Today Eight Years Ago, We Started iStill!

After having built a reputation as distillery consultant and recipe developer for top-shelf craft spirits from July 2010 onwards, on April 17th 2013 I finally launched iStill. In my first ever iStill Blog post I invited you to join me at the start of what I expected would become an interesting journey. And an interesting journey it has been, indeed! In a mere eight years, we became the world’s leading manufacturer of distillation equipment. Not sure what my expectations were, when we started iStill, but the current status and success was for sure beyond my imagination and grasp, that day.

Our innovations have brought the industry’s technology from the 1870’s well into the 21st century. Our educational programs have trained over a 1000 distillers: a huge reservoir of people that actually know what they are doing. Our recipe development support – combined with our technology and well-trained customer-base – have helped to make better, award-winning products more consistently and at vastly lower price-points, both in terms of up-front capital investment (to open a distillery) and in per liter spirits production costs (to run a distillery).

iStillers, more than any other type of craft distiller, make their own products. iStillers, more than any other category of craft distiller, win most of the awards. iStillers, more than any other category of craft distiller, maintain and grow viable businesses, even in today’s pandemic. Where the market for new still sales tanked with 35% in 2020, iStill grew with 27%.

The seeds of what we are now (and how we got there), were already visible in the first iStill Blog post. We started the iStill Blog to share information and to make the craft distilling world a better, more informed place. We started iStill to provide the industry with better distillery equipment. Again, to make the craft distilling industry a stronger place. Or, in my 2013 words:

How? By talking about distilling and by making products available for pro distillers who want only the best. By means of a website / webshop that will be launched in just a few weeks time. Products that I hope will take the noble art of distilling a step further in terms of quality or at least in ease of use. For distilling, I quickly learned, is not easy. It is a labour intensive craft, where the biggest challenge is not just to get results, but to get repeatable results.

Reading the original iStill Blog post fills me with pride and a sense of fulfillment. Yes, by sharing lots and lots of information, we have made the craft distilling industry a more competitive place. Yes, we have made distilling easier. Yes, we provide the best distilling equipment in the world. Yes, we have maintained a very competitive price point. And yes, this has forced our competitors to cut their prices with a third to sometimes 50%. No, in the transition we have lead, we have not only made friends. And a final yes: “… the biggest challenge is not just to get results, but to get repeatable results.” Process control precedes reproducibility and reproducibility precedes quality. It was true then and it is just as true now. Not just for the 1000 iStill customers that rely on our support and input, but for the industry as a whole.

On behalf of the iStill Team, I say: At your service!

Drs. H.E.J. (Odin) van Eijk, MScBA, etc.

Founder and CEO of iStill.

Low Wines Initiative!

What sets iStill craft distillers apart? Well, the use of modern technology and a better understanding of the theoretical concepts related to all (most) things “distilling”. Yes, that, and the wish to produce in-house.

Strong statement? For sure. And if we mirror it, here is what many, many “traditional” distillers do: they invest into the romance via a (non or hardly functional) copper still, and then purchase most of their product with Big Alcohol (think MGP).

The above two paragraphs merit two conclusions: 1. There is a market for pre-made semi-ready product, especially in the rum and whisky segments; 2. We – as iStillers – are better equipped than anyone else to fill that gap.

How we fulfill that gap? Well, how about we, the iStillers, start producing high-quality low wines? This allows the “traditional” distiller, who now mostly outsource the actual alcohol production, to do the final run and make final cuts. They get control over flavors and – market-dependent – and can do it with a rectifiers license only.

The Low Wines Initiative is a concept we introduced to the UK market like 2 1/2 years ago. It got raving reviews, but never took off because of two reasons: 1. Our launching partner didn’t deliver on their contractual obligations; 2. Our proposed business model was pretty top-down and could be considered a hard franchise, placing too much dependency on iStill HQ relative to the position of the local low wines production center servicing (and understanding) its market.

Given that demand never ceased for high-quality low wines product, how about we give this initiative another try? If MGP has a huge market share in delivering low-quality finished product, why don’t we deliver high-quality semi-finished product? Better quality, more room for the customer/distiller to play with and create their own unique product, that is now sellable at higher margins. And for iStillers that participate in the Low Wines Initiative: a secondary income stream, a central place in your local distillery scenes, continuous use of your equipment, and higher total revenue streams. Diversification also makes for a more future-proof business model.

