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Basic Equipment to Start out


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Howdy Folks,

We are a brewery looking to branch out into a small distilling operation as a proof of concept before pulling the trigger on a bigger operation with more bells and whistles.

As you can imagine we want to start up pretty lean, and have access to a fair bit of equipment to help ourselves out.

We are looking to play with everything from clear to brown spirits eventually and so want to be fairly flexible.

I've got a few quotes from people and I'm wondering how many of these options we really need.

 

Things that I'm wondering about

Gin Basket - My understanding is that many folks macerate, and at 3K its a big spend for a single product line.

Whiskey Helmet - Does this make a big difference?  It's also a big cost for starting out.

Glass column components - I realize that seeing the product is fun and all, but would some stainless pieces reduce price?

 

Any input is greatly appreciated.

 

 

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On 9/11/2020 at 8:31 PM, Beerideas said:

Things that I'm wondering about

Gin Basket - My understanding is that many folks macerate, and at 3K its a big spend for a single product line.

Whiskey Helmet - Does this make a big difference?  It's also a big cost for starting out.

Glass column components - I realize that seeing the product is fun and all, but would some stainless pieces reduce price?

If I were starting a new business myself :), I would start with the main questions:
1) why am I doing this? For money ? For interest and novelty?
2) how will I be different from others? what drinks and new ideas do I want to bring to the world?

If (1) "to make money" then the question will be in the choice of "what to produce and how much to produce." Nothing new, classic products, just buy "another shiny tank" :) for me it would not be an interesting way ...

Question (2) will still have to be answered. Today or tomorrow. If you come to the supermarket and look at the shelves, you see many different bottles of moonshine, whiskey, vodka. What if your bottle is on this shelf? Why should I buy it and not another company?

Answering these two simple questions will help you figure out where to go.

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Roger, thanks, will do.  I spoke with him a while back.  Might be good to sort things out and right the ship.

 

Alex - We've answered most of those questions internally, its a matter now of figuring out how to start lean.  Some great pieces to think about though

 

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After 30 years as a pilot and 7 as a distiller I find the industries to be very much the same. To make a little bit of money in either industry, you start with a lot of money...

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I don't know. We've been finding this business to be nicely profitable from the very beginning! Your startup size matters - it has to be right for the market you intend to service and it has to be manageable with the labour force at your disposal. 

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11 hours ago, Roger said:

To make a little bit of money in either industry, you start with a lot of money...

I do not agree with you.
The art of the Engineer (engineering) is to make the cheapest start-up solution that can scale. There is a big difference between the approach to the problem of the form "I still want to buy ready-made equipment" and "I can make the equipment myself."
The main questions to be answered are:
1) what kind of drinks are you going to produce in the beginning?
2) what volume are you going to produce? (per month), and what kind of production growth do you plan.
3) Do you have any restrictions on the area of the room and the height of the ceilings?

Answers to these questions will allow you to calculate the necessary costs (what you need to buy).

Of course, if you have a couple of million dollars, then it's easier to buy a distillery right away :)

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Alex is my spirit animal!

We have a decent plan, but being new and trying to start lean isn't covered all that well.  

Keep this discussion going folks.  I'm learning at every step.  Even the amusing ones.

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55 minutes ago, Beerideas said:

We have a decent plan, but being new and trying to start lean isn't covered all that well.  

I do not see anything funny.

1) if you have a plan, then you would not write here on this forum. If I have a plan, then I start doing business and not correspondence. I don't think you have a plan. You have a desire for something new and a little money.

2) if you are a beginner, you must choose one of two paths: a) hire a specialist (startup) who knows exactly what and how to do, this specialist will quickly put you into work. b) independently study the literature and publications, become a specialist in the distillation of alcohol yourself. It's not as difficult as it seems, there is a sea of literature, including non-English ones.

3) until you become a specialist yourself, you will not be able to evaluate and choose the "cheapest way". Only people who deeply understand the subject, and have experience in organizing production (technological process) can make projects for a different amount of money.

The questions you ask (your first post here in the topic) suggests that you are not an expert in the production of alcohol. Each type of drink implies a different production process. Within each technological process there are several options for technical solutions, with a wide range of prices. But to see this, you need to deeply understand the processes. Every industry has its own "depths of depth".

