iStill – a mission of innovation
Our mission is to help craft distillers compete with big alcohol producers. Our pay-off is “distilling made easy”. Combine one with the other, and you understand that innovating isn’t something we do on a project basis. No, instead, innovating is what we do on a continuous basis!
We are proud to inform you about our newest innovation. We believe it will make distilling easier and we are convinced it will arm craft distillers with the tools needed to take the battle to Big Alcohol. How? With StillControl.
StillControl – what is it?
StillControl is our newest innovation. It combines a Bluetooth thermometer probe with an app.
StillControl – what does it do?
The probe measures the temperature in your distillation column or riser and relays the signal to the StillControl app.
In the StillControl app you dial in your cut-points for heads, hearts, and tails. As the temperature rises during your distillation run, the app warns you when to cut.
StillControl – what does it achieve?
StillControl achieves control over your distillation run. It creates consistency and reproducibility.
StillControl – for whom is it?
First, StillControl will be released to iStill customers that run the R&D iStill Mini, or that run or order one of the manual iStills:
- iStill Mini
- iStill Manual Potstill 100, 200, and 500
- iStill Manual Plated Still 100 and 200
- iStill Manual Hybrid 100 and 200
New orders for our manual stills, from now onwards, come with StillControl included. On a later date, probably in about a year from now, we’ll release StillControl to the craft distilling industry at large, so that distilleries that do not run iStill equipment can also benefit.
StillControl – wanna see how easy it is to use?
Here is a short start-up movie of an actual test run that’s being performed as this iStill Blog post is released:
StillControl – pictures
StillControl app …
StillControl probe currently being tested on the iStill 100 Hybrid Manual …
“From The Old Days (FTOD)” is a series of interesting iStill Blog posts from yesteryear. Is the info we shared still valuable? Is the craft distilling industry on track of improving, innovating, catching up with Big Alcohol? Or are these articles of old still just as valid today as they were back in the day when they were published?
When I introduced iStill some 4 years ago, we pretty much hit the ground running. Why? Because our equipment rocks, challenges, and integrates!
The sheer performance of our units has rocked the Craft Distilling scene. Our innovations have challenged the status-quo. And our new designs have been integrating various functions like mashing and fermenting or stripping and finishing.
Now, it’s time to take the next step.
My promise to you
My promise to you? We are currently taking that next step. The meaning of the words “rocking”, “challenging”, and “integrating” are about to be pushed to a whole new level. And I plan to reveal just what I mean in this iStill Blog post.
Thinking about the whole spirits manufacturing process, all of a sudden it struck me: mashing, fermenting, and distilling have three things in common:
- They all involve heating;
- They all involve cooling;
- They all take place in a boiler.
So … why hasn’t our industry taken advantage of those similarities? I understand that it creates oversight to give each step (mashing, fermenting, distilling) a machine of its own. And I understand that manufacturers of distillation equipment rather sell you three, four or five machines than only one or two …
But doesn’t the process of making spirits with different, overly specialized machines by definition creates bottle necks? Especially in a scenario where Craft Distilleries grow and/or change their product line-up? You make rum and want to make whiskey … heck, you need a masher! You have a bottleneck with your fermenters one day … and when you solve that issue, it’s the stills that form the new constraint!
My new gold dream
Here is the new gold dream I want to share with you:
- Let’s beef up the heating capacity;
- Let’s beef up cooling capacity;
- And let’s design a boiler that is fit for mashing as well as fermenting as well as distilling.
Let’s create a system that you can tailor for mashing, fermenting, and distilling. No more need for a variety of machines. Instead, I give you one machine that can do it all. From mashing to barreling in one go without compromizing!
iStill NextGen stands for the Next Generation in Craft Distilling
iStill NextGen stands for “Next Generation”. That is not pretention. I am firmly convinced it is the next generation of Craft Distilling equipment. Did you think that the iStill 500 NextGen is just our newest still? It isn’t, because it is so much more than that!
Instead of the iStill 500 NextGen “just” being a newer, better still, it is actually a huge leap forward. A leap that is achieved by us thinking outside of the box. Outside of the box? Far outside any box!