Interested? If this is an initiative you want to be part of, please let us know. As a customer wanting to purchase high-quality low wines. Or as an iStiller ready to take a place center-stage by servicing other craft distillers with your advanced equipment and knowledge, and our help.

The business model? Soft franchise. We provide the recipes and do most of the marketing. You’ll be part of a global movement. We’ll provide recipes, SOP, and redirect leads. You add your local marketing and sales and production savvy to that. Fixed administration fee and fixed marketing fee.

Placing iStil distilleries center-stage …

iStill Jet Propulsion Agitator System!

The Jet Propulsion Agitator System (J-PAS) is iStill’s proprietary mixing technology. What makes it unique? It achieves a 90% energy transfer, while agitating your wash or mash. That’s 8 to 9 times better, when compared to traditional mixing systems. How? By creating a wavefront in front of the mixing blades (instead of a low-pressure front behind ‘m, as in traditional systems).

The result? Better particle distribution in your boiler, a more stable gas-bed above the liquids, a higher fill-grade, no vortex creation, and a resulting better separation between heads, hearts, and tails.

All iStill J-PAS’s come with an oversized engine and lantern for longevity. A bigger motor only needs to run at half-power. The lantern insulates the engine from the boiler, so that heat transfer is minimized.

All iStills can be equipped with the unique Jet Propulsion Agitator System. iStills that were ordered without J-PAS can always be retrofitted with the system at a later date. How’s that for innovation and versatility?

Oversized engine and lantern … check:

iStill Boiler Radiator!

The boiler radiator is proprietary iStill technology, that can be ordered from the iStill 500 and upward. What it is? An active cooler in your iStill’s boiler. Why you want it? Well, for instance, because you want to mash or ferment in your iStill. Fermentation creates heat. Controlling your fermentation temperatures is critical for consistent quality flavor creation. The iStill Boiler Radiator does the cooling for you. Automatically, effective, efficiently.

But there is more. You can also use the iStill Boiler Radiator to cool-down after mashing. “Mashing” as in that you can mash in the iStills? Yes, you can. If you add the boiler radiator to your option list, that is.

A third goal you can achieve with the help of the boiler radiator is to cool down your stillage, after a run, as quickly as possible. Lower temperature stillage is easier to handle.

Finally, the boiler radiator can be used to recover energy. A hot boiler (or mash or ferment) holds a lot of energy. Via the iStill Boiler Radiator, you can harvest that energy and create – for instance – warm mash water. Pre-heated mash water creates for a faster and more efficient mash-cycle.

Boiler radiator in action: cooling back 1500 liters of boiler charge …

The Role of Copper in iStill’s Strategy!

Status quo

iStill aims to empower the craft distilling industry by bringing technological advancements to the market that allow for a more efficient production of higher quality spirits. In the (almost) eight years of our existence we have achieved a lot. Our innovations, and the appreciation of our inventions by the industry, has made us a markt leader with a global reach. Accelerated by the Covid Crisis, and depending on geographical market, about 30% of professional new still sales are translated into iStill purchases.

An astonishing percentage, that led me to the following question: what about the remaining 70%? If empowering the craft distilling industry is our mission, and we build the best and most efficient distillation equipment, why does the remaining 70% not (or not yet) select us?

There are three simple reasons. First, the fairy tale of “copper gives better flavors” is still very persistent in our industry. It is self-serving (from a still manufacturer’s perspective), because – as copper is perishable – selling one copper still automatically leads to selling another one a decade, maybe a decade-and-a-half down the line. Our scientific research has shown that investing in better fermentation equipment makes copper in the distillation process redundant, but the myth is still being preached as if it were the gospel.

Secondly, many established distilleries, that are already invested in copper stills, are reluctant to change. If it works, it works, and never change a winning team, right? Why risk a business that does well, especially when 2/3rds of your peers confirm the importance of copper (or labels fermentation as a non-essential part to craft distilling, which is basically the same).

