Contract Distilling at the iStill Center!

Today, we bottled 4,000 bottles. Where? At the Amsterdam iStill Center. We make stills, we educate the craft distilling industry, we help design spirits, and we are available for contract distilling. Here are a few pictures about us bottling …

https://www.istill.com/contractdistilling

PS: We also shipped three more iStills to the USA today. One iStill 500 and two iStills 2000.

Will Wireless Tasting be the Next Step!?!

Here’s a new iStill innovation. Yes, one that makes distilling easier again! What it is? It’s a new module we designed. A WiFi module.

With this new technology added to the iStill PLC, you can now remotely access, monitor, and operate the unit without an ethernet cable connection. You can run your iStill via your computer and even your phone with maximum ease.

The new WiFi module can be added when you order a new iStill. The costs are EUR 500,-. Or you can upgrade your existing iStill to full WiFi capability. In that case we ship you the module, instruct you how to replace the old ethernet cable unit, we update your iStill remotely, and you ship the old module back to us. The retrofit package costs EUR 800,-.

For more info, please reach out to William@iStillmail.com. If you want to place the order, please contact Finance@iStillmail.com.

The new WiFi module that we designed for the iStills …

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Doing a whisky finishing run via my iPhone 7S (screenshot) …

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http://www.iStill.eu

Rigorous Testing Creates Perfection!

Introduction

Every unit we build is tested to the max. And since our units are automated and robotized, every run creates more data. Data that we can use to further optimize the automated programs we offer our customers via firmware updates. Here’s an iStill Blog post that shows how we test and what the parameters are that we get over.

Today’s test run

Currently, we are testing a 500 liter iStill. The unit is filled with 450 liters of 30% low wines and we are doing both potstill run tests and pure run test. The first category teaches us how fast the unit can strip and/or finish taste rich product. We do these tests at 50% power settings, to simulate finishing, and at 100% power setting to simulate stripping. The second category – testing pure mode – tells us what the maximum ABV is that the unit can produce and at what rates it does so.

Strip run test in potstill mode

The iStill 500 produces 51 liters per hour at robot opening 750 and 100% power. This means the unit strips at over 50 liters per hour. The column cooler settles at 33C. Well below the maximum cooling temperature of 50C. Great result for the column and cooling!

Finishing run test in potstill mode

The iStill 500 produces 25 liters per hour at robot opening 500 and 50% power. That’s mimicking a slow finishing run, with relatively low vapor speeds. The cooler temperature drops to  below 27C. Again, a great result for both column and cooler.

Pure run test

We are currently finishing the pure run, where we make vodka and GNS. With a power setting of 80%, a robot tolerance of 0.3C, and a first opening of 200, the unit easily reaches > 96.5%. The amount produced is 21.5 liters per hour. In plain English? The iStil 500 reaches maximum purity levels (azeotrope) and produces 21.5 liters of it per hour. Another world record for iStill! Here are some pictures:

iStill 500 NextGen going through its test cycles …

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Touch screen computer showing the pure run tests …

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Alcohol strength above 96.5% …

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Potstill run at 100% power: influence of robot setting …

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http://www.iStill.eu

What’s in a Name?

Introduction

What’s in a name? Well, if its fine, nothing much. But what if names are confusing? In that case we’d better change them. And that is where this post is about. New names for some of the processes the iStills support. Old wine in a new bottle? Maybe. Probably. But we want to inform you anyhow!

Old Menu Set-up

The iStill supports pretty much all functions a Craft Distiller needs:

  • Mashing (to turn starches into sugars);
  • Fermenting (to turn sugars into alcohol);
  • Distilling (to turn distillers beers and wines into spirits);
  • Extracting (to extract ultimate taste profiles from fruits, herbs, berries, and nuts);
  • Accelerated Aging (under the Heating Program).

Confusion

Some confusion arose among our customers about how we named the two distillation programs. Or how they should interpret them.

We had “Robot Distilling”. That was easy enough: programs one can use for robotized distillation runs. And we had “Manual Distilling”. In this program the robot just opens and delivers a (more or less controlled) potstill run. The robot does not do much, but the automation takes care of the whole run. And that’s where the confusion started, because … if the whole run is automated, why call it “Manual”?

We did give it that name to distinguish this run for the run where the robot actively intervened and we felt that “Automated” wasn’t a good name either, because in that case our customers for sure would have thought that the robotized runs weren’t automated. And runs where the robot is actively involved are actually also fully automated.

