iStill Mini Automation!

We are designing an automation suite for the iStill Mini. The reasons? Improved training and recipe capabilities. We want to get the training experience as close to running the bigger automated production units as possible. And it will make recipe development easier. Start a run, decide on cuts, push the associated button, and the automation and robotization remembers your choices, and your automated run program is ready. At the push of a button? Yes, that easy.

We have been working on the automation suite for the better part of 6 months now and expect to release this option in the 3rd of 4th quarter of 2022. We are currently beta testing.

The automation is an option on new iStill Mini purchases. It can also be retrofitted to existing new gen iStills Mini. In 2023 we’ll make an upgrade kit to the automation suite, so that all of the older gens of iStills Mini can also be outfitted with it.

We expect huge demand for this option. Given current global component shortages, we also expect to be able to only deliver limited numbers of the automation suite. At least in the beginning. Maybe we can muster 10 upgrade packages per quarter in the end of 2022 and in the first half of 2023. When component shortages lift, indicatively towards the end of 2023, we could ramp up production to 20 upgrade packages per quarter.

We are therefore managing a registration list. First come, first served. If you want to order, please reach out and register via:

https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSee1_gSMSTIB4RpnPpNDlQC5_eWygION45jizbIFYfzwnjBbQ/viewform

More info on final specifications and pricing in like three months from now.

iStill Mini Automation Suite (prototype) …

http://www.iStill.com

Could the iStill Network Take You Global?

iStills are the most automated and robotized stills out there. They excel at creating and reproducing a recipe, any recipe, to perfection.

Distillers that use iStills have a higher degree of craft. They design, produce, and sell spirits that are made in-house. More than other groups of distillers. They also have lower costs, and – in general – a high business awareness of what it takes to become commercially successful.

iStillers are educated via the iStill University. They network via the iStill University Facebook group. There is a strong tendency for iStill customers to be supportive of other craft distillers, both iStillers and non-iStillers.

All of the above makes one wonder: “Why don’t you guys build this into a global network for distribution purposes? Why not use each other’s production capacity for a more global reach?”

http://www.iStill.com

Disruptive Technology and What It Means for Craft Distillers!

Introduction

In less than a decade, iStill disrupted the technology distillers had been using for a century and a half. This iStill Blog post summarizes how we disrupted the industry, and – more importantly – dives into the very nature of disruption and what it means for craft distillers around the globe.

How we disrupt the craft distilling industry

Via innovations like “Liquid Management”, the flush-square boiler design, insulation, automation and robotization and the resulting process control, and by translating Odin’s vast knowledge of distillation into software, iStill has created a new technology for craft distillers to use. Via our educational and networking platforms, we replaced the existing “everyone for himself” mentality with an “all for one and one for all”, more cooperative and supportive mindset. Finally, by building distillery equipment with a longevity of 20 years and more, we broke the industry’s commercial model of cheating customers out of money via de facto mandatory in-house replacement orders for failing and sub-par designed parts.

The above innovations are disruptive, because they allow the craft distiller to:

  1. Produce higher quality spirits repeatably;
  2. Save up to 75% in energy costs;
  3. Save at least 1.0 FTE on labor costs;
  4. Be sustainable, flexible, and scalable – in other words: future proof.

No more need for a masher, fermenter, a stripping still, and a finishing still. One iStill can do it all. No more need for a consultant or master distiller. With the iStill the owner/operator is in control. Disruptive? Does iStill introduce and deliver disruptive technology? You bet it does!

Disruptive technology: what is it?

People perceive change as lineair and gradual. And most change is lineair and gradual. But not all change is created equal. Sometimes innovations come along that change the game, add such options that they outperform the existing technology by (at least) an order of magnitude (10x). Such technology is called “disruptive” and the change they bring along is far from lineair and gradual. It changes the industry quickly and with tremendous impact.

