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Making Neutral Spirit from Whey

edited November 2016 in General


I'm all a bit new to this fermenting and distilling stuff but I am very keen to learn how to convert milk Whey into spirit!

We have a small dairy farm making cheese and we have a byproduct of allot of whey and I would love to do something with it. I've grown up a culture of kluyveromyces marxianus grown on YM Broth (Yeast Extract, Malt Extract, Peptone, Dextrose). For the whey I have rough filtered then centrifuged it to remove any fat and cream. I then pasteurized the whey. After this a white sediment formed on the bottom which I then pitched the top off and left (unsure what it was, proteins or cheese cultures?). I added the yeast from a 3L culture so only the bottom slurry from that to 2x demijohns with airlocks. They have a brew belt round them to keep them warm which I turn on and off so they don't get too hot.

Sadly I've had very little activity in the past 40 hours. :(

I've been swirling them a few times a day to lift the sediment off the bottom and this makes a few bubbles pass through the airlock but after that its silence again. :(

Has anyone got any tips or advice where I might have gone wrong?

Many thanks in advance,


  • edited November 2016

    Never did it, but stayed at a Holiday Inn last night.

    Starting pH range of 4.5-5 Approximately 30-35c fermentation temp

    What was the source of your K. marxianus?

    40 hours is too long according to the academic literature, you should see bulk yeast biomass by around 24 hours.

    What's your lactose concentration?

    Keep us all in the loop, many of us are interested in whey.

  • A starter on a 3L culture would be more than sufficient even for a larger demi (~40l). I would imagine there would be only a very short lag time, maybe an hour or two most.

  • I dont have a way of measuring my lactose concentration. the SG was 1020 which is very low i believe? I read somewhere that I could concentrate my lactose by boiling off the water. - will this de nature any of the lactose boiling for a prolonged time? I would prefer not to have to do it as the energy used would be tremendous to boil something for so long! my Yeast is from my own culture, as it was my first time i believe i may have messed it up, im trying again but this time fully by the book! I have a Large bank of slants I am using now. the yeast is very expensive @ £150 per Gram!!! so culture is the only way! I might invest and have someone else store and bank it for me to make pure and healthy strains every so often.

  • Taste it, do you still taste lactose or is it acidic? With a 1.02 it is possible that you fermented in a day.

  • At. 1.02 I'd be surprised if it took longer than a day or 2. I assume you've taken a sample and checked the gravity since pitching or this thread wouldn't be here, yet you haven't said that so have to ask. I've had slow starts before but that was due to temperature which you seem to have covered.

  • im back! the first batch i believe did not take off due to poor yeast health so ive started another starter and this time it is looking allot better. My centrifuged whey is almost transparent liquid but during and just after pasteurizing it turns and off white again and then some white solids seem to drop out of the suspension!? the SG is 1020 with a hydrometer and the same with a refractometer. I will double check once the solids have settled what the SG is. I have also tried reducing some whey by boiling off the water, again will take the SG of that once the solids have dropped out.

  • Probably proteins denaturing, there's a bunch of albumin-like proteins in whey, no?

  • Is it sweet whey?
    How are you pasteurising?
    My guess would be you're cooking the Albumin out of it with a higher temp batch pasteurising.

  • well round two seems to be off to just as bad a start as round one! Absolutely no activity.... I think when im pasturing it its breaking the lactose down and with it any fermentable sugars? going to try a non pasteurized batch next.

  • edited November 2016

    I don't think your pasteurization is causing this. In fact, there are numerous papers that talk about concentrating whey to increase fermentability by boiling and reducing (increased sugar content). It's really unlikely you are destroying sugars through pasteurization, and in fact, is probably beneficial as you are destroying any microbiological competitors.

    How close are you to a university with a microbiology program? I would suspect that your starters aren't working. Your cultures may not be what you think they are, or there is a problem with your starter propagation protocol.

  • Most bigger companies use filtration to filter out bacteria and concentrate the whey but i assume that is more a cost thing rather than due denaturing during boiling. I am not that close as im on a island off the coast of scotland. I know brew lab can do analysis on samples so i may send them a sample to analyse and see what the deal is!

  • Do you have a brew shop around.
    You could buy same pure lactose and nutrient and see what your culture does.
    I think they use it in stout as a non fermentable.

  • Ive ordered 1KG of lactose so will see how my yeast does with it once it arrives! my fermenting ( well supposedly fermenting) whey does taste Beery but i think thats probably down to the DME from the starter! I think I will run this through the still and see what comes out anyways? is there a possibility that the separated proteins are sitting on top of the yeast stopping it from getting to the lactose? ive started swirling the demijohns to see if that helps.

  • edited November 2016

    Nah, yeast are pretty sneaky and do tend to get around. I don't see how they would have any major problem moving around some proteins, especially once fermentation was underway.

    I think the lactose trial is going to be the most revealing thing here.

  • Dam! Was hoping that was the answer to my problems!! I was doing abit of maths to calculate how much lactose to water I would need and its allot! To get 1020sg I would need nearly 300g/L!!

  • edited November 2016

    Check your maths.

    1.020 would be 57g/l of glucose

    1.200 would be closer to 600g/l (520ish)

    I can't imagine lactose would be that different.

  • You adding any kind of nitrogen or nutrient?

    Did you distill the previous batches? We're still only talking about like 2% potential alcohol.

  • @Robin123 What was the result of this after all?

    We're attempting to ferment 500L of whey using a Brettonomyces Anomala. We consulted with a yeast lab we use at our distillery and they supplied that in hopes it would work.

    After 72 hours, nothing, sadly. Our starting gravity is but higher than yours and we did not pasteurize prior - just dropped in a dose of yeast, aerated and let it go. But nothing.

    To try to salvage this, I'm think of dropping in some crushed lacteeze and using a Sacc yeast. My understanding is that we'll get half the yield, but it seems that the only viable option at the moment.

    Hoping to hear more about what you found.

  • I've not heard of the yeast you are using but for the Kluyveromyces marxianus and other similar yeasts tempterature is the key, I had hardly any fermentation until it got to arround 35c! The optimum for Kluyveromyces is arround 37c. Let us know bow you get on!

  • Brett Anomala is supposed to be able to ferment lactose. Our yeast lab guy specifically said "Keep it under 30C", so I'm wondering why. He didn't have any specific experience with cheese whey, so perhaps that was his suggestion based on beer (for which they primarily produce yeast for). He also suggested perhaps the salt present in the whey might be inhibiting the fermentation.

    @Robin123 So I'm guessing your fermentation was successful after all?

    I'm not sure where to get Kluyveromyces, but I understand it's present in Kefir, so I'm wondering if I can buy a few Kefir starters and pitch it in?

    Any other suggestions for how to get my hand son some Kluyveromyces in a pinch?

  • Depends what your end goal is I guess? For beers you tend to keep the fermentation temp low but it shouldn't make much difference if you are fermenting it?
    Depends where you are based? I used NCYC here in the UK but I ended up paying 120+vat and postage for 1gram!

    Im still very new to all this so most is just guess work!

    Are you using sweet whey? Aka what was the milk used to make?

  • edited February 2017

    @Robin123 The whey was used to make cheese, it's sheep's milk. SG is 1.030.

    I've now split it up into three fermentations:

    1. I've raised the heat on this one to 30C+
    2. I've pitched extra Brett into this, so perhaps the yeast count was low
    3. I'm going to add crushed lactase to this and pitch some Sacc yeast into it

    I'm also looking at picking up some Kefir starter as I understand Kluyveromyces is present. So I may grow up a bit of kefir today with some organic sheep milk and then pitch that into # 1 or # 2 at end of day today.

    My thinking on # 3 is that if I can split the lactose into glucose and galactose, Saccharomyces cerevisiae can break those down into ethanol (more the former than the latter). Just not sure if that defeats the purpose.

    Perhaps @Ryno might have some input on either process.

  • edited February 2017

    @Robin123 said: Depends where you are based? I used NCYC here in the UK but I ended up paying 120+vat and postage for 1gram!

    North America. Have a link to what you got? EDIT: Found it, wasn't familiar with NCYC. Thanks.

    Anyone know a place that might sell that in North America?

  • doesnt new Zealand do a lot of why fermentations? maybe some sources down there. some brew stores in auckland as well.

  • Any updates on where to get kluyveromyces marxianus?

  • There's a large dairy company in the west of Ireland that produce something in the order of 10 million L of pure ethanol per annum. I believe they were 1st in the field when it came to whey fermentation. They give away very little, here's all I could I find

    fermentation is preceded by ultrafiltration to remove the whey proteins (a useful product in its own right) and reverse osmosis to eliminate much of the water. By this means, the concentration of lactose is increased. After fermentation, a wash of about 3.5% ethanol is obtained which is then distilled to 96% ABV, the maximum achievable in a column still.

  • I was under the impression the technology was developed in New Zealand (not counting the Mongols).

    StillDragon Australia & New Zealand - Your StillDragon® Distributor for Australia & New Zealand

  • Maybe everyone claims it, these guys claim to have licences sold around the world since the 70's. No connection to them, just know their blurb

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