Tales from the Workfloor: Coffee with Sugar, Please!

Coffee roasters and brewers are passionate about their products and love to talk about all the different flavors that can be found inside a good grind. We can definitely relate, as anyone who has seen us musing over a new whisky or gin at Loki Distillery can confirm.

So we were very pleased when we were approached by a well-known coffee company here in The Netherlands, to produce a new product for them. They had been thinking about putting a coffee liqueur on the market for some time now, but they faced a problem. Everything they tried turned out tasting the same. They used these incredibly aromatic beans from Indonesia. The coffee was deep and aromatic, you could taste wood in there, pepper and even some truffle. But when they macerated the coffee beans in alcohol the result was rather bland. It tasted like a simple instant coffee. All the finesses had vanished.

They tried another one of their special beans, this time from Cuba. The coffee itself was sweet, with lighter tones of vanilla and tonka. Again, steeped in the alcohol it became like a cup of Nescafé. Their conclusion: the alcohol destroys the flavours. They were ready to give up, until one guy said: “Hang on, we are experts on coffee. We know nothing about alcohol. So let’s ask the pro’s”.

Preserving those flavours is not something you can easily do by macerating. The problem isn’t the alcohol destroying the flavours, the problem is the flavours are still in the bean after maceration. So we did one simple test and put the beans into the iStill Extractor. We extracted for 8 hours straight and presented the results to the guys from the coffee company. To be fair; they had to get used to tasting coffee at 40% ABV in the beginning, but they were immediately able to tell the difference between the two samples: one was from Indonesia, the other from Cuba. And that makes sense, as the Extractor will get all the flavours out of a product. But apart from the flavour, they were equally impressed by the speed of the process; eight hours of extraction versus eight weeks of maceration.

All it now needed was a little bit of sugar (well, actually a lot of sugar) to turn this into a proper liqueur. You will find it in their stores in The Netherlands in 2022.

The next guy knocking on our door was carrying a bag of fresh lemon peel. Could we help him out with his limoncello? You can probably guess our answer…

http://www.iStill.com

Tales from the Workfloor: Let’s Work our Magic on Stale Beer!

The corona crisis has a big impact on businesses all around the world. Especially the hospitality industry in many countries has been hit hard. At Loki Distillery we have been fortunate enough to see our business actually grow during the pandemic. Using an iStill means we are adaptable to circumstances. We have seen this with iStill colleagues from all over the world; they easily switched to distilling hand sanitizer when there was a shortage or turning to different products when sales dropped or changed, for example.

At Loki Distillery we were able to help some pubs and brewers who were suddenly faced with a surplus of beer. With all the bars closed, the stock was piling up and, unlike spirits, you can’t keep beer forever. So could we do something with the alcohol in the beer? And of course we can. There’s actually a whole range of products that can be made out of beers.

The kind of beer more or less determines the final distilled product. So if you are interested in reusing beer here is a little guideline:

Blonde beers, weizen, etc.: turn them into a lighter spirit that can be used as a base for gin, liqueur or genever.

Dark lager, brown ale, Bock, double, etc.: turn them into a Bierbrand or eau-de-vie de bière. They need a couple of months of wood aging in new oak and get an almost whisky like flavor.

Stout, porter, triple, etc.: turn them into a barley wine. Let it rest for a couple of years in a used bourbon barrel or port pipe, to create a great almost sweet drink that reminds you of whisky and port at the same time.

Lager: there’s not enough flavour to create something really interesting in most lagers. So turn it into a vodka or GNS.

IPA: The different hops for IPA have lovely fruity flavours, but they are horrible when distilled. They turn into flavors that are almost sulphuric or garlicky. So, with an IPA distill it into a vodka. To get rid of the residual smells do another vodka run, this time using the natriumhydroxide protocol that Odin wrote about in a previous blog post.

From stale beer to great spirits. Because we don’t like to waste a drop of alcohol!

http://www.iStill.com

Tales from the Work Floor!

Aged gin? Go for genever instead

With more and more gins on the market, some distillers are looking at new ways to stand out. Aging gin in barrels is becoming more popular, so no wonder we got some requests from customers to make an aged gin. But in this case the customer isn’t always right. We like a different approach. And yes, it’s steeped in tradition, but more important: it’s a flavour-based approach.

Most gin aficionados around the world slowly learn that gin was based on the ancient Dutch drink genever. During the 16th and 17th century the English slowly developed their own recipes, based on the juniper flavoured spirits from The Netherlands. Of course, it helped that they had a Dutch king from 1689 to 1702. The English gin developed into a fresher, much more citrus based drink, especially the London Dry Style that came into vogue in the 19th century.