The biggest changes are exponential growth of the new technology and imminent replacement of the old technology. The exponential and disruptive character makes it difficult for people to perceive what’s going on. So the speed of adoption of the new technology and the speed by which older, more familiar technologies are replaced is perceived as mind-boggling. Or better said: it is not perceived at all until it is all over and the new tech replaced the old one. Here’s an example:

In 1900, on Broadway, there’s one car. In 1910 there are only cars …

Is there a problem, resulting from the mismatch between how most perceive change and what actually happens? Well, that depends on what you are, right? As a consumer, you have more options to choose from and maybe a better technology to take advantage of. But how about the carriage builder, the blacksmith, or the horse breeder? Get the point? If you are in business in a market that is being disrupted, you run big, very big risks. At the same time, early adopters can reap great opportunities and benefits …

Disruptive technologies result in ever faster adoption speeds …

The above chart shows how disruptive technologies quickly (and ever faster) take hold in our lives. Phones – invented in early 1900 – took the better part of 60 years to conquer the US market, but it took cell phones – introduced in the late 80’s – less than 15 years to replace wall-mounted telephones.

So, having established that disruptive technology knows an exponential adoption curve, it is clear to see that this comes with opportunities. As an early mover cell phone service provider, there is a lot of market to be conquered! Or imagine you are Henry Ford and see an opportunity to further scale the production process of cars.

But there’s a huge risk as well, for those working in an industry that’s being disrupted. Betting on the wrong horse will have devastating effects. Investing in carriage building or horse breeding in the early 1900’s? Good luck!

Disruptive tech QUICKLY replaces old tech …

Whether it is physical vs. digital cameras, non-GMO vs. GMO corn, or radial vs. non-radial tires, the new and disruptive technology replaces the existing technology quickly.

Opportunities for craft distillers

Having established that iStill introduced disruptive technology into the craft distilling industry, what are the opportunities and threats this creates for craft distillers? Let’s dive in deeper and explore further …

The opportunities are quite easy to spot. The new and disruptive iStill technology enables you to make better spirits in a more cost efficient way. Better quality and lower production costs? Sounds like a winning strategy!

As an early adopter of the iStill technology more chances come along. Since you are ahead of the curve, you can stop outsourcing and contract distilling your spirits. Instead, you yourself can offer contract distilling to other craft distillers in your region.

Those are just a few. There are many more opportunities. If you have any to share, please add them in the comments section.

Threats to craft distillers

Not investing in the new technology or investing in the old technology comes at a huge opportunity cost. Or better said: a huge “missed opportunity” cost.

A craft distiller that invests in the old technology of copper and manual plated stills and potstills, cannot compete with Big Alcohol on price and quality. Also, with more and more iStill customers setting-up distilleries around the globe (over 1,000 as we speak), those craft distillers that bet on the wrong horse can now no longer compete on price and quality with fellow craft distillers (that use iStills) either. That’s like being between a rock AND a hard place!

Summary

Investing in horses and carriages in the 1900’s? Not a good idea. Investing in manually operated copper plated stills and potstills in 2022? Not a good idea. With over 35% of market share in new still sales, we are not just the biggest supplier of craft distilling equipment. We are the new technology that is disrupting the industry. You now know what that means: iStill technology is well on its way to replace the old technologies.

Place your bets …

http://www.iStill.com

Ferment 4x Faster!

Yesterday morning, we started fermenting a 500 liter on the grain whisky batch in the iStill 500. Starting SG was 1.047. Today, just 24 hours later, the fermentation has finished at SG 0.998. A 6% yield in 24 hours.

How is this possible? How can iStill Advanced Fermentation Protocols create a 4 x faster fermentation, basically limiting fermentation time as the craft distiller’s bottle neck?

It has everything to do with controlling the fermentation. Firstly, we fermented with pH Control (pH 6.5 – 4.8). Secondly, we fermented at a constant temperature of 27.5 degrees Centigrade. Thirdly, we have developed an advanced yeast nutrient recipe, that we added to the mix. Fourth? The iStill 500 is now equipped with a fermentation specific agitator protocol …

Want to learn how to increase your fermentation yield and quality, while slashing throughput times? Reach out to Veronika@iStillmail.com and register for the iStill University! Want to understand what our distilleries can do for you? Then plan a call with Esther@iStillmail.com.

