Here are pictures of the new iStill 100. It now has an upgraded 3 inch column, for a 25% boost in performance. And a bigger drain for easier discharge. The unit can now be equipped with indirect heaters and our famous Jet Propulsion Agitator System (J-PAS), giving it on the grain/pulp distillation capability:
Since it happens all over the world, you have probably seen a news item about it. A guy buys a sportscar and he crashes it on his first day of ownership. Often it is someone’s first car or first sportscar all together. Often it happens to new drivers that decide a Porsche or Ferrari is the way forward.
New drivers syndrome
New drivers often think they can drive, because they obtained their driving license. They mistake the permission to drive a car with the ability and experience to drive a car.
Normally, this is no problem. Most people buy a small, slow, second-hand car and learn how to drive by gaining more and more experience steadily over a longer period of time. And if something does go wrong, it’s probably while parking that car and the results are a few minor scratches and a hurt ego.
But what if the new driver buys a new Porsche or Ferrari instead? Given the speed and power these cars can develop, the issues new drivers now encounter have less to do with parking, and more with speeding and maybe even crashing the car.
Why? Because they aren’t experienced drivers yet, the potential challenges of driving any car are quite, well, challenging. Add insane power and speed and performance to the mix and the dangers increase. Especially with friends around that watch their first exploits in that new sportscar.
The solution, as we all know, can basically be found in two directions. One we already touched upon: buy a smaller, slower car and build your experience-base in a situation you can afford.
The second solution is to buy that sportscar, but drive it carefully. Maybe do an additional in-car and/or on-circuit training day. Drive carefully, learn to become a better driver, get to know the car, and slowly increase the speed and performance.
Yes, the car can do 0 – 100 in under 4 seconds. Yes, it can lap the Nürburg Ring in under 7 minutes. The car can do all that, but you cannot! Not yet, at least. So take it easy, become a more experienced driver, and slowly improve your race-craft.
Do you see how these Sunday Musings are mostly about common sense? Yes? Well, if you do, let’s progress and see how the above real-world example, that we all understand and can relate to, translates to new craft distillers gaining experience with their stills.
New distillers syndrome
Imagine a new craft distiller that just got his new still delivered. He has his permit, so he is allowed to operate a still. He purchased the best still possible, so he is going to have amazing amounts of fun while producing high-quality spirits at bonkers speeds! And then he does his first run, and things start to fall apart.
Why? Because new distillers are by definition unexperienced distillers. They lack experience and operational competence. The still can maybe do 0 – 100 in under 4 seconds and can lap the Nürburg Ring in under 7 minutes, but you cannot. Not yet, at least.
Oh, but you bought an automated still, you say? One that looks after cuts and temperatures, and that monitors cooling? Yes, just like the Porsche and Ferrari have ABS, are equipped with an automatic gearbox, and feature active chassis control. It doesn’t mean, however, that you aren’t still the driver (or distiller) and the de-facto person in charge and responsible!
Without that understanding, without a mindset of ownership and responsibility, you might find yourself in trouble quickly. In a new sportscar and in a new distillery.
Here is an approach, not unsimilar to the new driver, that will help you on your way and prevent you from wrapping your proverbial sportscar around a tree. Three solutions, actually.
First, yes, you got your permit, but did you get extensive training? The iStill University offers a very high quality distilling class online as well as a more practical hands-on training. See these courses as your additional training days. The more time you spend with them, the more serious you take ‘m, the sooner you’ll become a more experienced distiller, with the operational competence to run his or her distillery professionally.
Secondly, first purchase a smaller, slower still. We specifically developed the iStill Mini for that purpose. To help you train yourself, to help you gain distilling experience. To help you develop your recipes at an affordable scale. If you make a mistake, it’s like that scratch on your small, cheap car. Instead of crashing your Porsche or Ferrari.
Thirdly, please go slowly! Yes, your still can perform an amazing number of tasks and is equipped with very clever features, but allow yourself time to understand them. Gradually learn your tools more and more. Gain operational experience and then competence and finally excellence. It is only the excellent driver that can take full advantage of the handling and power, as well as the amazing driver support systems a Porsche or Ferrari offer.