Dutch genever on the other hand has always been a grain based spirit, where the botanicals like juniper add to the flavour. Genever has many different versions, from the young genever which is very smooth and neutral to the more complex old genever. But here’s the catch: all genevers contain malt spirit. And these malty flavour lend themselves extremely well to wood aging. Some matured genevers even take on the character of a good whisky. Not surprising, as both are grain-based.

So why take away the freshness of your gin with woody notes, if there’s nothing there to compliment it? Instead, go for a genever that actually embraces the wood and keeps the juniper in the front. Especially if you are making whisky or vodka from grain as well, you have all the tools to create a great genever. First, create some new make spirit with a good malty flavour. The distill a great, lighter style gin. And finally blend the two together and let it rest in the barrel for a couple of months to years.

In the end the customer who was looking for an aged gin fell in love with genever. So much even, that they opted for one of the older styles, called Koornwijn (the Dutch word for “barley wine”). There’s 60% new make spirit in their genever and after just four months in the barrel it already surpasses most blended whiskies.  If you want to know more about genever, just reach out to Recipe Development at iStill and we can help you create a great new drink. After all, we are Dutch.

http://www.iStill.com

Column Packing: a Friend with Benefits!

Introduction

The packing inside iStill’s hybrid columns allows you to distill many times in one go. Or it can just perform one distillation cycle, in potstill mode. If you are looking for a simple pot distillation, the column packing is still your friend. A friend with benefits. Here we go:

Heads, Hearts, and Tails

When one uses a potstill to perform a run, the heads come over first. Hearts follow after heads. Tails – the last faction of the run – follow after hearts collection is finished.

Since heads and tails slowly blend out and in of the hearts cut, a part of that hearts cut is contaminated. Depending on the product purity and flavor profile that the craft distiller is looking for, the heads and tails factions are discarded and can therefore be considered a loss.

Heads Compaction

Here’s where column packing is your friend with benefits. Even on a normal potstill run, with an iStill, where the column packing isn’t activated by reflux, it will help you at minimizing your heads losses. Here’s how.

In a traditional potstill the riser is empty. Gasses that boil off from the boiler move upwards through the riser, then move sideways through the bridge, and then travel in a downward trajectory towards the cooler, where they are liquified again. Since headsy alcohols boil off first, the first part of the run is lost to the heads cut.

In an iStill with column packing, the gasses, as they rise from the boiler, hit the cold packing. As a result, the gasses liquify and fall back, while the packing is getting a little bit warmer. This process continues for many, many cycles and can take as long as 15 to 20 minutes. That is 15 to 20 minutes where heads are given the time to concentrate in the top of the column. Concentrated and at high proof, the heads faction becomes like 9 to 10 times smaller, thus limiting your heads losses and boosting the amount of spirits you can produce and sell by 900 to 1000%!

Only iStill offers super-efficient heads compaction …

http://www.iStill.com

iStill Internship!

Introduction

When Aris from Aristides Distilling calls us, we know we are in for a treat. New ideas, great feedback, an initiative he thought about and that we – as a community – should maybe embrace. Here’s the digest of his latest idea.

Not all that want to distill want to own an iStill distillery. Not all that own an iStill want to do the day-to-day distilling. Why do we only focus on owners-operators from countries that can afford to open a craft distillery? Why don’t we also focus – as iStillers – on people from countries that offer less opportunities for distillery ownership, but for sure are interested in distilling and want to learn the trade?

And – if we can find and train people in the noble art of (i)distilling – wouldn’t there be a market out there, among the iStill community primarily, of craft distillers looking for a trained and motivated distiller? A job offer? A win-win-win situation, where people get a chance at education and a job, where iStillers get access to well-trained staffers, and where iStill and iStill customers can do a good deed in the process?

We thought this would be an amazing idea to execute on. We are not yet sure on the approach, but underneath are some guidelines, stepping-stones, or maybe just concept baby steps. Please look at the proposal and give us your feedback. If we are to do this, we need to do this together. If we are to do this successfully, it takes more eyes than just ours!

Step 1: Distillery Selection

For one iStill Internship, we’d ask for two distilleries from one and the same continent. Say that we take Europe as an example. Maybe Aristides Distillery would participate. They are based out of Cyprus. Maybe Kapela Distillery fro Croatia would be another participating distillery. Okay, great, now let the games begin!

Step 2: Candidate Selection

Via an application form an initial selection of three candidates is performed. These candidates are interviewed by each of the participating distilleries as well as someone at iStill HQ. Based on the interviews a candidate is invited to join the program. Priority is given to countries that are relatively close by and do not offer distilling opportunities. Lebanon could be a great example for European distillers.

Step 3: Training at iStill HQ

The intern is trained at iStill HQ in the theories of mashing, fermenting, and distilling. He (or she) makes whiskey, rum, gin, brandy and vodka, under the guidance of the iStill University Team. This training lasts one month.

iStill buys the plane ticket and takes care of visa, housing, food, and drinks. When the student has successfully finished his training, it is time for the next step. If he qualifies according to his mentors, that is.