Happy yeast makes better alcohol faster …

http://www.iStill.com

Vacuum Distillation? F*ck off!

Introduction

I don’t like vacuum distillation. The process of vacuum distillation is cumbersome, the yield is low, and the costs are high. And the benefits? Do they weigh up to the downsides? Let’s dive in deeper. And hold on to your seats: in this post I am going to trash vacuum distillation, because the only fate it deserves is that it stops playing ANY role in craft distilling AT ALL. Why? Allow me to elaborate …

The way vacuum distillation works

In the process of vacuum distillation, one lowers the air pressure inside the distillation system in order to distill at lower temperatures. Lower air pressure equals an earlier boil. An earlier boil equals a lower boiling point. The bigger the vacuum induced, the lower the boiling point at which the distillation run takes place.

Vacuum distillation takes place in a glass set-up with an “Au Bain, Marie!’ oil bath for heating, cold water for cooling, and a vacuum pump to lower the air pressure. The system is both complex, often with extensive automated controls, and fragile.

The vacuum still is a complex assembly of fragile glass parts …

A cumbersome process

As the air pressure drops, and the vacuum builds, the resistance in the vapor path drops. As a result, two processes take place that make vacuum distillation hard to do in a consistent manner.

Firstly, lower air resistance, and lower overall boiling points, result in heads, hearts, and tails factions (and their associated flavors) smearing into one another. This limits the use of a vacuum distillation protocol to mostly single ingredient distillation.

Secondly, the lower resistance “sucks” over fluid from the boiler into the distillate. This is called “bumping” and it is even worse than the smearing discussed in the paragraph above. Why? Well, it means not all of your distillate is actually distilled. Part of it is easily contaminated with stillage.

Low yield

Since vacuum distillation takes place in a glass set-up, and since glass blowers can only blow to a certain size, these units are small. One, two, maybe five liters. The commercial ones can be 20, 30, or 50 liters. But that’s it.

Processing a maximum net boiler filling of – say – 20 liters in a 50 liter glass boiler (you want to underfill instead of overfill in order to prevent “bumping” as much as possible), results in maybe 10 liters of product. That’s not much. It might be enough for a boutique distillery experience, but not for a craft distillery that aims to produce commercially viable amounts.

Prohibitive investment

A commercially sized 20, 30, or 50 liter vacuum distillation set-up easily costs you EUR 500.000,-. Yes, you read that correctly: 500 grand. Five hundred grand!!! Half a million Euro’s … to fancily make maybe 10 liters of essence or extract per run!

“Commercial” grade vacuum distillation set-up …

Benefits

The acclaimed benefits of vacuum distillation? Well, boiling at lower temperatures, or distilling at lower temperatures, limits the chance of overcooking the ingredient in question. And as some ingredients are more prone to overcooking than others, some ingredients benefit more from lower temperature flavor extraction. What comes to the rescue? Vacuum distillation! Well, sort of.

How iStill helps

iStill makes distilling easier. Via the dispersion of our knowledge and ground-breaking technologies, we empower the craft distilling industry. We do so, one step at a time.

One of the first things, for instance, that annoyed me, was the practice that most manufacturers use, of selling multiple stills to one customer. A still for stripping and another one for finishing. One still for gin, another one for vodka. Nice business model for that manufacturer, but how does overselling empower your customers, the craft distillers? Right, it doesn’t. It is (was) a self-serving practice instead of an industry-serving approach to business. What iStill did? We designed a still that can make any product to perfection. A still that can strip and finish, even in one run, in order to help save you time and money.

