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50-60 gallon still realistic?

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Once you are talking about a system that can support scale, the fact is, jumping up to the next size doesn't cost anything in the grand scheme of things.

If you are taking about a steam driven still house, what's the all-in price difference between a 125g setup and a 250g setup?  Nothing.  What's the difference between a 250g setup and a 500g setup?  Nothing.  What's the price difference between 125g and 500g?  Minimal.

What's the cost of upgrading?  2x, more even when you consider the downtime.  God forbid you size a boiler and cooling for a 125g setup, you've got to basically tear it all out to upgrade.

I expect Paul to railroad my comments, because well, he's trying to sell stuff here.

@Tom Lenerz or @bluefish_dist speak the truth.

Can a 50g electric still even afford to pay it's operator minimum wage, disability, and health insurance once you consider all the other overhead?

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I couldn't imagine starting that small and making it.

We started with a 150g electric, added a 60g electric finishing still, and are adding another 100g electric still as just a temporary patch for now until we do steam.

The problems with electric are that it's hard to just buy a bigger still without buying all new electric components from the breakers all the way to the still, that is all expensive.  Then there's the slow heat up times, I sometimes spend 6 hours of my longer days (3 runs) just waiting for the damn thing to heat up.  Then there's the cost of electricity where $1000 electric bills for a small distillery are completely normal.

Yes smaller electric stills got us started, yes it works, but it's a major hurdle to expand and buy ALL new equipment since we initially couldn't afford steam.

And for the record, we're a small, bootstrapped distillery located in a suburb of Minneapolis where rent is cheap, overhead is low, and we have great distribution. I could not fathom trying to pay all the bills, let alone profit enough to grow,  with a small still.

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8 hours ago, Winnie the Pooh said:

Thank your valuable comment. May I ask you the same question? What other big serious (high productive) equipment would you suggest to have instead of their small / manual versions? And what do you think about having two big stills (for different stages of distilling process) vs. having one huge (two 500 + 500 gallons stills vs. one 800/900 gallons still)? Thanks

I think the reasonable thing is what does your production need to be minimum to make this thing work and where do you want to be in production and sales. Figure out the cases, the $/case in rev and the $/case in SGP. Figure out your operating costs on a barebone operation and figure out how many cases that is. Ideally, if you are trying to work another job while doing this you'd want this to be one day a week or less on your still. That gives you one other weekend day, and all the weeknights to do the rest of the stuff running a distillery requires. Also when you are ready to take the jump to doing this full time, now you can go to 2 or 3 days a week and double or triple capacity while keeping a few days to do the other stuff. Still going good? Hire a production person and now you can have them do production 5 days a week and you are making 5 times what you were when you started.

For us, we scaled our cooker to be twice the size of our still, and have ferementors 3 times the size of our cooker. This was for the future, our boiler, chiller and processing equipment are all set to add in a much larger still, and over night we can over quadruple capacity. Just add some more fermentors. Having the cooker twice the size of the still is nice as well if you are the only production employee or only have one production employee. This allows you to alternate days between cooking and doing barreling or bottling type work. 

Don't forget everything costs twice as much as you expect and takes twice as long, and at the end of the day you'll make half as much as you were hoping!

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1 hour ago, Tom Lenerz said:

Don't forget everything costs twice as much as you expect and takes twice as long, and at the end of the day you'll make half as much as you were hoping!

Ain't it the truth!

 

 

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8 hours ago, Silk City Distillers said:

Once you are talking about a system that can support scale, the fact is, jumping up to the next size doesn't cost anything in the grand scheme of things.

If you are taking about a steam driven still house, what's the all-in price difference between a 125g setup and a 250g setup?  Nothing.  What's the difference between a 250g setup and a 500g setup?  Nothing.  What's the price difference between 125g and 500g?  Minimal.

What's the cost of upgrading?  2x, more even when you consider the downtime.  God forbid you size a boiler and cooling for a 125g setup, you've got to basically tear it all out to upgrade.

I expect Paul to railroad my comments, because well, he's trying to sell stuff here.

@Tom Lenerz or @bluefish_dist speak the truth.

Can a 50g electric still even afford to pay it's operator minimum wage, disability, and health insurance once you consider all the other overhead?

I agree with everything silk says here.  We always tell our customers that they should purchase a steam boiler from us that is large enough so that they have room for expansion, but at the same time it cannot be so large that the efficiency goes down hill.  We always tell our customers that steam is always the best option.  We always tell our customers that the best option is to start with a still that is at least 300 gallons.   However many times their budgets do not allow for that and i am here to make all budgets work.  Of course if they are wanting to start with a 26 or 50 gallon still i tell them not to quit their day job.

Around 7 years ago we sold a complete 300 gallon system to a customer in VA.  There was a 300 gallon ultra pro vodka still and a 300 gallon mash tun and seven 300 gallon fermenters.  I sold them a 1.2 million btu low pressure steam boiler.  Within 2 years they added an 800 gallon Ultra Pro Whiskey still, two 800 gallon mash tuns and seven 800 gallon fermenters.  They fired both stills and all 3 mash tuns for the last 4 years.  One man ran this whole operation doing 5 runs per week, before they purchased the 2nd set of equipment, and now 2 men run the whole operation and they do one to two runs per day in each still.  I am currently building them a 2,500 gallon Ultra Pro Whiskey Still, a 2,500 gallon Pro series mash tun and seven 2,500 gallon fermenters.  We are replacing the 1.2 million BTU low pressure steam boiler with a 10 million BTU low pressure steam boiler (300HP) to run all of this equipment and give them some room for growth.  As far as chillers go this customer has a well so he does not need a chiller.  In fact this customers well supplies the city where he is with water and because of that all inspections where waved.  I would much rather sell each customer large equipment but if their equipment budget is only $10,000.00 then that is what I have to work with.