For example, in order to start producing ethyl alcohol in quantities of 50-200 liters per day, 70-90% ethanol, without fusel oils (without stench and turbidity), I will need several pots from the supermarket, several stainless pipes and silicone tubes, simple household heaters (no matter gas or electricity). I will not need "charcoal filters" and my alcohol can be drunk without the risk of poisoning.
This equipment will take up half of my small garage.
I'll spend about a 1-3 thousand dollars on this (I'm pretty sure).

If we are talking about the need to produce 1000 gallons of ethyl alcohol per day, I will need a workshop and 1-2 welder workers (1 month contract), and about 2-3 tons of sheet metal, laser cutting of metal (precision), pipe bender, machine for bending sheet metal, a number of ready-made triclamps. Buy a pump for the supply of mash. This is in order to make a continuous column that will work and produce my 1000 gallons per day. How much will it all cost money? at the price of 1 liter of alcohol 90% at $ 40, I think that I will recoup all these costs in 1-2 months of the column's operation. :)

But this is all possible if I had a plan :)
go-to-market plan.
plan what product i want.
... and I don't care about the question "do I need an alambik". I definitely don't need it :) and I would not spend money on a copper tank or copper products in general.

I probably write a lot and do not understand?
I said everything I wanted.

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Even though we started small, it was still very expensive. We had to re-zone the land, build the building, equip it and ultimately, figure out how to actually make a product somebody would want to buy. In the end, it cost us about $700,000 to open the doors. Our rule was, if we couldn't write a check, we couldn't buy it. So, when we opened our doors, we had no debt or significant overhead. So, it was easy to re direct our early earnings to quickly upgrading our equipment and most importantly, winning our backyard. Both of those turned out to be good choices because when the covid thing hit, we were very well positioned to weather the storm.

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To get back to your original question, and away from business philosophy, if you are already running a brewery you dont need much, especially if you already have a boiler and a bunch of free space. To make some malt whiskey all you need is a simple pot still, hydrometers, and some hoses, vessels, pumps and bottle filler designed for ethanol. Maybe start with that?

You can certainly make a great gin soaking your botanicals without a basket. Sometimes having limited options can be helpful starting out anyways, as it simplifies your decisions. In gin the possibilities are already enormous.

Shaped whiskey heads look very cool, which might make it worthwhile just for the marketing effect, but in my opinion, they really just provide surfaces to condense vapor on, and I think think the same effect can be replicated in far cheaper and more efficient ways. I'm sure some people with way more experience than me would disagree, and maybe they're right.

If you're hell bent on making a nuetral alcohol you will need to invest in a specialized column, but it can be built cheaply, especially if you have high ceilings. Nuetral can also be purchased, but I personally don't like the ethics of that option.

I come from the brewing industry as well. I still think the fermentation side is the hardest part of the process, even though it's what I know the most about, so if you're making healthy beer, you should be able to figure out the rest with reading and trial and error.

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Well this is getting interesting.

 

Like adamOVD we are pretty confident in brewing, an we do have a fair bit of overlap. Yes we would need to make neutral to start in our market as NGS is heavily penalized locally.  As stated, we too are avoiding taking on extra debt as we already have plenty. We have a decent handle on fermentation, grain handling, heating and cooling etc.  Distilling is a (somewhat) natural extension of that.

To speak on what glenlyon said, we have been trying to avoid the zoning pitfalls and are of course consulting with the appropriate governing bodies. Our local market is underserved (yes we did some market research) and of course we understand the value of winning the local market.

Alex_SOR - you make some good points, even if I'm not a fan of the tone.  Of course we have a plan - this isn't our first business and to call that into question is needlessly insulting.  Of course I'm reading a pile, and have been for quite some time.  Your third point about needing to be a specialist is somewhat lost on me, but I'm not very smart and I have an alarmingly low post count as you mentioned, and clearly that is important to discussing things here.  Owning a brewery certainly doesn't qualify me as an expert in producing alcohol and I would never claim such a title.  I asked some very specific questions and you have chosen to attack and belittle me. I'm not sure how this was deserved, but thanks for this.

 

I want to thank you all for your help so far.  Of course we have been reading, refining and reaching out.  I've always believed in the wisdom of the crowd as well as relying on the knowledge and experience of others.  When we started out in brewing this is what we did, and we have always been keen on helping others.  The beer world has been quite good to us, with lots of sharing of resources, knowledge and experience, and I figured that Distilling was similar and this experience has shown this to be the case.  

