… but I am not telling you what we are investigating and testing!
… but I am not telling you what we are investigating and testing!
Vodka is a one-dimensional, almost neutral drink, made from grains or potatoes. Its relative neutrality is obtained by a multitude of distillation cycles, where each distillation further strengthens the ABV in order to reach 190 proof, while pushing heads and tails associated flavors to the sides.
This iStill Blog post is about how we improved vodka making over the last few years, and how you – as a craft distiller and/or iStill customer can take advantage of those innovations. Quite technical maybe, but that’s what it takes to make superior vodka: its a technological balancing act between purity and output after all. Or between reflux and product, if you like.
Making vodka in the old, pre-2016 iStills
The old iStills had a robot with only 35 steps. It calculated the boiling point of ethanol via stabilization.
Making better vodka in the original iStill NextGen in 2016
With the introduction of the iStill NextGen in 2016, we completely redesigned both the column and the boiler for better performance. Robot 2.0 came out, with improved 1,000 step accuracy. The actual boiling point was still calculated through stabilizing the column. The NextGen saw a boost in production of around 50% over the older designs.
Making better vodka in the iStill NextGen in 2017
The year 2017 saw another bit update, to further improve the accuracy of the iStill’s vodka making capabilities. Robot 3.0 came out. It gave the iStill an incredible 2,500 settings.
Making even better vodka in the iStill NextGen in 2018
For 2018 we changed two major things. First, we added a double calibration to the thermometer probes, further narrowing their operational windows. Secondly, we added an air pressure monitor. The new monitor allows for second-to-second supervision of air pressure. The moment it changes, the iStill automatically compensates. Since the iStills are now no longer dependent on stabilization for air pressure readings, they become both more accurate and more efficient. Basically this shaves up to an hour off the total run time!
Making the best vodka in the iStill NextGen since 2019
With the 2019 innovations in place, we feel the way we help make vodka has reached its peak. No more improvements are planned, we have reached the optimum. Non Plus Ultra. What the 2019 innovations are? ABV-Control and the Reflux Capacitor.
ABV-Control does, well, what it says: it helps manage your ABV. It works via a sophisticated program, where the computer, based on thermometer inputs, predicts what will happen, and prepares the robot accordingly. No more column re-stabilizations. Instead of open or close, the unit now continuously optimizes. The result? Better performance and higher efficiency.
The Reflux Capacitor improves the overall column performance with 25%, resulting (again) in a more stable run. As a result, the take-off vs. reflux ratio can now improve even further, creating the purest product possible in the shortest amount of time.
Want to buy?
That’ is perfectly possible. Easy too. If you buy a new iStill, you get ABV-Control, double calibration, the air pressure monitor, Robot 3.0, and the Reflux Capacitor as standard. Together, this incredible innovation suite maximizes and optimizes your vodka production.
Want to upgrade?
If you want to upgrade your 2016, 2017, or 208 iStill NextGen to Robot 3.0, the air pressure sensor and Reflux Capacitor, that is perfectly possible. It costs EUR 5.000,-. Online assembly support is provided and part of the offer.
No, you don’t need ABV-Control or the double calibration. It is part of your service agreement and was rolled out to your iStill during the last software update.
Vodka distilling made easy with iStill …
We have begun fabricating another batch of iStills Mini. As you probably know, the iStill Mini is iStill’s product development still. We designed this unit to help our customers create their specific drinks on a small scale.
The smaller scale of this product development still translates to faster and lower costs of spirit design. The fact that it is an iStill makes translating your recipe to the bigger, production oriented iStills a no-brainer. It’s now just a matter of scaling up.
The iStill Mini is an 8 liter (gross), direct fired still. It is made out of stainless steel, while the boiler is insulated. It comes with power manager (0 – 2 kW). The Purity Selector allows to distill both taste-rich spirits like brandy, gin, rum, and whiskey or very pure vodkas or GNS. It comes with an additional extractor column. In fact, it comes fully specced: power manager, boiler, column, packing, agitator system, heater, blue tooth temperature probes, coolers, and an app.