The third and last reason, why part of the remaining distillers doesn’t consider purchasing stainless steel stills, has to do with legislation. In a push from Big Alcohol, trying to defend its most precious brands and markets, certain categories of Scottish whisky and Irish whiskey, by law (or at least by interpretation of law) have to be made on copper stills. The much bigger investment required to start up a copper-based distillery, as well as the inefficient potstill production process and its associated higher operational costs, combined with a three year minimum aging period, forms a great (read: very high) entry barrier to new competitors.

Why we introduce a line of copper iStills

If the above is the case, why introduce copper iStills? What do we want to achieve? What’s the role of copper in iStill’s strategy? There are basically four important strategic considerations for taking this step. Let’s dive in deeper.

First, iStill designs, builds, and sells innovative distilling equipment. It’s that simple. We aim to empower the craft distilling industry with our amazing designs and innovations. By introducing a line of copper iStills, we can reach more craft distillers. By introducing copper iStills, we can empower more craft distillers. The introduction of copper iStills is strategically important, because it broadens our reach with 70%.

Secondly, by mirroring the stainless steel iStill line-up in copper, we are able to quantify the costs of a decision for either base building material: stainless steel or copper. Instead of craft distillers having a black-and-white discussion with their business partners (or with themselves) if copper is better or not, that discussion can now be quantified. Since the copper iStills are more expensive than the stainless steel ones (the material costs of copper are significantly higher), the question now becomes one of economics as well as tradition. Even considering investing in better fermentation control, since that might be cheaper than the copper vs. stainless steel price differences, might now become an option.

Quantifying how good or bad one choice is, and putting that choice in sound business decision territory, helps us achieve two things. On the one hand, many distillers that were inclined to purchase a copper still, may now decide for the option that is more business savvy, and reinvestigate the “copper gives better flavors” myth once more. I mean, it is a decision that can cost or save you tens of thousands of Euro’s or Dollars, so it is now all of a sudden worth your time to do your due-diligence.

The other thing we achieve? Our fair and open price model will help halt the excessive profits traditional providers of copper stills make on their sales. The fact that iStill now provides higher quality distilling machines from copper prevents traditional copper still manufacturers from maintaining their current exorbitantly high price-levels.

A third reason has (again) to do with those traditional providers of copper stills. Companies like Carl, Holstein, Mueller, Kothe, and Arnold base their international sales strategies on a home-advantage of 10,000 customers (and returning customers!). A market that in itself covers all of their indirect costs. And a market pretty well protected by local and regional regulations. The south of Germany, the north of Italy, Austria, and Switzerland have close to 10,000 “Bauern-Brennerei-Anlagen”: small scale (100 – 200 liter) farm-distillers that use traditional copper stills to distill seasonal fruits into eaux-de-vies. Stills that need to be replaced every 10 to 15 years …

Our introduction of more affordable and more advanced copper stills will help us gain access to that huge market. And even if we don’t enter it at all, our fair and open price policy, combined with a marketing focus on these regions, will put tremendous strain on Carl’s, Holstein’s, Mueller’s, Kothe’s, and Arnold’s capacity to harvest these regions for excessive profits.

The fourth and final reason why it makes strategic sense to make iStills available in both stainless steel and copper has everything to do with Big Alcohol protecting certain markets by lobbying for (expensive) copper being a prerogative to entering that specific market. Most of those protectionist movements are initiated because of fear of craft distillers, with iStill technology, entering their markets, and bringing the battle to them. They have seen what’s happened to Big Beer versus the craft brewing movement, and they don’t want a level playing field for craft distilling to do the same to Big Alcohol. They have seen what iStill distilleries have done to the Irish gin market. Taking away over 50% of Big Alcohol’s market share, does not seem to go down well …

By introducing a line of copper iStills, we will enter those “protected” markets and help the local craft distillers compete with Big Alcohol via better tools. By introducing a complete suite of copper iStills, Big Alcohol and its associated lobby groups have lost their major tool in keeping our customers out of “their” backyards.

At your service,

Drs. H.E.J. van Eijk, MScBA, etc.

Founder & CEO of iStill.

iStill Universal Frame!

Let me introduce you to the all new iStill Universal Frame. What it is? Well, a frame or exoskeleton that aims to create a safe space for some new and amazing technologies we are about to release to the craft distilling industry.

