rickthenewb

Starting out small

10 posts in this topic

I have read a few times on this forum about starting small but I can't help but think going small is very doable.  My area has an enormous tourist season.  I am confident that the retail store would be able to generate more than what I need for a few years before needing to expand.  I am really trying to build a story and atmosphere, I am not too interested in making a lot of money (at first) so a side from the "don't do it that small" I am really trying to think of the best way to size the shop

I'm looking to start off with four 30 gallon Stills in tandem.   this gives me the flexibility that I need in order to make what I want when I need to as well as be able to afford it for myself rather than relying on others for money. I really don't want to focus on trying to get my product out to as many places and on shelves as possible I would like to really focus on the retail store and bringing people in and if I need a larger still, I will have to get a larger still.

My main question is setting up the fermenters and kettles, I was thinking electric for the stills.  I am thinking of 1 - 250 mash tun and 1 - 250 gallon fermenter

Also I was thinking of using a food grade plastic fermenter (thoughts)

Thank you all, this forum has been invaluable

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If you don't have multiple small fermentors I don't see how having 4 small stills allows for flexibility. I'm also not arguing for smaller fermentors either though as if you need to upgrade your stills you would be looking at replacing it all. For me, it seems like you would be better off getting a 120 gallon still, but I guess it would depend on the prices. Typically twice the tank or twice the still is significantly less than twice the price.

Also with smaller stills the variability of where you makes cut will be greater because you have less spirit per run to make those cuts.  

You also have the issue of 4 times the equipment to operate, clean and maintain, meaning less time you could spend focusing on other parts of your business. 

You do have the right idea though with larger mash tun and fermentor, because instead of a bunch of little tanks to clean you only have the two.

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I'm sorry i knew I was forgetting something

At first I am interested in making vodka and gin, I would like to be able to maybe do a few gallons of whiskey a month for aging. I would eventually like to make some experimental liquors such as brandy from local vineyards, a beet based vodka and amaro and maybe dabble in bitters using local herbs. But for now mostly focused on a corn based vodka and gin.

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Having only been open 2 months and starting small, I would say a single 30 gallon still for low wines spirit runs and then a larger still, 100+ gallons for stripping and runs from wash/wort.   Also don't skimp on the diameter.  I would plan on 6" at a minimum.  A 4" on 25 gallons of low wines is a really long day. 

I would also go multiple fermenters that are as big as the big still.   

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"A distiller, a mixologist and a distributor walk into a bar......"

so small is ok, but you really might want to review some basic business assumptions....

 

1) walk into you local liquor store and ask to see their "craft" section....if they don't have one, you are in the wrong liquor store

2) find the right store, ask the buyer if they are interested in another 'local' craft product; especially another vodka or any other white spirit.

3) are you an extrovert that can sell a "local" product in a potentially (likely) saturated market?

4) is your location a natural fit for local on-site sales?  Are they permitted by law?  (on-site sales can be the key if you can sell all you can make at a site(s) YOU control (seasonal/tourist venue) and thus not sharing your margin with your local distributor----or will Amazon (not kidding here) deliver your product to your metropolitan neighbors?)

5) more than one still is good.....consider a larger stripping still and a smaller finishing still that might fit throughput constraints better

6) got three phase power?  if not, go for propane or natural gas to low pressure steam...or look at alternatives for something  modular "pay as you go" like http://stilldragon.com/

7) how will you get rid of your waste?.....down the sewer, ask your friendly Federally funded sewage treatment plant (EPA) what level of BOD they will accept or at what sewer fee (waste amounts too small to consider, really?)  Feed to cattle,  does it freeze where you are?  Dump (a.k.a. surface application)----got surface acreage that won't smell during the warm season?  How will you cool your condensers? Closed loop or down the drain....cost (municipal) for COLD coolant (water) and its disposal?

8) do you have any "religious" reason not to buy whiskey or vodka (GNS) from some mass producer and blend or re-distill to validate your back story?  (ask yourself why is it possible to sell a 12 year old whiskey if you have not been producing for 12 years) 

                8a: back story?....might want to review recent class action law suits in this arena)

9) consider the many factors required for this deal to happen: http://www.wsj.com/articles/constellation-brands-acquires-high-west-distillery-for-160-million-1475625536

10) still reading??  try this:    http://tacomapermits.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/P-1300-Craft-Distillery.pdf

11) can small cooperage  (less than 53 Gallon) get your brown spirits on the market in less than 2 years? 

  • Bill Owens had this posted (here) at one point:  Citation:    Jeffery JDE, Berglund KA. Extraction of Wood Constituents from Non-Conventional, Small Whiskey Barrels. J Food Processing & Beverages. 2016;4(1): 7.

12) do you or your significant other (not your dog!!) have enough cash (or your uncle/auntie) to float you for "awhile"? 

13) still "in love", (or as my son said when first smitten "but dad, she's perfect!!") don't let me stop you.....

 

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While corn and an electrical mash/distillation setup is not entirely non-compatible, but it's difficult enough that its going to be very labor intensive, messy, and inefficient compared to dealing with steam and jackets.  The solids can not be carried through to distillation, and separation of a corn-based mash is not non-trivial.  Any solids in contact with elements is going to scorch, and it's going to result in a lost batch (as you'll never get the burned flavor out).

To make things worse for you, corn out here in the Northeast (I'm in NJ) is higher protein and lower starch, as farmers here run astronomical amounts of fertilizer per acre to force high crop yield.  Good for them, but bad for you as the corn will be far from textbook yield.  In addition, because you are running electric, you can't mill fine, as it would never separate and you'll scorch every batch - so you get hit twice, even less yield per bushel.  

I don't see the logic in running 4 small stills, especially 30 gallons (a single 120g will be less expensive).  While that would be a nice size for your finished gin rig, multiple runs stripping and finishing a corn mash on 30 gallons seems pretty painful.  In addition, you'll need north of a dozen plates to be making a passable vodka off low wines.  If you are considering 30 gallon stills with 4 plates, you are going to be passing those spirits through multiple times.  Having this many small columns is going to be very expensive compared to a single 6" or 8" column.  Also, electrical inspectors out here are sticklers.  That's a bunch of wiring - and if you need to be explosion proof (classified) - it's going to be even more costly - we were required to be explosion proof.

If you'd like to see a corn-based operation in process, drop me a line and stop by when we are mashing/distilling.

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Quote

I am not too interested in making a lot of money (at first)




Planning to not make money at first is an excellent way of not making money ever.

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Hi Ricktehnenwb,

 

There is nothing wrong with starting small as long s you have a day job.  i have several customers who started out small and then came back 1, 2, and even 3 times and ordered larger and larger equipment.  We give 75% on trade ins for the smaller equipment, but we have had some customers sell their smaller stills for more than they paid us for them. 

That being said, Silk City Distillers is giving good advice on all accounts.  You would be better off having one 105 gallon or 150 gallon still.  Also if you are going to do corn and or rye you need a jacketed still.  I have electric jacketed baine Marie stills in 5, 10, 20, 45, 50, 100, 105,150, 200, 300, 400 and 500 gallon capacities.  In  steam we have all of those plus 600, 800, 1,000, 1500 and 2,500 gallon sizes.   it is a good idea to have a small jacketed still that is set up and produces like your large still for R&D and some people will run a dedicated gin still and then another still for all of their other spirits.  Bluefish is also giving good advice.  Several of our customers have purchased large stripping stills combined with smaller finishing stills.  I would love to talk to you and help you with what you need.  Give me a call anytime at 417-778-6100 or email paul@distillery-equipment.com Check out our web sites http://distillery-equipment.com        http://moonshine-still.co

Check out our latest assembly video 

 

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I would say your fermentation capacity has to be at least four to five times your distillation capacity. Always have a completed fermentation ready to run. And with lots of ferment vessels you can have dif products ready to run.

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