Never Mash Again! (1)

Since grain sugars are stored very efficiently in long starch molecules, getting access to them requires mashing. Mashing is the process where, via the addition of warm water and enzymes, the starches break down into fermentable sugars. The process of creating alcoholic spirits from grains is labour intensive and consists of the following steps:

  1. Mashing;
  2. Fermenting;
  3. Distilling.

Water is heated up, grains are added, enzymes are added. Both water temperature and enzyme activity are carefully monitored. And when all starches are converted to fermentable sugars, the mash needs to be cooled to fermenting temperatures. Now, yeast can be added and the fermentation takes off. Temperature and pH management help create the right flavor profile consistently. When fermentation is done, start your iStill and make a whiskey or vodka.

Compare the above extensive procedure to how rum is made. Rum has readily fermentable sugars. No need to mash. This is how the process of creating alcoholic spirits from molasses takes place:

  1. Fermenting;
  2. Distilling.

Yeast is added and the fermentation takes off. Temperature and pH management help create the right flavor profile consistently. When fermentation is done, start your iStill and make a rum.

What a difference, right? And what if we could skip mashing in grain-based spirits as well? What if we could simultaneously mash and ferment? If only such a thing would exist: a world where we do not have to perform that most arduous step of mashing, wouldn’t that be a great world for the craft distiller to live in? No more clumping, no more potential scorching, no more additional grain, water, and enzyme handling or cleaning.

The best process is no process. The best part is no part. The best solution to any problem is to deal with the problem in such a way that no solution is needed. Here’s the good news: we might have found a way to actually achieve this!

Follow us on our journey to investigate how whiskey or vodka can be made from grains without the need of a separate mashing step. This will be a thread of multiple posts and you’ll have to stick with us, since we have many, many projects going on right now, and this one isn’t our top priority, but we’ll get there, even when it takes a bit longer. Where we’ll get and how we’ll get there? Let’s dive in deeper!

The ultimate goal I want to achieve is to design procedures that help craft distillers in making grain-based spirits without a separate mashing step. How we’ll get there (and I am pretty sure we can) is via testing, and with some trial and error probably.

The road ahead begins with an amazing starting point and an assumption that needs further research. The starting point is that in traditional Japanese sake making as well as in traditional Chinese baijiu production, strands of yeasts and fungi are used that can simultaneously convert starches to fermentable sugars and ferment those sugars into alcohol. In sake and baijiu production no separate mashing step is needed.

My assumption is that, since rice is a grain, the sake and baiju yeasts and fungi should be able to perform this amazing double trick on other non-malted grains as well.

How to investigate? We’ll take it one step at a time. First, I want to acquire more experience with sake and baiju protocols, then we’ll migrate and apply what we have learned to other grain bills, that are more suitable to whiskey and vodka making.

For the first step we’ll do the following:

  1. Build an 1,000 liter iStill Fermenter;
  2. Purchase broken rice;
  3. Acquire sake and baijiu yeast strains;
  4. Use the fermenter to make hot water (80c);
  5. Mix in the broken rice;
  6. Cool to fermenting temps, while agitating (30c);
  7. Add the sake and baijiu yeast strain;
  8. Ferment;
  9. Distill.

We’ll go for a 1:4 ratio of grain (rice) to water, aiming for a 7 to 8% rice wine. Fermentation temperature will be around 30c, while maintaining pH of around pH 3.5 to pH 4.0. I expect the fermentation to take a week or less. After that, we’ll use an iStill 500 Plated to make us some tasty rice likker. When the rice spirit is mastered, the next step will be a grain mash made from more traditional grains, used in the whiskey or vodka industry.. We’ll keep you posted on this very exciting and potentially industry changing project!

Mashing Made Easy!

Introduction

The goal of mashing is to convert grain starch into fermentable sugars. A lot has been written about mashing. And most of it is wrong. Wrong or not applicable to craft distilling. How come? Because most information about mashing looks at starch conversion from a brewer’s perspective. A brewer’s perspective instead of a distiller’s perspective. This iStill Blog post aims to amend that.

Mashing from a brewer’s perspective

Beer balances alcohol with residual sweetness. As a result mashing, from a brewer’s perspective, is finding that fine balance between the right amount of fermentable and unfermentable sugars. The fermentable sugars create the alcohol. The unfermentable ones, often called “dextrins”, sweeten the flavor of the beer.