Another practice we exposed was mandatory spare parts purchasing. Traditional suppliers intentionally manufacture their stills in such a way that – usually within a few years – parts need to be replaced. As mr. Mueller told me at the first London Craft Distilling Expo, now some 7 years ago: “That’s how you make money! You make customers come back to buy new parts!” He added to that, that – since iStill produces machines that are over-engineered and do not break down – we would never become a competitor of them. Stills that are designed to run forever do not result in returning customers, he felt.

Mandatory spare parts purchasing … how’s that for a business model, right? Is it self-serving or industry-serving? If I inform you that we have grown to over twice the size of Mueller, the answer of what business model YOU prefer becomes evident.

Now onwards to vacuum distillation, and its manufacturers that try to make money at your expense as well. How do we help there? We help by providing you with the distilling industry’s best cold extraction device: the iStill Extractor.

The iStill Extractor doesn’t just offer low boiling point extraction, no, instead it offers NO BOIL cold extraction. No cooking means no risk of overcooking an ingredient. No risk at all. And more use cases: the iStill Extractor can make essences, extracts, tinctures, and liqueurs. It’s not a one trick pony, like a vacuum distillation device. What the iStill Extractor also offsets are the negatives associated with vacuum distillation.

So it offers all the benefits and more, and it corrects the wrongs? Yes, and here’s how:

The way the iStill Extractor works

The iStill produces alcohol at a specific strength. That alcohol is directed towards the extraction chamber. The herbs, fruits, berries, etc. sit in the extraction chamber. The alcohol extracts the flavors and colors from the ingredients and automatically syphons the resulting Extract back to the boiler. The iStill can be used to either extract a new batch, or to process the Extract into a distilled Essence.

Here’s the iStill 500 (left) with Extractor (right) …

An easy process

Since the iStill Extractor works at normal atmospheric conditions, it is not only safer, but also easier to operate. No smearing. No bumping. It can be used to process one ingredient or a complete batch of various (for instance) gin or spiced rum ingredients.

High yield

Where the “traditional” vacuum distillation set-up yields 10 liters of essence or extract from a 50 liter boiler, our technology has much higher yields. Even our smallest commercial iStill Extractor has a net capacity of 25 liters. That’s bigger than the 20 liter net capacity of the biggest vacuum distillation devices.

But there is more. With the 25 liter iStill Extractor, one can produce up to 100 liter of Extract and 50 liters of Essence. That’s 10x to 5x more yield! A five to ten times higher yield on our SMALLEST Extractor! Please note we also make iStill Extractors in 100 and 500 liter sizes, pushing output into the hundreds and thousands of liters per run. Thousands of liters instead of maybe 10 liters …

Affordable investment

The best process is no process. The best part is no part. The best solution to any problem is usually the simplest solution. First principles thinking allows us to invent solutions that are simple and effective.

Simple designs improve longevity and slash development and production costs, where complex designs compromise longevity while adding costs. The iStill Extractor is a fine example of how that philosophy plays out in real life craft distilling.

Our 25 liter Extractor costs EUR 5.000,-. That’s 1% of the price of a “commercial” vacuum still. Up to 10 times the yield for 1% of the costs. How’s that for a game changer?

Conclusion

Vacuum distillation sucks. Our Extractor technology is designed to replace it.

At your service,

On behalf of the iStill Team,

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

Founder & CEO of iStill.

If not our Technology, then at least our Design!

We are in Italy for the Distillo Expo. An initiative from our CEO Odin, executed to perfection by Claudio and Davide and their team! As we are meeting up with hundreds of existing and future Italian craft distillers, we had an hour (before opening) to check out if the “competition” had anything new to offer.

Outcome of our informal research? Nothing. Still the same old 1870’s technology. But wait, there is one exception. Or at least one change! One of the Italian offers decided to change their color scheme. From stainless steel to … stainless steel painted black. Not exactly iStill, but – at least visually – a step towards the future?

