those that want to make brandy, rum, or whiskey. “Redistilled Machine learning” trains our customers in making gin, akvavit, or liqueur. The first variety takes eight days, the second one only three. Both take place at iStill HQ in the Netherlands. The goal is that you become competent in distilling your recipe on your iStill configuration.

What’s included?

On the “Distilled Machine Learning”, the following is included:

  1. Assemble your iStill;
  2. Update your iStill;
  3. Test your iStill;
  4. Cleaning run;
  5. Mashing with your iStill Distillery;
  6. Fermenting with your iStill Distillery;
  7. Distilling with your iStill Distillery;
  8. Cleaning the iStill after a run;
  9. Certified Master Distilled Diploma.

You will assemble your iStill (or a similar model), update it to the newest software, and test the unit on the first day. Mashing will take place on the second day. Fermentation takes place on days three through six. You will distill your brandy, rum, or whiskey on the seventh day. You will clean the iStill on the last day. The entire process will be monitored and supervised by an experienced iStill master distiller.

On the “Redistilled Machine Learning Program”, the following is included:

  1. Assemble your iStill;
  2. Update your iStill;
  3. Test your iStill;
  4. Cleaning run;
  5. Distilling with your iStill;
  6. Cleaning the iStill after a run;
  7. Certified Master Distilled Diploma.

You will assemble your iStill (or a similar model), update it to the newest software, and test the unit on the first day. Distilling will take place on the second day. You will clean the iStill on the third and last day. The entire process will be monitored and supervised by an experienced iStill master distiller.

For whom is it?

For new or existing iStill customers or distillers, that want to gain operational competence in making one certain recipe. One distillery will be trained at a time, to do justice to your unique product, SOP, wishes, and equipment make-up. The maximum number of participants from your distillery is three. You can decide to send one, two, or three students, as long as they all certified for our online Distilling University (so we all speak the same language).

Criteria

Your Machine Learning Program will be planned after the following criteria are met:

  • The Machine Learning Program is paid for;
  • You graduated from the online iStill Distilling University;
  • We received your recipe;
  • And the yeasts, herbs, substrates, or grains that go with it;
  • We received your SOP.

How to order and what it costs?

New customers can add the Distilled or Redistilled Machine Learning Programs as options to their iStill purchase orders. Existing customers can send an email to Esther@iStillmail.com. The eight day Distilled Machine Learning Program costs EUR 10.000,-. The three day Redistilled Machine Learning Program is EUR 5.000,-. For that price, you can send one, two, or three participants.

Machine learning is about the distiller …

More Sunday Musings!

All of a sudden it struck me: we are making a huge mistake! We? I am making a big mistake. And if we aren’t careful, if we don’t solve it, it may grow out of control. So let’s dive in. Let’s identify the mistake I or we have made, so we can fix it as soon as possible!

Where the shoe pinches? With some distillers needing more support than others. And how we deal with that. A minority of distillers, including some of our customers, needs help with each and every step they take. It gives them comfort to know we are at their side. And – if I think about it a bit longer – we should feel honored to be invited into such an important role. A role of business consultant sometimes, or distilling coach.

For those that reach out to us in that capacity: thank you for your trust and thank you for believing that we can provide help and support. But the more I think about it – which I do because I get more and more requests for help as our organization and the craft distilling industry grows – the less it makes sense. Not the questions, I get those. Not that many want to have our opinions, because it signals how we are perceived as the industry experts. But how WE or how I deal with those questions.

If I keep things small and personal, here is the weird thing I do: I try to answer all of those questions. I try to help those specific distillers, that need more support, sometimes on a day to day basis, by acting as their de facto business consultant or distilling coach. Why that doesn’t make sense? For two reasons.

Firstly, I am not a business consultant or distilling coach. I mean, yeah, I am a MSc in Business Administration, but that’s not why customers do business with us or why distillers in general seek our advise. And, yes again, I (and many of my staff) have a huge expertise on all things related to distilling alcoholic spirits … but that’s not what customers purchased. Instead, our customers ordered a still, a recipe, or a course. And that’s where we deliver!