New Menu Names

To lift the confusion, we decided to rename “Manual Distilling” and “Robot Distilling”. The focus now lays on where the Craft Distiller actually uses the two programs, for most of the time.

The program formerly known as “Manual Distilling” is mostly used for pot distilled products like gin and whiskey and rum. Even with a one or 1.5 distillation approach. So we decided to call it “Potstill Run”.

The program formerly known as “Robot Distilling” is mostly used for vodka and GNS production. We therefore now call it “Pure Run”.

For existing iStill customers: the functionality of the two programs does not change! It’s just the names that are different.

To add to the confusion

Just to add a little confusion back in, please know that you can use “Potstill Run” and still manipulate the setting of the robot. Indeed, manually. This means you have perfect control over cuts and purity. It allows you to make a rum, whiskey, or brandy in one run. Just close the robot a little bit. Or you can stay with the more traditional two or 1.5 distillation approach. Only vodka making will be quite a challenge, because it asks for a lot of manual intervention.

But luckily the “Pure Run” will do that for you. Robotized and automated. And the fun thing is, that we can also manipulate the robot through predefined programs, so that even in “Pure Run” mode you can make taste rich products, in such a way that Heads and Tails smearing is even more controlled than in potstill mode.

Versatility is great. Making any product on the iStills is great. We have changed the technology in distilling industry, and moved things forward by a century and a half, but names and procedures use old, traditional names. Sometimes that’s the way it is …

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http://www.iStill.eu

 

 

 

iStill Recipe Library!

Introduction

Version 5.5 of the firmware is ready! What it brings you? The iStill Recipe Library! What that is? It is an addition to the existing v4.4, that allows you to dial in recipes … and save them for later use. And there is more.

Saving & Loading

If you have designed a recipe – say for your Bourbon – and you are happy with it, you can now go to settings and save that recipe, give it a name, and store it for future use.

Say – for example – that you did a vodka run next and you now want to prepare for another Bourbon distillation … all you do, is go to manual or robot distilling, and select your previously defined and saved Bourbon recipe. Select it, press start, and of you go. Easy does it.

Sort & Number

You can design, save and upload recipes for:

  • Mashing;
  • Fermenting;
  • Manual distilling;
  • Robot distilling.

Each category can hold up to 50 recipes. How’s that for versatility?

The things you can dial in – per recipe – are (among others):

  • Heat-up and run power;
  • Fores, heads, hearts, and tails cuts;
  • Robot settings for purity;
  • Agitator settings;
  • Start and end dates and times;
  • Fermentation and mashing temperatures;
  • And so much more …

iStill Standard Recipes

Based on our experience with recipe development, and on the feedback we get from you, we predesigned recipes for mashing, fermenting, manual, and robot distilling. Like this:

  • Standard Mashing Procedures:
    • Bourbon;
    • Single Malt Whisky.
  • Standard Fermenting Procedures:
    • Whisk(e)y;
    • Bourbon;
    • Rum;
    • Brandy;
    • Fruit Brandy;
    • Vodka (low esterification fermentation).
  • Standard Manual and Robot Distilling Recipes:
    • Stripping (generic);
    • Gin making;
    • Whisk(e)y;
    • Bourbon;
    • Rum;
    • Brandy;
    • Fruit Brandy;
    • Vodka (Pure Run).
  • Maintenance Procedures:
    • Vinegar Cleaning Run;
    • Sacrificial Alcohol Cleaning run.

The mashing and fermenting procedures are pretty much spot on. The distillation recipes of course depend on your specific preferences. You may want your Bourbon or rum or whatever a bit more fruity or nutty, or dial in for longer or shorter aging cycles. But – apart from that – these recipes can be seen as 100% ready to go as a good standard, and 95% ready, if you want to add a personal twist.

Beef-up your functionality

All iStills that now leave us will have this new functionality available. For those out there that want to upgrade their NextGens to have access to the iStill Recipe Library, please know that we are planning an update session for all of you in a month and a half from now. If you want to register for this free upgrade (part of the software and support fee!), please email to: william@istillmail.com.

iStill Recipe Menu …

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Excel Based Standard Recipes ready to be uploaded …

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http://www.iStill.eu

An Update on Our Firmware!

