Laboratory Verdict: Methanol!

Introduction

Today, we want to talk about methanol. What is it? How is it made? What are the regulations and norms on methanol? These are all important questions that deserve answers. This iStill Blog post aims to provide the answers.

After learning about methanol, we’ll look at the methanol content levels of Jim Beam, MacAllan, and iStill whisky. First, we’ll make a prediction, based on Odin’s Holy Trinity of Distillation. Secondly, we’ll share the scores of each and every whisky. Finally, we’ll follow up with some conclusions and implications for craft distillers.

What is methanol?

Methanol is a low boiling point alcohol that is very toxic. It attacks the nerve system directly, and the eye nerve specifically. Higher amounts of methanol consumption can cause blindness. Even higher amounts of methanol can cause death.

As it is very toxic and potentially lethal, it is important to find out how methanol is formed and how it is regulated. If we understand formation, we can control formation. If we understand the norms and regulations, we’ll learn what to aim for.

How is methanol made?

Methanol is made by yeast that is stressed out a bit. It is a byproduct of fermentation. Especially hotter fermentations, can create the environment for yeast to produce methanol. Theoretically, this makes perfect sense, as methanol is a low boiling point alcohol. Low bp alcohols are generally the result of elevated fermentation temperatures.

Methanol is also made from wood sugars. If wood particles, or pectins, are present during fermentation, the sugars in the wood particles will be turned into equal amounts of ethanol and methanol. The more wood-like organics are present, during fermentation, the more methanol will be formed.

Stone fruits have a lot of pectins and fruit brandies are therefore usually high on methanol content. Grains have much, much lower amounts of pectins, so we’d expect the whiskies, that we’ll test later on, to score better.

Methanol: norms and regulations

The European Union regulates methanol for brandies, grappa’s, and fruit brandies. And on GNS, vodka, and London Dry Gin. Not on whisky, though. But the Australians and New Zealanders do, so we’ll take their numbers as the norm. Craft distillers and iStill customers can be found around the globe, not just in the EU.

Here you go. Maximum methanol count, in parts per million, for specific spirit categories:

  • London Dry Gin: 50 ppm (EU-norms);
  • Vodka: 100 ppm (EU-norms);
  • GNS: 300 ppm (EU-norms);
  • Whisky: 400 ppm (AS/NZS-norms);
  • Brandy: 2,000 ppm (EU-norms);
  • Fruit brandy: 10,000 ppm (EU-norms).

For more information on norms and regulations, also from North America and China, please see:

https://meridian.allenpress.com/jfp/article/80/3/431/174918/A-Comprehensive-Review-of-Spirit-Drink-Safety

Predictions

For now, we’ll continue to work with the Jim Beam, MacAllan, and iStill whisky samples we have been using in previous posts as well. Since whisky doesn’t contain a lot of woody material, in the making process, we expect very moderate methanol levels in general. But diving into the specific ways in which the three grain spirits are made, we can at least make a few predictions:

We expect the Jim Beam to be relatively high on methanol, since they ferment on the grain and use outdated, bubble-cap technology. On-the-grain ferments introduce slightly more woody materials to the yeast than off-the-grain fermentations. And as bubble-cap trays are a technology from the 1870’s, not a whole lot of control is achieved over the distillate, during the run.

The iStill whisky is also fermented on the grain, for 5 days instead of Jim Beam’s 3 day fermentation cycle, which should result in slightly higher methanol levels. Yet, we expect the methanol levels to be lower than in the Jim Beam, because iStill’s modern distillation technology offers more control and better separation power.

The MacAllan is distilled off-the-grain, and should therefore have low methanol numbers. Also, the long maturation time, that the MacAllan has seen, will allow more of the methanol to have recombined with other substances into new and different molecules.

MacAllan and Jim Beam both run uncontrolled fermentations. There is no temperature control. And as fermentation is a heat-generating process, this puts strain on the yeast and will create relatively (see next paragraph) more methanol. iStill fermentations are temperature controlled, so should perform better, but in order to create a big front-end, we also like to ferment at higher temperatures, like 28c continuously, which may mitigate the differences with the cooler starting, yet hotter ending fermentations of both Jim Beam and MacAllan.