Our recipes win medals (the ones that matter) all over the globe. Our distillation machines enable craft distillers to make better quality spirit at lower price points. The iStill Distilling University is rated by its students as the craft distilling industry’s leading educational facility.

So … if we don’t offer business consultancy or distillery coaching (and we don’t!), why do we act as if we do? And that question brings us to the second reason why trying to help out distillers that need day to day support on their business and on running their distillery: just like you have your company to run, your distillery to manage, I (or in the broader sense: the iStill Management Team) have an obligation to run iStill. And running a disruptive and fast-growing company like iStill is no small job, no minor responsibility.

As iStill’s CEO I routinely work 60 to 80 hours a week. Our CFO? She works 50 to 60 hours per week, and often more. Our Chief Operating Officer is responsible for the manufacturing of the iStills. Not exactly a 9 to 5 job either, right? The second reason why it totally doesn’t make sense that we try to hold the hands of a minority of customers and distillers in need of sometimes daily, personal support, is that we simply do not have time to do so.

So this much becomes clear:

  1. We do not offer business consultancy or distillery coaching;
  2. A minority of distillers needs consultancy or coaching;
  3. They reach out to us to obtain our insights and get our help;
  4. We, in our willingness to help, step in shoes that are not ours to fill;
  5. Creating a severe risk of underdelivering because of other obligations.

How do we solve this? I mean, writing an iStill Blog post about it is important, and may bolster us in doing a better job at explaining what we can and cannot offer, but that would neglect the questions for help that some distillers have.

So here are my questions to you. How do we, as an industry, help those that need more help, that want support at running their distillery and sometimes even their businesses? We are not equipped to do it, but are there others out there that can provide these services? Are there maybe more experienced distillers, that feel distillery coaching is a business they want to add to their portfolio? Are there maybe successful entrepreneurs out there, that want to give business consultancy and advise to distillers? And under what conditions?

If I add up the questions we get, on a daily basis, there for sure seems to be a market in need of help. Please let me know how you feel you (or the industry at large) could be of assistance.

iStill Online Distilling University is Feature Complete!

We are proud to announce that the iStill Distilling University curriculum is now available online. All of it. We are feature complete!

When we started the iStill Distilling University, now some five years ago, our goal was to teach and train our students in the real science of distillation. By focussing on toolkits and recipe development in combination with hands-on distilling, the iStill Distilling University soon became the best educational facility in the craft distilling industry. Students rate the experience with a 9.8 out of 10!

Covid-19 has hampered our ability to give courses and trainings via live events with students participating physically. So, a few months ago we decided to see if we could put the content and many of the more practical exercises online. Today, we are proud to announce that all the basic information is now uploaded, for you to enjoy.

The base course consists of 23 (!) series of movies, teaching topics like gin making, vodka, still design, rum, whiskey, brandy, flavor profiling, Odin’s theories of fermentation and distillation, and much, much more. Every series is concluded with a multiple-choice exam. If you pass all exams, you are eligible for certification and iStill University Facebook group admittance. The certificate is proof of the student being a craft distiller. The Facebook group is a great place to meet other distillers and exchange information and experiences.

So, wow, yeah, we are ready, right? Job well done and off to the next project? No, not really. We want the iStill Distilling University Online to be about continuous education. The base curriculum is now online, but let’s keep adding info. The Livestream on how to make orange gin, for example, would make a great addition. And we have started interviewing craft distillers from around the globe on their passion, their business models, and more. We’ll start adding those as well.

As far as we are concerned, the iStill Distilling University Online will always be open, will always be there as a source for continued education. But what will we speak about? What topics would you like us to tackle? Please see the poll underneath and let us know what you prefer us to focus on:

Heidell Distillery from Finland!

Hi iStill fans,

We are Heidell Distillery Company, a young family company creating spirits in the Finnish Archipelago. Our distillery is located in Naantali which is known as “the sunniest city in Finland”. Timo, a navy officer and peacekeeping veteran but also our master distiller and CEO, had an ambitious idea for his upcoming retirement – he wanted to create his own gin. But how could he turn his dream into a goal? Timo’s answer would be that with courage and persistence but most importantly with the help of his family. So, the journey of our distillery began and now the team behind Heidell Distillery Company consists of Timo’s daughter, wife, sister, brother and son-in-law. Nothing beats family, as they say.