Introduction

There are two things that we changed on our firmware and that I want to share with you:

  1. Opening up the old generation Firmware;
  2. New functionality to the NextGen Firmware.

Old Generation Firmware

For those of you that still run the older types iStill 50, 250 and 500, please know that we are currently constructing an extra page to our website, where you can download the latest version of the old Firmware yourself.

The page where we open up the old firmware, will probably go life in April. It will save you and us a lot of work and make sure you run the very last firmware. Installing it yourself: we will make that as easy as possible. We’ll keep you posted!

New NextGen Firmware Functionality

We just added a new program to the NextGen Firmware that allows you to calibrate your thermometers. Even though PT thermometers are very accurate, differences of 0.1 or even 0.2 degrees Celsius may occur. The new calibration program helps you correct that, if correction is needed.

New calibration program …

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http://www.iStill.eu

 

Firmware Upgrade Service!

Introduction

The Firmware Upgrade Service allows you to upgrade to a higher version of the iStill firmware, with more and enhanced functionality, without physically sending computers over.

The past

When I introduced iStill, we started with firmware version 3.0. It had Pure Mode and Potdistillation Mode. You could choose filtration or you could bypass the carbon filter. Hecck, you could even dial in different temperatures for Fores collection!

Over the generations, we added Heads collection, Tails collection, power management and so much more. We are now at firmware version 5.18 and releasing new functionality pretty much every one to two months.

But there is a vast difference between making new, upudated firmware available and our customers actually getting that firmware in and using it. In practice, whenever someone wanted a new version of the firmware, we had to ship him a new computer with updated firmware. And upon reception the customer had to ship the old computer back to us. A bit complicated for our customers, and very expensive for us.

Learning points

Based on our own experience, and benefitting from feedback from our customers from all around the world, we have worked hard on further improving the firmware. We have also put a lot of thinking into the question how to release and distribute improved firmware to you. Our ever improving firmware makes distilling easier. Now, let’s make distribution of our firmware easier as well!

The future

We introduce the Firmware Upgrade Service to make the distribution of our latest firmware easier. Using the Firmware Upgrade Service will allow us to update your firmware remotely. All you have to do is connect your iStill computer to your laptop. All we have to do is send you the iStill Connector. The connector is small and needs to be shipped only once. You can use it for current and future upgrades. And when the iStill Connector is in, we install the latest firmware for you!

Step by step

  1. You order the Firmware Upgrade Service;
  2. We ship you the iStill Connector as well as a short manual;
  3. We plan a time and date to upgrade your firmware to the latest version;
  4. At that time and date you connect the iStill computer to your laptop;
  5. We use Teamviewer to upgrade you in just a few minutes!

http://www.iStill.eu

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About Fores and Heads

Introduction

The iStill 50/250 family has programs for automated Fores and Heads collection. What do these programs do and what is the difference between them?

Fores and Heads, in general, refer to the first parts of the run, when very light alcohols come over. Very light alcohols like acetones, methanol, and ethyl acetate. “Fores” are the very first parts, where most of these alcohols are gathered. “Heads” refers to the phase after that, where lighter molecules from the alcohol family still blend over into Hearts.

Since the Fores and Heads associated alcohols cause hangovers (head-aches, to be more precise) and since you don’t want your customers getting head-aches, after drinking your product, it is important to get rid of them. That’s where our programs for Fores and Heads removal come in handy. At the same time … some products, especially fruit brandy’s, get most of their taste from some smearing of late Heads into Hearts. Our automation is therefore not only about removing them, but about removing them in a controled manner.

Fores removal

The iStills remove Fores right after the column is heated up. The Fores removal program helps you to achieve two goals:

  1. Clean out the column;
  2. Get rid of the most concentrated lower boiling point alcohols.

After the previous run, the iStill keeps some alcohol in the system. It helps sanitize the needle-valve as well as solenoid sections. During Fores collection this “old” alcohol is flushed out of the system.

During Fores removal, also the first parts of the alcohol of the current run is discarded. Since heating up the column in itsself causes some 100 re-distillations, these first alcohols are heavily contaminated with lower boiling point molecules. Alcohol that has just been used to give the column and its packing an extra cleaning and alcohol that’s concentrated with head-ache causing molecules? Yeah, that’s why we have a seperate Fores removal program. It is also why we want you to always toss this faction.

