Important Tank Supplies & Accessories for Your Brewery or Distillery

By: Alyssa L. Ochs

High-quality and reliable tanks are one of the most essential parts of any brewery or distillery. However, there are many components involved in keeping tanks in good condition and well-monitored throughout the beverage-making process. Experienced brewers and distillers use various tank supplies to keep their tanks working well for many years into the future and to produce excellent craft beverages.

Here is an overview of some of the most important tank supplies and accessories to stock up on and use regularly in a brewery or distillery.

Basic Tank Needs

  Wraps are one of the most important tank-related products that breweries and distilleries should invest in because they provide fluid temperature control for tanks. Wraps also reduce condensation and allow fluids to circulate with a cooling jacket on for thermal control. Glycol wraps help control the fermentation process and are also referred to as glycol jackets. These products are put on the bottoms and sides of tanks to maintain beverage temperatures, regardless of the beverages’ fill levels. This is especially important on packaging days of the year. Overall, breweries and distilleries typically look for wraps made with lightweight and flexible fabric that’s easy to apply and manipulate as needed.

  Insulation is useful for craft beverage tanks because both hot and cold temperatures are required from these tanks. Common insulation materials are fiberglass and stone wool. Insulation helps to counteract high humidity in a brewery or distillery and also prevent burn and freezing so that ice does not form on the pipes. Since insulation helps resist corrosion, keep mold away and save energy, it is also a way for breweries and distilleries to become more efficient and sustainable. For example, Synavax™ multipurpose coatings use a liquid wrap insulation to coat the equipment and cover exposed valves to prevent energy loss. Just keep in mind that staff members must to be trained thoroughly on insulation safety, especially when working around hot pipes.

  Meters are another crucial piece of equipment used alongside tanks in the brewing and distilling processes. Liquid pressure and vacuum gauges come in both analog and digital formats, with digital versions typically being more expensive. Common sizes are ¼ inch to 1.5 inches, and stainless steel is the most common meter material used in the food and beverage industry. Meters often use two pressure transmitters to measure the beverage level – one for the head pressure and the other for the total pressure. It is that differential that’s really important number to steadily monitor. Magnetic flow meters often range from ½ inch to six inches and provide readings to minimize losses in the beverage-making process. Meanwhile, temperature sensors monitor a beverage’s temperature so that you can quickly adjust temperatures that become too high or low. Regardless of the chosen product, it’s always important to have hygienic process fittings for meter sensors.

  Tank Stands, a less technical but equally important product that goes hand-in-hand with tanks. Stands are usually made from stainless steel and can accommodate 100, 200, 300, 500, or more liters for the right fit with your tanks. Stainless steel pipe stands for brite tanks are available to fit 1.5-inch and two-inch sizes. Some stands accommodate just one large tank, while others fit several tanks and are ideal for small batches. Some smaller tanks have wheels to make them transportable in case mobility is convenient for your operations.

Top Tank Supply Products

  Dean Thompson, the brand manager for Flextank USA, told Beverage Master Magazine that his company’s most popular tank products among breweries and distilleries are its line of SS sanitary fittings, fermentation locks and oak adjuncts. This company manufactures and assembles all of its vessels in Vancouver, Washington and distributes them worldwide.

  Among the most-used products throughout the beverage industry is Flextank’s AK1T – Combo 6-Bolt Flange Accessory Kit in the 1.5-inch size that includes VF1, BV3 and SV1T. This kit includes a complete drain valve installation and a Tassilini sample valve, and it fits all Eco and Dexter Maturation and heavyweight tanks, plus the Apollo Fermentor. Other popular products are Flextank’s butterfly valves and FL1 Fermentation Lock.1 for use on Eco Tanks and Dexter Lids purchased prior May 31, 2014. Meanwhile, the company’s FC060-50-70-80 FlexChill is an exterior wrap chilling system used with glycol chillers and designed for cylindrical tanks in two standard sizes.

  “Our oak staves are French and American oak and available in different toast levels and sizes for different tank sizes,” Thompson said. “These are made with directions to add up the staves needed for use. An example is if you need 80 gallons, you can add the staves from the 50-gallon tank and then add the 30-gallon tank, and now you have what you need for the 80-gallon tank.”

  Miyuki Clauer of ATAGO U.S.A., Inc. told Beverage Master Magazine that ATAGO’s most common product line used for craft beverage tank monitoring is its In-Line Refractometer PRM Series. Based in Bellevue, Washington, ATAGO U.S.A. is a leading manufacturer of refractometers, polarimeters, salt meters, acidity meters, pH meters and saccharimeters.

  “The PRM series offers a digital display section with a seven-segmented LED that displays the temperature and measurements,” Clauer said. “Using output methods, such as RS-232 or 4-20mA, the data can be transmitted to a PLC system for system automation. It offers lab-grade accuracy across the full range of refractive index, Brix or user-defined concentration scale. The PRM series is equipped with an alarm output function that transmits a signal when it detects values exceeding preset high- and low-limit values.”

  Clauer also explained how these inline units use COP (clean-out-of-place) and CIP (clean-in-place) methods for easy cleaning. This is always a valuable feature for busy breweries and distilleries.

  “The detection section occupies a small footprint, taking up very little space and offering an installation option to be directly mounted to the tanks or piping systems,” Clauer said. “The unit can be easily removed without requiring previously acquired skills to be easily removed and installed for COP. The prism section is completely flat and can be easily cleaned once removed. For CIP, users can install an optional accessory and let the ultrasonic cleaner prevent utterly unavoidable sample build-up around the refractometer’s prism surface. Another option is the prism wiper, which attaches directly facing the detection section of an inline refractometer installed in the piping system to manually wipe buildup off the prism surface.”

Other Tank Accessories to Consider

  In addition to wraps, insulation, meters and stands, there are many other tank products that can come in handy during the brewing and distilling process. For example, your beverage operations may benefit from carbonation stones, CIP spray balls and hydrators. Racking arms, valves, sight glasses, basic thermometers and through wall fittings are among the many other tank supplies that experienced beverage producers use.

Choosing the Best Tank Products 

  Although there are many brands, types and styles of tank supplies and accessories to choose from, not all of them are necessarily right for your beverage company. This is why it’s a good idea to get to know industry leaders who make these types of products so you learn about what will best suit your needs.

  With regard to insulating beverage tanks, Thompson of Flextank USA said that the best strategy is “either a temperature-controlled room using our FlexChill system or using standard insulation materials common in hot water tanks.”