Step 4: Training at Aristides Distillery

The intern is trained on Cyprus on the products Aristides Distillery makes. This part of the internship takes two months.

The distillery buys the plane ticket and takes care of visa, housing, food, and drinks. When the intern has successfully finished his training, it is time for the next step. If he qualifies according to his mentors, that is.

Stap 5: Training at Kapela Distillery

The intern is trained in Croatia on the products Kapela Distillery makes. This part of the internship takes two months.

The distillery buys the plane ticket and takes care of visa, housing, food, and drinks. When the intern has successfully finished his training, it is time for the next step. If he qualifies according to his mentors, that is.

Step 6: Off you go!

After completing the three-stage internship successfully, the intern either goes home or (preferably) gets a job offer from one of the participating distilleries or another craft distillery. If it is a new job, the terms and conditions will be negotiated between the (former) intern and his new employer. If he flies home, iStill will purchase him the return airplane ticket.

Your feedback, please

This is the concept. We are sure we are still missing some points. Please, give us your feedback. What is missing? What would make this program work or what would make it stronger? Would you be a participating distillery? Why yes or why not?

Please email your feedback directly to Odin@iStillmail.com

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

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) …

http://www.iStill.com

New iStill University Certified Master Distillers Training!

Introduction

After over a year of not being able to give on-site trainings at iStill HQ, we are proud and happy to announce we are opening up again! The iStill Distilling University organizes the Certified Master Distillers Training at iStill HQ. The first course takes place in the first week of October and is completely sold out. The second one will be in the first week of November and is now open to subscription. We are opening up for registration now!

When

The new iStill University Certified Master Distillers Training takes place from November 1st till November 4th, in Woerden, at iStill HQ, located near Amsterdam, at around 30 minutes from Amsterdam Schiphol Airport.

What

The Certified Master Distillers Training is a practical training, where we train you how to make brandy, gin, rum, vodka, and whisky, as well as liqueurs. The focus is on “learning by doing”. You’ll spend as much time as possible behind the iStill Mini to make a variety of spirits, and to learn how to manage your still as well as how to make perfect cuts. Mashing and fermenting, and runs on the bigger iStills will also be part of the curriculum.

Placing

The Certified Master Distillers Training picks up where the iStill Certified Craft Distilling courses stop. The Craft Distillers course teaches you the theories around distilling, where the Master Distillers course focusses on hands-on training. The Certified Craft Distillers course is theoretical, the Certified Master Distillers Training is practical.

In order to participate at the Certified Master Distillers Training, you need to be a Certified Craft Distiller already. We need everybody to be on the same page, on the same theoretical knowledge-base, before we can dive in deeper via the Certified Master Distillers Course.

Program

DAY 1

·      Welcome

·      Theory of distillation recap

·      Smelling all alcohols

·      Filling the iStill Mini with wine

·      Fractioning the wine

·      Making cuts to turn wine into brandy

·      Watching brandy program on iStill 500

LUNCH

·      Theory of fermentation recap

·      Mashing 10 liters

·      Fermenting 10 liters

·      Organoleptic training overview

·      Visiting the windmill

·      Dinner

DAY 2

·      Feedback from day 1

·      Theory of extraction recap

·      Extraction on the Mini

·      Extraction on the i500

·      Creating hard seltzers

·      Sensory training: fruits and grapes

LUNCH

·      Creating a program on the iStill

·      Programming the iStill

·      Cleaning the iStill Mini

·      Distilling vodka on the Mini

·      Distilling vodka using ABV-C

DAY 3

·      Feedback from day 2

·      Turning extracts into liqueurs

·      Turning extracts into essences

·      Finishing run: vapour speeds

LUNCH

·      Sensory training: botanicals

·      DIstilling gin on the iStill Mini

·      Sensory training: faults

·      Visiting Rummiclub Distillery

DAY 4

·      Feedback from day 3

·      Sensory training: wood

·      Cleaning the iStill Mini

·      Distilling rum frow low wines

·      Aging spirit with heat and oxygen

·      Aging spirit with ultrasound

·      Using wood chips for aging

LUNCH

·      Distilling fermentation on the iStill Mini

·      Sensory training: aged spirits

·      Measuring and diluting your spirit

·      Evaluation of the spirits

·      Food pairing theory

·      Graduation dinner (with cocktail training!)

Costs

Participating at the Certified Master Distillers Training costs EUR 2.495,-. Two dinners and four lunches are included, as well as your certification.

Registration

Do you want to participate? Please know we maximize the number of students to 12. You will be working with the iStills Mini in groups of 2.

For registration, please email Veronika@iStillmail.com

Pre-Covid picture of the iStill Distilling University …

http://www.iStill.com