Tales from the Workfloor: Size does Matter!

At Loki Distillery we pride ourselves at making “private spirits” instead of private labels. We don’t produce bulk spirits and toss any label on. For every customer we develop a special recipe, so they have a unique spirit.

That means creating a lot of different flavours. It’s easy to do that for gin, because of the iStill Mini. Any recipe we create on the Mini is transferred verbatim onto the bigger stills. Using the StillControl software we decide the cutpoints for heads, hearts and tails and we simply put those temperatures into the program on the iStill NextGen 2000. Botanicals scale up the same way. Every recipe is developed based on the gin formula we teach at the iStill University and that calculated for 1 liter. Doing a run on the iStill Mini? Just multiply by 10 for the 10 liter boiler. Going on a bigger still? Just multiply by 2000. Well actually… we multiply by 1920. Botanicals take up a lot of space and with around 80 kilograms of botanicals in there you need to scale down a bit on the GNS/water mixture. We don’t want to send those juniper berries up into the column.

But scaling up a different spirit is another story. It’s still easy to do, but there’s a little bit more trial and error involved. We developed a fruit brandy based on pears for a customer. This Austrian style schnapps came out great in the Mini, but it took some more time to get it right on the iStill NextGen 2000.

The challenge with making a fruit brandy from pure pear is the low amount of alcohol in the boiler. We started it with a 5% wash, which in the Mini is very easy to control. Just keep tweaking the power settings and the needle valve until you have it steady at 80 to 85 degrees for your hearts cut. But at the bigger stills, the robot is even smarter than we. When temperatures rise or fall, it doesn’t tweak a bit, it almost attacks to make sure it stays within the limits. And it does a great job, but only when we give it the right information. With so little alcohol and so much water in the still, top temperatures rose pretty quickly. Of course the robot closed down to create reflux, but only to the temperature we had put in there. It meant that most of our alcohol ended up in the tails cut.

It was easily fixed by treating the iStill 2000 as a Mini for once. We fractioned the outcome again and took notes, while we tweaked it. By just dialing the power back and decreasing the tolerance we were able to get the same results as with the Mini. And with all the information from the Mini already available, we only had to do this once. So for recipe development, it’s a perfect combo: start on the Mini, finish on the bigger stills. And of course now a customer is looking for a vodka from potatoes. He expects to create about 4% ABV in his wash… We welcome the challenge!

The iStill Distilling University is Open!

Introduction 

We are happy to inform you that, after 2 successful courses in October and November 2021 we start up our Master Distiller Courses again. 

When

The First Certified Master Distillers Training of 2022 will take place from April 18th until April 21st, in Woerden, at iStill HQ. (We are located at around 30 minutes from Amsterdam Schiphol Airport). The second course is set between June 13-16th 2022.

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 focuses 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

·      Fractionating 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

Reference:

Would you like to know what previous students think of the course? Please click here.

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 join? Please know that we have small groups with a maximum of 12 students per course. As of now we only have 3 places left for the course in April. 

For registration, please email Veronika@iStillmail.com.

Pictures underneath? You bet!

Sebastiaan, your course leader …

Willem, scientist …

William, still assembly …

Students, learning the craft …

You guys, having fun & getting to know each other …

http://www.iStill.com

Tales from the Workfloor: Making Money while Cleaning!

We don’t like to waste alcohol here at Loki Distillery. We actually don’t like to waste anything. That’s why we try to be as sustainable as possible. We reuse cooling water for heating up the next batch and our spent botanicals from gin runs are turned into biofuel. But what we are really proud of is the way we are treat our tails.

Tails are quite interesting to observe. We collect about a 100 liters of tails on every gin run and we just leave it in the same 1000 liter IBC until it’s full. During a tails run you can already see the heavy oils getting out of solution. At winter, when we let the temperature in the distillery drop to around 10 degrees Celsius at night, the oils become almost solid and float on top of the IBC.

Whenever we have 1000 liters collected, it’s time for a cleaning run. We call it this because we are cleaning up the tails, but also the still! Thanks to the inventions at the iStill Lab we add a little bit of sodium hydroxide to the tails and then top of it off with fresh water until we have filled the boiler. We then run our special program in column mode, with a very long stabilization time. The robot and the sodium hydroxide work their magic and after 22 hours we are left with almost no heads cut, around 150 liters of pure alcohol at 96% ABV and a very small tails cut. There’s no residual taste to the alcohol and it can easily be reused as base for gins or liqueurs.

But as I said, it’s a double cleaning. Because inside the boiler we are left with an almost milky liquid. All the oils from the tails have been left behind and all we need to do is pump it out. It’s quite acidic, so you need to do this as soon as it has cooled down. But, it’s not that acidic that is dangerous to the environment. We can even just put it back into the Dutch water collection system, as we collect rainwater and sewage water separately. The water is then filtered through large sand dunes near the coast and used again as drinking water. Not a drop wasted. And the best thing of all? The boiler is squeaky clean after a cleaning run. Any residue from calcium on the inside, any discoloring on the stainless steel; all is washed away by the cleaning run. But then again, we are a 21st century distillery.

iStill 1000 Hybrid!

The iStill 1000 Hybrid is a fully automated 1000 liter / 260 gallon net capacity distillery. The iStill 1000 Hybrid can make every type of spirit: brandy, gin, rum, vodka, whisky, or liqueur. The unit as equipped underneath, with indirect heaters, Jet Propulsions Agitator System (J-PAS), and boiler radiator, can also mash and ferment.

Mashing, fermenting, and distilling any product in one machine. Making craft distilling easier? Betcha! That’s what iStill is all about.

This specific unit will be on display and in use during the iStill University Courses in April and June. After those events, it can be yours. A complete, 1000 liter / 260 gallon net capacity distillery for EUR 72.500,-.

http://www.iStill.com

Tales from the Workfloor: Heating-up and Cooling-down!

One of the cool parts of running a distillery that specializes in contract distilling is that no day is the same. With different customers come different recipes and operating procedures. Yet we are always looking for ways to standardize procedures, so we can work as efficient as possible.

That became even easier with the arrival of our second iStill NextGen 2000. As distilling is all about heating up and cooling down, we use a lot of energy and a lot of water. So why not reuse that energy and water where possible.

The cooling water coming from a running still is quite hot, around 40 degrees Celsius. Usually it goes down the drain. But in the past we already started to collect this cooling water in an IBC. When the run was finished and the still cleaned, we had already 1000 liters of water on hand. And believe me; you fill a still a lot quicker by emptying an IBC than by filling it with water from the tap.

But now with two iStills next to each other, we can not only save on water and time, but also on energy. The cooling water from the still that is running now goes directly into the boiler of the other still. So we are filling the still with hot water, speeding up heat-up times considerably. In theory you could do this with any still, but the iStills make it particularly easy for two reasons.

First, there’s no plumbing and piping involved. We just take the hose from still no.1 out of the drain and put it into still no. 2 through the manhole. Reached the desired level? Just pick it up and put it back into the drain. (Well yes, you might want to use a bucket under the hose for that small journey from still to sink)

And secondly; even when we are not yet ready to start the run on the other still, there’s energy saved. The iStills are perfectly insulated and keep warm for a very long time. When we fill the still in the afternoon and come back the next morning, it’s still at 35 degrees. Saves us an hour and a half of heat-up time and energy.

So nowadays we have very happy juniper berries soaking in a warm bath during the night. Give them a little bit of warmth and love and you get even better flavors from them. And it doesn’t even cost you anything to warm them up now!

http://www.iStill.com

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