Thompson’s advice to breweries and distilleries is a reminder that starting with Flextank for fermentation of grains and sugars can significantly lower start-up or expansion costs.

  “These tanks come in variable permeation rates so they can serve a double-duty and can age spirits, beer and cider without the cost of barrels,” Thompson said. “If an oak profile is desired, inexpensive oak staves are available in a variety of toasts and species that can complement the end product.”

  When shopping for tank supplies for your brewery or distillery, Clauer of ATAGO U.S.A. says that the most important things to look for in a tank meter are the specification of the measurement range, temperature compensation capabilities and after-care services.

  “ATAGO offers in-house service in the U.S., and we offer loaner units while we have customers’ instruments,” Clauer said. “With NIST certification, it offers information security standards and guidelines to ensure that the instrument is working accordingly.”

  Clauer also told Beverage Master Magazine that when searching for pieces of craft beverage equipment, such as tank meters, it is important to have a comprehensive overview of what’s needed and what options are available.

  “Purchasing an instrument is one part, but also knowing the spare parts and how accessible it is to these parts are important, as well as any technical service turnarounds,” Clauer said. “Having a manufacturer that can offer customer service that walks with you every step of the journey of craft beverage manufacturing is important. ATAGO is dedicated to meet our customers’ need with a motto of ‘You ask, we create.’ We offer a portable CO2 meter, refractometer, pH meter, and conductivity meter, as well as the inline refractometer.”

Finishing and Aging Options Evolve with Booming Secondary Barrel Market

By: Gerald Dlubala

Those barrels hanging out in the distilleries, whether new, used or refurbished, are just getting started. Oak barrels have a full and varied life, complete with occasional travel between distilleries, breweries, wineries and back again, sometimes internationally.

  Just within the Kentucky commonwealth, there is an inventory of over eight million barrels of Bourbon and other spirits in various stages of the aging process. It’s the highest inventory in 40 years and represents almost a two-barrel per person ratio. That’s a lot of barrels coming onto the market, which coincides with a booming secondary barrel market.

Impacting Flavors By Following The Seasons

  One company helping those previously used barrels live their best life is Moe’s Barrels, with locations in Galt, Lodi and Fairfield, California. COO Dean “Deano” Wilson is a winemaker and self-proclaimed foodie, so he found it natural to follow his passion by selling previously used wine and whiskey barrels for secondary, flavor impacting purposes.

  “We source our barrels from both the big and small producers,” said Wilson. “The boutique producers are our preferred source for quality used barrels simply because they tend to take care of them a little better. We buy our barrels in lots, with 99% of them coming in already cleaned and sanitized. But we’ll look at, inspect and grade them, giving them a wine or beer grade. If they don’t qualify for that, we can use them as furniture or décor grade. A trend that has grown recently is to sell the parts of used barrels to the artistic community, selling the individual staves, barrelheads or barrel rings for creative endeavors.”

  Wilson told Beverage Master Magazine that his formula for success is to try and follow the season for selling a certain type of barrels. 

  “We get a lot of first and second use barrels at harvest time, which is very good for cross-utilization. White wine barrels are excellent for reuse with wine, Belgian style beers, Cognacs and more. The barrels we get immediately following the crush are great matches for repeated wine and bourbon use.”

  Wilson gets his used barrels delivered with blue painter’s tape over the bunghole. The tape covers the hole for sanitary reasons but still allows the barrel to breathe. If they sit around too long with the bung in, there’s a chance for mold growth. If the barrels are left with the openings uncovered, they could dry out and start to split. Moe’s does the rest, performing sanitation, rehydration, steam cleaning and hot water rinsing.

  “Communication is key for customers looking to purchase used barrels,” said Wilson. “The buyer needs to be comfortable in the relationship with the supplier. First and foremost, look for quality, but be comfortable enough to ask for what you need. Know what flavor profiles you’re looking to build. Use your nose and trust your smell when inspecting the barrels that you are buying. Some staining and minimal hairline cracks are fine, but larger, deeper cracks around the bunghole can be a sign of a problem, and it’s always best to stay away from any hardened purple stains. Check for holes or damage that could be related to borer beetles. We invite all buyers into our warehouse, where you can completely inspect the barrels you’re looking to purchase. Inspect them from head to head, inside and outside, noting the year on the cooperage. Know the barrel’s origin, exactly what it was used for and how many times it’s been used. A quality supplier will know and willingly share this information about the barrels they’re selling. Cleanliness and smell are your two biggest assets when looking at used barrels, so always follow your nose.”

  Moe’s Barrels keeps all of its inventory inside a warehouse and available for buyer inspection.

  “We want to recycle these barrels and give them another life in the business, whether it’s for additional distilling and brewing, for use as furniture and décor or ultimately selling the parts to the artistic community. It’s a way towards sustainability.”

Kentucky Bourbon Barrel: The Name Says It All

  What better place to source local Bourbon and whiskey barrels than in Kentucky, the birthplace of Bourbon and home to the renowned Kentucky Bourbon Trail. Noah Steingracher is the man to talk to for North American and international craft sales at Kentucky Bourbon Barrel, a full service used barrel cooperage, offering used Bourbon and exotic spirit barrels.

  Being right in the heart of the Bourbon Trail in Louisville, Kentucky, Kentucky Bourbon Barrel primarily sells Bourbon barrels sourced locally from all of the familiar names. When Steingracher joined the company, he brought his international sourcing experience with him, so exotic and international barrels are now in play as well. He has sourced used barrels from spirits distributors, breweries, meaderies and wineries for use in finishing and aging a potential customer’s product.

  “We do it all,” said Steingracher. “We sell the used barrels from barrel to stave, depending on every customer’s unique needs. We have contracts with reputable and well-known distilleries to empty and ship their used barrels directly to us. We inspect them using our stringent guidelines for acceptable and unacceptable issues, including the size of any distinguishable cracks. If needed, our experienced team of coopers repair the barrels and make them fit to fill. We fill the used barrel market for customers that may not have the time, expertise or source to fill it on their own, and our experience and reputation are such that we have customers worldwide. I’ve shipped to islands that I’ve had to find on Google Maps. I’ve delivered barrels to the base of the Himalayas. There’s nowhere we won’t deliver.”

  Steingracher told Beverage Master Magazine that the used barrel market is affected by the same seasonal changes that affect all brewers and distillers, as well as how the barrel will be used.