I had one customer who started with a 30 gallon still who purchased a 60 gallon still a year later and then within 2 years of the first purchase he bought a 150 gallon still and then last year he purchase a 500 gallon still and low pressure steam boiler etc.  He had a full time job until he purchased the 500 gallon.  He is doing really well now.  I have had several customers who have purchased small stills and then purchased larger stills as their businesses grew.  Tito started with a 50 gallon I believe and now he has over $20,000,000.00 in yearly sales. 

 

 

 

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Also, just so everyone knows.  Steam is always better however if you are where you do not have access to natural gas an electric still may be a better option if you are purchasing a 26 to 200 gallon still. Around 40% of my customers do not have access to natural gas so they must use propane.  Electric does not cost a huge amount more than propane.  So using my own electricity prices as an example: it only costs around $4.00 more per run than a  propane fired boiler to fire a 100 gallon electric still, which means that it would take around 20 years for the low pressure steam boiler to pay for itself (I am deducting the cost of the electric heating system and installation costs from the cost of the boiler and boiler installation).  Also, any of our baine marie stills can be converted to steam.  Also we have our open system pressurization modules that turn our baine marie stills into electrically fired low pressure steam stills.  I would always rather sell larger stills with low pressure steam boilers because I make more money, but there again many customers budgets do not always allow for that. 

Also.  If you have a well that produces water that is colder than 55 degrees F then a chiller is a huge waste of money, especially over time.  

 

 

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Don't forget everything costs twice as much as you expect and takes twice as long, and at the end of the day you'll make half as much as you were hoping!

Somebody told me this four years ago when I started my business plan.  So I doubled my estimates of cost and time.  Should have doubled it again. 

Here is the way I look at it now... do something else if you don’t have at least $2M to drop before breaking even but more like $3M for most projects... depending where you live.  And lower your expectations for selling wholesale beyond your local and maybe regional markets.  Find a way to make your distillery a retail destination selling drinks and food.  This rules are different state-to-state, so some might not have this option.  But it is really the only reasonable way to create a successful distillery business... unless you are marvelous and lucky creating a brand and products that push others off the shelf. 

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Also.  If you have a well that produces water that is colder than 55 degrees F then a chiller is a huge waste of money, especially over time.  

I've often thought of shutting down production over the summer months, late June, July, August, early September, because of this.

With the cooler temperatures coming in right after harvest, wondered if it just made more sense to increase capacity and run all-out during the fall, winter, and early spring.  Goal is to run out of grain before the flip flops came out. Then shut down the still house and spend the summer at the beach with an umbrella drink (or building bottled inventory heading into the fall).

We can mash significantly faster in the winter, with 42-45f water.  By mashing a thicker mash and using cold water additions, it makes very, very quick work of cooling, way faster than our chillers/jacket can cool - since we need the water for the mash anyway, it's free cooling.

 

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10 hours ago, Patio29Dadio said:

Somebody told me this four years ago when I started my business plan.  So I doubled my estimates of cost and time.  Should have doubled it again. 

The devil does not like being cheated his fair share by smart folks who try to double their budget and time estimates from the start.  If you put your doubled numbers down on paper in your business plan hes going to know; and make you double again.  The only way to trick him is to leave your budget at $1 and know in your head its going to cost $2.

 

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On 1/28/2019 at 2:06 AM, Winnie the Pooh said:

Thank you for commenting this, and I am sorry to her that you closed your doors :(. How would you update the numbers you posted at your original post with additional information and recent experience? What do you think about comment of Tom Lenerz, that minimum size of the still  should be 500 gallons? Especially, if you suggest to run a still once - twice per week. And what is your idea of having two smaller stills compare to one single big one.? For example, using both of them as stripping still for 5 days, and use of them them is a final still for day or two? I am not talking about two 26 + 26 gallons stills vs. one 53 gallons till, it is more like having two 500 + 500 gallons stills vs. one 800 - 900 gallons still?

And what other equipment would you love to have (dream to have, must have ;) ) in your distillery in the big scale, like auto spirit filler/coking machine vs. manual 1-2-4 heads wine/spirit filler, etc?

Thanks

p.s. Would you be OK to privately chat about some deeper aspects of your distilling experience? Thanks.

I don’t think that a 500 gal is required to start, but I would not start with anything less than a 120 and if I was going to do it again it would be steam and at least 300 gal.  The reality is that larger equipment doesn’t take more to run in manpower or time.  It is simply a difference in initial cost.  

Pm me if you want to chat.  

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I think that the size of the still(s) one might choose is directly tied to what kind of an operation one might be considering.

If, for example, you wanted to start a happening place in the heart of a mid or larger sized city, your rent and property taxes are going to be very high (in the case of Vancouver near where I live, PT&R can set you back 300 - 500K a year!) So, clearly you'll need a big operation and lots of customers to survive - therefore, you'll need a big still(s) and a big plan and a big bank account.

However, if you are starting a small farm-gate kind of an operation then you could probably get away with a smaller set of equipment. 

Being a farm gate operation ourselves, we have a 65G still, a 45G still/tun, a 26G still and a 12G still. Every week each one of these bits of equipment sees action and in the case of the two bigger stills we are running them practically everyday. We are able to process about 1250 L of mash a week - which is modest. 

I have two nearby competitors, both who have 300G stills and the infrastructure to manage them. Both operations have spent an eye watering amount of money on equipment, building mods, rent, etc. After more than a year of trying to get underway, one is still struggling to open and the other is relying on their beer production.

So, even though I would dearly love bigger equipment, with my small setup - I'm beating the local competition hands down and I'm making a better product. So size matters, but so does being able to navigate the business environment - so - size yourself appropriately for the audience you intend to serve.

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