The standard factory setting for Fores removal of 78.5 C does a great job. But off course the total amounts of lower boiling point alcohols very much depend on the fermentation process that takes place prior to distillation. By upping or lowering the standard setting of 78.5 C to for instance 79 or 77.5 C, you can influence the size of the Fores cut. A higher temperature setting will lead to a bigger Fores cut. A lower temperature will cause your Fores cut to be smaller.

Heads removal

Once you got rid of Fores, thinking about how you want to deal with Heads is next. Heads is the phase during the distillation process where less and less lower boiling point alcohols contaminate Hearts. Early Heads are pretty bad. Late Heads have a lot of fruity notes to them that are very important when creating great fruit brandy.

In other words: we want you to be able to manage the Heads cut!

The Heads removal program usually starts after a prolongued stabilization period of 30 minutes. During stabilization we give all the molecules in the boiler a chance to enter the column to be sorted out: lower boiling point, lighter molecules gather at the top. Longer stabilization leads therefore to a more concentrated Heads cut. And a bigger, cleaner Hearts cut after that.

After stabilization, the iStill starts to collect Heads in a few drips per second. By manipulating the setting of the needle-valve opening (just push “+” or “-“), you can increase the collection rate. A higher needle-valve opening will lead to a bigger Heads cut.

How you can play around with that? Well, for a normal vodka, whiskey or rum, in the iStill 250, you may aim for 600  mls of collected Heads. Try 300 to 400 mls for a fruit brandy. And around 200 mls will serve a gin very well. Base line? You make the decisions, while iStill supports you by making Heads collection easy. And if you are happy with a setting, you can push “OK” and save that setting for future runs.

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Regards, Odin.

 

Programming your iStill Masher

The iStill Masher can mash up to 2000 liters. It has a double boiler and agitator, and is heated via natural gas and cooled by water. It supports cooking as well as single infusion and step-up mashing. Here’s more information on how the programming helps you to achieve your goals.

First of all, you can choose:
– Fahrenheit or Celsius;
– Agitator action (how many revs per minute);
– How many steps make up your mashing procedure (anything from 1 to 8).

Here’s an example of a mashing procedure:
1. Mash in;
2. Protein rest;
3. Conversion 1;
4. Conversion 2;
5. Mash out;
6. Cool down.

That’s 6 steps. Here’s how you can dial the above procedure (an example that can be used for single malt mashing) in. What consequently happens is put between brackets.

Step 1. Set temp at 40 C, leave it there for 15 minutes
(Water heats-up to 40 C, alarm is triggered, mash in takes place, alarm is triggered after 15 minutes)

Step 2. Set temp at 54 C, leave it there for 20 minutes
(Mash heats-up to 54 C, alarm is triggered, protein rest takes place, alarm is triggered after 20 minutes)

Step 3. Set temp at 60 C, leave it there for 70 minutes
(Mash heats-up to 60 C, alarm is triggered, first conversion takes place, alarm is triggered after 70 minutes)

Step 4. Set temp at 63 C, leave it there for 30 minutes
(Mash heats-up to 63 C for second conversion, alarm is triggered, after 30 minutes alarm is triggered again)

Step 5. Set temp at 72 C, leave it there for 15 minutes
(Mash heats-up to 72 C, alarm is triggered, mash-out takes place, after 15 minutes alarm is triggered)

Step 6. Set temp at 30 C, leave it there for 1 minute: mashing process finished
(Mash is cooled down to 30 C, alarm is triggered, mash can be pumped into the iStill Fermenter)

You decide yourself:
– The number of steps in your mashig procedure;
– What temperature goes with each step;
– And how long the mash should stay at that temperature;
– Prior to excecuting the now defined procedure, you hit the “start” button and of you go.

http://www.iStill.eu

14-20150527_085640

 

Firmware V5.0

The easy peach brandy recipe I worked on … sucked. I don’t know where it went wrong, but it does not taste well at all. Hot, harsh, oily. Mr. Hermes did the same experiment, used the same iStill settings, and tells me his drink tastes just fine. Well, this must mean I screwed something up during fermentation. More info on that later.