  “A used barrel can function as either a vessel or an ingredient,” said Steingracher. “As a vessel, used barrels are just the holder for the product. For example, if a brewer wants to offer chocolate, porter or coffee stout, a used bourbon barrel fits the need and will provide the expected stone fruit and vanilla notes. But if you want to put out the best coffee stout, you should use a rye barrel so that the unique flavor from the barrel imparts a distinguishable, peppery infused difference. The right barrel will be a noticeable and valued ingredient in your formula.”

  Steingracher noted that brewers and distillers sometimes become too easily attached to the brand stamped on the barrel rather than going with barrels that fit their actual needs, if for no other reason than to associate their brand with that of a particular distillery. 

  “A mindset of only looking towards a brand name rather than filling your flavor profile defeats the purpose of striving for reliability and availability of your product offerings. Craft distillers and brewers can always run into a situation of not being able to find that particular distiller’s used barrel for the next batch. Frankly, they usually don’t even have the marketing rights to use that particular distiller’s name in their marketing. Jim Beam can release up to ten thousand barrels a week, with Buffalo Trace releasing around six thousand a month, and then others like Pappy are obviously extremely limited.”

  “Relationships matter when discussing that reliability and availability,” said Steingracher. “You need to know the type, origin, and age of the barrel you’re getting. With all the variants and combination spirits being distilled these days, what specific type of Bourbon was the barrel last used for? Was a char put on it? What level? Was it toasted? Repaired? How many years has it been used? Barrels can last a hundred years or more if used and maintained properly. The oldest is probably in Scotland, but I’ve personally seen some from aged before World War II. We do buy some back from the distillers that we know care for them the right way, and having access to our cooperage allows us to be able to make the repairs necessary to keep them in circulation. You can certainly come through and check on barrels yourself, but with our regular buyers, they know that the barrels we send them are fit to fill.”

  The flavor and use options for used barrels are indefinite. With many craft distillers and brewers now openly sharing their barrels between multiple brewing cycles, with proper use and care, barrels can last indefinitely. It’s what you can do with them after extensive uses and fillings that become limited.

  The Barrel Mill’s Infusion Spiral Technology Offers More Flavor Options While Decreasing Aging Time

  Options for those barrels, whether new or extensively used, have gotten much greater due to Infusion Spiral technology from The Barrel Mill, a central Minnesota-based cooperage that specializes in premium new oak barrels.

  Len Napalitano is an infusion spiral expert with The Barrel Mill and told Beverage Master Magazine that their infusion spirals are perfect for creating unique flavor profiles and helping distillers get their product to market faster.

  “Sometimes, you won’t find the right barrels for the flavor profile that you want to build for your customers,” said Napalitano. “With each fill, a wooden barrel loses part of its flavor offering and balance, and after three fills, barrels can be neutral regarding any noticeable flavor profile. These barrels are still obviously good for use, and now they can benefit from infusion spirals to regain that lost flavor profile.

You can achieve new oak flavor without the new oak barrel, which can be in short supply at times. Even when used with a new oak barrel, infusion spirals help get your product to market quicker. Our spirals are cut from premium oak, maximizing end-grain exposure for full extraction in weeks instead of months, saving the distiller money in labor, cost and time. The spirals are formed from barrel stave wood, cut through, then put into a convection oven to get their desired toast or char by way of our proprietary formula.”

  Jeremy Wochnick, Sales Professional for The Barrel Mill, said “The spirals range from a light toast to a #3 char depending what the distillers want, and are available in not only the standard, premium oak, but also in French oak and more exotic species like sugar maple, cypress, cedar and more for experimental and unique small-batch flavor profiles. Barrel quality results are obtained using any type of barrel, carboy or stainless tank. The spirals have proven to be successful in spirits, beers and wines as well as hard ciders and nonalcoholic drinks like ginger ale and regular ciders. Infusion spirals can be used to add a flavor profile to anything. We also have packs with blend options featuring different toast levels. The spirals can be used once, and are inserted into your barrel through the bunghole by way of netting or some sort of daisy chain for making retrieval easy.”

  And those infusion spirals, after being retrieved from their time in the barrel? Well, it turns out that they’re a pretty good addition to your outdoor barbecue.

Starting a New Craft Distillery: Part 3

By: Donald Snyder

Man in front of distillery – copper

  Consumers are thirsty and they want something new. Increased demand for all things local and unique have helped pave the way for a surge of craft distilleries across the country. For those interested in starting a craft distillery today, there is a wealth of resources available to help navigate the unknown. Many toes have been stubbed by those who have been through the startup gauntlet and came out successful on the other side, lighting the path that new distillers can follow. Finally, let’s look at some of the proven, key attributes of a successful craft distillery.

Find Your Niche, Strengths

  Every craft distillery is different. That is what makes this industry so exciting. Every distillery starts with different goals, aspirations, skill sets, strategic strengths, and weaknesses. What is your story? What makes you different than the other 900 craft distilleries? If your sales representatives are in front of a new account, how will you get and keep their attention after they leave? Are you the first in your area? Is there something special about your grains or recipes? What does your background and strengths give you as a competitive advantage? Whether you have a business, marketing, technical, accounting, tasting, bartending, packaging, or engineering background, identify and capitalize on your team’s unique skillset to make a lasting mark in the industry.

Understand Your State

  Not all states are craft distillery friendly. Some states permit craft distilleries a great deal more flexibility than others. Colorado, as example, permits self-distribution and sales direct to retailers or bars, bottle sales direct to consumers, and sales by the drink out of the distillery tasting room. Washington State has similar distillery-friendly legislation. For these reasons, there are more craft distilleries in these states than any other. States, including some control states, can have very restricting laws making turning a profit very hard. Successful distilleries have come from restrictive states but their struggle is uphill. If you have flexibility in deciding where to open a new craft distillery, research the laws and find a state and a region that is distillery friendly.

 Foot Traffic is King

  The most successful craft distilleries leverage their location. Ole Smoky Distillery in Gatlinburg, TN handles thousands of thirsty tourists each week, all lining up for free tastings of their flavored moonshines. Port Chilkoot Distillery in Haines, Alaska has cruise ships dock 500 feet from their distillery that unload 2,000 thirsty passengers right into their backyard. Hotel Tango Distillery is turning into the hangout bar for locals in downtown Indianapolis, Indiana. Dancing Pines Distillery in Loveland, Colorado is in the middle of a Denver suburb and has gained a significant following. Is there a successful brewery or winery near you that draws a large crowd? A new craft distillery in the area can offer exciting opportunities for co-branding like bourbon barrel aged beer or a wine barrel finished rum. Urban distilleries can require expensive real estate but the opportunities for distribution and loyal foot traffic can lead to big returns.