Do’s and Don’ts
If you buy that sportscar, do you drive it out of the dealership at 200 clicks per hour? Upon getting the keys, and starting the engine, do you immediately check out if it can reach the advertised top speed? Do you take it to the circuit immediately, because there is a race organized that you want to take part in? No! No, of course you don’t do these stupid things! Instead, you get to learn the car, extensively train yourself in its use, and you warm-up the car before any major performance trial.
So, as a new distiller, why don’t you follow the same approach? Why – instead – do so many of you fill the boiler to the brim on the first run? Why not make things easier on yourself and do your first run in – say – a 500 liter system with 400 liters in the boiler? If the run is a success, you’ll build confidence and maybe increase your batch size to 450 liters. Compare that to overfilling the boiler on your maiden-run and overflowing your column with water, alcohol, and maybe grains and herbs and berries? How would that make you feel? It wouldn’t build competence, since it would destroy confidence.
As new craft distillers, why don’t we allow ourselves to slowly open the performance potential of the distillery we bought? Why go full power on the first run? Don’t you want to check if you added adequate cooling on a lower power setting, first? Learn to walk before you run.
As new craft distillers, why do we feel we immediately need to mash a 12% distillers beer? Why not 8%? And why do so many forget hydrating the grain or at least a slow grain addition to the mash kettle on a first run? What’s the advantage of a short-cut, if it leads to clumping or even scorching?
Why follow a certain fermentation protocol and then fire up the still without checking if full attenuation is achieved? Why not check twice before you start a new step? That’s how you would approach buying and driving that sportscar, right? Check the oil, check the tires, make sure you fill her up with the right gasoline …
And if you do “crash” your distillery, not out of plain stupidity, but simply because shit happens, please see it as a major learning point. Use the mistakes you made to create more operational competence. Own the mistakes you make, have a willingness to learn, and be passionate about what you do.
Don’t blame your speeding ticket on the car manufacturer. Don’t blame your crash on the driving license or your former driving instructor. You are the driver and you are responsible. You are the craft distiller and you are responsible for continuously improving your skills.
Please also see: https://istillblog.com/2020/08/30/more-sunday-musings/
Block Wednesday 26th of August in your agendas! As part of the iStill Distilling University’s Certified Craft Distillers Course, we’ll be live-streaming a run with the iStill Mini.
We will make gin, do an extraction, and teach you how to make a product like Tanqueray Flor de Sevilla Gin. Everybody can join and watch and ask questions! Starting time? 15h00 / 3 pm Central European Time Zone.
As a gesture to the craft distilling community, in these challenging times, with trade-shows and presentations being cancelled, this session will be free of charge. Anyone that’s interested in craft distilling is invited!
Here is the YouTube link where you can watch:
Here is the Facebook link where you can set a reminder and watch:
In archery, success is defined by hitting the 10 consistently. The quality of marksmanship depends on the archer being able to hit that 10 over and over again. An occasional 10 is not good enough, because it means he or she is inconsistent. Inconsistency, therefor, equals lack of quality. Quality can only be achieved when results are (at least) consistent.
This is true in archery and it is true in distilling as well. Craft distillers might look suspicious at the whiskies of Jim Beam or Jack Daniel’s, but at least their spirits and flavor profiles are consistent. At least one very important prerequisite for quality is met.
Most craft distillers struggle to make their whiskey in a consistent manner, and unfortunately that directly translates into a lack of quality. If you can’t hit your target, your goal, your flavor, your spirits are simply “off”. Even though you might hit bull’s eye every now and then, what are you going to do? Sell different quality bottles or barrels at different prices? That’s not how you make up for screwing up!
Sorry for the harsh words in the above paragraph, but I feel we need to use them, quite simply because “craft” as in “craft distilling” has become an excuse to mediocracy at best on too many occasions
I have tasted whiskies, from the same craft distiller, that were all over the place. When he asked for my feedback, and after I shared the inconsistencies I noted, he said: “Yeah, but it is craft man, and craft means it’s different all the time. That’s the story, that’s why craft is so interesting!” Just so you understand me correctly: I notice inconsistencies with many craft distilled products, and I think it sucks.
I call BS on “craft” heralding “inconsistency” as part of “the story”, and this time I don’t even feel the need to say sorry. Here is why: if “craft” equals “inconsistency”, then “craft” equals “lack of quality”. It is that simple. And if we accept that as a guiding principle, it signals a disastrous future for the craft distilling industry as a whole.