It does remind us of the “downfall” of the wooden shoe in Holland. Everybody walked on white wooden shoes And then leather shoes started to take over. The manufacturers of wooden shoes saw their days were numbered. What they did? They changed the design of the wooden shoe to resemble a leather shoe with straps. A sign on the wall? Check it out for yourselves!

http://www.iStill.com

Making Whiskey: from Good to Better!

Whiskey making: the procedure

If we exclude grain handling and aging, traditionally, whiskey is made in three steps:

  1. Mashing (converting starches into fermentable sugars by using enzymes);
  2. Fermenting (converting the fermentable sugars into alcohol with yeast);
  3. Distilling (concentrating the alcohol and harvesting the right flavors).

In order to create the best possible whiskey, both in terms of yield and taste, all steps need to be optimized. The end product is the sum of how the various parts are performed.

If mashing is sub-optimal, the major loss you face, as a craft distiller, is yield. You will create less alcohol. A failing fermentation will, above all, have impact on flavor creation. That’s because over 80% (as a rule of thumb) of taste molecules are made during fermentation. Bad distilling procedures can affect both yield and flavor composition of your new make spirit.

Whiskey making: historically

Historically, whiskey was made in small batches. Small mashes are easy to handle. Small ferments do not generate a lot of heat. Small, copper stills were the norm, because copper was available, affordable, and bendable.

In the 1870’s the industrial revolution found its way into the distilling industry. A lot of the whiskey production became bigger and more centralized. A declining number of remaining distilleries that, each on their own, saw a steep increase in production output.

Small batch traditionally allows for good control and therefore good whiskey …

Schermafbeelding 2019-10-02 om 08.59.24

Batch size growth associated problems

As distilleries grew bigger, mashing basically scaled up from small batch to big batch, and yield didn’t suffer. Fermentation scaled up from small batch to big batch as well, and this did created a major problem.

Fermentation creates heat, and the bigger ferments created more heat. The warmer fermentations stressed out the yeast and produced multiple unwanted flavor compounds in the base beer, of which sulfur was (and is) the most important.

In short? As distilleries got bigger, mashing didn’t get compromised, but fermentation did. Yield didn’t suffer, but flavors did. Interestingly enough, it took a few more decades for distillers to realize they actually had a problem.

Bigger, uncontrolled ferments generate bad flavors that copper catalyses …

Schermafbeelding 2019-10-02 om 09.00.19

Houston, we have a problem!

In the 1960’s new metallurgic innovations found their way into the distilling industry. As growing distilleries needed bigger stills, traditional copper stills were replaced with more modern stainless steel set-ups. And guess what? All of a sudden the whiskey they produced had bad, sulfur associated flavors in them!

What had happened, was the following: copper reacts with sulfer. The traditional copper stills had managed to polish-up the bigger, overheated, sulfur-rich whiskey beer! Copper, it turned out, was a really good medicine for a bad ferment.

With SS stills, sulfurs no longer got catalyzed, and bad ferments got exposed …

Schermafbeelding 2019-10-02 om 09.00.29

The traditional solution

The switch from copper to stainless steel stills brought to light a major problem: bigger ferments created off-flavors. The solution the industry rallied toward, was to switch back to copper stills. The copper catalyzed the sulfuric compounds to below the taste threshold, and the problem was solved. Or wasn’t it?

Bigger ferments, left unchallenged, grow too hot, stressing the yeast into making multiple unwanted flavors. Sulfur is the most significant of those and copper does a good job at cleaning up these sulfuric flavors, and at hiding the poorly managed ferments.

So the distilling industry switched back to copper stills …

Schermafbeelding 2019-10-02 om 09.00.38

Compromised solution

Using copper stills, to counter bad ferments, is a treatment of effects, not a root cause solution. By allowing for non-optimized whiskey production via copper stills, the following set of new problems occurs:

  1. Uncontrolled, overheating fermentations create more bad flavors than just sulfur;
  2. The copper clean-up during distillation does not polish-up all of those;
  3. Copper stills oxidize, creating copper contaminated whiskey;
  4. Copper stills need extensive cleaning, making for longer working days;
  5. Due to oxidation and cleaning, copper stills need to be replaced in 10 to 15 years.