Quality is the Only Option

  First and foremost a successful craft distillery must have a high quality, great tasting product. If a consumer is going to spend $35-$70 per bottle on a local craft spirit, it better taste good. If the spirit does not meet expectations, the risk is a bad mark on the entire craft industry. Take your time on your formulation. Get feedback from professional tasters, bartenders, distributors, and consumers before you release the product. For example, finding the right combination of gin botanicals does not happen on the first batch. For aged spirits, don’t rush bottling your product if the spirit is not ready. Time, experimentation, research, blood, sweat and tears go into a successful brand and it does not happen overnight. The even harder challenge is making a high quality product in a process that is scalable to meet increasing demand.

Do the Math on Still Size

  The most common question I get asked when consulting on a startup is “How big of a still should I buy?” My answer is, “How much money do you NEED to make?”

Here is a simple example:

Distilling a batch of spirits from grain on a 60 gallon pot still will make you about four 12pk cases a day (about 7-9 Proof gallons), depending on the mash bill. If these bottles retail for $40 per bottle, you can probably sell those bottles to a distributor for $20/bottle. That is a total possible revenue of $960/day.

Assuming a healthy 40% profit margin after Cost of Goods Sold for raw materials, you can net $384/day.

Assuming you distill Monday to Friday for 250 days per year, can $96,000 per year after material costs cover overhead, rent, other expenses, and payroll?

Assuming reasonably similar labor inputs and profit margins on materials, a 600 gallon pot still will produce 10x the spirits in the same number of working days.

At that production level, a distillery can both sell unaged products and lay down spirits for aging. Estimate your revenue needs to cover your overhead and back into how many cases you need sell. Reasonability account for year over year growth and calculate how big your still needs to be to keep up with demand.

Source or Not, but be Transparent

  Large distilleries know they can make vodka from scratch for $15-$35 per proof gallon. They also know they can buy beverage grade Grain Neutral Spirits (GNS) that can be used for vodka, gin, liqueurs, or “moonshine” for $1.50-$4.50 per proof gallon. Instead of aging spirits for years, if available and cost effective, sourcing aged spirits from established distilleries can allow start up craft brands to add aged whiskey to their portfolio immediately. Without debating the pros and cons of sourcing spirits, it is important to follow all labeling guidelines and regulations. If you take pride in making it from scratch, let the world know. If you don’t distill the spirits at your distillery, do not imply as such on the label.

  Sales and Marketing

  Once you’ve distilled or blended an award winning craft spirit, you have to get the consumers’ attention. The most successful craft distilleries with growing market share know that marketing dollars are key. Tasting events, radio promotions, print advertisements, and social media blasts are not only expensive, but take up your time.

Distributors can be great partners to help open new markets but the ultimate responsibility is on you to provide boots on the ground support for your brand. Convincing brand-loyal consumers to try your product is hard and expensive. Sharing the cost of promotions, samples, and incentives with your distributor is common, especially for new brands, but can take a big piece out of your margins. A rough estimate for a marketing spend budget is 10% or more of your annual revenue.

  As a new generation of craft distilleries open, standing on the shoulders of those who opened before them, they have an incredible opportunity to be a part of rapidly growing industry. The path has been lit by history’s pitfalls trying not to repeat themselves.

The time is right to start a new craft distillery while learning from the most successful in the industry. No matter what your background, find your strengths and create your story. Find a location that is both craft-friendly and draws visitors. Make smart business decisions about equipment and marketing. But most of all, embrace your responsibility to ensure your product tastes good and be a positive reflection of the craft community.

Contact Donald Snyder at donald@whiskeyresources.com or www.whiskeysystems.com.

Starting a New Craft Distillery: Part 2

By: Donald Snyder

There has never been a better time to start a craft distillery. As previously explored, new distillers can stand on the shoulders of established craft distillers who have paved the trail over the last five years. There is an abundance of resources available including online forums, distillers’ conferences, craft-focused trade shows, local distiller guilds, experienced consultants, and a Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) that has never been more approachable.

  However, this is by no means an easy and well-lit path. It can be a very expensive and frustrating adventure. What can we learn from others who have successfully accomplished the startup gauntlet? Hopefully the history of toe stubbing and blindly stumbling through starting a new craft distillery doesn’t need to repeat itself. Here are some of the most common pitfalls of starting a new distillery:

1.   No Business Model or Minimal Operations Cash Reserve

  This is the most common issue I have seen. Distillers should ask themselves some fundamental questions like: What are your revenue goals? How many cases do you need to sell to make those goals? What are your Costs of Good Sold (COGS) for the raw materials needed to make those cases? What are your fixed expenses like rent, full time labor, and loan interest? How much capital investment do you need to start up? How much cash do you need in reserve to run the business until the distillery starts shipping orders? An easy to understand business model is invaluable to setting sales and production goals, getting a loan, or enticing investors.

2.  No Chilling System

  Distillers will spend lots of time and money to add heat, steam, and energy to cook their mash and to run their still but completely overlook the equipment needed to remove that same heat from the system. Crash cooling a hot grain mash with chilled water can help to minimize bacterial growth. Having an abundant supply of cold water keeps your chiller running efficiently. Cold water can also be used to cool your fermenters to help avoid overheating and stalling fermentation.

3.  No Thought to Waste Water

  I have seen many craft distilleries rely on cheap, abundant municipal city water to cool their condenser but run that water straight down the drain. Many distillers waste thousands of gallons of water daily. Even if waste water is practically free to dump down the sewer, that water could be re-used and recycled. Try using the hot, clean water from your condenser as the water for your grain mashing. Investing in a cheap poly tank to hold some of the water as part of a recycling system can save thousands of gallons of water every day.

4.   Not Understanding TTB Compliance and Reporting Regulations

  This issue appears to be systemic with new craft distillers. Passing the DSP application process is only one of many hurdles to running a federally compliant distillery. Meticulous records must be kept and Operations Reports must be filed monthly. Excise taxes must be calculated correctly and paid on time. It is not a requirement to memorize the CFR chapter and verse, but a deep understanding of the regulations is a must to avoid penalties, interest, or even being shut down. Like other resources, there are systems available to help craft distillers manage their TTB reporting, operations tracking, and excise tax liabilities to minimize the learning curve and headaches.