The goal of Heidell Distillery Company is to make modern, unique and environmentally friendly products honoring our family’s culture and lifestyle by the archipelago but yet using the latest technology and processes. Hence, we decided to get the iStill Hybrid 500. The reasons to choose this hyper-modern still with the 21st century technology were clear: innovation, reliability, recreatability, energy efficiency and competitive advantage.

Furthermore, doing business with the iStill team has been top-notch the whole way through and we look forward to continuing our cooperation in the future. They are not afraid to think outside the box and to do things differently which is something we also try to live by.

Our modern and unique gins, Heidell Gin and Heidell Navy Strength Gin, distilled with the iStill Hybrid 500 will be launched by the end of the year 2020.

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All the best,

Timo and Erika

Heidell Distillery Company

 

 

 

More Sunday Musings!

Introduction

Since it happens all over the world, you have probably seen a news item about it. A guy buys a sportscar and he crashes it on his first day of ownership. Often it is someone’s first car or first sportscar all together. Often it happens to new drivers that decide a Porsche or Ferrari is the way forward.

New drivers syndrome

New drivers often think they can drive, because they obtained their driving license. They mistake the permission to drive a car with the ability and experience to drive a car.

Normally, this is no problem. Most people buy a small, slow, second-hand car and learn how to drive by gaining more and more experience steadily over a longer period of time. And if something does go wrong, it’s probably while parking that car and the results are a few minor scratches and a hurt ego.

But what if the new driver buys a new Porsche or Ferrari instead? Given the speed and power these cars can develop, the issues new drivers now encounter have less to do with parking, and more with speeding and maybe even crashing the car.

Why? Because they aren’t experienced drivers yet, the potential challenges of driving any car are quite, well, challenging. Add insane power and speed and performance to the mix and the dangers increase. Especially with friends around that watch their first exploits in that new sportscar.

Solutions

The solution, as we all know, can basically be found in two directions. One we already touched upon: buy a smaller, slower car and build your experience-base in a situation you can afford.

The second solution is to buy that sportscar, but drive it carefully. Maybe do an additional in-car and/or on-circuit training day. Drive carefully, learn to become a better driver, get to know the car, and slowly increase the speed and performance.

Yes, the car can do 0 – 100 in under 4 seconds. Yes, it can lap the Nürburg Ring in under 7 minutes. The car can do all that, but you cannot! Not yet, at least. So take it easy, become a more experienced driver, and slowly improve your race-craft.

Do you see how these Sunday Musings are mostly about common sense? Yes? Well, if you do, let’s progress and see how the above real-world example, that we all understand and can relate to, translates to new craft distillers gaining experience with their stills.

New distillers syndrome

Imagine a new craft distiller that just got his new still delivered. He has his permit, so he is allowed to operate a still. He purchased the best still possible, so he is going to have amazing amounts of fun while producing high-quality spirits at bonkers speeds! And then he does his first run, and things start to fall apart.

Why? Because new distillers are by definition unexperienced distillers. They lack experience and operational competence. The still can maybe do 0 – 100 in under 4 seconds and can lap the Nürburg Ring in under 7 minutes, but you cannot. Not yet, at least.

Oh, but you bought an automated still, you say? One that looks after cuts and temperatures, and that monitors cooling? Yes, just like the Porsche and Ferrari have ABS, are equipped with an automatic gearbox, and feature active chassis control. It doesn’t mean, however, that you aren’t still the driver (or distiller) and the de-facto person in charge and responsible!

Without that understanding, without a mindset of ownership and responsibility, you might find yourself in trouble quickly. In a new sportscar and in a new distillery.

Solutions

Here is an approach, not unsimilar to the new driver, that will help you on your way and prevent you from wrapping your proverbial sportscar around a tree. Three solutions, actually.