As a result, brewers use elaborate mashing schemes to achieve that fine balance. Step-up mashing protocols with rests at 40c, 65c, 70c, and more, help the brewer achieve his goals. And since most distillers didn’t know much about mashing, many have used brewer’s protocols. And that’s wrong.

Mashing from a distiller’s perspective

Distillers aren’t interested in sweetness in their distillers beer. Sweetness is a flavor that does not come across, when the base beer is distilled. So instead of focussing on getting both fermentable and unfermentable sugars, distillers should only focus in converting as many of the starch into fermentable sugars.

The consequence? Distillers do not need a brewer’s approach to mashing. No need for difficult step-up mash schemes. Instead, always do step-down mashing. Like this:

Step-down mashing single malt

If you are planning to make whisky from malted barley only, your procedure is very easy:

  1. Bring your mash water to 65c;
  2. Slowly add the milled malted barley;
  3. Stir it in and let it mix for 60 minutes without heating;
  4. Put the cooler on and bring the mash to 25c and start fermenting.

You see how you only need to step-down? And remember: no heating is required.

Step-down mashing for other grain bills

Any other grain bill goes like this:

  1. Bring your mash water to 90c;
  2. Add your high-temp enzymes and your grains (all but the malted barley);
  3. Stir it in and let it mix for 60 minutes without heating;
  4. Put the cooler on and bring the mash to 61c and add the malted barley and/or your low-temp enzymes;
  5. Mix for 60 minutes without heating;
  6. Put the cooler on and bring the mash to 25c and start fermenting.

Anything more than that is overcomplicating things …

Bottles to try out and Recipes for Sale!

Introduction

Our recipe development team is the biggest and the best in the world. the most experienced in the world and the best in the world. We are now adding adding standard recipes and try-out bottles to our portfolio.

Bottles to try out!

Do you want to explore what recipes can be made with an iStill? How iStill-produced whisky, rum, gin, or vodka tastes like? Via our website you can now order sample bottles online. We have a Mediterranean Gin and our amazing Single Malt Whisky available. Other recipes will follow soon.

Recipes for sale!

Do you want to purchase the recipe? You can now do that online. The recipe comes with the distillation run program (cuts, power, settings, etc.) and the complete Standard Operating Procedure (SOP).

For more info, see: https://istill.com/recipes

http://www.iStill.com

Contract Distilling for iStill Customers!

iStill supplies innovative distilling technologies, amazing distilling courses, and the best spirits recipes. Via these three activities, we hope to empower the craft distilling industry. But, as it turns out, some of our customers need more support. And that’s where contract distilling for iStill customers comes into play.

In order to set up a successful distillery, a craft distiller needs the best technology, training, and recipe. But he or she also needs a location and the applicable licensing to be able to start producing spirits. Often the building and the governmental approvals take more time. More time than the other topics. Or more time than planned for.

We now provide iStill customers with contract distilling services. If you have an iStill on order and if you followed the iStill Distilling University successfully, we can start producing your spirits for you. To that goal we established Loki Distillery. Loki Distillery will be managed by Sebastiaan Smits, whom most of you will know as the lead trainer at the iStill courses.

Are you an iStill customer that is interested in releasing product to the market sooner? Or are you maxed out and in need of temporary additional production capacity? Then reach out to Esther@iStillmail.com for initial talks on how we can be of assistance.

William, Sebastiaan, and Kevin …

The World’s Largest Distilling Library!

Today’s post highlights the iStill Blog itself! With over 1,350 posts and articles, in just 7 1/2 year, the iStill Blog has become the world’s largest distilling library. Use the search function to find and investigate the topics you are interested in. Or read the whole blog, from beginning to end, to see how far craft distilling in general and iStill specifically have come.

The world’s largest body of distilling information …

And it comes with a search function!

Online Distilling University for Existing Students and Customers!

Confronted with Covid-19 and the ensuing unability to give our iStill Distilling University courses here at iStill HQ, we scrambled to bring the curriculum online. Thus the iStill Online Distilling University was created. And it has proven to be a great success.

So much so that we decided to incorporate the online course with the purchase of an iStill. Like this: anyone that buys an iStill gets the course for free. Well, it isn’t for free, because the online curriculum costs EUR 1.895,-, but it is included and the customer is discounted the purchase costs of the online course.