5.  Not Involving Local Regulators

  A local craft distillery is not something that most county or city regulators have ever had to license. If you are the first craft distillery in your area, the odds are your local zoning, health, environmental, and fire regulators will have to create new codes to accommodate your operations. Getting the officials involved early on in your planning and development is key. After completing all your building renovations is an unfortunate time to discover the fire marshal requires installing an unbudgeted $20,000 sprinkler system.

6.  Difficult Layout, Too Small of a Space

  Distillery equipment is big. Vodka columns can be 20+ feet tall. A 600 gallon pot still kettle can be 8 feet wide. Fermenters, pallets of glass, racks, grain sacks, bottling equipment, finished goods, mash cookers, storage totes… they all take up space. Can you access and move everything with a forklift? Are your doorways big enough to move equipment and materials? Do you have a dock door for truck loading? Don’t underestimate the space needed to operate an efficient distillery.

7.  The DJ Dilemma

  While sitting in a dark studio it is very easy for a radio disk jockey to play the music he wants to hear, even though it may not be the music his audience enjoys. Just because a distiller wants to make something, doesn’t mean it will sell. I know a distiller who adamantly wants to make brandy even though the market for brandy in his area is next to nothing. It is important to be passionate about what you make but don’t let that blind you from making a solid business decision. Find the line between running a profitable business and having a hobby.

8.  Making Whiskey with No Available Barrels

  Whiskey is hot right now. Brown spirits like bourbon are experiencing double digit growth with record high shelf prices and consumer demand. But there is a serious problem for new craft distillers hoping to jump on the whiskey bandwagon. There are no new oak barrels available. In order to make bourbon, you need a consistent supply of new, charred, white oak barrels. Although cooperage capacity is slowly opening back up, the waiting list for barrels is anywhere from six months to over a year. If you want to open a craft distillery today, white spirits like gin, vodka, rum, non-grape brandies, corn whiskey, or flavored liqueurs may be your only options to make for a while.

  A common lesson I hear amongst the established craft distillers who survived starting up is, “I didn’t know what I didn’t know.” While there is no way to predict every issue while starting up any new business, these are some of the common obstacles that future distillers can avoid. We are in an exciting period of growth for the craft distilling industry as more and more consumers are seeking something new and different. The first distillers muddled through complete darkness and came out successfully on the other side. We may all stub our toes while wading through the unknowns of beginning a new distillery but learning a few of these cautionary tales will help light your path.

Contact Donald Snyder at donald@whiskeyresources.com or www.whiskeysystems.com.

“Standing on Shoulders”

By: Donald Snyder

Smooth Ambler Distillery – Maxwelton, WV
Photo Credit: Donald Snyder

Ask any established craft distiller what they would have done differently and you will get a common answer, “How much time do you have?” For most new distillers starting from scratch in the last few years, it was a learn-as-you-go venture paved with blood, sweat, and tears. The promise of high margins in an exciting and rapidly growing industry with local laws now changing to be more “craft friendly”, the draw to join the liquor industry today is almost intoxicating. Today, new craft distillers are starting up following in the footsteps and standing on the shoulders of those who came before them to bring something new and unique to the market.

There are over 800 active micro distillers in America and dozens more opening every month. Domestic and international consumers have developed a palette for unique distilled spirits and have not seemed to quench their thirst for all things different and local. If that wasn’t a big enough reason to join the party, there is now a wealth of resources available to get started without repeating the painful road paved by others.

An aspiring distiller today does not need to look very hard to find resources to help them start up a new distillery. There are distillation classes across the country offering everything from a hands-on introduction to the distilling industry, chemistry-based fermentation and mashing lessons, blending and product development classes, to advanced distilling techniques classes for those looking to sharpen their craft. As a lecturer at both the Moonshine University in Louisville, KY and at the Six & Twenty Distilling class in Greenville, SC, I get to give people a taste of the industry before they decide to jump in with their hard earned money. Being able to touch, look, and feel for a few thousand dollars can be well worth it.

  Another hands-on and immersive way to learn about the spir  its business are the annual craft distillery conferences with break out informative sessions for all levels of experience. The American Distilling Institute (ADI) and the American Craft Spirits Association (ACSA) both have annual conferences where all the players in the industry converge to discuss current market trends and distillation issues of the day. For new players in the business, the biggest advantage of these conferences are the vendor booths which are a literal one-stop-shop for all the suppliers you will need to start a craft distillery. Imagine having every major glass bottle supplier, chiller and equipment vendor, grain sources, and even the Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) all represented and able to answer your questions in one space. I hear the established craft distillers groan every year having had to research and hunt them all down one by one.

  However, even before an aspiring distiller books an air plane ticket to a conference or to a class, there are now vast repositories of information available on-line. There are several popular and active forums and blogs on-line with communities of distillers sharing their experiences and responding to questions. One of the most active is the ADI Forum where new and established distillers talk about the issues du jour and share techniques. There are active home distilling forums with resources as well but I’ll remind everyone that distilling spirits without a federal permit is currently against the law.

  Finally, once a person is ready to start a distillery, there are now a plethora of consultants with years of experience in the distilled spirits industry. There are consultants for every specialty, issue and budget. There are consultants like Richard Wolf of Wolf Consulting who can help prepare a solid business model including cash flow, cost of good sold (COGS) and profit projections to help articulate capital needs and find investors. Consultants like Jim McCoy, who retired from the TTB after 32 years, can help navigate the licensing, federal permitting, or audit headaches and assist with label or formula approval. Sherman Owen of Artisan Resources can help with developing a mash bill, fermenting, distilling, equipment sourcing and may other tactical operational issues. There are retired master distillers who worked for the large distilleries who can help teach the up and comers how to make a high quality product while leveraging their connections in the industry. Nancy Fraley of Fraley Nosing Services can help with blending and differentiating your product in a crowded market space. There are even “one-stop-shop” consultants who act like a general contractor that can walk a distillery from concept to reality while bringing in specialized consultants and network resources as needed.