In general, we expect all three whiskies to score significantly below the AS/NZS-norms and regulations of 400 ppm. Simply because there isn’t a whole lot of pectins and wood for the yeast to make methanol from. The MacAllan, due to the long maturation time and off-the-grain fermentation is expected to score a bit lower. The Jim Beam, with its big, non temperature controlled ferments, might see slightly higher outcomes.

Methanol content (measured in ppm/liter):

All whiskies are far below the 400 ppm norm. In fact, all whiskies are even below the EU-norm for vodka! As predicted, Jim Beam, because of the non-controlled, on-the-grain fermentation, combined with an old distillation technology, scores the highest numbers. The iStill whisky, even though it is fermented on the grain and for five instead of just three days, scores better, because of its modern technology that gives the distiller more output control. A lower fermentation temperature of 24c instead of 28c would probably have brought the numbers down to below 50. The MacAllan scores slightly better than the iStill whisky, due to the much longer maturation period (12 vs. 3 1/2 years) and of-the-grain fermentation protocols.

Conclusions and implications for craft distillers

  • Methanol contamination in whiskies seems to be well below the available regulatory norms;
  • Odin’s Holy Trinity of Distillation perfectly predicts the differences between the whiskies, minor though they are;
  • On vs. off the grain distillation, as well as fermentation temperature & control, slightly impact methanol formation;
  • It would be interesting to see how vodka’s and London Dry Gins perform, given the more restrictive norms;
  • It would be interesting to investigate how fruit brandies perform, given the very lenient norms.

Managing and meeting methanol norms and regulations is important. As a craft distiller you need to prove you comply. If you want to have your spirits tested for methanol content, the iStill Laboratory can help. Please reach out to Robert@iStillmail.com if you want to order our tests.

Methanol …

http://www.iStill.com

The Real Reason Brewers Should Start Distilling!

There is actually really just one reason why all craft brewers should add craft distilling to their portfolio. Just one. Here it is:

  • The revenue and profit on selling one bottle of spirit is 10x that of selling one bottle of beer!

Are you a craft brewer that wants to learn how easy distilling really is? Reach out to me personally via Odin@iStillmail.com, so I can help you move forward.

10x your revenue and profit with iStill …

http://www.iStill.com

iStill Watch!

What we wanted to achieve

The iStill Watch is a project that we have put quite some time in, over the last year and a half. As admirers of the craftsmanship, the detailing, and the precision engineering of beautiful timepieces, as well as stills, it has been our desire to design a watch that does justice to our brand and to the people that will wear one.

For whom we designed it

For whom did we design the iStill Watch? For those that positively impact our industry and help make it a more vibrant, competitive, and empowered market place. Either by helping out the industry or individual distillers directly, or by helping us make a difference.

Watchkeeper

Wearing an iStill Watch makes you a Watchkeeper. iStill’s timepiece, in other words, comes with both acknowledgement and responsibility. The acknowledgement of having made a significant contribution to the craft distilling industry. And the responsibility to keep watch over our industry: to call out and amend what’s wrong, and to help individual craft distillers – and the industry at large – move forward.

Availability

We have designed and built 25 iStill Watches. Seventeen watches have been reserved to celebrate those that have already made a difference. Eight watches are held in stock for future jubilees.