Currently, we are testing the new firmware for the iStills 50, VISION and 250. V5.0 has the ability to dial down the Fores cut to as low as 60 degrees C. Important for customers that live high up in the mountains, because they very much wanted to be able to choose a lower temperature Fores cut. Why? Because high up in the mountains air pressure is less and boiling points drop. The iStills, during production, will automatically adapt to this, but a stabilization time is needed for the iStill to be able to establish a new boiling point of pure ethanol. And Fores are taken prior to that stabilization …

The aim for the Fores cut? Dial the temperature in so it gets you around 0.1 liters for the 50 models and around 0.4 liters for the 250 models. Save that temperature and from there onwards, you will be fine. Rule of thumb: find out at what temperature pure ethanol boils, if you live in the mountains. Dial the Fores cut in at the first 0.5 degrees above that. And if you can’t find the boiling point, please remember, the iStill will tell you during the production phase, when you do a Pure run.

Procedure to decide on temperature setting for the iStill’s Fores Cut high up in the mountains is as follows:

  1. Charge the boiler with a mash or low wines;
  2. Dial, via the menu, the Fores Cut down to the lowest temperature setting;
  3. All other settings stay at factory default;
  4. Choose the Pure Mode;
  5. Do a run;
  6. When production starts, the iStill calculates the temperature of boiling alcohol (T_da);
  7. Let’s say that, due to altitude, pure ethanol boils at 72.3 instead of 78.3 C;
  8. Now push “menu” and choose option 1 “Fores Cut”;
  9. Dial the Fores Cut temperature in for the 0.5 degree point just above the boiling point of pure ethanol;
  10. In this example: dial in 72.5 C as your Fores Cut temperature;
  11. Press “OK”, then press “Escape”;
  12. You are now back in the full information screen, where you can see how the run progresses. And you have dialed in the Fores Cut you can use for now and in the future.

What’s more? Well, you can now choose to either look at the limited information screen or, by pushing +, to have the full information screen in front of you. The full information screen will not automatically go back to the limited information screen. Just push + if you want to change one screen for the other.

The advantage of this new functionality? Most distillers love to look at the maximum information screen. After a few runs, it gives them instant oversight and insight in what’s going on, where they are during a run. They can now have that oversight and insight continuously, without having to push the + button every 90 seconds.

Those of you that perform potstill or stripping runs on a regular basis, must have noticed that, on the full information screen, the opening reads “0”. This was a minor omission. In potstill or stripping mode, the needle-valve is off course completely open and not closed. Potstilling is about power management, not about managing reflux, right? So, even though the older firmware read “0”, the needle-valve, while potdistilling, was always completely open. In Firmware V5.0 we changed the way the opening of the needle-valve is represented. It now reads: “Opening: max”. “Max” for “maximum”, that makes more sense.

Functionality wise, the biggest addition to V5.0 is Automated Tails Collection. Just as you already could dial in whether you just wanted a Fores cut or rather a more extensive Fores & Heads cut, you can now play with the Tails cut.

This is how it works:

  • In the menu you can dial in the End Tempearture. Business as usual. End Temp is when the run (including Automated Tails Collection) is stopped;
  • Because we added Automated Tails Collection, you can now use the End Temperature setting not to end your Hearts cut, but to end your Tails cut. Tails that you may re-use in a next rum, whiskey, or brandy run.
  • Let’s say – as an example – you are doing a whiskey finishing run on a 30% low wines charge. You could dial in an End Temperature setting of 97 degrees C. This means the total run will end, when the temperature of gasses entering the column is 97 degrees C. It is now also the temperature at which you stop Automated Tails Collection;
  • Now start to dial in the run. Choose Potstill Mode, choose either Fores or Fores & Heads Collection, decide on if you want to use the filter (probably not on a whiskey), and – hey! – the next screen is new: you are asked if you want Automated Tails Collection or not. Choose Automated Tails Collection please;
  • The next screen allow you to dial in the temperature setting for the Hearts to Tails cut. The beginning of the Tails Cut. Or the end of the Hearts Cut. Say you dial in 95.5 C and start the run.

This is what will now happen:

  1. The iStill will heat-up and will take Fores and Heads;
  2. When, during the production process, the computer sees that the temperature of the gasses that enter the column is 95.5 degrees C, the iStill will automatically switch to Tails Collection via the Fores, Heads, (and now) Tails Tap;
  3. It will stop with the collection of Tails, when T_in reaches 97.0 degrees C.

One tip: if you are going to automatically collect Tails, use a longer line/hose and a bigger Tails Collection Vessel. Just a cup, as for Heads Collection, won’t be enough.

Long story, but we hope you like the extra versatility V5.0 gives you. And I may make a short movie about it. Pictures say more than a thousand words.

http://www.iStill.eu

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