  With all that said, even with all the incredible resources available, it can still be a hard and expensive road to travel. A typical new craft distillery will require hundreds of thousands of dollars in equipment and investment. Older buildings will need expensive renovations to be both visually appealing and up to local code to operate a still. A green field distillery built from scratch sized to expand could easily cost a half million dollars or more. For distilleries hoping to make an aged product such as a bourbon, they must prepare to spend a thousand dollars per barrel in raw materials, labor, and other conversion costs and see no return on that capital until it is dumped and bottled. Cash flow and operational reserves for a startup distillery can easily trip up even the best business model. It is possible to start a distillery on a “shoe string” budget, but it is a tough road to travel.

  If you are considering opening a craft distillery, know that there have never been more resources at your disposal. It is not an easy or cheap road to go down but the return can be big. Reach out to a local craft distiller, make a connection with a consultant for an introduction, or be an active participant on-line and you will be well armed to decide if your next business card will say Master Distiller.

Contact Donald Snyder at: donald@whiskeyresources.com or www.whiskeysystems.com.

Technology and the Benefits of a Digital Marketing Strategy

By: Robert Frost, Principal, Boelter Blue

Competition is fierce! With the number of craft breweries and brewpubs continually on the rise year-over-year, it should come as no surprise that current bar owners and operators must focus on more than just word of mouth, radio ads or the occasional 30 seconds of air time on the local network to create buzz about their business. Developing a marketing plan to maintain visibility and relevance is key to both the initial and ongoing success of your business.

But not just any marketing strategy will do.

A robust and diverse digital marketing plan, one that also leverages mobile technology, will play a significant role with effectively attracting and retaining customers. Utilizing loyalty apps and a variety of marketing automation initiatives will ultimately allow you to spend less time and money on your overall marketing efforts, while simplifying and maintaining your path for continued growth and success.

All of this speaks to the advancement of technology within this space. As such, it should come as no surprise that the role of technology continues to be on the rise, both in terms of what is in the hands of you and your loyal customers – on their phones and through a more personalized interface with your business – as well as the technology your business may currently be utilizing.

The increased involvement of technology is very much a generational change and one that craft brewery and bar owners are recognizing as a means to become better and more productive at what they do. The old saying, “work smarter, not harder” rings true across the board.

Align yourself with mobile technology and mobile marketing

By 2020, 77% of the US population will be using mobile technology daily. It’s the go-to technology for personalized communications. Adding to this impressive statistic is the notion that thirty-five percent of smartphone users are already claiming to use their phones more than 50 times a day—this is where craft brewery and bar owners and operators can make the biggest impact. Personal means connecting with customer routines, moods and of course, discerning taste buds. Data makes it possible—mobile makes it deliverable.

Most consumers expect information to be available at their fingertips. The vast majority of consumers are searching for information about a particular business on their smartphone, with 84% of them contacting that business as a result. An app with your menus, reservation, ordering, payment and delivery capabilities maintain accessibility and convenience. And convenience is a big part of the overall experience that customers are looking for. If too much is being asked of your customers they may abandon your business before ever stepping through the front door.

Attracting new customers, building loyalty and running a variety of continuous promotions requires a heavy investment of time and energy. An automated marketing strategy allows you to focus on what you do best—providing great craft brews and exceptional service. Capture your guests at every touch point with pre-scheduled communications, photo push messaging, social media posts and more. Utilizing a robust app for your business allows you to capture more first-time guests, make your regular guests feel like insiders and remind customers who haven’t visited with you in a while why they should consider returning.

Utilizing technology does not necessarily equate to an entirely new business plan. However, it does mean that you now have an option to execute your current plan better, while also being able to expand and grow them quicker. An example of this is identifying those efforts that you may currently be doing with email, paper punch cards or in-house only promotions and taking that to a mobile and digital platform as a means to obtain more control and visibility for everyone involved – customers and owners alike.

An app has the ability to act as your personal, day-to-day assistant. If you don’t have the time or money to hire and manage another employee, it might be time to look at technology as the employee that never gets tired. With it you can send your loyal customers birthday wishes, offers and alerts, giving them the personalized experience they prefer and deserve. With an automated marketing strategy, you can create a series of push notifications triggered by their activity. Notifications can be sent right away, pre-scheduled or programmed to be delivered in certain scenarios. Either way, it communicates why your business is the perfect option for that moment.

Being social with your media

Customers love to see what is offered before deciding where to go. Show them, don’t just tell them. Instagram and Pinterest are fantastic options for enticing people with tasty-looking and thirst-quenching photos. It’s also beneficial to develop short, unique videos – such as a quick recipe or a behind-the-scenes look at your brewery. And don’t forget to use trending hashtags to increase post visibility. For example, include #happyhour, #newbrew, or #foodielife, along with the name of your craft brewery or bar. All of this will help keep your establishment top of mind with both your regulars and first time customers.

Your customers are always looking online to get ideas when thinking about visiting a new business. To ease this process, make sure that all of your social profiles are up to date and easy to read, as well as portray your business with the correct ambiance. It’s not uncommon for new customers to be hesitant about visiting the unknown. Your social presence needs to provide a compelling reason for them to engage with you. However, never sell your business through a clouded social media lens. Customers expecting one experience based on how your business is represented on social media, only to walk in to something entirely different, will likely result in negatively affecting your business as a whole.

Your social media promotional efforts should also be backed up with an engaging customer-facing website in order to complete the experience. This will further provide your customers with an even better idea as to what they can expect when choosing your business over the competition. Think of a great website as a first handshake, before they commit to visiting your business for the first time. Your website must be mobile friendly so that it can easily be viewed from your phone without distorting the message or making the experience inferior in any way. 

Technology that’s here to stay

This growing trend in technology is a strong reflection as to how business owners are looking to maintain their operations with their distributor – online, expedited, quick-to-answer and respond and capable of addressing all of your needs through a variety of technological channels and initiatives. It would be unfair and, quite frankly, unacceptable, for a distributor to suggest that you engage with your customers through the advancements of technology if they themselves are not capable of providing the same level of service to meet your day-to-day business needs. Technology will continue to impact and affect buyer behavior. This can be seen both from the customers that frequent your establishment, as well as the way that you engage (or want to engage) with them.

Consumer preferences are changing faster than ever, dictating how your business must respond. The distributor that you have chosen to partner with should be in the business of delivering value. When they deliver on value, it demonstrates an understanding of what is truly important. A distributor capable of delivering value and unforgettable experiences is infectious, and it will help you, in turn, deliver unforgettable experiences to your own customers.