Specifications

Movement: Swiss Automatic, 26 jewels, pearlage decorated, Glucydur balance wheel, Cotes de Geneve finished rotor

Movement (continuation): Nivaflex mainspring, Incabloc shock protection

Calibre: 28,800vph, 4Hz, smooth sweep

Power reserve: 44 hours

Waterproof: 10 ATM, 100 meters or 330 feet, double O-ring sealing

Accuracy: 0 to +5 seconds/day

Case: 41 mm, 316L Stainless Steel

Glass: Sapphire

Dial: Black, with illuminated silver dots

Bezel: 316L Stainless Steel, polished

Hands: Silver, illuminated

Caseback: 316L Stainless Steel screw-cap, with sapphire glass window

Crown: Wide model

Bracelet: 22 mm, Stainless Steel, 3-link, mat/shine combo, black PVD coat

Buckle: Concealed double butterfly folding clasp

Individual watch test report: strength & pressure testing passed (well above and beyond specifications)

The iStill Watch …

http://www.iStill.com

Why iStill Boilers are Square instead of Round!

Our patented flush square boilers bring amazing advantages to the craft distilling industry:

  • Counters vortex formation, which results in much better mixing, allowing for:
  • On the grain distilling for 20% more flavor;
  • Direct heating;
  • Maillard Reaction for another 25% more flavor;
  • Higher net boiler capacity (+20%);
  • Stable gas bed above the liquids;
  • Resulting in more stable vapor speeds inside the column;
  • For more control over cuts and flavor composition.

A video to prove our points? Here you go (flush square jar to the right, round one to the left) …

http://www.iStill.com

Happy 2023: The Golden Age of iStillers Starts!

Introduction

On behalf of the iStill Team, I wish you a Happy New Year! May all your dreams come true. In good health. Achieve your personal and business goals, as well as your good intentions.

Here’s my take on the state of our industry. What challenges face us? How do we translate threats into opportunities? Why do I expect the Golden Age to start and what will iStill’s role be? Let us dive in deeper, as 2023 might well become a truly amazing year …

Challenges

Inflation is high, so consumers have less money to spend. Interest rates are high, making investments in new business opportunities more costly. Energy and grain prices are up significantly, impacting production costs and profit potential.

The distilling industry, craft as well as Big Alcohol, is affected particularly hard by the above challenges. Lower demand plus higher investment costs plus rising production costs do not sound like a Golden Age is eminent. But it is. At least for iStillers.

Understanding the difference between commodity, luxury, and premium products

To make opportunities out of challenges, it is important to understand the difference between commodities, luxury items, and premium products. Commodities are goods needed for a basic level of existence or survival. Bread, meat, electricity, gas, vegetables, and housing are all examples of commodities. Commodity goods are relatively price-inelastic. We need them, so we’ll continue buying them with the money we have left, even at higher prices.

Luxury goods are products or services we want but don’t really need. They make life nicer, but they are not essential to our survival. In a downward economy, where people have less money to spend, most will spend more money on the now higher priced commodities at the expense of luxury goods. Luxury is about faith and, as the overall sentiment in the market is becoming more negative, trust in the state of the economy negatively affects luxury goods disproportionately. Put differently, luxury goods are very price-elastic. With less money around, much less luxuries will be sold.

Premium goods offer better quality, or materials, or services, or a combination thereof. Premium products are called “premium”, because people want to pay a premium price for those higher-quality products. Especially in times of economic contraction, premium products flourish, because if someone can spend their money only once, well, then it better counts. Premium goods make life easier – and that’s appreciated at times when life is becoming harder. In economic terms, premium goods have a reverse price-elasticity: the more expensive money becomes, the more the focus will be on purchasing “premiums” at the expense of “luxuries”.

Effects on Big Alcohol

Big alcohol produces bulk spirits at low prices. Their products are as close to a commodity as alcohol can come. I therefore expect Big Alcohol to be relatively okay. There are challenges, yes, but the economies of scale and associated low production costs make their spirits the “go-to” place for everyone that needs a drink.