Even though copper stills are a medicine for bad ferments, they are not the ultimate solution. Bad ferments create bad flavors, and copper does not counter all of them. More so, copper is a heavy metal that is toxic to humans. Due to the reactive qualities of copper, the distillation equipment needs extensive cleaning. This cleaning, as well as the general levels of oxidation, severely hamper a copper still’s longevity.

The iStill solution: a revolution!

That’s why we started proposing a different approach. Here it is. Let’s call it the iStill solution:

  1. Mash in a controlled environment, to achieve maximum yield;
  2. Ferment in a controlled way, to achieve maximum flavor;
  3. Distill in a controlled way, to achieve maximum yield and flavor.

Our iStills are designed to mash with 0.1 degree temperature tolerance. This gives the distiller the opportunity to maximize yield, which helps optimize production quantities.

During fermentation, our technology brings temperature, pH, and SG under control. This ensures that the distiller maximizes the desired flavor development, while mitigating the production of off-flavors.

Finally, the iStills have perfect control over the distillation process. This helps the distiller in optimizing both flavor profile and yield in the most efficient and repeatable way.

iStill gives you the control to make better whiskies …

Schermafbeelding 2019-10-02 om 09.00.46

Design choices

Because we optimize fermentation, the creation of undesired, bad flavors is minimized. As a result, we do not have to build our stills out of copper. This way, we can deliver a still that is easy to clean, does not cause copper particle contamination in your spirits, and has tremendous longevity.

But if you decide you are going to do your fermentation quick & dirty anyhow, well, please know we have copper waffles that you can insert at the bottom of the column. It takes less than a minute to put them in place. It takes less than 10 seconds to take them out, when the run is done. They have the same surface area as a complete copper column, without the hassle.

iStill copper waffles: well-used …

IMG_2745

http://www.iStill.com

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

English Whisky back to the Middle-Ages?

A few early movers on the English whisky market are making a defensive movement, that stifles innovation. What they seek? A GI for English whisky. What that means? That English whisky will be a protected name. A distillery can only use it when they adhere to the rules stipulated by the so-called English Whisky Guild.

The proposed rules are sold as “innovative”, but are none of that. They are traditional, anti-innovation, and defensive in character. English whisky, the proposed GI states, must be made from English grain. Ok, whatever. But it must also be made via double distillation on copper stills. Last still can have plates, but straight potstills is what’s aimed for. Any type of wood can be used for aging, as long as it is stated on the bottle.

That’s not innovation, that’s back to the middle-ages! And it is totally self-serving by those that already entered the market place. Self-serving as in that it sets up a high entry barrier to others. It hands the playing field to those already there. And to the few that have deep enough pockets, and/or a lack of pride to not go for the best spirits possible, but to make variable quality whisky on old, outdated, toxic, and very expensive technology, instead.

I strongly oppose these kinds of market monopolization movements. Especially since in England there is no tradition of whisky making whatsoever. So what are they protecting? What “tradition” if there is none? None. They are simply protecting their markets and future growth before other, more advanced and innovative craft distilleries can take it away from them.

But, hey, I am not English, so it is not my fight. But if you are an English distiller, it is your fight, and a fight definitely worth fighting for. If you don’t, soon you’ll find you will not even be able to use the word “whisky” (without “English”) on your bottles. Their lawyers will fight that, I expect, pretty soon. Similar behavior to what we see from the SWA, basically.

Regards,

Drs. H.E.J. (Odin) van Eijk – founder, owner, CEO of iStill –

https://whiskymag.com/story/exclusive:-distillers-submit-gi-application-to-firm-up-english-whisky-rules?fbclid=IwAR0tyq5mmT2bjGHgV3vY7vd8rPBbZ_zsO1zRJY4g5Ed4yd0rVSTlwaUjFqM

http://www.iStill.com