So … new students get the latest course and so do new customers. But how about existing customers and existing students, the ones that participated at the iStill University physically?

On the one hand, one might argue that, well, we delivered as agreed upon. The iStills that were purchased a year or two years ago were more affordable, so that’s a benefit that off-sets the free online course we now include. And the students that visited us, and attended the physical course, well, we delivered on that as well. And very much so, if we look at the feedback.

Still, especially in these weird times, that – for so many – are filled with uncertainty, and with our mission to advance and empower the craft distilling industry … shouldn’t we do more? The iStill Management Team has been struggling with this question for quite some time now. But we think we found a solution that does justice to our mission and to the huge investments we have done to get our course curriculum online.

Here it is: existing students and customers that want to purchase the iStill Online Distilling University can now do so for EUR 395,-. EUR 395,- instead of EUR 1.895,-.

How to order? Send an email to Finance@iStillmail.com, telling them you want to order the course. Finance will send you a payment link in return. You use that link to pay and you’ll get access to the online curriculum the next day …

Purchase Our Single Malt Whisky!

We are bottling a batch of single malt whisky that we mashed, fermented, and distilled in an iStill, a little over three years ago.

We plan to sell these bottles to leads or customers that contemplate whisky making with the iStill. Each and every bottle proves how our amazing technology creates better flavors, and how iStill produced spirits empowers the craft distilling industry. Do we need that confirmation? No. Do you need that confirmation? Probably not. But in an industry where partners and financiers – not understanding distilling on a first-principles level, like we do – want some additional “proof” this goes a long, long way!

For that purpose we currently have 50 bottles of single malt whisky (47%) available. We are working on a link, so you can order online. Please give us a few days to set that up!

Distillers Reddit!

Questions

Hi Odin,

I was also wondering if I could ask you a bit about gin louching. I usually ask people on the distilling subreddit when I have questions about distilling and you’ll be pleased to know that you are very popular on reddit, and are often mentioned by other distillers on there. One person said I should ask you directly.

I have had some issues with the gin louching when I add water to it. We usually distill 18L of botanical distillate at 78% abv and then add NGS at 96%abv and de-ionized water to bring the volume up to 200 liters and 40% abv. I have the following questions:

1) Does it matter how quickly I add in the water to the alcohol? Someone told me to add in the water slowly to avoid louching.

2) I’ve read that making a heads cut during spirit collection helps to prevent louching. I started taking 100mL off, and I do notice there are a lot of oils in it. Why is that? I thought the heavier oils would be in the tails, so why are there so many oils at the beginning of spirit collection?

3) I know that making a heads cut during spirit collection, making sure the spirit and water are around the same temp when mixing, and adding more neutral grain spirit to the final product help prevent and get rid of louching. Are there any other ways to get rid of louching?

Any advice would be appreciated. Thank you.

Answers

Hi there, dunno what Reddit is, but happy to be of assistance. If I should help the broader Reddit community let me know.

As for your questions:

  1. No. Quick dilution will cause temporary haze due to alc and h20 not being mixed, so spots have more or less alcohol. The “parts” with less alcohol have less solvency power and that’s what causes the temporary louching.
  2. Takes time for the column to heat-up. So the first fractions are going to be distilled many times by the time they come over. Gas rises, hits a cold column and returns to liquid, giving off its energy and heating up the column, while performing basically a distillation. This process leads to over concentration of early juniper oils and they need to be discarded. Often you can see the oils float like a ball in the middle, if you collect heads in a see-through glass.
  3. You see louching as a problem. It isn’t. It is a sign you got tremendous amounts of flavor over. Congrats. Now mix in 40% ethanol/water mixture to add solvency power. When the haze lifts you achieved a gin with maximum taste saturation. Pls. know that 43% for craft distilled is often better due to higher solvency power. Otherwise a slightly earlier tails cut or a slightly lower run. But that is if you continue seeing louching as a problem, which it really isn’t.

Regards,

Odin.

Why Cooling Sometimes Sucks!

Starting a boil in your still results in vapors being produced. That’s how distillation works: you apply heat at one end to create gasses and you apply coolant at the other end to liquify these gasses.

Heating and cooling, and they should work together in perfect harmony. And they do. Well, as far as we design the iStills. Each and every design has a cooler that matches the power input. The cooler on an iStill 500 can cool down 18 kWh, while the iStill 100’s cooler matches its own, smaller, power input.