What’s new or changed?
Nothing major, but let’s dive in anyhow:
The price of this new batch of iStills Mini stayed the same. EUR 3.000,-. We transport them to most parts of the world via air mail, which adds around EUR 500,- to the invoice. A wheeled trolley bag is included in the transport costs.
Production and availability
We expect to have the new batch of 50 iStills Mini ready in about five weeks from now, so that’s when we’ll start deliveries again. Of this new batch, 13 have already been sold. If you want to start product development, and feel the iStill Mini can help you out, please order soon. The last few batches sold out in weeks rather than months and we only expect to manufacture a new batch after the summer.
Want one? You order it, we invoice you, you pay for it, and we ship it. You get the iStill Mini a few days later via air mail, assemble it (instruction available), and run it!
For placing an order, please reach out to your iStill Wizard:
The iStill Mini …
HAL 9000 is the advanced computer from Arthur C Clarke’s movie “2001: A Space Odyssey”. In that movie, the computer, integral part of the space ship Discovery, becomes self-aware and sentient. You can imagine that things get pretty interesting and intense after that event takes place.
iStill is upgrading its advanced computer systems, in order to make running your distillery easier again. Don’t worry, our new computer won’t become self-aware or sentient any time soon, but it does have some clever and helpful tricks up it’s sleeve!
HAL 9000 in “2001: A Space Odyssey” …
Distilling as a process
Distilling usually is a process, involving mashing (converting starch to fermentable sugars), fermentation (turning sugars to alcohol while creating flavors), and distillation. And since a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, making sure that all process steps are performed to perfection is adamant.
Distilling is a process …
The iStills (when properly specced) can mash, ferment, and distill. One computer helps check and regulate what goes on during each step of the alcohol and flavor production process. We also produce stand-alone and specialized mashers and fermenters. Again, one computer regulates the mashing procedure or fermentation.
So … what does iStill’s HAL 9000 bring to the market? Basically this: Central Distillery Management.
Central Distillery Management
iStill’s HAL 9000 is a new option, that allows you to centrally manage your distillery. By adding HAL 9000 to your iStill 2000 or iStill 5000, you can now use that unit to manage up to five additional iStills Mashers and/or Fermenters.
The additional equipment can be run centrally from the unit equipped with HAL 9000. Or remotely, from your computer or tablet, via WiFi or an ethernet cable. Remote as in away from the distillery.
The HAL 9000 option can be added to the iStills 2000 and 5000. It comes as an extra module in the PLC box at the rear of the unit. Included is a bigger (wider) and more advanced full-color touch screen, and a new user interface.
HAL 9000 gives you:
Central Distillery Management …
The HAL 9000 option adds EUR 10.000,- to your investment. It can be ordered immediately. We are currently uploading this option to the online iStill Design Center. It will be online in just a few days. If you can’t wait, please just send us an email.
Example of HAL 9000’s new screen and user interface …
There is virtue in silence. Personally and professionally. On a personal level, I hate loud noises. As a still designer and manufacturer, I don’t like noise either. This iStill Blog post is about what I think of noisy stills and why I don’t like them.
From an engineering perspective, noise is not a good thing. Unless you are a sound engineer, probably.
In general, when we compare two equal-purposed machines, it is the one making the most noise, while performing its major functions, that is less well put together. Whether it is the original design specifications, the fabrication, assembly, or all these combined, a machine creating increased noise levels indicates something is amiss. This is so, because noise production, in a machine, is the result of either friction or bumping. And both friction and bumping are the result of the constituent parts of that machine touching, meeting or cooperating badly instead of perfectly.