A thoughtful and in-the-know distributor should always have the pulse of what consumers want as a means to help you innovate and continually reinvent yourself in order to remain relevant in a highly competitive landscape. When they can adapt and respond with speed and agility, they help you to keep pace, stay relevant and often outpace your competition. Ultimately, their business should be dedicated to helping you succeed with yours, utilizing non-traditional methods to better serve your needs through more interesting and engaging uses of product management, technology and education. While it’s true that people do business with people they like, they also look to do business with the people that are committed and able to execute. Finding a distributor that can serve you better and become a comprehensive, go-to resource for all of your business needs is the end game.

Technology is advancing faster than ever before and it’s here to stay. As a business owner, your digital media strategy should be flexible to more easily respond to what does and doesn’t work. Discover how your customers found out about you to gauge where they’re spending time online in order to maximize those platforms. Cross-link all of your online profiles and link your website to your mobile app and social media pages. In doing so, you’ll be able to strategically cover more ground while building a base of followers on their preferred platform. The end result will likely translate to an increase in new traffic, while also building upon an established foundation of regulars.

Contact Robert at (262) 523-6210 or email him at rfrost@boelter.com.

A Clear Alternative: The How and Why of Hard Seltzer

By: Erik Myers

It’s hard to deny that this past summer was the summer of hard seltzer. In fact, it was a summer that saw hard seltzer grow to more than $1 billion dollars in sales. In just the week of July 4 this past summer, White Claw and Truly seltzers combined sold over 100,000 barrels of product. That’s enough to put them in the Top 50 Craft Breweries for production over the whole year. It’s no surprise that craft breweries large and small are looking to tap into the apparent gold mine that is hard seltzer, but how they approach it doesn’t quite seem to stand up against the segment’s largest competitors, and that’s worth thinking about. At a recent industry panel in Charlotte, NC, several craft brewers who make seltzers spoke about their perspectives on this new slice of the industry.

But… Why?

  This might seem fairly obvious with the sales numbers that hard seltzers are putting up, but a closer look at the craft beer industry tells a slightly different story. Recently in an interview, the senior vice president of marketing for Mark Anthony Brands (the makers of White Claw) noted that though White Claw has incredible penetration in grocery stores and liquor stores nationwide, only about 20 percent of bars and restaurants are currently selling hard seltzers. For the average small craft brewer, the opposite is true – while the limited shelf space of grocery is locked behind the arcane process of distributor-led Planograms, inaccessible to most small breweries, they are nearly ubiquitous on draft systems in bars and restaurants eager to serve local beer. So, why chase a segment which shows so little relevance in their primary market?

  “After the surge of LaCroix in the non-alcoholic market, we took a hard look, and it’s what our market research showed our customers wanted,” said Colleen Quinn, of Craft Beer Alliance (CBA). Their market research showed something else interesting – that while most hard seltzers are marketed specifically toward young women, their targeted demographic tended to skew almost 50-50 male-female. It led to CBA’s decision to package their multiple seltzer brands in regular 12 ounce cans, rather than slim cans like their competitors.

  “I’m looking for one more reason to keep the customer in their seat,” says Mike Rollinson of Joymongers Brewery, a brewery that enjoys two taproom locations in Central North Carolina, but no off-premise distribution. “I don’t see it as craft. I’m not making a seltzer for beer drinkers. I’m making a seltzer for the one person in a group of 5 people who will pressure the group into leaving if there’s not something for them to drink.” Rollinson just started making seltzers this year as he saw the trend grow, noting that one of his business partners is on a Keto diet and now drinks his seltzer almost exclusively – as a healthy alternative to beer.

Clear or Colored – the Question of Craft

  While the two major market players, White Claw and Truly, are both crystal clear beverages, two of the producers on the panel noted that color helped them differentiate. Both Brian Quinn of Town Brewing Company and Lindsay Sprick of NoDa Brewing Company pointed to their process as an advantage over the big seltzer makers.

  “I can guarantee that nobody at White Claw was sitting down last week processing a ton of raw ginger,” Quinn noted with a smile. “We’re small enough that we can use natural ingredients as a base for these seltzers.” Those natural ingredients come with their own colors and – he thinks – customers want to see the presence of those ingredients in the product when they’re ordered. “When you get something that’s wild cherry flavored and it’s clear, you ask yourself: where’s the cherry in this?”

  Sprick, of NoDa, shared a similar feeling: “We stand out because we’re using the same ingredients that we use make our beer.” She felt that it was more true to the brand and brewing ethos of NoDa Brewing Company than a clear, sparkling beverage. NoDa’s Brizo Seltzer, unlike other seltzers represented on the panel, is barley-based, which lends even more color to the finished product than the others.

  Rollinson had a different take at Joymongers. “When I see a color, like red or blue or purple in a glass, that reads ‘sweet’ to me, and that’s not what this is.” He mentioned that because his primary customer is not one that’s seeking this for a fruit flavor, but rather as an alternative beverage or a more healthy choice, that the neutral color was a better choice. “The only people who have complained about it being clear were bartenders because they throw it out by mistake because they think it’s water.”

Regulatory Loopholes

  Interestingly, hard seltzers fall into a slight grey area of regulation from both the Trade and Tax Bureau (TTB) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Hard seltzers are the product of fermenting sugar into alcohol and fall under the manufacturing umbrella of a brewery, but labeling considerations vary based on what sugar base is used as the basis of fermentation. A brewer who uses a barley base – even a very light brewer’s malt – still falls under the definition of a beer, requiring a pre-market Certificate of Label Approval (or COLA) and is restricted by certain advertising laws. A brewery who uses sugar as the base for their seltzer is not required to obtain TTB approval as it is not a malt beverage. However, they do fall under FDA labeling guidelines which require a nutrition panel and a list of ingredients.

  While it might seem attractive to a brewery to skip TTB approval and jump straight to FDA labeling because the FDA does not have pre-market approval requirements, it’s important to know that FDA labeling is required to be in compliance before sales and that manufacturers can be held liable to both financial and regulator consequences. Consult your lawyer for best practices.

  None of the panelists chose to share which path they had taken from a regulatory standpoint.

What’s in the Mix

  Clearly, there are as many ways to approach making hard seltzers as there are reasons to make it. Fermenting white sugar seemed to be the preferential approach to creating a fermentation base for hard seltzers. Of the panelists, NoDa was the only one using barley.