First, yes, you got your permit, but did you get extensive training? The iStill University offers a very high quality distilling class online as well as a more practical hands-on training. See these courses as your additional training days. The more time you spend with them, the more serious you take ‘m, the sooner you’ll become a more experienced distiller, with the operational competence to run his or her distillery professionally.

Secondly, first purchase a smaller, slower still. We specifically developed the iStill Mini for that purpose. To help you train yourself, to help you gain distilling experience. To help you develop your recipes at an affordable scale. If you make a mistake, it’s like that scratch on your small, cheap car. Instead of crashing your Porsche or Ferrari.

Thirdly, please go slowly! Yes, your still can perform an amazing number of tasks and is equipped with very clever features, but allow yourself time to understand them. Gradually learn your tools more and more. Gain operational experience and then competence and finally excellence. It is only the excellent driver that can take full advantage of the handling and power, as well as the amazing driver support systems a Porsche or Ferrari offer.

Do’s and Don’ts

If you buy that sportscar, do you drive it out of the dealership at 200 clicks per hour? Upon getting the keys, and starting the engine, do you immediately check out if it can reach the advertised top speed? Do you take it to the circuit immediately, because there is a race organized that you want to take part in? No! No, of course you don’t do these stupid things! Instead, you get to learn the car, extensively train yourself in its use, and you warm-up the car before any major performance trial.

So, as a new distiller, why don’t you follow the same approach? Why – instead – do so many of you fill the boiler to the brim on the first run? Why not make things easier on yourself and do your first run in – say – a 500 liter system with 400 liters in the boiler? If the run is a success, you’ll build confidence and maybe increase your batch size to 450 liters. Compare that to overfilling the boiler on your maiden-run and overflowing your column with water, alcohol, and maybe grains and herbs and berries? How would that make you feel? It wouldn’t build competence, since it would destroy confidence.

As new craft distillers, why don’t we allow ourselves to slowly open the performance potential of the distillery we bought? Why go full power on the first run? Don’t you want to check if you added adequate cooling on a lower power setting, first? Learn to walk before you run.

As new craft distillers, why do we feel we immediately need to mash a 12% distillers beer? Why not 8%? And why do so many forget hydrating the grain or at least a slow grain addition to the mash kettle on a first run? What’s the advantage of a short-cut, if it leads to clumping or even scorching?

Why follow a certain fermentation protocol and then fire up the still without checking if full attenuation is achieved? Why not check twice before you start a new step? That’s how you would approach buying and driving that sportscar, right? Check the oil, check the tires, make sure you fill her up with the right gasoline …

And if you do “crash” your distillery, not out of plain stupidity, but simply because shit happens, please see it as a major learning point. Use the mistakes you made to create more operational competence. Own the mistakes you make, have a willingness to learn, and be passionate about what you do.

Don’t blame your speeding ticket on the car manufacturer. Don’t blame your crash on the driving license or your former driving instructor. You are the driver and you are responsible. You are the craft distiller and you are responsible for continuously improving your skills.

Please also see: https://istillblog.com/2020/08/30/more-sunday-musings/

Important Notice on Distilling Tradeshows!

We like potential customers to know we exist and we want the opportunity to explain the amazing technology we bring to the craft distilling industry. To that end we spend money on marketing.

Basically, our marketing strategy takes two directions. First, we create a lot of free content and share that via the iStill Blog, Distillers Weekly, and via Linked In and Facebook. Secondly, we visit tradeshows.

The online part of our marketing strategy targets generic demographics and regions. It allows us to reach a global audience. We do not have to spent a lot of money on our online campaigns, since we already have many thousands of followers. That makes it a relatively easy and affordable way to reach new potential customers and to explain the distilling solutions we bring to the industry.

The tradeshow part of our marketing strategy is more targeted to specific regions and markets. Tradeshows allow us to reach a specific audience. Since the money and energy expenditure involved in participating at a tradeshow are huge, we tend to only attend tradeshows in our biggest markets or in the market segments we want iStill to penetrate.

Having now experienced how tradeshows operate in the craft distilling industry for over seven years, we are amending our marketing strategy. Yes, online will stay the same. No, the tradeshow part will change. Let’s dive into the why and how.

