Jump to content

Start-up and scalability


Recommended Posts


I have been reading posts at this forum for some time but this is my first post. I have tried to find information in existing posts directly related to my idea and have decided to ask for additional input - or, if I just suck at searching forums, perhaps a friendly nudge in the right direction?

I have been considering starting a micro-distillery for some time. I have been doing what I assume is the typical research into the necessary equipment, legal requirements, etc. I have visited several distilleries at all ranges of capital investment, from a guy that has a very nice, profitable operation crammed into a 500 sq. ft. industrial space, to a monstrosity of a facility that looked like the dang Death Star. (Very intimidating, in case you were wondering. :) )

One of the facilities I visited seemed to me to be in the Goldilocks zone for me. In other words I want to be just like them when I grow up.

I have a tentative plan to get into this just on the legal side of "hobby", buying equipment as I can afford to pay cash for the items I need. I hope I will find the project of putting together a working distillery as enjoyable as eventually producing a viable, marketable product will be.

I intend to start with a tiny operation with minimal overhead so that I can enjoy playing with my new toy without the immediate and over-arching concern of having to either answer to angel investors or to a bank forcing me into production before I am ready. I am attempting to put together a small system that is capable of excellent tinkering, but can also be ramped up to a certain minimum standard of profitability when/if the need arises.

In addition, I'm trying to plan my infrastructure in such a way that as much of my operation is as scalable as possible. As I research the equipment, I am finding that at virtually every step of the process there is a potential bottleneck that I may regret getting stuck in at some point in the future.

What I'm hoping others on this forum can do is help me with deciding which bottlenecks are the most annoying or expensive to address down the road, and which can be more easily taken in stride.

For example,

1.) Mash tun - Purchasing a small-ish mash tun would save quite a bit of money up front, but is ultimately decisive when considering total theoretical output.

2. ) Fermentation tanks - My first thought is that I should purchase fermentation tank(s) large enough that each tank volume is equal to the largest volume boiler I can imagine ever using for a stripping run. On the other hand, you can always add more fermentation tanks later if you have the space.

3.) Chiller/Heat exchanger - Initially I had really hoped to avoid the expense of these items for my phase one "hobby" set up, but I am afraid that if I do not at least pay some attention to the infrastructure requirements, having to add them down the road as an upgrade will be more costly and troublesome than if I had just ponied up the dough in the beginning.

4.) Infrastructure - I don't want to find out down the road that I need to rip out my slab because I didn't install the right diameter drain pipes or whatever. I have admittedly spent less time on studying this topic than many others.

5.) Still - The funny thing is, the longer I research this topic the less important the size of my initial still seems to be. I assume that no matter what I buy first, I will eventually be getting something bigger, better, faster. I'm sorta leaning towards a small still (50-100 gallons at the most) with the assumption that it will eventually be used for test batches or specialty items. If this sounds nuts, please let me know.

These are just examples of things that have occurred to me. Please add anything you consider to be a major bottleneck that needs to be carefully considered.

I am currently running a small business that is successfully supporting my family and several members of my extended family. I have access to trainable labor resources that can be repurposed to help run a distillery at any production schedule up to full 2-shift operation. I already have a 60' x 40' x 16' building that can be converted to this purpose. I do not expect to have to expand out of that size facility. Presumably, if I ever truly need to build another, or a larger space, I will be in a whole different ball game by then.

I already have plans in place to attend a couple of the distilling training schools that are available. I realize that my research into this idea is in it's infancy. Any input at all that will help me direct my attention to the most important aspects of the process is welcome. Even, especially if, you think starting with an extremely small operation is a horrible idea, I want to hear from you.

Thanks in advance, and I apologize if you feel this post falls into the category of asking too broad a question. I know people hate that "do my homework for me" vibe.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I apologize for the multiple re-post. Every time I tried to post this topic, I got an error message. I assumed that the post was failing and re-submitted it three times before I closed the board down and reopened it to find three instances of my question had indeed posted live. Mods, please help me out here. :)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Maybe I missed it, but what type of spirits are you hoping to produce?

- Todd

My current plan is to start by producing a Gin of some kind. I am currently reading reviews and taste-testing different styles and varieties of Gin in an effort to determine what direction I want to take it.

If and when I can make a decent Gin and get it up and running, I think I would like to try my hand at producing a truly excellent whiskey, but I think there are too many "ifs" in that sentence. :)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

It sounds like you have all the basic pieces in place. As to whether you can do the items on your numbered list, it all depends on the actual budget amount available.

Thanks for your reply. However, my question is, assuming I have to skimp somewhere, what is the least painful area to try and save a few pennies? What will come back and bite me later if I ignore it? I tend to be a bit talky trying to get my point across. I hope all the blah, blah, blah doesn't obscure my basic question. :)

Link to comment
Share on other sites


It's hard to know where to skimp without knowing more about your potential operation. For instance, you might be able to skimp on a chiller...especially if you are in a place that gets pretty cold in the winter, and your winter ground water is COLD. I couldn't do that here. OR, you might be able to run on a cheap, undersized chiller with a plan to re-purpose it when you go bigger.

If you're doing small mashes, you might be able to start with an improvised mash tun, before you take the plunge with a 7, 10, or 20 bbl mash mixer. I have found that recipe scalability isn't the issue in distilling that is in brewing. You might also be able to set up your testing in a well-drained corner, before knowing what layout and/or kind of floor you need. If you're using a steam still, maybe you can go with a portable skid mounted steam generator...perhaps even RENT or LEASE one until you know what kind of requirements you have.There are ways to move your mash around that DON'T require a three thousand dollar pump.

I can think of a bazillion ways to skimp early on.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 3 weeks later...
  • 2 weeks later...

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
  • Create New...