Noise levels, therefore, are a great indicator of the accuracy and precision with which a machine is designed and put together. If design and manufacturing precision is low, more bumping and friction takes place. Bumping and friction leads to enlarged wear & tear as well as to increased noise levels. A noisier machine indicates higher wear & tear, just as that higher wear & tear is the result of sub-optimal design and fabrication processes, of that machine. Like this:
Sub-optimal build => more bumping & friction => high wear & tear => higher noise levels
The opposite is also true. The better a machine is designed, and the more precisely and accurately it is manufactured, the smaller the tolerances. Small tolerances lead to less bumping and friction, resulting in lower wear & tear, and lower associated noise levels. Like this:
Precision build => less bumping & friction => lower wear & tear => lower noise levels
iStill and others
Given the above, noise levels matter. Low noise level stills have limited bumping and friction, resulting in lower wear & tear. A low noise level still can be defined as a precision-build tool. High noise level stills indicate higher levels of bumping and friction, inevitably resulting in higher wear & tear.
Even though there are no specific industry definitions on what noise levels are bad, mediocre, or good, it is possible to investigate and compare how different stills perform. And that is exactly what we will do in the remainder of this paragraph:
The iStill 2000 is the quietest still on the market …
Translating decibels into loudness
So it becomes clear: the iStill is the quietest quality still out there. But how does 51 DB compare to 62 DB or 80 DB? Let’s translate decibels into loudness:
From decibels to loudness …
iStills are the most silent stills on the market. A testimony of how well-designed, well-engineered, and well-manufactured they are.
Two other esteemed and well-established still manufacturers score significantly higher on noise production than iStill does.
By their precision-engineering iStills not only limit wear & tear, they also create a safe and sound (pun intended) working environment for you and your staff.
Another busy day, here, at iStill HQ in the Netherlands. We just put five stills on transport. Here is an overview:
Pictures? Here we go:
In goes the iStill 5000 …
Next? The iStill Mini and two iStills 500 …
With the iStill 2000 added, the truck is basically full …
Definition and advantages
The Swiss Army Knife is a compact pen knife with multiple blades and tools. The advantages of a Swiss Army Knife are fourfold:
For more information on The Swiss Army Knife (SAK), please see:
If iStill is the Swiss Army Knife for distillers, how does it compare, and where does it make an impact or at least a difference over traditional stills and distillery set-ups? Let’s dive in deeper.
The Swiss Army Knife …
You can use it in many ways
The Swiss Army knife is a tool with many attached features. It can have any of these items – scissors, pliers, blade, corkscrew, can opener, nail file, screwdriver, wood saw, wire cutter, toothpick, nail cleaner, wire stripper, peeler, ruler and key ring.
The iStill is a tool with many attached features. It can be a potstill as well as a column still, at the push of a button. It can distill any drink, be it whiskey, rum, brandy, gin, liqueurs or vodka. With add-ons like the boiler radiator and mixing system, it can also be used as a masher, fermenter, and fast aging machine.
You can bring it anywhere
Aside from the SAK’s multi-functionality, it is best known for its portability. You can bring it with you anywhere because the attached tools are bendable. You can push them into the handle for safe-keeping. If your priority is a tool’s portability, an SAK answers that.
Granted, carrying an iStill 500 – let alone an iStill 5000 – around is not an option. But it is very compact in design, when compared to traditional stills and distillery set-ups. And it just takes a tap and a wall outlet, and its basically “plug-and-play”. Also, it comes equipped with all functionality attached, meaning that you just select the program you want to run and the iStill will do it for you.
You can rely on it for years
Victorinox has maintained the SAK’s steel component. Over the years, it has been modified regarding design and features. However, its stainless steel has been the same and users, enthusiasts and experts always recognize its quality. Even when you grip its handle intensely, it remains intact because the tools are securely attached. Many owners have been utilizing their SAK in many ways and for a long time. If Superman is the man-of-steel, the SAK is the object-of-steel. That is guaranteed!