Stay with me, try to wrap your head around what we have done and what I want to share. Believe me, it is worth that effort. You may be part of the new Craft Distilling Revolution.
Revolutionary modular design
Our NextGen units are of a new, revolutionary modular design that can be configured for mashing, fermenting, distilling, or any combination of mashing, fermenting and distilling.
You set it up any way you like. And if you change your mind, you can change the set-up of your iStill NextGen and give it new functionality, new tasks and new responsabilities.
The iStill NextGen changes what is in our industry basically a multi-step process and reduces it to its core: varieties of heating up and cooling down in one (1) boiler, reducing three steps to one, thus limiting pumping, cleaning, capital investment, and more …
Example 1: Simon and Philip from Scotland
Simon and Philip from Scotland have a whisky and gin distillery. They ordered two iStills 2000 NextGen to complement their existing equipment. One will serve as their new main still for gin production. The other will be used as a water heater. They will charge the water heater with the still’s cooling water, that’s already 50 degrees C, dial in a higher temperature setting, and use the very hot water the next day to charge their already existing whisky mash tun.
Now, if their operation grows further, they may decide to use the iStill 2000 NextGen that’s currently configured as a water heater and have it operate as an additional masher or fermenter or still … or any combination of the above. For them to achieve that next level of versatility, all they need to do is order a column, an agitator, and a radiator. Of course, new software that supports this new functionality will be remotely uploaded to their PLC as well.
Example 2: Matt from the USA
Matt will open up a bourbon, gin and vodka distillery. He originally envisioned buying five of our mashers/fermenter, one iStill One at 2000 liter capacity, and one iStill 500 as well as an iStill Pump. He realized he also had to invest in a seperate water cooker so he could charge the mashers/fermenters with hot enough water.
After introducing Matt to the new NextGen philosophy, and after showing him how it works, I proposed the following solution to him:
- Five iStills 2000 NextGen configured for mashing, fermenting and stripping;
- One iStill 500 NextGen with a fully robotized column.
The beefed up heating and cooling, in combination with our new boiler, agitator, and stripper column (see the previous post!), would allow him to mash, ferment and strip in each and every one of the 2000 liter (520 gallon) NextGen units. Without the need of an additional water cooker or the iStill Pump. The robotized column on the iStill 500 NextGen would allow him to further finish his bourbon, gin, and vodka.
Is that what Matt actually ordered? Did he follow my proposal? No, he didn’t! Now fully understanding our new designs, he decided to order as follows:
- Five iStills 2000 NextGen configured for mashing and fermenting, and with the new robotized 8 inch columns;
- One iStill 500 NextGen with the new 5 inch robotized column.
The addition of the robotized columns to his 2000 liter NextGen units enables Matt to make his bourbon in one go. He will mash, ferment and finish his bourbon in one go and in one machine, yielding around 230 liters (60 gallons) of 120 proof and ready to barrel bourbon per day. And he will use the smaller 500 liter iStill NextGen as a finishing still for his vodka and maybe his gin.
On iStill Metaphores and NextGen Statements
I like to use metaphores and statements to challenge people’s mindsets. I will use them here as well. A metaphore to describe how iStill has been so different from other still manufacturers over the last years. And a statement by Henry Ford to explain to you how profoundly different our new NextGen approach is.
Sometimes people that want to enter the Craft Distilling industry ask me why they should choose iStill equipment. What makes it so different from traditional stills that have been around for like centuries?
I ask a question in return: “If, instead of opening a distillery, you were to start up a transportation business … would you buy horses and carriages? Or would you buy vans and trucks?”
Horses and carriages were 19th century approaches to solve transportation issues. Vans and trucks are 20th and 21st century approaches to solve transportation issues. If you start a transportation company today and you buy horses and carriages to deliver your services you would go bankrupt in days, not weeks.
Deciding to purchase still designs from the 19th century for your distillery is like buying horses and carriages for your transportation firm today. Yes, they look great. And there is a real “craft” feeling about handling them, but it isn’t the solution that provides you, as a business owner, with a viable future.
If you want to set-up a Craft Distillery and make a profit, you choose iStill equipment.
While Gottlieb Daimler invented the “automobile” or car in the late 1800’s, we owe it to Henry Ford to make that new form of transportation available to all of us. Henry Ford designed a mass produced, affordable, and modular car, available in all colours as long as they were black. And because of his vision and execution power you and me and the rest of the world can now actually own and drive a car. A car instead of horse and carriage.
When asked about his vision, when asked why he didn’t just ask his customers instead, when designing the Ford Model T, this is the answer Henry gave:
“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”
And that’s how it is. You, Craft Distillers from around the world, have not asked for my vision and our new line of iStill NextGen equipment, but here it is. It is the future. Cars instead of horses and carriages. And you are invited for a test drive via email@example.com. Beware, it may become the ride of your lifetime!
Why we do the things we do?
The market for alcoholic beverages is dominated by a few very big manufacturers, that produce mostly bland, “acceptable-anywhere” drinks globally. Craft distilled spirits, a new trend where drinks are produced locally, are way more interesting. We believe that, in order to create a more interesting drinking experience, challenging the status-quo – and Big Alcohol’s dominant position – is the way forward.
How we do that?
By thinking outside of the box and doing things differently, iStill designs beautiful, high-tech, and revolutionary distillation equipment. Our technology-push aims to make it easier for craft distillers to produce interesting, top-shelf quality spirits, both efficiently and consistently.
What we do?
We simply design, manufacture, and sell the best craft distillation equipment in the world.
Where we are situated?
iStills are designed and produced in the Netherlands, Europe’s most competitive and innovative economy (source: WEF).
How we support our customers?
Since a tool is only as good as the professional that uses it, we train our customers, both online and at iStill HQ, to become master distillers. iStill shares knowledge and experience widely and freely, and actively supports various craft distillers networks. The iStill Distilling University is the industry’s leading educational facility. The iStill Blog, a free service, is the world’s biggest library of distillation knowledge.
When iStill started?
After three years of inventions, innovations, and in-house testing, the first iStill was produced and delivered to a Dutch customer in april 2013. So only around 7 1/2 years ago.
How big is iStill?
Since 2013, we delivered over 750 stills and distilleries to customers all over the world. With over 200 stills build in 2019, we had an estimated global market share of around 20%. Annual growth rates of between 50 and 100%, rapidly push our market share upwards. We are proud to be considered the world’s leading still and distillery manufacturer. In disruptive technology. In build-quality and warranty. In education and support. And in size!
What will the future bring?
A distilling industry that frees itself from the tyranny of tradition and globalization, and – instead – bustles with vibrant and creative future-proof energy. Because that’s what it takes for craft distillers to be able to give “Big Alcohol” a run for their money.
Regards & speak to you soon!
Drs. Odin van Eijk, MScBA, etc.
Founder and CEO of iStill.
We are adding 100 m2 (around 1,000 square feet) to our assembly halls. The additional space will be used to establish an iStill Mini assembly line. Here are a few pictures of us putting the stairs in. Pallet docking station is next …
Building the stairs …
Floor space and pallet docking station …
Top-down view …
A long time ago, somebody told me that perception is reality. The way in which people perceive the world defines the way in which they act in that world. Perception precedes action.
More recently, someone told me that price reflects perceived value. As the price of Item A is higher than the price of Item B, this must be the result of Item A holding more value. That’s the perception, it seems.
The two paragraphs above quite nicely summarize how we screwed up part of our marketing, here at iStill. Let me explain that by highlighting some of the value that we bring to the industry:
- Only the iStill can make any spirit on one and the same machine;
- Only the iStill can mash, ferment, distill, and age in one and the same machine;
- Only the iStill combines the advantages of the Maillard Reaction and on the grain distilling for 25 and 20% more flavor respectively;
- Only the iStill can reproduce a recipe perfectly;
- Only the iStill is fully automated, robotized, and has air pressure corrected cuts as well as a spirit library;
- iStills need 0.2 FTE to be managed and operated, versus 1.2 FTE for other stills;
- iStills have the best build quality, which is reflected in our industry-leading warranty terms;
- iStills come with the best support and service;
- iStills come with the iStill Distilling University, the industry’s best educational program;
- iStills are three to four times more energy efficient than “traditional” stills.
Ten points to make a point. And I could easily add ten more to the mix. The point being? As far as stills and distilleries go, iStill offers the best value by far.
So … where do we screw up? Is it our pricing policy? Our pricing is consequently too low, potentially negatively affecting the perceived value our stills and distilleries offer.
Why is perceived value important? Because if distillers that use iStills take our amazing innovations for granted, they run the risk of taking themselves and their amazing spirits for granted. If value perception does not reflect value delivered, there is a big risk of reputation erosion. What’s valuable makes one proud, what’s considered worthless makes one indifferent at best.
So again … where do we screw up? Is it our communication strategy, maybe? Our communication about pricing has always been open, contrary to the accepted rules in our industry. But maybe we haven’t highlighted enough how much we offer, given our pricing, and why we choose to try and keep our prices as low as possible?
How do we solve these problems? I think there are basically two routes we could follow. The first one is easy and obvious: iStill raises its prices! The second one is less obvious, slightly more subtle, and requires your help: let’s raise the awareness as to the amazing equipment you run!
Here is a first attempt. I hope you find it thought-provoking:
- Your iStill 100’s intrinsic value easily exceeds 50k;
- Your iStill 500’s intrinsic value easily exceeds 100K;
- Your iStill 2000’s intrinsic value easily exceeds 200K;
- Your iStill 5000’s intrinsic value easily exceeds 300K.
Proof? There is nothing out there that comes close to – for example – an iStill 2000 at under 200K (or at 400K for that matter). And EUR 200K as established intrinsic value is a very, very conservative number. Especially when adding efficiencies, savings on labor, and savings on installation costs to the already impressive and futuristic technology-mix.
How much does hiring an additional 1 FTE in workforce translate to? Around 40 to 50K annually. And if you save 250 kWh per run on energy costs, while performing 250 runs annually, that’s another saving of around EUR 10.000,-. Over a period of just 10 years, the energy and manpower savings alone amount to 500 – 600K. How would it feel to look at your bank statement and see that kinda money staring back at you? If you want to know how that feels, you need to buy an iStill!
Now, since the iStill comes ready-to-run, and does not need a steam boiler (so 1867!) or extensive piping and tubing, add another 100K of savings to your calculations. Do you see where this is going? Exactly, establishing the intrinsic value of an iStill 2000 at 200K is way too conservative.
Doing the above math really helps establish a more correct assessment of what your iStill’s value is. Much better than establishing its value via our prices, because those are based on us wanting to help you take the battle to Big Alcohol.
“Distilling made easy” is our north star and lower prices help us equal a very biased playing-field. Put differently: investing in iStill equipment is more than “just” investing in state-of-the-art, hyper-efficient technology. Investing in iStill equipment is also an investment in a company that is invested in the craft distilling industry’s long term success, opposing Big Alcohol.
With all that in mind, shouldn’t we be a little prouder, while manufacturing, selling, purchasing, and running those +100K, +200K, or +300K iStills? I mean, if we were to pursue value-based pricing, and really raise our prices, we (iStill) might win in the short run, but we’d all lose to Big Alcohol in the long run. So here’s the management summary on value-based pricing:
Fuck value-based pricing …
The direct operating costs of producing a liter of new make whiskey or rum on an iStill, ready to barrel at 65%, are EUR 0,49 versus EUR 1,99 on a traditional copper potstill. Producing whiskey or rum on an iStill reduces operating costs with as much as 75%, when compared to a traditional copper potstill. The lower operating costs of running an iStill translate into higher margins and a more sustainable, future-proof business model.
This iStill Blog post presents an operating cost comparison for new make whiskey or rum production. iStills versus traditional set-ups. Why operating costs are important? Well, the lower they are, the higher your profit margin – given a certain selling price. Higher margins allow you to make more money or use part of that extra margin to weather through tough times. Also, lower operating costs signal a more eco-friendly, more environmental and sustainable business model. Less energy consumption equals a lower carbon footprint.
Of course we know the iStill numbers through-and through. The numbers of traditional stills, that we present in this iStill Blog, are based on feedback we got from customers experienced in running traditional equipment before switching to iStills. If the manufacturers of more traditional, copper stills feel that the examples underneath do not do their distilling solutions total justice, please reach out to us directly, so we can discuss and – where needed – amend.
Operating costs are the expenses associated with the maintenance and administration of a business on a day-to-day basis. Rent of the building, power to run the stills, the costs of buying in grains or other substrates, staffing costs, equipment depreciation costs, etc.
In order to keep this post relatively simple and to the point, we’ll focus on the variable costs of running the still, depreciation costs of your distilling machine, and the staffing needed to keep on distilling. Costs like the rent of the building or substrate purchase costs won’t be investigated, since they are (in the context of this iStill Blog post) considered a given. Meaning they don’t necessarily vary a lot between different still options.
Calculating energy costs for whiskey or rum
The efficiency number of a traditional potstill is around 35%. A traditional potstill needs two distillation cycles to bring an 8% whiskey beer or rum wine to the barrel aging strength of 60 – 65%. The iStill can turn an 8% base beer or wine into 60 – 65% new make in one go. So you save the manpower and energy of at least one run.
The iStill 2000 uses around 280 kWh to make rum or whiskey new make spirit. The associated costs are per run are well under EUR 50,-. Given the inefficiencies of the traditional set-up, a total energy usage of 800 to 1000 kWh is expected per run. This translates into direct energy usage costs, for a double distillation, of around EUR 190,-.
The amount of 2000 liters of base beer translates into about 220 liters of 65% strong new make spirit. When we divide the energy usage per still type by the number of liters of new make produced, we can learn the energy costs per liter. For the iStill the energy costs per liter are EUR 0,22. For the traditional copper potstill the energy costs per liter are EUR 0,87.
Calculating depreciation costs for whiskey or rum stills
A traditional 2000 liter copper still, made by a reputable manufacturer costs at least EUR 200.000,-. The iStill 2000, with some options, is around EUR 80.000,-. Because the iStills are made from chemically resistant stainless steel, instead of copper, the unit has an expected longevity of around 20 years.
The copper or stainless steel boiler of a traditional set-up may have the same longevity or slightly less. The copper column or riser oxidizes and suffers from the continuous need for (acid) cleaning. It is usually eaten away in around 10 to 15 years. Adding up boiler and column life expectancy for traditional potstills and averaging them out, leads to an overall total system longevity of 15 years for a traditional copper potstill.
Following a lineair depreciation curve, the 80k iStill 2000 has an annual depreciation of EUR 4.000,-. Based on 200 runs per year, the depreciation costs per run are EUR 20,-. When one run produces 220 liters, the depreciation costs per liter are EUR 0,09.
Following the same lineair depreciation curve, the EUR 200.000,- traditional copper potstill has an annual depreciation of EUR 13.300,-. At 200 runs per year, this translates into EUR 66,50 of depreciation per run or EUR 0,30 per liter of new make spirit produced.
Calculating staffing costs for whiskey or rum
Manning the still costs time, and time is money. Managing a traditional still asks for constant supervision. Cleaning can take 2 to 3 hours. Often the boiler design and column/riser design are not optimized for 8 hour shifts. How much manpower does it take to run a traditional still? At least 1 FTE. How much manpower does it take to run the iStill, which is automated and needs much less cleaning down-time? Around 0.2 FTE.
Say that hiring a distiller costs EUR 36.000,- per year. Running a traditional set-up then adds EUR 36.000,- to your overall costs. The iStill – by comparison – costs less than EUR 8.000,- to staff. A stunning difference of EUR 28.000,- per year.
In the above example, where we use a 2000 liter still to make 220 liters of 60-65% new make spirit per run, doing 200 runs per year translates into 44.000 liters of new make. The staffing costs of a traditional system are EUR 36.000,-, which translates into additional variable costs per liter of EUR 0,82. The much lower effort needed to run the iStill 2000 translates into only EUR 0,18 of staffing costs per liter.
iStill: reduce your operating costs by 75% …
Today we uploaded two more movies. The first one explains how to perform a cleaning run on your iStill Mini. The second one tells you how to do a brandy stripping run, using white wine.
