Aspects of Distillation” is a series the iStill Blog hosts. It aims to cover as many aspects as possible. Aspects of – you guessed it! – the distillation process. Think alcohol formation, flavors, mashing, distillery design … and more. In fact, if you have a suggestion, please email us the aspect you want us to dive into. Via Odin@iStillmail.com. Today’s topic? Bottle-neck management!
Bottle-necks are choke-points in your production set-up. It is crucial for any distillery to carefully understand and manage its production bottle-neck, because it defines total throughput, ease of operation, scalability, and flexibility. What your choke-points are? In general, choke points are very much depending on the products you produce, so let's start there.
Bottle-neck and product
Gins and liqueurs can be made via the redistillation of bought in GNS. As such, from a production stand-point, your bottle-neck is either going to be either your distillation equipment or your holding tanks your bottler or labelling machine.
Things become more challenging, when making rum. In order to make rum, you need to ferment and distill. And since fermenting takes more time than distilling, more fermenters or more fermentation capacity is needed, relative to distilling capacity. For rum production, your bottle-neck can be fermentation, distillation, holding tanks, bottling or labelling.
Whiskey adds another complicator to the bottle-neck equation, because of mashing and grain handling. When making whiskey, your production bottle-necks can, in addition to the above, also be centered around how much mashing capacity you have and how you can mill, process, and then get rid or your (spent) grains.
Finally, seasonal influences can play a major role. Especially at grappa and fruit brandy production, that is based on substrate being available only part of the year.
A good way to manage your bottle-necks is by establishing your expected production volume. If you expect to sell 5000 bottles of gin per month, you better have a labeler, bottler, and still that help you produce those numbers with ease. "With ease" could also be replaced with "the amount of staff you want to hire". If you do things with a small team, your working hours soon become the bottle-neck. And since you make money selling instead of producing spirits, you cannot let that happen.
Ease of operation
Which brings us to ease of operation. Purchase equipment that works for you instead of envisioning yourself working the equipment. The smaller your operation, the less hours you must spend behind your still. Production capacity is only there to meet demand, because it is at the "demand"-side of things, where you earn money. So invest wisely and in such a way that you can drive demand while your distillery design focusses on production with limited oversight.
Imagine that your gin launched successfully. You now want to venture into whiskey. Where you originally focussed on your still, bottler, and labeler, you now must take into consideration milling, mashing, and fermentation equipment as well.
As a general rule, a mash and/or distillation run should take around an 8 hour workday. Fermentation takes longer, but requires less oversight. Rum ferments take 3 days, while grain ferments last 5 days. As a consequence, you need fermentation capacity three to five times the size of your masher and fermenter.
Scaling to other products also impacts your still, bottling, and labelling capacity. You still want to make that gin too, right? That's why it is a good idea to always buy bigger stills, bottlers, and labelers. If you plan for 5000 bottles, purchase equipment for double that production. Bigger production capacity allows for scalability. And even in smaller, start-up situations, with bigger stills, you'll spend less time doing runs, reclaiming time for sales and marketing.
Say you make rum and you do so successfully. More demand leads to higher production needs. With a fermenter/still/bottler/labeler combination set-up for 5000 bottles per month, it is very difficult to scale up to 10,000 bottles. More fermenters will increase capacity of rum wines production, but that only translates to you and your team having to do more runs on the stills, going to double shifts and higher associated staffing needs.
The problem with the future is that it is so hard to tell what's coming. "Live is what happens to you while you plan for something else," John Lennon said, and it couldn't be more true for distilling. You plan for your gin launch and all of a sudden your vodka takes off like a rocket. How to plan for that? You either buy-in huge overcapacity, potentially restraining you financially, or you have another look at iStill ...
Features & Benefits
All iStills can mash, ferment, and distill. That makes bottle-neck management a whole lot easier. All iStills, from the i500 upwards, now come with central distillery management included. This makes adding fermenters and/or mashers, at a later stage, very easy. All iStills are easy to assemble and move around. They can be hooked up with a simple garden hose and electrical wire, so that you can change your distillery design without any hassle.
If you want to make gin or liqueurs from GNS, normally an iStill 100 or 500 will suit you well. If you want to mash and ferment your own whiskey, vodka, or rum, then - as a general rule of thumb - you need to compensate for the longer process times and lower alcohol starting point. An iStill 2000 or 5000 is what you are now looking for.
Manage your bottle-necks!