No worries then? Well, no, if you use water as the coolant of choice, and when you make sure it is below 10 degrees Celsius.

Now, I can hear you think … “What if our water isn’t 10c, but warmer?” And that would be the perfect follow-up question. Many live in warmer climates, where tap water is well above 10 degrees Celsius. And with the warmer cooling water comes a progressive decline of that water’s cooling capacity.

See the problem? In warmer climates, you need a chiller. That chiller is a device that cools the water down to below the required 10 degrees Celsius. The slightly higher electricity bill off-sets the lower water usage easily. Problem solved.

So why cooling sometimes suck? Well, because your distillery is situated in a warm climate. Congrats on the nice weather and our condoleances for having to invest in a chiller. That easy? If only it were … because, wait, there is more!

It turns out that cooling doesn’t just potentially suck in warmer climates, but that – quite often – it is distilleries up-north that struggle. How is that possible? Don’t they have access to cold water? Yes, they do, but since it is so cold, they are afraid the water might freeze, when put outside. “Outside” as in that’s where their chiller sits. Why a chiller in colder climates? Because of the warm summers.

What do distillers up-north do, in order to prevent their cooling water from freezing? They add glycol to it. “Glycol” as in an anti-freeze agent that has close to no cooling capacity. By adding it to the cooling water (and water has an amazing amount of cooling capacity), they are now diluting the overal cooling capacity of the coolant!

An example. Say, a distillery from Canada is advised to add a chiller to manage the temperature of their coolant downward. Because it can get pretty warm in the summer, right? And since it gets pretty cold in winter … well, they add 25% glycol to prevent the coolant from freezing over in winter. Since the cooling capacity of the glycol is very low, they (cutting only minor corners here) just “diluted” the cooling capacity with 25%! Start to see why cooling can suck even up-north?

The solution? Well, iStill provides one. Our bigger stills (500 liters and more) are now equipped with an additional pre-cooler. It adds 30 to 40% additional cooling capacity, off-setting slightly warmer cooling water and/or the addition of a limited amount of glycol.

But our pre-cooler is a band-aid. A great band-aid, but a band-aid altogether. Here’s what you, the distiller, needs to do. In a warmer climate, add a chiller and let it chill water. You don’t need anti-freeze. In a cold climate, limit the amount of glycol to a minimum and set your chiller up inside rather than outside.

Chill to know your cooler works just fine …

When do iStill Fermenters rock?

iStill Fermenters are, in general, more expensive than other fermenters. This makes for an important tradeoff: should you, as a craft distiller, invest the additional money and purchase our fermenters?

Here are three considerations to keep in mind, when investing in fermentation equipment. Or three explanations, as to why our fermenters are more expensive. Here we go:

  1. During fermentation, over 80% of your flavors are created. Flavor creation and composition result from managing your fermentation’s temperature, pH, and saccharification. Our fermenters are the only ones out there with temp, pH, and saccharification control.
  2. Since fermentation helps create over 80% of your esters, we feel it is a very important step. Robust control over flavor creation and composition demands robust engineering. Where other fermenters are made from 0.8 to 1.2 mm thick steel, we use 4 to 5 mm sheeting.
  3. Recipe development is fun, but producing the same spirit for the coming 20 years is repetitive work. iStill Fermenters are integrated in iStill’s Central Distillery Management, that allows you – via a single work-station – to manage your complete distillery single-handedly.

Thinking about it, makes us wonder … why are our “competitors” willing to make other choices? Why offer a fermenter with very limited controls, if that directly translates into non-reproducible results? Is it because they do not understand how important flavors are to the craft distiller?

And why ferment in an under-engineered vessel, unless you feel that the process of fermentation itself is not important? Why invest money in non-essential tooling, right? Unless maybe it is essential?

And finally: why automate and integrate fermentation management into the complete distillery … unless one feels that craft distilling isn’t about integrating various processes, but rather about some separate steps, mostly unrelated, and fermentation being the less important one?

If the goal is to make cheap drinks inconsistently, well, then the iStill Fermenters should not be part of your equipment portfolio. Our fermenters only rock for those interested in making better tasting drinks consistently.

iStill Fermenter for Shakespeare Distillery …

http://www.iStill.com