Do you want to become a member of the distilling industry’s best education program? You can register via: https://istill.web.app/university
I strongly feel that the craft distilling industry deserves worse terms of payment, when ordering stills and fermenters and mashers. Yes, you read that correctly: worse instead of better. Why? Let’s dive in deeper.
When you purchase a still, the manufacturer will inform you about their terms of payment. These terms basically tell you when to pay what percentage of the total acquisition sum. Usually, there are two or three terms. Always an initial downpayment (to take your order into production) and a final downpayment (usually upon delivery), and sometimes there is a payment in between (for instance upon completion of the actual build).
Given the above, a 30%/70% payment scheme sounds like a better deal for you than a 70%/30% payment scheme, right? I mean, in the first example you only pay 30% to place the order and start the manufacturing process. In the second example, you have to pay much more up front. Sorry to throw a bucket of cold water your way, but considering the 30%/70% order the better deal is actually wrong!
When considering the build of a new still, a still manufacturer basically has to judge the answers to three questions:
- What are the direct costs of building the still?
- What are the indirect costs of building the still?
- Does the price, and the terms of payment, cover both direct and indirect costs?
Direct costs can be directly attributed to the still the manufacturer contemplates building. Think “material” and “labor hours”. Examples of indirect costs are “rent” and “finance”. The rent of the building and the budget for the finance department are fixed costs. Even when no still is built, these costs need to be paid.
Of course the price, and the terms of payment, need to cover both direct and indirect costs. Where that is not the case, that company runs a severe risk of bankruptcy. When a company’s price covers more than the direct and indirect costs, a profit is realized.
How does this translate to terms of payment? Quite easily, actually. The first downpayment, that basically triggers the start of the manufacturing process of your still, should cover the direct costs. The final downpayment should cover the indirect cost and result in a profit margin.
Now, with that knowledge in mind, what does that “advantageous” 30%/70% deal tell you? Here are some answers:
- If 30% covers the direct costs, this manufacturer must be very bureaucratic or use sub-standard materials or workforce, or:
- If 70% is needed to cover indirect costs and make a profit, for sure those profits are excessive;
- If 30% does not cover the direct costs and no excessive profit is realized, this payment scheme means that the manufacturer is pre-financing your order.
A low initial downpayment means that the manufacturer’s overhead is too high (or his quality too low), that his profits are too high, or that he is in financial trouble and needs to pre-finance orders (building inventory for which there are no customers).
Do you feel any of the above is good for you, as a distiller, considering to place an order? Would you like to pay more for overhead, an inferior product, or excessive company profits? Are you comfortable doing business with a company that pre-finances your order at its own expense?
I guess the answer to the above questions is “no”, isn’t it? The only good thing that can come from a 30%/70% proposal, is that there may be room to negotiate the price downwards … but that may increase the other risks mentioned above.
So what about the aforementioned “less advantageous” 70%/30% terms of payment, where you need to invest more up front? What does that tell you about the manufacturer you want to order with? Here we go:
- If 70% covers the direct costs, this manufacturer must have low overhead and focus on quality, or:
- If 30% is needed to cover indirect costs and create a profit, that profit for sure can’t be excessive;
- This manufacturer does not have to pre-finance orders, does not experience loss of demand, and probably runs a sound financial organization.
The only downside to doing business with a still manufacturer that has 70%/30% terms of payment, is that there isn’t going to be room for downward price negotiation …
Worse terms of payment are the better deal …
We just uploaded new movies to the iStill Distilling University. The topics? The first movie is about round vs. square boiler design. The second one deals with direct vs. indirect heating. The (for now) last one shows the unpacking and assembly of the iStill Mini.
In the next two weeks, the iStill Distilling University will see new series of movies released. The topics to come? Here we go:
- Stripping run;
- Finishing run;
- Making brandy;
- Using the StillControl app;
- Making cuts for heads, hearts, and tails.
The iStill Mini and the iStill Distilling University are now sold as a package deal. For EUR 5.000,- you can purchase them together.
If you want to check out the new movies, or register for the iStill Distilling University, please go to:
iStill Mini Unpacking & Assembly
The movie about the iStill Mini unpacking and assembly is also uploaded to iStill TV, on YouTube, so that anyone has access to it and can use it to assemble his or her iStill Mini. Here is the link: