… but I am not telling you what we are investigating and testing!
… but I am not telling you what we are investigating and testing!
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 …
In our quest to make distilling easier, we turned our attention to fermenting. Where the actual distillation steps in the spirits production business are about concentrating and selecting the right alcohols and flavors, fermentation is its precursor. Fermentation is where the actual alcohol and (most of) the flavors are created.
Current craft distilling take on fermentation
If fermentation is that important, why does it take the back seat with most (almost all) distillers? It certainly doesn’t for wine and beer makers, but for distillers it somehow does. Weird. I guess it has to do with the focus (to much so) on the nice and shiny stills. And with an (incorrect) understanding as fermentation being an alcohol rather than flavor production process. A shame, since craft distillers should compete with Big Alcohol on flavor, ’cause they never can on economies of scale.
Future craft distilling paradigm on fermentation
Anyhow, we try and change that perception. One day of our 4-day iStill Certified University workshops deals with fermentation, and how you can manipulate it to create the alcohols and esters you – as a craft distiller – are looking for. Instead of seeing fermentation as a passive process, mostly the bottle-neck of your distillery, I propose a change: see it as the heart of your distillery. It is – after all – where your flavors are made, where you lay the foundation of what will become your rum, brandy, vodka or whiskey.
If you place fermentation center stage, the next thing that becomes obvious is that you want to control this most important step. Control grants you influence on flavor development. Control allows you to reproduce your drink – at its highest quality level – time and again.
Just as fermentation is key to top shelf beverage production, so is control key to a quality ferment. Hence, when we (at iStill) think about helping you distill better products, we think about how we can provide you that control.
The result of that thinking? The iStill Fermenters, available in sizes of 2000 and 5000 liters, come with SG and pH and temperature control. And they are made out of 4 and 5 mm thick stainless steel. If fermentation is key to successful craft distilling, only the best is good enough.
Calibration of the pH probe is done at iStill HQ …
Testing the iStill pH probe in a pH 7.0 solution …
Testing the iStill pH probe in a low pH sugar ferment …
The iStill pH probe …
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 …
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 air pressure, how it can screw up your run, and how iStill’s innovations help solve the issue.
The influence of air pressure on distilling
When distilling spirits, we aim to first concentrate the alcohol by a fast stripping run. Thereafter, a slower finishing run is performed where the heads, hearts and tails fractions are separated by means of boiling point differences between those fractions. Heads come over at lower temperatures than hearts and hearts boil off at lower temperatures than tails.
From the above alinea it becomes clear that boiling points are key to good cuts management. Just as good cuts management is essential to bring over the right flavors and create that above top shelf spirit you are after.
So good cuts management, essential to the creation of great spirits, depends on boiling points. And guess what? Boiling points depend on air pressure! And since air pressure is not a given, not a set parameter, it creates variability in your cuts, translating into potentially sub-standard quality drinks.
Air pressure structurally differs between locations. As a general rule: the higher altitude your location is, the less air sits above your still, the lower the air pressure is. Air pressure is also variable in time. When a new weather front moves in, air pressure will rise or lower. The issue with this? As a distiller you are constantly confronted with different air pressures, translating to different boiling points. Between runs and during runs.
Ethanol, for example, boils at 78.3C or 173F. At standardized sea level air pressure that is. Higher air pressure pushes boiling points upwards by up to 0.5 degrees easily. Lower air pressure lowers ethanol’s (and other components) boiling point.
Air pressure sensor old style …
How air pressure can screw up your distillation run
Say that you follow a set of standard cut points for heads, hearts and tails of your whiskey run. Here is what they may look like:
You came to the above cut points, because that’s how you liked your first whiskey run. Why not repeat that, right? Well … because the air pressure variance will hamper your ability to arrive at the same results.
Imagine the following real life example. You did your first whiskey finishing run at sea level and – by coincidence – at standard air pressure. But now that you just started finishing your second bats, the weather changes and – with it – the air pressure. The boiling points are off by (say) 0.3C. That is 0.3 C lower.
You make your cuts according to plan at 80, 95 and 98 degrees Celsius, but you should have cut at 79.7C, 94.7C, and 97.7C. You have just collected more heads than before, limiting the fruity flavors in your whiskey. And you hearts to tails cut was also 0.3 degrees late, resulting in more root-like and nutty flavors in your whiskey than usual.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that 0.3 degrees is nothing. In terms of a big production still, you may well be smearing too much early tails into your hearts for like 20 minutes! In short?
Due to air pressure variance, you just screwed up your finishing run …
iStill’s innovation to help solve air pressure variance related problems
“How do we solve air pressure variance induced, sub-standard cutting?” became an iStill mission. The first generation iStills calculated the boiling point (and any variance from “standard”) by stabilizing the units, after heads were taken, for long enough to achieve the pure azeotropic ethanol boiling points near the take-off point of the column. We would then use that input to correct cuts.
The latest iStills are far more sophisticated. They are equipped with a sensor that monitors air pressure every second. Following the sensor’s input, the programming calculates any deviation from “standard” on a second-to-second basis. Thus giving your iStill perfect insight into boiling points that then automatically translate into perfect (corrected) cut points.
We call this feature “Dynamic Cuts Management” or DCM, and it is one of the reasons why iStills make better product more consistently than any other still out there. It now comes standard on all our units. It can be retrofitted on most of the existing NextGen units.
Air pressure sensor iStill style …
Here is a short movie we made. It gives an impression of the last 4-day workshop at the Netherlands based iStill University. We are currently preparing to give another iStill University Workshop in Denver, USA. The class takes place at 52eighty Distilling and starts tomorrow. For more info, or registration (yes, still a few places available!), reach out to: Veronika@iStillmail.com
Existing customers and new customers now get access to new software! The new software will be added to new orders. Existing customers can upgrade over the air.
The newest iStill software adds two functions to your iStill:
Fast aging is for customers, new and existing, that have iStills with agitator and boiler radiator. The new program allows you to fast age your spirits. No costs are charged. For more reading, please see: https://istillblog.com/2019/01/21/innovation-istill-fast-aging/
The new fast aging software comes with standard recipes …
New customers and existing customers that use Robot v3.0 can now upgrade to ABV Control for free. ABV Control gives you total control over your output alcohol percentage. Especially in combination with the all new iStill Reflux Capacitor. For more reading on ABV Control, please see: https://istillblog.com/2019/02/22/innovation-abv-control/. For more info on the Reflux Capacitor, see: https://istillblog.com/2019/02/28/istill-innovation-reflux-capacitor/.
ABV Control for single distillation brandy, rum, and whiskey …
How to order and install
New customers get ABV Control for free. Fast Aging software will automatically be added if you also order the Jet Propulsion Agitator System and the Boiler Radiator.
Existing customers that want to upgrade their existing software, via an over the air update, can reach out to William@iStillmail.com.
Today, we introduce another iStill Innovation: the Reflux Capacitor! The Reflux Capacitor increases the performance of your iStill. Wanna find out more? This post dives in deeper … say … back to the future kinda deep?
What it does
The iStill Reflux Capacitor boosts the ABV that enters your column. Higher proof gases lead to a more stable and faster run. The output rates increase with around 25%, translating to around 2 hour faster run times and/or a higher ABV, depending on what your goal is.
In column mode, the iStill produces at a fixed ABV or proof. During the run the yield per hour drops to compensate for an ever lower alcohol strength boiler charge. With the iStill Reflux Capacitor, the column is fed with higher proof alcohol, resulting in up to 25% more output and a related decrease in run time of up to two hours. Here is a graphical representation of the extra performance the Reflux Capacitor gives:
In potstills, the output in liters per hour is pretty stable. Contrary to column distilling, the ABV or proof gradually decreases during the run. In potstill mode, in combination with the Reflux Capacitor, the strength of the output of your iStill increases by around 25%, decreasing run times with 25%, while mitigating the need for an additional, second or double, distillation. Please see the graphical explanation underneath:
Especially combined with ABV Control (for more reading, see: https://istillblog.com/2019/02/22/innovation-abv-control/), the all new iStill Reflux Capacitor has huge benefits. Its applications? Here we go:
Roll-out and pricing
The new Reflux Capacitor can be ordered right now. We’ll add it to the iStill Online Design Center in the coming days. The Reflux Capacitor is available on all new orders for iStills 100, 500, 2000, and 5000. The Reflux Capacitor can be retrofitted to all NextGen iStills 500, 2000, and 5000.
The costs are as follows:
The Reflux Capacitor on the iStill 500 …
Today, we help take the craft distilling industry take another leap forward. How? By introducing a new and amazing innovation called “ABV Control”. This iStill Blog post will explain what it is and how it helps you out.
Traditional pot distilling and column distilling
Traditionally, pot distilling is the best approach to most flavorful spirits. Brandy and Cognac are distilled in a potstill, and so is single malt whisky. The advantage of pot distilling is that you work with batches. Batch-wise production allows the craft distiller to cut for heads, hearts, and tails, giving him control over the endproduct’s flavor composition. Also, the relative crudeness of this old design enables many flavors to come over in the end product. Downsides can be that heads and tails cuts translate to alcohol losses, and that a double distillation is needed to get the drink to proof.
Tall columns have always been used for vodka making. They hit 190 proof and that is it. Or a lower proof when tuned down to less tall columns. Batch (as the typical fruit brandy still) or continuous (as the now often used continuous strippers used in Bourbon production) approaches are possible.
Taste-wise, a potstill is amazing for pulling over flavors, where columns distill either very pure at high proof, or at lower ABV with compromises in cuts (on a continuous still) or early tails smearing (fruit brandy still). Technically, a potstill has a steady output and a dropping alcohol percentage during the run, where column stills have a steady alcohol percentage at the cost of dropping yield. Like this (yield in green, ABV in red):
The iStill solution
One unique feature of the iStills is that one machine, in fact one-and-the-same set-up, can perform both functions. One riser/column combination – together with our esteemed robot and computerized control – does it all. If you choose to run the iStill in potstill mode, you get, well, exactly a potstill run. The automation makes the unit work as a potstill. And if you want purity instead of flavor, you choose our program for pure distilling and – at the sacrifice of yield as the run goes on – you create 190 proof product. Very flexible, right? Right! And now we are taking it one big leap further!
iStill ABV Control
Our latest innovation allows the craft distiller to make any spirit at the exact strength he wants it to be. Do you want your whiskey to come over at 65%? Dial it in and iStill ABV Control will make sure it comes over at 65% … All … The … Time. Perfect for barrel aging. Or if you disagree and feel 62% is better, well, then just dial that in. A light rum that needs to come over at 88%? A corn whiskey at 180 proof? Go for it. You now can.
Any percentage you like your product to come over, the iStill will deliver within a plus or minus 1% threshold. No drop in ABV, like on a potstill. No compromises in taste, like one would have with traditional fruit brandy or continuous columns. No compromises in efficiency, like basically any other (traditional) still gives you.
The advantages of iStill ABV Control
The USP’s? Here they are:
New iStills 100, 500, 2000, and 5000, purchased from now onwards, will be equipped with iStill ABV Control for free. Customers that already have 2018 and 2019 model year iStills 100, 500, 2000 and 5000 will be upgraded to iStill ABV Control automatically via the software update program for free as well.
This new iStill 5000 has ABV Control …
We are working on some great new technologies, here at iStill HQ! Of course, all innovations are aimed at making distilling easier. I can’t yet reveal what they are, since we are still doing finetuning on ‘m, but all the info will be shared in the coming three weeks. On this very iStill Blog, so stay tuned!
Working on new technologies for the craft distilling industry …