Here is why: with low quality spirts being sold at premium quality prices, the craft distilling industry is never going to compete with Big Alcohol.
The solution is simple. Instead of listening to the romance, start listening to me. All of you start-ups, that so often live under the spell of copper traditionalism: pull your heads out of your asses and realize you are starting a business instead of a pipe-dream.
For the last decade, I have invested every hour of my life to disprove the bogus stories, to replace distilled fiction by distilled fact, and to find out how distilling really works. The few remaining hours were spent on sharing that knowledge with you, often via this very iStill Blog.
Over the last seven years my staff and I here at iStill have worked rigorously to design and produce innovative distillation equipment, that gives the craft distiller total control over the spirit and flavor production processes. To give to the craft distiller that what lacked: the ability to produce quality spirits consistently.
Why? So you can hit your quality targets all the time! Why? Because it is the only way in which you can build a successful business. Why? Because consistency shows that you mastered the craft and deserve the title “craft distiller”. Why? Because only craft distillers producing premium quality spirits at premium prices can take the battle to Big Alcohol.
Hitting flavor targets consistently equals spirit quality …
Tijdelijke Vrijstelling Handdesinfectie WHO-formuleringen Covid-19 2020
Staatscourant 2020 17248
WHO-formulering 1 stelt destilleerderijen onvoldoende in staat om snel en adequaat de handdesinfectie-middelen te maken die nodig zijn om de tekorten in Nederland op te lossen en zo een bijdrage te leveren aan de Corona-Crisis.
Het eerste probleem is dat WHO-formulering 1 veel te strak gedefinieerd is en aangehouden wordt. Het tweede probleem is dat de Inspectie Leefomgeving en Transport stelt dat uitsluitend uitgeleverd mag worden aan eerstelijns zorgverleners.
Door de te strakke definiëring is elke destilleerderij, die hoopt bij te springen, de facto in overtreding. Door de levering uitsluitend aan eerstelijns zorgverleners toe te staan, duwt ILENT de destilleerder in een onmogelijke positie richting zijn lokale clientèle enerzijds en zijn administratieve verplichtingen anderzijds, waardoor directe (en snelle) uitlevering de facto onmogelijk wordt zonder in mogelijke overtreding te geraken.
WHO-formulering 1 (aanpassingsvoorstel)
WHO-formulering 1 stelt dat vrijgestelde handdesinfectie de volgende ingrediënten moet bevatten:
- Ethanol (80% v/v);
- Glycerol (1,45% v/v);
- Waterstofperoxide (0,125% v/v)
Het moet gemaakt worden van de volgende ingrediënten:
- 96% ethanol;
- 98% glycerol;
- 3% waterstofperoxide.
Een ethanol percentage van 80% is voor de destilleerderij eenvoudig te bereiken. De problemen zitten hem in de veel te strakke formule-percentages voor glycerol en (vooral) waterstofperoxide.
WHO-formulering 1 moet momenteel 1,45% glycerol bevatten. Dit betekent dat de destilleerderij die handdesinfectie wil leveren met volledige zekerheid een glycerol-volume moet bieden dat tussen de 0,01445 en 0,01454 ligt. Dat is een nauwkeurigheid van 5 cijfers achter de komma die niet of nauwelijks haalbaar is.
Omdat de glycerol voor de ontsmettende werking zelf niet van belang is, maar meer een huidverzorgende functie biedt na de daadwerkelijke ontsmetting, is het voorstel om tot een minder strakke interpretatie te komen wat betreft de te gebruiken hoeveelheid glycerine.
De aangepaste NL-formulering kan, wat betreft glycerol, dan als volgt zijn:
- Glycerol (1-1,5% v/v).
Verder staat in WHO-formulering 1 momenteel dat de handdesinfectie alleen gemaakt mag worden met 98% glycerol. Dit is een onnodige en complicerende factor.
De aangepaste NL-formulering kan, wat betreft de ingrediëntenlijst, dan als volgt zijn:
- >95% glycerol.
WHO-formulering 1 moet momenteel 0,125% waterstofperoxide bevatten. Dit betekent dat de destilleerderij die handdesinfectie wil leveren met volledige zekerheid een waterstofperoxide-volume moet bieden dat tussen de 0,001245 en 0,001254 per liter handdesinfectie ligt. Dat is een nauwkeurigheid van 6 cijfers achter de komma die niet haalbaar is.
Omdat de waterstofperoxide voor de ontsmettende werking zelf niet van belang is (de ultra-kleine hoeveelheid reageert en oxideert binnen een paar uur met de rest-zuren – met name sulfer – in de ethanol), is het voorstel om tot een minder strakke formulering te komen wat betreft de te gebruiken hoeveelheid waterstofperoxide.
De aangepaste NL-formulering kan, wat betreft waterstofperoxide, dan als volgt zijn:
- Waterstofperoxide (0-0,125% v/v).
Verder staat in WHO-formulering 1 momenteel dat de handdesinfectie alleen gemaakt mag worden met 3% waterstofperoxide. Dit is een onnodige en complicerende factor.
De aangepaste NL-formulering 1 kan, wat betreft de ingrediëntenlijst, dan als volgt zijn:
- 3-20% waterstofperoxide.
De aangepaste NL-formulering 1 wordt dan:
- Ethanol (80% v/v);
- Glycerol (1-1,5% v/v);
- Waterstofperoxide (0-0,125% v/v)
De aangepaste ingrediëntenlijst wordt dan:
- 96% ethanol;
- >95% glycerol;
- 3-20% waterstofperoxide.
In plaats van uitsluitend uitlevering aan eerstelijns zorgverleners toe te staan, zou ILENT de volgende (werkbare) regel moeten introduceren:
- Uitlevering vindt bij voorkeur plaats aan eerstelijns zorgverleners.
Wij roepen de politiek op om de bovenstaande aanpassingen zo snel mogelijk door te voeren, zodat destilleerderijen bij kunnen dragen aan de oplossing van de Corona-Crisis, zonder daarbij in overtreding te zijn!
Over the last decade, I have put tremendous efforts into the development of an objective method to create drinks. A drink, in order to have certain flavors, must have been made in a specific way, where fermentation protocols, distillation equipment and procedure, and aging and maturation all play a significant role. Every decision has consequences, and this makes recipe development very complex. But if we learn to understand what consequences result from specific decisions and approaches, wouldn’t that allow us a very, very powerful tool that can help us create any spirit profile we want?
My research has allowed me to do just that: create a very powerful and objective method that helps design spirits. Today, let’s dive in deeper and introduce how it works and how you can apply it.
Today’s guinea pig
In this iStill Blog post I want to use Bokma 5yo Bourbon Cask as a guinea pig. Bokma is a well-known Genever brand. Genever is Dutch Gin. The drink is grain based and highlights the wood it is aged in, rather than traditional Genever herbs and spices. What that wood is? Well, ex-Bourbon barrels, made out of American white oak. As the name suggests, it has been aged in those barrels for no less than five years. It is bottled at 38%.
Let me start by expressing my gratitude to Bokma for taking this route. I think the combination of Genever and barrel aging is a good one, and the use of Bourbon casks is a nice innovation away from more traditional European oak wine barrels. To me it signals an open mindset and the willingness to innovate. And God knows Genever needs it, if it is to ever be a drinks category revived to its former “Big Three” stature (Brandy, Genever, Whisky). Innovation, that’s what it takes. Innovation and a relentless focus on quality.
If the testing underneath does not give this Bokma Graanjenever a perfect score, please know I like the drink, and love the effort. The only aim I have is to explain how the Science of Flavor works. Something we practice, here at iStill HQ, on a daily basis. Not with this specific spirit, but when designing recipes for our customers. The reason we choose not to highlight a drink designed with/for iStill customers, but a more generically available brand (at least in the Low Countries) has all to do with confidentiality.
Tasting as a three step process
When we focus on the actual tasting of a drink itself, I want you to use a three step process. Each step consists of you taking a sip, closing your mouth, swirling the dink through your mouth, and then swallowing it, still with your mouth closed. Here is what you do in each step and with each sip:
- Focus on generic impressions;
- Focus on how long the tasting sensation lasts;
- Focus on where the tasting sensations hit.
Generic impressions (step 1)
Here are my generic impressions of Bokma 5yo Bourbon Cask Graanjenever:
- Lots of wood;
- Sweet and relatively light;
- Some acidity at the end;
- The wood and vanillin overpower the grain and juniper flavors;
- The sweetness at the front contradicts with the slightly acidic finish.
Taste duration (step 2)
Take another small sip, coat your mouth with it, swallow, and start counting. With your mouth still closed, count the seconds away. When you stop tasting anything, stop counting.
Tasting this specific spirit, gave me a count of around 9 to 10 seconds. Please know that the fruity flavors can be found in the first second after swallowing. At the front of your mouth. Seconds 2 to 6 or 7 happen on top of your tongue, in the middle of your mouth. It is where you normally taste the substrate the drink is made from. In a whisky, this is where you should find the grains. In a rum, this is where the molasses hit you. For a gin, the body, the central flavors in your mouth will derive from juniper and coriander. Anything after second 6 or 7 is backend oriented and is tasted at the back of the tongue, towards the throat.
This specific drink gave me a taste duration of around 9 to 10 seconds. So there is something happening at the front, middle, and back, making this drink three-dimensional, even though it is light and very much wood-oriented.
Taste locality and intensity (step 3)
Take a third sip, and now dive in deeper:
- Does anything happen in the first second? Do you get the fruity notes? How much? Nothing? A little? A normal amount? Or do you taste a shitload of fruit in that first second?
- How do you rate taste intensity from the faction between seconds 2 and 6 or 7, that happen in the middle of your mouth, on top of your tongue? No flavor? A little bit of flavor? Medium amounts of flavor? A LOT of flavor?
- Finally, there is the last phase of flavor: what happens at the back of your tongue and in your throat from second 7 onwards. Does anything happen at all? A lot? Only medium in taste intensity?
Rating taste locality (3a)
As you can see from the above sum-up, there are basically three localities:
- The front of your mouth (lips, gum, tip of tongue), where fruity flavors may be identified;
- The middle of your mouth (on top of your tongue), where the base substrate of the spirit should be identified;
- The back of your mouth (back of tongue and throat), where earthy and rooty, nutty flavors can be found.
Bokma 5yo Bourbon Cask Graanjenever, as mentioned before, stayed in my mouth for 9 to 10 seconds, signifying a beginning, a middle, and an end.
Rating taste intensity (3b)
I want you to rate flavor intensity on a scale from 0 to 3. Like this:
- No taste: 0;
- Light taste: 1;
- Medium taste: 2;
- A lot of taste: 3.
You remember that the test drink had a light profile? It shows in the numbers. This is how I rate it:
- The front has a little taste and scores a 1;
- The middle has medium taste and scores a 2;
- The end has little taste and scores a 1.
Overall, the flavor profile scores 1, 2, 1.
Now that we rated this Bourbon Cask ages graanjenever from Bokma, how do we evaluate the outcomes? Is there a standard? Luckily, there is: graanjenever is made by aromatizing juniper berries, and using ethyl alcohol and malt wine (a young whisky, basically). The malt wine content should be no less than 1.5%.
The ethyl alcohol is very much flavorless and basically GNS. Malt wine is traditionally pot distilled and should therefore have a three-dimensional, grain rich flavor profile.
Based on the actual amount of malt wine vs. GNS the flavor of the spirit, before cask maturation, will become more intense.
Rating of today’s guinea pig
Generic impressions (step 1):
- Lots of wood;
- Sweet and relatively light;
- Some acidity at the end;
- The wood and vanillin overpower the grain and juniper flavors;
- The sweetness at the front contradicts with the slightly acidic finish.
Duration (step 2):
- Tastes persist for 9 to 10 seconds;
- Identifying the drink as having a three-dimensional character.
Intensity (step 3):
- With 1, 2, 1 this Graanjenever has a very light character;
- Where the grains do not stand up to the (overpowering) wood and vanillin flavors.
Based on the above, I would award this drink with a 7 out of 10 score. A nice, easy sipper or – preferably – a mixer, where the soda can cover the acidity at the backend of the flavor profile of the spirit. Nothing special, unfortunately, unless you love wood & vanillins.
