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A local cheese maker has asked if I would help him with the production of a distilled spirit from his byproduct whey.  He currently produces about 100,000 gallons of whey per week.  I have not had his whey analyzed yet to find out exactly the percentage of lactose available, but most studies I have found say it is around 4%.  I have found a suggested yeast strain, kluyveromyces marxianus, to begin fermentation trials with.  I have read using an enzyme can increase the fermentability, ultrafiltration or boiling can reduce the volume and consolidate the sugars. 

My question is, Has anyone else worked on this?  Whey has been fermented and distilled in Europe since at least the 1930s, and there are other milk wines/spirits in other parts of the world.  This would be a large scale endeavor, at least for me, based on the volumes that will continue to increase as his cheese business grows.

The goal would probably be to work on a vodka, and sell a significant portion as a neutral spirit in bulk.

the photo shows some of the whey based vodkas currently available.

whey vodka.jpg

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Theres an enzyme that will shear lactose into all fermentable sugars making it accessible to most commercial yeasts. Now you just need to worry about flavors. Don't try to adjust ph too much with acid it can get realllllllly funky. Run a clean ferment and take a clean cut of it and it can be palatable 

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I would LOVE to know more about this. I've heard of a company in Ontario doing it and I've actually tasted a few examples. I would be dead keen on developing this as a viable concept as I can get the whey and I have a continuous still, which it would suit perfectly.

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Ran across this a few months back and thought it was an interesting alternative to using straight whey.  The premise is to use lactose-converted whey as a substitute for a portion of water in a grain mash.  This somewhat solves for the issue of very low alcohol yields.

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0022030215009480

 

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Been doing it here in Wisconsin (The Dairy State) for about a year. Our whey comes from a local cheese producer. They further filter out the proteins, concentrate the whey permeate to a brix of between 22-25. Additionally, they re-pasturize to inhibit the lactic acid bacterial fermentation. We have the concentrated permeate transported to our distillery.  Adjust your Ph to around 6. We add additional powder lactose sugar. Then fractionate using an enzyme, ferment with conventional yeast. Lactose being a disaccharide does not  generally like to ferment , hence the enzyme. Once fractionated into its separate sugars, we have found the glucose will easily ferment, though it takes considerably longer than a typical grain ferment. The galactose still  will not ferment and is a loss. The un-fermented sugar can make a bit of a cleaning problem in your still, but we found some sweetness carries thru into the finished product. Our earlier experiments with Kluyvermoyces were unsuccessful, most likely due to what is referred to as Osmotic Shock. As a note, we have teamed up with the U. Wisconsin to help make the process more efficient and along with their help will continue the Kluyvo experiments and hope we can maintain the same flavor profile.

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19 hours ago, Glenlyon said:

I have a continuous still

Hey Glen, I don't want to hijack this thread.  Can you start another post and tell us about your still? I would be great to have input from someone using a continuous as to the ups and downs.  Who built it, how fast is it, how is it powered would be great starting points.

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People working on this are typically being paid by the whey producers to take the waste, as they are normally paying to dump it. It is a huge financial liability for cheese producers, so if you were payed enough, it might be worth it. The fermentables are about equal to or less than maple sap, which is also not worth pursuing as a spirit, except for a premium price product where you have a good local story,. I don't see a bulk market for it except as a bio-ethanol, and then your price will have to me very very low.

Best of luck

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4 hours ago, Thatch said:

Hey Glen, I don't want to hijack this thread.  Can you start another post and tell us about your still?

Hi Thatch. Right now that would be a very boring post :) In a nutshell though, the still was built by J. Dehner, did yow-man service for Wayward on Vancouver Island and now sits ready for action in my distillery and by all accounts will suck through a 1000 L of wash a day. However, sadly - it lacks the critical element of a steady source of the aforementioned 1000 L of wash - hence my interest in this whey thing.

I currently use grain - but - to make enough to feed the beast, we'd be overwhelmed by the waste products. I could use honey, but that is very expensive right now - so, the juries out on the best way to proceed. So as a result, the poor wee thing sits idle.

I have tasted a couple of whey based products and they taste pretty good actually - although, I do acknowledge it is a difficult thing to achieve. On the other hand, if Mongolian fighters can ferment mare's milk to 5% on the steppes...

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Thanks Glen,  I have talked to and written to Joe several times in hopes of procuring one of his creations.  If you find it necessary to part with it let me know.  thatchertm@gmail.com. 

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Actually, I may choose to sell. Let me chat up my partner and I'll PM you later today.

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