If Superman is the man-of-steel and the SAK is the object-of-steel, iStill – for sure – is the still-of-steel. Just like the SAK (and Superman), iStills are build to last. Everything is double engineered, meaning that where 2 mm thick steel or a 0.75 BHP agitator engine would suffice, we opt for 4 mm Stainless Steel and a 1.5 BHP motor.
You can save money on one purchase
Another complimented feature of an SAK is its affordability. Despite its multi-faceted design, stainless steel material and portability, the SAK is perfect for any budget. Reviews have remarked on how the item is underpriced given its many usage and durability. If you are looking for an all-in-one, handy, and long-lasting tool, purchase an SAK now.
Another complimented feature of an iStill is its affordability. Despite its multi-faceted design, stainless steel material, and 21st Century advanced technology, the iStill is perfect for any budget. Reviewing prices of a multi-plated Holstein or Mueller or a potstill from Forsyth’s, remarks on how the iStill is underpriced given its many usage and durability. If you are looking for an all-in-one, handy, and long-lasting tool, purchase an iStill now.
iStill is the Swiss Army Knife of distilling …
Was it only six years ago that iStill made a big splash into the craft distilling industry? Only six years ago that craft distillers finally got access to 21st century tools to make distilling great again? It was. And in those six years we have not just made a big splash, entering the industry, but we have established ourselves as the lead player for distillery equipment, education, product development, and contract distilling. Now the question arises: “Will we do the same to the craft brewing industry?”
Why ask that question? Well, because over the last year, more and more craft brewers have reached out to us, asking for our help and/or equipment in furthering the growth of their businesses.
As you are well aware of (or should be), craft brewing is well ahead of the craft distilling game. Their growth, shelf space, has preceded craft distilling by 10 to 15 years. Mature brewers have established themselves in any major and minor city in both North America and Europe.
More and more, it seems, those successful to craft brewing look for ways to increase their presence, highlight their uniqueness. And what’s easier to add to your brewery than a still, right? Just chew out some beer and turn it into vodka, whiskey, and gin.
Wrong. The problem – up until now – has not been buying the still, but learning how to operate it. Most stills out there are based on 18th century technology and hard to drive, let alone manipulate into doing the right thing. The craft brewer can’t just add a still to his brewery line-up and be done with it, no, he also needs to hire a distiller to go with it, probably a team of two, if he wants to make any significant impact. Guess what? That is about to change!
iStill for craft brewers
If you are a craft brewer, interested in adding distilling to your portfolio, you’d want to use 21st century technology. Just as you are using in your brewery. Stainless steel equipment, automatic programs with remote management and control, automated cleaning programs, etc. With iStill becoming available to craft brewers, that is just what you will get.
Our equipment can mash, ferment, pot distill and column distill. It can help make you whiskey, vodka, and gin at the touch of a button. The automation and robotization is so advanced, you will not need an additional distillers team. Yes, you will need some training. Please know we provide that as well.
To support craft brewers into expanding into distilling, we organize a special 4-day workshop. We’ll train you in the noble science of distilling. We’ll train you in making base beers for vodka and whiskey. How to mash and how to ferment and how to distill. We’ll train you in gin making. In fact, the course is so hands-on, that you will make your own whiskey, vodka, and gin yourselves!
Interested? Visit our stand at the Craft Brewing Convention 2019 in Denver. Or reach out to Jason@iStillmail.com. Jason is the North American iStill representative.
iStill at the Craft Brewing Convention in Denver …
If you, as a craft distiller, want to make the best spirits possible, you need to have full control over all variables. If you want to make the beste spirits consistently, you need even more control. This iStill Blog post dives into the influence of dephlagmator induced taste variance, how it can screw up your run, and how iStill’s innovations help solve the issue.
The influence of a dephlagmator on distilling
A dephlagmator is a pre-condensor that sits high up in the column. When a beer or wine is brought to a boil, gasses rise up through the column. In a potstill, the gasses go up via the riser and then migrate horizontally via the line arm and then are bend downwards before entering the secondary or product cooler.
Dephlagmator: a partial heat exchanger …
In a (traditionally plated) column a dephlagmator or dephlag is added near the top of the column or riser. The aim is for the dephlag to cool a certain percentage of the gasses back to liquid state. This liquid, called reflux, falls back down in the column and can be reprocessed by that column for further purification and concentration. For instance via bubble cap plates or perforated plates in that column, under the pre-condensing dephlag.
As a result of part of the gasses being cooled back to liquid phase – and them being redistilled lower in the column – rising gasses and reflux exchange molecules, making the reflux lower in ABV, while the gasses get a boost in alcohol percentage. When those now enriched gasses hit the dephlag again, another portion of them is turned into reflux, while another faction leaves – as gasses – the top of the column to be cooled down into spirits.
The dephlag is in use since the 1860’s and is still in use on most column stills for its capability of creating reflux. Here is a schematic drawing (yes, by yours only) of how a dephlag works:
Dephlagmator: reflux vs. enriched gasses …
How dephlag induced variance screws up your run
The dephlag is fed by gasses from the bottom and by cold cooling water from the side. The cold cooling water condenses (part) of the gasses. Near the top redistilled gasses leave the system, to meet-up with the secondary product cooler. Also near the top, now warmer cooling water exits the dephlag.
Even though dephlagmators do a good job at creating reflux, they come with a set of severe drawbacks. Drawbacks have to do with that dephlags run depending on cooling water. More water in means more cooling, more reflux, more purification, and less product. Less cooling water throughput means less reflux, less purification, and more product comes over per hour. But cooling water isn’t a given. It, and a number of other variables, has certain properties that are vulnerable to variance. Here are the biggest confounders:
A dephlag “controlled” column has a lot of variables to deal with. And each variable shows variance. Cooling water may be colder in the winter or in the morning, resulting in seasonal or temporal changes in cuts, flavors and ABV.
Water pressure may be lower early in the morning and later in the evening. Less water pressure means the dephlag doesn’t cool so much during (at least) parts of the run, resulting in lower ABV hearts cut and more smearing of heads and tails.
How hot is your distilling hall? And how does that change over time? For sure the delta between the coolant, the still’s outside and the gasses is important. And when it is constantly changing, so are your cuts, so are the flavors you bring over in your spirits!
When using a dephlagmator, the craft distiller will struggle to make a spirit the best way possible. And recreating the same drink over and over again becomes neigh impossible. In short?
Due to dephlag induced variance, you just screwed up your run …
The iStill solution to dephlag induced variance
Our mission statement is “Distilling made easy”. And in order to help make distilling easier, it has been our goal to minimize dephlag induced cooling water variance. We succeeded. This paragraph explains how we did it.
iStills do not have a dephlag. Instead of a pre-condensor high up in the column, we placed a full-size condensor above the column. “Full-size” means ALL the gasses are cooled down to liquid phase. “Above the column” means just this: there is no U-tube with consecutive after cooler on top of the iStill condensor. All the gasses are cooled down to liquid and fall down to the collection plate system. It is at the collection plate system, with the help of the robot, that selections between “product out” (spirits) and “product back into the column” (reflux) are taken.
Since all gasses are cooled back to liquids, the iStill design has no variance at all. Cooling water temperature does not influence cuts or purity or ABV. Nor does water pressure (or changes in water pressure). Finally, delta’s between column, distilling hall, and coolant don’t play a role anymore either.
As long as there is enough coolant, the iStill creates a distilling environment free of dephlag induced cooling water issues related to temperature, pressure, and delta’s! The innovative iStill column and condensor set-up allows you to make your drinks the best way possible. With the same cuts, ABV, and flavors … each and every run.
This is how iStill’s full-size column condensor works …
The European Commission has confirmed geographical indication (GI) status for Irish whiskey as well as Irish cream liqueur and Irish poitin.
For more reading, please see:
iStill 5000 Copper: the ultimate Irish whiskey still …