Equipped with wheels and a pushrod, like on the pictures underneath, it will be the cart and exoskeleton to the all new iStill Pump. Without the wheels and pushrod, the universal frame will give a safe working environment to a new line of filters we’ll be introducing shortly. It is also designed to hold the new power manager that we are designing for our bigger manual stills.

One universal frame that, in the near future, will hold five or six new innovations! So keep following the iStill Blog and stay up to date on what more we are working on. iStill is here to empower the craft distilling industry, and there are some major power boosts underway!

iStill Universal Frame …

iStill Universal Frame with pushrod …

iStill Universal Frame with all-new iStill Pump …

Roadmap 2021 and Beyond!

First, we are going to develop a solution to the copper particle contamination issue, that plagues such a large part of the craft distilling industry.

We’ll then introduce a line of automated and robotized copper stills in order to help those craft distillers out that, by law, are not allowed to use stainless steel for the production of certain spirits.

Thirdly, we will introduce a webshop where we’ll sell various after sales parts and distillery components that aim to make craft distilling easier.

Rethinking Distillery Design in Six Simple Steps!

1: Traditional set-up

Imagine a start-up whiskey producer that does initial research for his distillery design. Based on the traditional approach, he wants to invest in the following equipment:

  • 1000 liter masher;
  • 1000 liter fermenters (5x);
  • 1000 liter stripping still;
  • 500 liter finishing still.

Depending on where he orders, the above traditional approach to whiskey making will set him back 200 – 750K. To set-up his distillery, he’ll need an architect, installation engineers, probably a steam boiler, builders, and electricians.

For his day to day operation, he’ll need to hire an assistant to deal with all the manual labor involved. Think: grain handling, pumping, and cleaning. The distillery, after a slow learning curve, will make okay product. High quality is difficult to achieve since especially the traditional fermenters (where taste and alcohol are formed) aren’t supervised. Scalability is another issue, since any change to his set-up will create a bottle-neck.

2: Introducing modern technology

Now imagine that start-up whiskey producer doing some more online research. He finds iStill’s modern distilling solutions. When he applies iStill technology to his original, traditional set-up, the solution he comes up with will probably look something like this:

  • iStill Masher 1000;
  • iStill Fermenter 1000 (5x);
  • iStill Potstill 1000;
  • iStill 500 Hybrid.

Investing in the above solution will set him back 250K. He can cut down on staffing. He’ll also see an improvement in product quality due to the modern controls that the mashers, stills, and (especially) fermenters give him. An architect is optional. Installation engineers and builders don’t have to be hired anymore, and an electrician can hook the distillery up in about a day instead of a week.

3: Applying hybrid technology

After talking to maybe another iStill customer, our start-up whiskey producer starts to realize what additional goodies iStill’s hybrid still technology brings him: he can make better tasting whiskey in one (1) distillation run, saving him both time and money! He doesn’t need a separate finishing still! His set-up will now look like this:

  • iStill Masher 1000;
  • iStill Fermenter 1000 (5x);
  • iStill 1000 Hybrid.

Investing in the above solution will set him back 210K. He can cut down on staffing, since there is less grain handling and/or cleaning needed. The single distillation approach saves a day and a half on his weekly schedule and generates up to 20% more flavor in his New Make spirit.

4: Integrating technology

Imagine our start-up whiskey distiller then visiting a whiskey producer that already uses iStills. To his astonishment, he sees that this distiller has the following set-up:

  • iStill Fermenter 1000 (5x);
  • iStill 1000 Hybrid.

The distiller explains to him that the iStill 1000 Hybrid, with the mash & ferment package, can also mash and ferment. That’s why he didn’t invest in a masher, but decided to use the iStill 1000 Hybrid as both his masher and his still. This way he saves money on his initial investment, that’s now brought down to 175K, and on staffing.

5: First Principles solution

Now fully understanding the solutions that iStill’s disruptive technology offers, and reasoning from first principles, our new craft distiller finally gets it. This is the iStill distillery he ends up purchasing:

  • iStill 5000 Hybrid.

He can mash, ferment, and distill in the same machine. He no longer needs any staffing. Grain handling and cleaning is minimized, as is his initial investment, that is now down to 145K. The only thing he can still improve upon is the traditional slow learning curve whiskey producers are faced with. To solve that issue, he simply takes the first step …

6: The first step

He buys the iStill Mini and iStill Distilling University Course via: