Looking at the numbers, I’d say there is room for more modern-day African craft distilleries. iStill currently has 487 customers in Europe, but only 16 in Africa …
Planning a distillery can be daunting. What equipment do I need? A simple question, but there are so many answers that are rooted in even more considerations. This post is the first of a series called “What Equipment Do I Need?”. Each post will highlight one consideration. This week? Size! What size of still do I need?
Sizing your still
What size of still basically depends on two tings:
- Will I make my own alcohol (e.g. whiskey) or will I redistill sourced alcohol (e.g. gin)?
- How many bottles do I expect to sell, now and in the near future?
Since the second question can only be answered on an individual level, let’s focus on the first one. This is a generic iStill Blog post after all. Not a one-on-one, customer-specific consultancy project.
Redistilling sourced alcohol
Alcohol, like GNS, can be sourced at 96%. So if you dilute it to 32% and do a gin run, well, you start with a high proof load in your boiler. High proof translates to high yield. The more alcohol you can process in one run, the more bottles you can make.
For example, on a 100 liter still, with generous cuts for heads and tails (that can be refined into GNS later), can produce around 75 bottles of gin. If you expect to sell 200 to 300 bottles of gin per week, this size will suit you well.
Using the same rule of thumb, a 500 liter still can make you as much as 375 bottles of gin in one run. So if you aim to sell up to 7000 bottles per month, the iStill 500 will be a great choice. You can even push the numbers higher, by doing multiple runs per day.
All in all, when processing bought in alcohol, a smaller size still still will probably be the right choice. An iStill 100, 200 or 500 will be great. Maybe a 1000 or 2000 liter still for the bigger producers.
Making your own alcohol
Making your own alcohol is both more time consuming, with mashing and fermentation taking the better part of a week. Also the final resulting beer or wine will probably be 7, 8, or 9% strong. Instead of 30 to 35% on the above mentioned bought-in alcohol.
As a rule, when you want to make your own brandy, rum, or whiskey, go as big as you can. A 500 liter still is the minimum. If you can afford a 1000, 2000, or even 5000 liter still, that would be even better. An iStill 2000 can produce a barrel-fill of new make spirit in one go (220 liter at 60-65%). An iStill 5000 makes you 2 1/2 barrel per run. An iStill 500 needs no less than four runs to help fill a 220 liter cask.
How size matters …
iStill aims to empower the craft distilling industry by bringing technological advancements to the market that allow for a more efficient production of higher quality spirits. In the (almost) eight years of our existence we have achieved a lot. Our innovations, and the appreciation of our inventions by the industry, has made us a markt leader with a global reach. Accelerated by the Covid Crisis, and depending on geographical market, about 30% of professional new still sales are translated into iStill purchases.
An astonishing percentage, that led me to the following question: what about the remaining 70%? If empowering the craft distilling industry is our mission, and we build the best and most efficient distillation equipment, why does the remaining 70% not (or not yet) select us?
There are three simple reasons. First, the fairy tale of “copper gives better flavors” is still very persistent in our industry. It is self-serving (from a still manufacturer’s perspective), because – as copper is perishable – selling one copper still automatically leads to selling another one a decade, maybe a decade-and-a-half down the line. Our scientific research has shown that investing in better fermentation equipment makes copper in the distillation process redundant, but the myth is still being preached as if it were the gospel.
Secondly, many established distilleries, that are already invested in copper stills, are reluctant to change. If it works, it works, and never change a winning team, right? Why risk a business that does well, especially when 2/3rds of your peers confirm the importance of copper (or labels fermentation as a non-essential part to craft distilling, which is basically the same).
The third and last reason, why part of the remaining distillers doesn’t consider purchasing stainless steel stills, has to do with legislation. In a push from Big Alcohol, trying to defend its most precious brands and markets, certain categories of Scottish whisky and Irish whiskey, by law (or at least by interpretation of law) have to be made on copper stills. The much bigger investment required to start up a copper-based distillery, as well as the inefficient potstill production process and its associated higher operational costs, combined with a three year minimum aging period, forms a great (read: very high) entry barrier to new competitors.