Traditional craft distillers

Traditional craft distillers produce small-batches of expensive spirits. The quality struggles to reach the level of Big Alcohol, while the production and marketing costs are about double. Traditional craft distilled spirits are luxury goods. The goodwill factor of the consumer is what drives most of their sales (“this is locally made, so let’s give it a try”). With faith in the economy taking a down-turn, the traditional craft distillers will face hard times in 2023 and beyond. I expect a substantial amount of them to be pruned away.

iStillers

iStillers have the ability to produce high-quality, premium spirits, at a lower cost price than traditional craft distillers. Premium always sells, since people – with money being more expensive – want quality products and services rather than mere luxuries. I therefore expect iStillers, that focus on delivering premium products to customers, to do well. Especially as there will be less competition from traditional craft distillers, which opens up marketshare, and because iStillers can establish a bigger value-gap to the spirits made by Big Alcohol than traditional craft distillers can, allowing for a higher selling price per bottle.

iStill

More than any other supplier to the industry iStill has been able to deliver premium products, materials, and services to the market. We are the only one to sell automated equipment, that is able to produce high-quality spirits reliably and repeatably. Our mashers, fermenters, and stills come with 10 year warranty. We don’t just sell a product, but also educate our customers and help them develop award winning spirits. Where the Corona Crisis grew our market share from 15 to 35% globally in just two years, the oncoming recession will only see more distillers choose for iStill. You simply cannot beat our numbers: 70% lower costs on energy and staffing, and 100x more control over flavor consistency and quality. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to see iStill become the new norm in distillation technology in the coming few years, replacing most of the copper pot and plated still technology that is currently being purchased by 60 to 65% of the starting distillers.

Towards a Golden Age

The challenges, that the industry faces, provide us with this simple yet massive opportunity: as the luxury products of traditional craft distillers get pruned away and Big Alcohol spirits are mostly considered commodities, we can finally create a craft distilling industry that delivers on premium spirits. If you have an iStill and a focus on bringing premium products, services, and experiences to your customers, you – as an iStiller – can grow your marketshare, your turnover, and your profits. Not in face of the recession, but because of the recession. Why? As mentioned before: premium goods sell at a premium, especially in times when there is less money to spend and people want to spend it wiser and better.

Our support to your success

Of course, in 2023 we’ll keep on innovating on our disruptive distilling technology. We have some amazing developments coming up. Even more good news: our prices will remain the same for this year. Also, we are dedicated to further broaden the services we offer via the iStill University, iStill Laboratory, and our Recipe Development Department.

We’ll keep on fighting the fear, uncertainty and doubt which is spread by the so-called “consultants”, that restrain our industry. We’ll keep on calling out the BS propagated by too many self-proclaimed “industry experts”, that look to make a living at your expense via the spread of non-sensical information. We no longer support the tradeshows they organize to promote their services.

The new year of 2023 will also see us break the monopoly on information, which the “consultants” and “experts” and their tradeshows have put in place. How? Via more research in the iStill Laboratory. Via more posts on the iStill Blog. And via the release of more videos on iStill TV.

Any other good intentions, Odin? Anything else iStill wants to disrupt in the new year? Yes, on an industry level, I expect us to disrupt both the old boys network, mentioned above, and the award industry. Here’s how and why:

We’ll introduce a charter of industry watchkeepers; people who make our industry a more vibrant and empowered market place. Being appointed a Watchkeeper is both an acknowledgement of your positive impact in the past, and a responsibility to help distillers in the future. To call out what’s wrong and help amend it. The Watchkeepers Charter aims to develop practical peer-to-peer consultancy and expertise. An alternative to the current industry-wide infestation of self-serving consultancy, provided by clowns that never produced a drop in their lives.

Secondly, we are working on a scientific measurement and scale for award recognition. The current medal competitions are profit centers. Arbitrariness at best, and money spend on the “right” consultant at worst, decide on who wins medals. Medals you pay for! We find that unacceptable, both ethically and from a professionalization perspective. Awards should be given based on objective criteria. Awards should be accompanied by feedback that helps the craft distiller improve his spirits. The alternative we are working on aims to address both issues.

In summary? In summary I feel confident that we can wish you an amazing new year. You are iStillers. You are the future of our industry. And we are here to help make distilling easier. For 2023 and beyond!

At your service,

Dr. H.E.J. (Odin) van Eijk, MScBA, etc.

Founder, owner, and CEO of iStill – Distilling made easy

http://www.iStill.com