There are two major reasons as to why we are revising our tradeshow policy. First, too many tradeshows are self-serving and organized by for-profit organizations, that don’t care about you starting a distillery. They rather have you spend that money with them instead. Many tradeshows are preventing rather than stimulating the industry to grow. They are money traps and you are the ones paying the price.

How you can distinguish the bad ones? Here are a few clues:

  • Do they have a medal competition for which you have to pay to participate?
  • Did the number of medals increase with the growing number of paying participants?
  • Is the tradeshow a platform for paid consultancy presentations?
  • Do those presentations leave you more bewildered than before?

The more of the above questions are answered with a “yes”, the more likely it is that you registered for an inferior product. Paid medal competitions are a great source for tradeshow income. The more awards you hand out, the more participants you get (and vice versa). The consultants that perform on tradeshows usually aren’t paid. The paid presentations are another great revenue stream for the tradeshow organizer. How the consultants share in the spoils? They get to baffle you with bullshit, enlarge your problems, and make sure you definitely need to hire a consultant.

How they get away with that? That question is simple to answer: in the land of the blind, one-eye is king. You know less and are in need of information, they pretend to know it all and that’s why you visit and spent money.

Secondly, tradeshows are losing their relevance quickly. In times of the internet, there are easier ways to connect. In times of Covid-19 there are smarter ways to connect. Did you see how all of the tradeshows all of a sudden CAN go online, these days? Interesting …

And talking about relevance … how about tradeshows highlighting – or at least supporting – the technological advancement the craft distilling industry so desperately needs in order to compete with Big Alcohol? We haven’t seen much effort there, as most distilling tradeshows love the financial contributions of legacy still manufacturers too much. Traditional equipment suppliers hate innovation. They are making money of you just fine. Why have that business model disrupted by new technological break-throughs, right?

Having answered the “why”, here is more on the “how”. From now onwards, we’ll only participate at tradeshows that put the industry interests before their own interests. And we’ll only support those that support the technological advancement of the craft distilling industry. To put it bluntly: the rest of them, the ones who’s business goal seems to be to screw you over for their own benefit, well, they can go f*ck themselves.

We have seen too much of the crap that’s going on behind the scenes. From rigged medal competitions (where sponsors get to pick the winners), to thieving organizers (that land sponsorship money, raised to finance traineeships, in their own pockets), to tradeshow hosts that make a living out of reselling your commercial information (while you pay for the entrance ticket).

Our industry deserves better than that. Our industry will get a better treatment than that. What we’ll do, to help achieve that, is this: we’ll start our very own tradeshow. Its characteristics? Here you go:

  • Online!
  • It will be free of charge to visitors;
  • Everybody can participate;
  • Information will be shared free of charge;
  • Customers rank product and service providers based on their user experience;
  • Product and service providers are invited to discount tradeshow visitors;
  • Yes, technological developments will get attention;
  • No, your information will not be used commercially;
  • No, it won’t have a medal competition! 🙂

I feel that we are in a unique position to make a difference and to show the industry how much real value a genuine tradeshow can offer. “A unique position” as in:

  • We have a thriving community with hundreds of craft distillers;
  • The iStill Blog produces content every second day;
  • And sees 50.000 visitors per year, reading well over 100.000 posts;
  • iStill’s Facebook page has over 20.000 followers;
  • And reaches over 1 million people per year;
  • Our website http://www.iStill.com attracts 50.000 visitors per year;
  • With over 200.000 pages being viewed;
  • Our eNewsletter “Distillers Weekly” has 2.500 subscribers;
  • And grows with around 100 new readers every week.

To put things into perspective: our online presences is already way bigger than all the craft distilling tradeshows (genuine and less than genuine) combined!

Give us a few months to set it up. Stay in touch. Share your ideas. Propose our initiative to others that might be interested. Reach out to me directly and inform me of companies that deserve to participate. Service or product providers, that want to help craft distillers advance: email me and let’s figure out how you can participate. And if there is anything I forget, please let me know that as well.

The iStill Tradeshow is coming to town …

Odin@iStillmail.com