Brewer To Distiller?

Howdy Folks,

We're a Canadian brewery looking to start off into spirits. We have the ability to make our own distiller's beer and distill off the mash. I'm trying to make a business case for the board.

We'd like to start with a system that gives lots of flexibility and is a low cost to entry. We were thinking in the 100-300 US gallon size, but after that we are kind of stumped as to what we really need versus want. As its essentially a proof of concept we'd like to keep the price tag down on the first system, hence the thought on an electric system.

What we are unsure on is the layout/components. How many plates would be needed?

It seems that a full vodka column is a substantial cost, yet the need to make vodka is a given.

We'd like to make small batch stuff from Gin to Whisk(e)y.

We've been scouring the Google, but this is rarely answered well other than "get more money".

Any help is appreciated,

Steve

Comments

  • Depends on your liquor laws. in the US there are many restrictions on what you can call 'vodka' compared to Australia i believe. The cost for plates is therefore reduced if you can make vodka with a 8 plate system rather than a 16 or 20 plate system.

    In any case you are looking at an 8" diameter rig based on kettle size, these are easy enough to pull down with a couple of people so you can switch between vodka/gin and whiskey/rum. They are also cheap enough to have two systems and run them separately (at the same time) to make your two products and save the labour costs on tearing down all the time.

    Purchase price is forgotten quickly, but running costs will always be there.

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

  • If you are running your brewery on steam, it’s going to be far less expensive and easier to just run steam, especially on a larger rig.

    Do you really need to make your own vodka/neutral? Why not just redistill GNS and run a more cost effective 4 plate system for whiskey and gin.

  • edited August 3

    Your brew house and brewers are going to hate you for asking them to mash and ferment bourbon and rye, both of which require a cereal mash, and ferment/distill on grain.

    You’ll need to pull screens on your tun, your plate heat exchangers can’t be used, and conicals are going to plug up. In addition corn and rye are going to be hell on your roller mill. Your centrifugal pumps won’t move mash either.

    The good news is you have everything you need to make a stellar malt whiskey.

  • @punkin The plan is definitely to have a two still system eventually. Leapfrogging in size makes perfect sense. We are in Canada so it seems we'd have to shoot for the 16 or 20? How does one decide?

    @grim The early plan is to use a separate physical location for the distillery, thus steam isn't an option to start. The idea of GNS is possible but an unlikely sell to the ownership. I will explore this of course.

    @grim We've made beer on rye and wheat numerous times. We certainly understand the issues there. The early plan is to make the beer, run it off to FV vessels and then distill on clear beer.

    Are we on track here or way off base still folks?

  • edited August 4

    I guess you'd have to start by looking at what your regulations say about vodka.

    Food and Drug Regulations @ Justice Laws Website Canada

    Vodka B.02.080 [S]. (1) Vodka shall be a potable alcoholic distillate obtained from potatoes, cereal grain or any other material of agricultural origin fermented by the action of yeast or a mixture of yeast and other micro-organisms.

    (2) The distillate shall be treated with charcoal or other means so that the vodka is without distinctive character, aroma or taste.

    (3) Vodka produced, in whole or in part, from material of agricultural origin other than potatoes or cereal grain, shall carry in close proximity to the common name, the statement “produced from” followed by the name of all material of agricultural origin used.

    Seems you are not restricted to proof off the still etc, unless i just haven't googled properly (likely). If that proves to be the case you can use any combination of methods to render it tasteless and odourless and may not need to do it purely with plates.

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

  • edited August 5

    An outfit configured like this one makes for some handy flexibility.

    If you can ride under the security of the brewery then a 100 gallon still is fine.

    But, if you want to make money then the 250 - 300 gallon range is where you'll want to be.

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    StillDragon North America - Your StillDragon® Distributor for North America

  • fermenting clear wort off of neighboring brewery systems is what I do for whiskey (I also do rum) and it works great. 250G/1000L is the bare minimum where labor is not absolutely prohibitively costly per batch. I started on 380L, then moved to 1000L..... 2000L/500 gal would be where I went if I started all over...

    I would get a 2000L steam full copper kettle with a big copper helmet on one side and a 12" 4-plate column on the other, and an 8" Product condenser. If you decide to move on to grain-in distillation, a large tube-in-tube ladder chiller and a lobe pump and FV's with large openings and manways are a must, and a liquid solid separator is highly recommended...

  • @Smaug looks like I've got some pricing out to do. I have a high level understanding of distilling but am not a design or handy guy. Lowering the cost for an entry system is important to prove the concept.

    @CothermanDistilling the beer is certainly the easy part. Economy of scale I certainly understand. The tricky part is the cost to enter the market that won't kill my partner's enthusiasm.

    Thanks for the help so far folks.

    If you can educate me further I'll pay you in beer when you visit. :P

  • Except for perhaps some of the equipment specifics, @CothermanDistilling makes far and away the best sense. If you are already a brewery, and almost certainly skilled and equipped to make barley malt beer, far and a way the easiest thing to make would be malt whiskeys, and in my humble opinion a fine single malt whiskey eclipses a vodka any tine. Changing directions to make rye or distill GNS seems almost silly, like re-tooling Apple to make cardboard boxes.

    We make some very nice single malts with modest equipment, and I'll bet I can steer you down a path of experimentation that will open your eyes about single malt quality. PM me for a phone number, and we can talk. Ok, my voice is crap right now, but hopefully you can understand me.

    Zymurgy Bob, a simple potstiller

    my book, Making Fine Spirits

  • Damn! I thought this forum had PM. Try me at zymurgybob@kelleybarts.com

    Zymurgy Bob, a simple potstiller

    my book, Making Fine Spirits

  • edited August 5

    @zymurgybob said: Damn! I thought this forum had PM. Try me at zymurgybob@kelleybarts.com

    Old farts

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

  • @zymurgybob I'll message you shortly.

    @zymurgybob We are by far more interested in brown spirits, but the need for clear liquor for a few different things is strong. The new thought is to consider NGS to start, make some fun stuff for laying down and to upgrade fairly quickly.

  • I am not in operation but I am producing as much as I can with a 200l still, ie about 250l a month, when I mash in and am not doing my day job. I would concur on making malted whiskeys. Once you get into corn or Rye its a different sort of gear and more heavy duty equipment. As an example I had a really good malt roller mill that was great for malt, then I decided to make corn whiskey and the first time I put a handful of corn through it locked up. So I had to feed in corn at a small sprinkle by hand. I can tell you it takes 8 hours to grind 80kg of corn with a roller mill designed for malt. Then I bought a heavy duty mill that was made to handle corn and I can do 200kg of it in about 20 minutes. But the second heavy duty mill cost US$3k.

  • @Beerideas said: Smaug looks like I've got some pricing out to do. I have a high level understanding of distilling but am not a design or handy guy. Lowering the cost for an entry system is important to prove the concept.

    CothermanDistilling the beer is certainly the easy part. Economy of scale I certainly understand. The tricky part is the cost to enter the market that won't kill my partner's enthusiasm.

    Thanks for the help so far folks.

    If you can educate me further I'll pay you in beer when you visit. :P

    Totally understandable.

    Lets look at it this way. For us here at StillDragon USA, our best value on a per liter basis for a jacketed kettle is the 1000L -1200L (264-300 gallon) kettle. The labor is basically the same to build anything smaller and dropped, unusable cuts of sheet material still have to be paid for.

    The smaller system is cheaper to be sure. But you'll ultimately get less value out of the system. And then when it is time to scale up in 3 or 4 years, inflation will have likely installed itself into the cost of the up grade. But the good news is that you can run the smaller batches twice a day and can always turn the smaller system into a dedicated still for seasonal / specialty spirits and / or recipe development.

    StillDragon North America - Your StillDragon® Distributor for North America

  • @DonMateo Is flaked Corn not an option? We use that in brewing all the time, with no need to mill. In fact, milling it makes corn flour. Rye is tricky as well, but malted Rye is an option for brewers.

  • @smaug the idea of bang for the buck certainly appeals. I've got feelers out on NGS to explore that option and thus negate (i hope) the immediate need for a vodka column. I've been talking to one of your sales guys but we are approaching things in a very different manner and its throwing off my game. Would you be ok with an email exchange?

  • smaug@stilldragon.com

    StillDragon North America - Your StillDragon® Distributor for North America

  • @beerideas. Well i cant get flaked corn here but i can get bulk corn including ground corn. On malted rye I can get that but only occaisionally. The wash still sticks to immersion elements. Everyone here siad it would and I thought I would try anyway. It didnt work.

  • Rye is a pain for brewers too. @DonMateo

  • I have my neighbors on each side do my Rye Whiskey mashes, 55% Rye Malt, 45% 2-row barley malt.. they learn what a long sparge is.... one even bent his perforated false botton on his 3.5bbl system using a centrifugal pump, the mfr sent him a wedge-wire version at no cost... I would suggest only use a lauter grant to never put suction under the mash... that is what the other neighbor with a 10bbl system has...

  • @CothermanDistilling thats a heck of a lot of rye in a beer mash. I’ve made a few rye beers but typically keep it under about 30%.

    I’m curious if you did a single infusion or a bunch of temperature rests?

  • edited August 7

    Malted rye easier to work with then raw, by far. However, it’s a very different flavor profile from commercial rye and bourbons, that almost always use unmalted.

  • @grim I guess that makes sense. Gotta find some resources that explain things.

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