Tales from the Workfloor: Size does Matter!

10 March 2022

At Loki Distillery we pride ourselves at making "private spirits" instead of private labels. We don't produce bulk spirits and toss any label on. For every customer we develop a special recipe, so they have a unique spirit.

That means creating a lot of different flavours. It's easy to do that for gin, because of the iStill Mini. Any recipe we create on the Mini is transferred verbatim onto the bigger stills. Using the StillControl software we decide the cutpoints for heads, hearts and tails and we simply put those temperatures into the program on the iStill NextGen 2000. Botanicals scale up the same way. Every recipe is developed based on the gin formula we teach at the iStill University and that calculated for 1 liter. Doing a run on the iStill Mini? Just multiply by 10 for the 10 liter boiler. Going on a bigger still? Just multiply by 2000. Well actually... we multiply by 1920. Botanicals take up a lot of space and with around 80 kilograms of botanicals in there you need to scale down a bit on the GNS/water mixture. We don't want to send those juniper berries up into the column.

But scaling up a different spirit is another story. It's still easy to do, but there's a little bit more trial and error involved. We developed a fruit brandy based on pears for a customer. This Austrian style schnapps came out great in the Mini, but it took some more time to get it right on the iStill NextGen 2000.

The challenge with making a fruit brandy from pure pear is the low amount of alcohol in the boiler. We started it with a 5% wash, which in the Mini is very easy to control. Just keep tweaking the power settings and the needle valve until you have it steady at 80 to 85 degrees for your hearts cut. But at the bigger stills, the robot is even smarter than we. When temperatures rise or fall, it doesn't tweak a bit, it almost attacks to make sure it stays within the limits. And it does a great job, but only when we give it the right information. With so little alcohol and so much water in the still, top temperatures rose pretty quickly. Of course the robot closed down to create reflux, but only to the temperature we had put in there. It meant that most of our alcohol ended up in the tails cut.

It was easily fixed by treating the iStill 2000 as a Mini for once. We fractioned the outcome again and took notes, while we tweaked it. By just dialing the power back and decreasing the tolerance we were able to get the same results as with the Mini. And with all the information from the Mini already available, we only had to do this once. So for recipe development, it's a perfect combo: start on the Mini, finish on the bigger stills. And of course now a customer is looking for a vodka from potatoes. He expects to create about 4% ABV in his wash... We welcome the challenge!


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