Why we introduce a line of copper iStills
If the above is the case, why introduce copper iStills? What do we want to achieve? What’s the role of copper in iStill’s strategy? There are basically four important strategic considerations for taking this step. Let’s dive in deeper.
First, iStill designs, builds, and sells innovative distilling equipment. It’s that simple. We aim to empower the craft distilling industry with our amazing designs and innovations. By introducing a line of copper iStills, we can reach more craft distillers. By introducing copper iStills, we can empower more craft distillers. The introduction of copper iStills is strategically important, because it broadens our reach with 70%.
Secondly, by mirroring the stainless steel iStill line-up in copper, we are able to quantify the costs of a decision for either base building material: stainless steel or copper. Instead of craft distillers having a black-and-white discussion with their business partners (or with themselves) if copper is better or not, that discussion can now be quantified. Since the copper iStills are more expensive than the stainless steel ones (the material costs of copper are significantly higher), the question now becomes one of economics as well as tradition. Even considering investing in better fermentation control, since that might be cheaper than the copper vs. stainless steel price differences, might now become an option.
Quantifying how good or bad one choice is, and putting that choice in sound business decision territory, helps us achieve two things. On the one hand, many distillers that were inclined to purchase a copper still, may now decide for the option that is more business savvy, and reinvestigate the “copper gives better flavors” myth once more. I mean, it is a decision that can cost or save you tens of thousands of Euro’s or Dollars, so it is now all of a sudden worth your time to do your due-diligence.
The other thing we achieve? Our fair and open price model will help halt the excessive profits traditional providers of copper stills make on their sales. The fact that iStill now provides higher quality distilling machines from copper prevents traditional copper still manufacturers from maintaining their current exorbitantly high price-levels.
A third reason has (again) to do with those traditional providers of copper stills. Companies like Carl, Holstein, Mueller, Kothe, and Arnold base their international sales strategies on a home-advantage of 10,000 customers (and returning customers!). A market that in itself covers all of their indirect costs. And a market pretty well protected by local and regional regulations. The south of Germany, the north of Italy, Austria, and Switzerland have close to 10,000 “Bauern-Brennerei-Anlagen”: small scale (100 – 200 liter) farm-distillers that use traditional copper stills to distill seasonal fruits into eaux-de-vies. Stills that need to be replaced every 10 to 15 years …
Our introduction of more affordable and more advanced copper stills will help us gain access to that huge market. And even if we don’t enter it at all, our fair and open price policy, combined with a marketing focus on these regions, will put tremendous strain on Carl’s, Holstein’s, Mueller’s, Kothe’s, and Arnold’s capacity to harvest these regions for excessive profits.
The fourth and final reason why it makes strategic sense to make iStills available in both stainless steel and copper has everything to do with Big Alcohol protecting certain markets by lobbying for (expensive) copper being a prerogative to entering that specific market. Most of those protectionist movements are initiated because of fear of craft distillers, with iStill technology, entering their markets, and bringing the battle to them. They have seen what’s happened to Big Beer versus the craft brewing movement, and they don’t want a level playing field for craft distilling to do the same to Big Alcohol. They have seen what iStill distilleries have done to the Irish gin market. Taking away over 50% of Big Alcohol’s market share, does not seem to go down well …
By introducing a line of copper iStills, we will enter those “protected” markets and help the local craft distillers compete with Big Alcohol via better tools. By introducing a complete suite of copper iStills, Big Alcohol and its associated lobby groups have lost their major tool in keeping our customers out of “their” backyards.
At your service,
Drs. H.E.J. van Eijk, MScBA, etc.
Founder & CEO of iStill.
Proudly introducing …
With copper particle contamination solved, we are proudly introducing a line of copper potstills, both semi-automated and fully automated. About 30% of craft distillers now buys stainless steel stills. Stainless steel iStills, mostly. That means 70% of the craft distillers does not have access to our innovations.
As a market leader devoted to empowering the whole craft distilling industry, well, here’s us introducing copper iStill potstills to empower those that must (due to legislation) or want (due to previous investments) to keep on working with copper. And do you know what’s really exciting about the introduction of copper iStill Potstills? We just took copper pot distilling out of the Dark Ages and back into the future via an amazing suite of innovations!
The iStill 2000 Copper Potstill:
Features and benefits …
- Square copper boiler for perfect mixing, on or off the grain distilling, and higher filling levels;
- Wide boiler design for stable gas release, stable vapor speeds, and consistent flavor-composition;
- Insulated copper column for stable vapor speeds and control over associated flavor profiles;
- Integrated heating, so no need for additional steam boilers or piping;
- Direct or indirect heating for fine power control;
- Up to 25% more flavor due to the Maillard Reaction;
- Boiler insulation for a more efficient and speedier distillation;
- Cuts selector for automated heads, hearts, and tails cuts;
- Automated cuts for improved distillation run reproducibility;
- Air pressure sensor for automatically adapted, weather independent cuts and flavor consistency;
- Automation and digital controls for a less staff dependent distillery and more accurate production;
- Internet connectivity for support, remote control, and more;
- Automated as well as manual programs for whisky, rum, and brandy runs;
- iStill’s Copper Particle Filter for a clean and healthy new make spirit;
- All the copper you’ll ever need for sulfur control!
The iStill 2000 Copper Potstill with iStill’s Integrated Copper Particle Filter:
Sizes and starting prices …
- iStill 100 Copper Potstill EUR 20.000,- (semi-automated) or EUR 25.000,- (fully automated);
- iStill 200 Copper Potstill EUR 30.000,- (semi-automated) or EUR 35.000,- (fully automated);
- iStill 500 Copper Potstill EUR 45.000,- (semi-automated) or EUR 55.000,- (fully automated);
- iStill 1000 Copper Potstill EUR 70.000,- (semi-automated) or EUR 80.000,- (fully automated);
- iStill 2000 Copper Potstill EUR 100.000,- (semi-automated) or EUR 110.000,- (fully automated);
- iStill 5000 Copper Potstill: EUR 155.000,- (semi-automated) or EUR 170.000,- (fully automated).
The iStill Copper Particle Filter costs EUR 5.000,-, and is strongly advised, since it helps mitigate copper particle contamination and its negative health effects.
Availability and ordering process
Due to huge demand for our stainless steel units, we’ll only be able to build limited numbers of the iStill Copper Potstills. The year 2021 will see us construct one iStill 100, one 200, one 500, one 1000, one 2000, and one 5000 liter copper potstill.
We started producing the first two units as we speak. First deliveries are expected to take place in November 2021. If you are interested in the world’s most advanced copper potstill, please reach out to our Management Assistant Esther Burns via Esther@iStillmail.com for an introductory meeting and interview via video call.
Welcome to the family:
Here are new pictures of the new iStill Mini being assembled. Final testing will take place tomorrow. A week from now, with final testing complete, this unit will ship to the beautiful island of Cyprus for a first customer review!
The first batch of 30 is being produced as we speak. This amazing training and recipe development still can now be purchased for EUR 4.995,- in potstill-mode, including power manager and StillControl Probe & App. Adding the column packing to your order gives you full hybrid-functionality and adds EUR 500,- to the bill.
Order via: https://istill.com/mini/, please. The online iStill Distilling University, normally EUR 1.895,-, is now included for free!
10 liter fully insulated boiler, 2 x 2 kWh heating …
Fully insulated 2.5 inch hybrid column …
A beast in performance, a beauty in appearance …
Let me introduce you to the all new iStill Universal Frame. What it is? Well, a frame or exoskeleton that aims to create a safe space for some new and amazing technologies we are about to release to the craft distilling industry.
Equipped with wheels and a pushrod, like on the pictures underneath, it will be the cart and exoskeleton to the all new iStill Pump. Without the wheels and pushrod, the universal frame will give a safe working environment to a new line of filters we’ll be introducing shortly. It is also designed to hold the new power manager that we are designing for our bigger manual stills.
One universal frame that, in the near future, will hold five or six new innovations! So keep following the iStill Blog and stay up to date on what more we are working on. iStill is here to empower the craft distilling industry, and there are some major power boosts underway!
iStill Universal Frame …
iStill Universal Frame with pushrod …
iStill Universal Frame with all-new iStill Pump …
Even though iStill, with its innovative stainless steel stills, has made a huge contribution to healthy craft distilling, most of the stills in operation around the world are still made from copper. Copper has traditionally been used in still manufacturing, because it was cheap, bendable, and available. In more modern times, with bigger distilleries running bigger and therefor warmer ferments, copper has been a medicine for the resulting poor quality distillers beer, resulting from overheating fermentations. Copper catalyses the sulfurs created by stressed-out yeast.
But, to those that do not have the means, the money, or the expertise to shift towards temperature and pH controlled fermentations, this “medicine” comes with some very bad side-effects. First, the copper particles that infect the whisky or rum are toxic and cause (among others) non-alcoholic induced fatty liver disease. In brandy making copper particle contamination also results in the formation of ethyl carbamate in the bottle, which is a carcinogenic.
Over the last few years, we have received more and more questions from distillers that use copper stills: can’t iStill, as the industry’s innovation leader and the world’s biggest producer of distilling equipment, find a solution to counter the bad side-effects of distilling with copper stills? Up until last year, our answer has always been that they could (and maybe should) buy iStill’s, because our stills are made from stainless steel. With iStill’s options for controlled fermentation and iStill’s copper waffle technology, all issues can be addressed: controlled fermentation limits sulfur contamination and negates the necessity of copper stills as a bad medicine solution.
But as we have grown, over the years, and as our focal point became more and more that we want to empower the craft distilling industry as a whole, we decided to take-on the challenge. If 70% of the market already invested in copper stills and does not have the financial resources to reinvest in controlled fermentation equipment or stainless steel stills, what else can we do for them?
We took on the challenge and, on behalf of the iStill Team, I am proud to inform you that we solved the copper particle contamination issue! Our team has designed a multi-stage filter that gets rid of 99% of the copper particles, that is retrofittable to any distillery (it is stand-alone), and that can be cleaned and re-used in under five minutes.
The current size filters 50 liters per hour. If you have bigger needs (AKA produce more than 50 liters per hour), just add a filter. Longevity? With proper treatment (clean the filter after every run via a water counter-flush), the filters will remain functional for many years and do not need to be replaced.
The iStill Copper Particle Filter can be ordered now. First deliveries will take place in March. The unit costs EUR 4.995,- ex crating and transport. If you want to order one, reach out to Finance@iStillmail.com. Our Finance Department will email you a payment-link. After you used that link to pay, you’ll get the invoice and, a few weeks later, via air transport, your iStill Copper Particle Filter will arrive.
iStill Copper Particle Filter in a traditional copper still set-up …
iStill Copper Particle Filter after a distillation run …
iStill Copper Particle Filter after 5 minutes counter-flush water cleanse …
Malted barley comes in two basic categories: 2-Row and 6-row. Each variety has its own sets of pro’s and cons in terms of yield, enzymatic content, and flavor. Here’s what you need to know, if you want to make malted barley part of your whiskey grain bill.
2-Row malted barley has better/more flavor than 6-row.
2-Row malted barley has slightly better yield than 6-row.
6-Row has much more enzymes available than 2-row. A 20% contribution of 6-row converts its own starches as well as the remaining 80% of unmalted grains. A 40% contribution of 2-row is needed to convert its own starches as well as the remaining 60% of unmalted grains.
Use 2-row if you are after the flavor of malted barley. Use 6-row if you want to highlight the flavors of the unmalted grains in your grain-bill, like corn, rye, wheat or oats.
Single malt whisky is made up solely of malted barley. Since any type of malted barley has enough enzymatic power for its own starch conversion, choose 2-row. It has more flavor (more depth and more smoothness) and slightly better yield.
Bourbon style whiskies want to highlight sweet corn flavors. If you want to use malted barley, it will be to convert the corn starches into fermentable sugars. Use 6-row malted barley, because of its higher enzymatic content and conversion power. 6-Row also has less of a flavor impact, leaving room for the corn to shine.