From a marketing perspective, bigger producers of course have to weigh costs vs. quality. If the drink is good enough it will sell. But what if we take a different approach? What if this was your spirit and you, as a craft distiller, wanted it to rock, to rule, and to hit its maximum flavor profile? How do you turn a 7 out of 10 into an 8 out of 10? How do we turn a 7 out of 10 flavor score into a 9?
That’s what recipe improvement is about. Based on the above analyses, lets tare the drink, and its making process apart, and redesign it in order to achieve higher scores.
Higher proof (1)
Up the ABV from 38% to 42%. This in itself increases flavor by 10%, while also increasing the spirit’s solvency.
No more chill filtration (2)
With the higher ABV and increased solvency power, there is no longer a need for chill filtration. Chill filtration, filters out backend flavors and fatty acids. At 38% the solvency power of the alcohol is too low to dissolve all flavor oils. That’s why chill filtration is needed. At the proposed higher proof, the solvency power increases and the need for chill filtration stops.
The additional flavor, resulting from non chill filtration, boosts the backend flavor. The now remaining fatty acids will create a drink that is coating the mouth, taking care of the acidity that is currently compromising the last few seconds of the taste experience.
By boosting ABV from 38% to 42% and by stopping chill filtration, Bokma could boost the flavor profile from 9, 10 seconds to 12 to 15 seconds. The taste intensity would shift from 1, 2, 1 to 1, 2, 2. The stronger and longer backend finish allows the drink to better stand its ground against the (now overpowering) wood. I estimate that these interventions would bring the overall score from a 7 out of 10 to an 8 out of 10.
Up the amount of malt wine (3)
Given the lack of grain substrate flavors in the middle faction, I think the amount of actual flavor rich malt wine was quite minimal. Maybe 2 to 5% max? A boost to 30% would definitely boost overall flavor, with a focus on especially the middle faction.
With a (much) higher amount of malt wine, the drink would stand up to the wood and vanillin flavors. The taste profile would go from the starting position of 1, 2, 1 or the intermediate position of 1, 2, 2 to a score worthy of any old style genever or whisky: 1, 3, 2. With a higher amount of malt wine, this drink could reach its full flavor potential with an (estimated) score of 9 out of 10.
On Bokma’s behalf, let’s realize that they never stated they were going to make whisky or older style genever. They make it very clear what they sell to you: a grain jenever that has matured in Bourbon casks for 5 years. In that category, it is simply an enjoyable drink. This post has not been about how this drink should be different. It is as it is. This post is about introducing you to the Science of Flavor, while showing you how strong the model is at creating extraordinary drinks. And that is my only goal here: to help you make better drinks than anyone else out there. I belief that making the best drinks possible is the only business model that works for a craft distiller.
In the above iStill Blog post, I introduced you to the Science of Flavor. And please realize that that’s all it is: an introduction. The rabbit hole goes so much deeper. So, yes, you can expect us to dive in deeper soon. But let’s get tasting right, first. How? Probably by you reading this post again. By buying a bottle and testing and tasting yourself. What are your generic impressions? How long does the taste last? Where do you taste it in your mouth? At what intensities does it hit you?
Preferably, taste and train your palate together with a colleague. Write down your findings and then compare them. You’ll see that you’ll get the hang of it pretty soon!
I just attended the class from October 28 thru 31st hosted by 52Eighty Distillery in Co (they produce some delicious spirits and drinks – check them out!!). The class was absolutely packed with facts and theory, coupled with hands on instruction that has opened my eyes to a whole new world of excellence. This experience has changed the trajectory of my distillery, where will will now open with incredibly high quality spirits that I didn’t have confidence in producing until completing the iStill University session. Odin, Jason & Veronika from iStill were incredibly knowledgeable, helpful & patient, while the hosts at 52Eighty were simply fantastic. As a nascent distillery, working towards opening and building out business & floor plan, they of them each offered real world invaluable practical insight that’s helping to pave the way for my success. Every iStill owner will be more successful and will shorten their time to profitability by attending and immersing themselves in this amazing class.
John Pawluk, USA
Thanks for sharing, Lisa (and Buddha)!
Proud to count Blue Shark Vodka among our customers! Wanna know more about this amazing craft distillery, based out of Wilmington, North Carolina? Then please see the Youtube movies underneath …