 

Thank you all.

Please keep teaching me!

 

 

 

 

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9 hours ago, adamOVD said:

I still think the fermentation side is the hardest part of the process

I totally agree with this. The fermentation process is a miracle.
But for some reason, there is not much progress in this area either.
For example: when intensifying the fermentation process, no attention is paid to reducing acidity in simple ways. To obtain a higher yield of alcohol and reduce impurities, it is enough to put pieces of marble (calcite, calcium carbonate) in the tank. This will induce natural circulation instead of a mechanical agitator, and will provide acidity reduction and yeast feeding. The alcohol obtained after distillation of such a fermentation will be cleaner, without heavy smelly fractions.
This is a very simple way. in my country, it is widely used to extract alcohol from sugar or cereal mash.

There is an even more interesting way. If a beekeeper wants honey from bees, he does not kill bees for honey. He just comes in and takes the honey. :) Yeast also gives its "honey" (alcohol), but we let them die in alcohol, instead of taking alcohol without killing the yeast. I have a way of continuously obtaining alcohol during fermentation, without heating the tank (the yeast warms it up), without killing the yeast.
... How many companies do you think are interested in this method? ... it's sad.
 
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6 hours ago, Beerideas said:

Of course I'm reading a pile, and have been for quite some time.  Your third point about needing to be a specialist is somewhat lost on me, but I'm not very smart and I have an alarmingly low post count as you mentioned

I don't understand how you can measure "smart" in a person :)
Therefore, I believe that we (people) are all the same, and each of us has our own 1.5 .... 1.6 kilograms of brain in the head.
I live in a country where it is not customary to think about how your words will resonate inside someone else's head. Everyone decides for himself how to react to other people's words.
I do not have the goal of offending, offending, or rising above someone who has read fewer books than I did, or made fewer experiments.
But as a specialist, I want newbies to read basic books in the industry in which they want to become specialists.
A person must study on his own, or hire other people who have spent many years on their training, if this person himself does not want to learn. This is my position. Life time does not allow us to know everything about everything, we are forced to make choices and sharpen ourselves in narrow areas. This is normal.

As for the production of ethyl alcohol, this industry has hundreds of years of history, hundreds of time-tested drinks. Each drink has its own manufacturing technology. This should be read in books. Each drink has its own admirers. And this is marketing 🙂 if whiskey lovers do not like your whiskey, you will suffer losses. This is the secret to success or failure, not the cost of your equipment. :)

An ideally developed process for producing ethyl alcohol is called rectification. Distillation columns are used to separate complex liquids into parts at different (gradient) temperatures and pressures. Each component can be isolated on one or part of the column trays. Columns can be calculated based on the need for the amount of alcohol produced. I have many books on these calculations. If anyone is interested, I can write very short lectures (with pictures) about serious things.
... I do not understand why beautiful "flutes" are made on top of moonshine stills (tanks), if there is no removal of components from each "flute" board. This is just "established practice".

The gin basket was introduced to introduce aromatic substances into the flow of alcohol steam in order to accelerate the production of aromatic alcohol. It doesn't matter how it works, the principle is important: introduce something into the steam stream, the taste and smell of which we want to get in the end. In fact, this is an alternative to soaking alcohol in barrels for many months (preparing tinctures).
For the same purpose, in a moonshine still, you can use a dry steamer, place a flavoring substance in a dry stew. This is the easiest way.
But it should be remembered that when the concentration of alcohol changes (dilution with water), the conditions for dissolution of substances will change, and a precipitate may form or a "fog in alcohol" may appear, which sometimes cannot be removed.

About the "glass" in the columns. This is a common human curiosity 🙂 we are interested in seeing "how it bubbling".
The amount of "bubbling" can indicate flooding of the column, so the presence of "windows" allows you to avoid the installation of complex devices. The distiller operator can look at the column and decide whether to intervene in the process or not.
It is not necessary to have a window on every plate in the column. But it's beautiful :)

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Well this is getting interesting.

 

Like adamOVD we are pretty confident in brewing, an we do have a fair bit of overlap. Yes we would need to make neutral to start in our market as NGS is heavily penalized locally.  As stated, we too are avoiding taking on extra debt as we already have plenty. We have a decent handle on fermentation, grain handling, heating and cooling etc.  Distilling is a (somewhat) natural extension of that.

To speak on what glenlyon said, we have been trying to avoid the zoning pitfalls and are of course consulting with the appropriate governing bodies. Our local market is underserved (yes we did some market research) and of course we understand the value of winning the local market.

Alex_SOR - you make some good points, even if I'm not a fan of the tone.  Of course we have a plan - this isn't our first business and to call that into question is needlessly insulting.  Of course I'm reading a pile, and have been for quite some time.  Your third point about needing to be a specialist is somewhat lost on me, but I'm not very smart and I have an alarmingly low post count as you mentioned, and clearly that is important to discussing things here.  Owning a brewery certainly doesn't qualify me as an expert in producing alcohol and I would never claim such a title.  I asked some very specific questions and you have chosen to attack and belittle me. I'm not sure how this was deserved, but thanks for this.

 

I want to thank you all for your help so far.  Of course we have been reading, refining and reaching out.  I've always believed in the wisdom of the crowd as well as relying on the knowledge and experience of others.  When we started out in brewing this is what we did, and we have always been keen on helping others.  The beer world has been quite good to us, with lots of sharing of resources, knowledge and experience, and I figured that Distilling was similar and this experience has shown this to be the case.  

 

Thank you all.

Please keep teaching me!

 

 

 

 

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On 9/11/2020 at 1:31 PM, Beerideas said:

Gin Basket - My understanding is that many folks macerate, and at 3K its a big spend for a single product line.

Whiskey Helmet - Does this make a big difference?  It's also a big cost for starting out.

Glass column components - I realize that seeing the product is fun and all, but would some stainless pieces reduce price?

 

Gin basket - You don't need this but it is nice. There's a number of people that weld a hook to the inside of the still near the manway and just hang a bag there. Not as effective as a basket but close enough for starters. If you have an offset gin basket you can get put all of your botanicals there and NOT have to clean all the still or plates after a gin run, just the basket, vapor path and condenser. We bought a second small still specifically for gin so we don't have to clean it as often.

Whiskey Helmet - Helmets help increase reflux via a change in pressure differential. If you have plates above it doesn't do much. A second part of this copper contact - it help pull sulfides out of the spirit. If you have copper plates they do a better job of it.  No plates a helmet a good idea, with plates maybe not so much. Lots of bling potential if you have a still in a public place.

Glass column - if you have your still visible to customers this is a great way to show it off. If it's hidden then it doesn't matter. It does not effect the process to any real degree.

If you're making multiple spirit types you'll find that it's important to be able to very thoroughly clean the still between spirit types. Gin will stick around and taint everything after it if not cleaned like hell. Plates will be a pain to clean well if you don't have a plan when you build the still (CIP or take it apart). PBW does wonders. 

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1 hour ago, Beerideas said:

For the record folks, I've been trying to learn from the wisdom of others.  I didn't mean to start up any sort of controversy on here.

 

Don't worry, occasionally a man of "genius" will show up on the forum. They usually tire quickly of dealing with those of us with lesser intellects and opinions based on mere real world experience.

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Foreshot.  This is great to hear.  Succinct with a simple explanation that I can handle.  You pretty much answered all the major questions that I had.

adamOVD  Thanks for your patience and sticking with me.

 

 

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29 minutes ago, Beerideas said:

I've read a fair bit on perforated trays vs bubble caps and I can't work out a straight answer.  Which is preferable and why?

There are many more options for valves and spacers.
Check out the picture here:
http://adiforums.com/topic/11751-anyone-running-continous-stills-really-suprised-at-the-lack-of-them/?do=findComment&comment=69699

Each of the options (according to the picture) has its own advantages and disadvantages.
Each of the options can be applied.
Each option has its own allowable range of steam velocities inside the column.

If I have time, I can write a page of text with a more detailed explanation of what and how, with pictures.
 
 
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For terminology purposes: A perforated plate/tray can also be called a sieve plate/tray. You'll find in this industry that terminology is not well defined. In different countries/regions words do not always mean the same thing. There is no defined dictionary of terms. You kinda have to figure it out sometimes.

https://www.quora.com/What-is-the-difference-between-bubble-cap-tray-sieve-tray-and-valve-tray-in-distillation-column

If you search the forum for sieve plate you'll find discussions on the subject.

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