  Most of the panelists spoke of these seltzers as good gluten-free alternatives to beer and marketed their seltzers as either gluten-free or gluten-reduced. NoDa used ClarityFerm from White Labs to reduce gluten content in their barley-based seltzer but others simply brewed on their normal equipment directly after “CIP day” in order to guarantee no gluten would be present in the final product. Quinn of Town Brewing shared that lab results showed no traces of gluten in his products.

  From there, the small producers all had a similar strategy of using whole ingredients to flavor as they would for any flavored beer, whether that’s the addition of aseptic fruit puree or hand processing ginger for additions during fermentation. They seemed to feel that the use of “real ingredients” was a way to stand out versus large scale competitors from a flavor standpoint as well as an ethical one. They appeared to share the belief that it “felt more like craft.”

  Yeast was a large differentiator between the producers. While Rollinson at Joymongers used ale yeast to ferment his seltzer, making a note that harvested yeast seemed to perform much better than a fresh pitch, Quinn of Town used Distiller’s Yeast, seeking a strong, healthy fermentation that would get as dry as possible. Both mentioned the need for high amounts of yeast nutrients. “As it turns out,” Rollinson joked, “yeast doesn’t really like to digest straight glucose.”

Where It’s All Going

  All of the panelists agreed: hard seltzer is a trend that is doing nothing but growing, and they all agreed that their futures had more and varied seltzers in it. Each of them was excited to experiment in the market and push the bounds of craft’s involvement in the segment.

  The question remains for you – will we continue to see on-premise growth in a meaningful way that the craft market can take advantage of, or will hard seltzer grow only in larger and larger stacks in grocery stores? We’ll have to wait for the next White Claw Summer to find out.

The Rise of American Single Malt Whiskey

By: Becky Garrison

While both Scotch and American single malt whiskey possess some similarities in terms of taste, their origins are quite different. Scotch is a spirit born of tradition and known for its heterogeneity and consistency, with brands distinguished by their geography (the Highlands, the Lowlands, the Isle of Islay, Campbeltown, and the Speyside). Furthermore, the majority of Scotch distillers are distributed by four companies: Diageo, Pernod Ricard, William Grant and Sons, and Bacardi. A similar vibe besets its cousin Irish whiskey.

  Conversely, American single malt whiskey possesses a more pioneering spirit and is distinguished more by the style of whiskey than any particular geography. While the TTB has not formalized strict criteria for what constitutes an American single malt, the American Single Malt Whiskey Commission, founded in 2016, established a standard of identity for American single malt. Currently, over 140 distilleries have signed on as member producers of the ASMWC. 

  For a distiller to use the term “American single malt” to describe their whiskey, the ASMWC recommends that the spirit fit the following criteria:

•    Made from 100% malted barley.

•    Distilled entirely at one distillery.

•    Mashed, distilled, and matured in the U.S.

•    Matured in oak casks of a capacity not exceeding 700 liters.

•    Distilled to no more than 160 (U.S.) proof, or 80% alcohol by volume.

•    Bottled at 80 (U.S.) proof or more, or 40% alcohol by volume.

  While the ASMWC has not issued a specific recommendation on maturation time, producers are aging their American single malt whiskeys in barrels at a variety of ages, from three months to 10 years. Some American distillers get creative with the maturation process by experimenting with used casks from breweries, wineries and other distilleries. 

  Terms like “handcrafted” and “produced” may be found on a bottle by those distilleries engaged in producing mass-market spirits. Unless the bottle contains the word “distilled,” the product cannot be considered a product made from grain to bottle by a single distillery.   

  Before prohibition, one could find thousands of distilleries and breweries in the U.S., particularly along the Eastern seaboard. During this period, rye whiskey emerged as the dominant dark spirit. After prohibition, the whiskey movement took off in Kentucky and Tennessee, where bourbon became king. 

  While bourbon is part of the whiskey family, this product differs from American single malt in several ways. In addition to being made with at least 51% corn, the mash is distilled using a column still. The barley mash distilled for American single malt whiskey is typically done with a pot still, though a few distillers use a column still.

  Through consolidation and mergers, the quality and production of all American whiskey resembled that of mass-produced beer. However, the advent of the global food revolution in the 1950s and 60s, coupled with federal legalization of homebrewing in 1978, led to the implosion of the craft brewing industry. Concurrently, Americans became acquainted with beers, wines, and spirits hailing from Europe and the UK thanks to pioneers such as Charles Finkel, co-founder of Seattle based Pike Brewing Company, who introduced these products into the United States market. 

  Many distillers of American single malt, like Christian Krogstad of Portland, Oregon-based House Spirits Distillery and Jason Parker of Copperworks Distilling Company in Seattle, came out of this craft revolution, beginning their careers as brewers. Both distillers use a hundred percent malted barley and brew their wort using the same technique employed in brewing beer.

  While Krogstad waited for his whiskey to mature, he became known for distilling Aviation Gin. The first bottle of Aviation Gin came out in 2000, well before their first bottle of whiskey was released in 2008. In 2016, House Spirits Distillery sold Aviation Gin’s distribution rights so they could devote their energies to producing Westward American Single Malt Whiskey.

  Parker, Co-Founder and President of Copperworks Distilling, followed a similar trajectory of distilling gin and vodka until their single malt whiskey was ready for release. For the past three years, they’ve produced whiskey from single farm, single variety, and single vintage malts. Each batch is given a unique number and has a slightly different taste from other batches.

Traditional Scottish Style American Single Malt Whiskeys

  Other brands like McCarthy’s Single Malt Whiskey and Westland American Single Malt Whiskey are distilled using a traditional Scottish style. This style requires that the whiskey be made from a mash of malted barley, distilled at a single distillery using pot still distillation, and matured in oak casks.

  After a damp trip to the Isle of Islay where he visited several local distilleries as a way to avoid the rain, Steve McCarthy returned to Oregon where he had the distinction of being the first distiller to bring an American single malt to market. His whiskey, distilled in 1993 using 100% peated barley from Scotland, was released in 1996. While the mash used in most Scotch is distilled twice, the type of still they use allows them to reach desired proof in a single pass. That still is often referred to as a “hybrid pot still” or “eau-de-vie still” as it has a short multi-chambered column above the traditional pot. 

  According to Steve Hawley, Director of Marketing for Westland Distillery, their distillery was founded in 2010 with the ambition to add a new and uniquely American voice to the world of single malt whiskey. “When we began, we adopted the same basic processes used for generations in the whiskey-making of the old world, but we don’t simply seek to replicate the results. Instead, we work to create whiskeys that reflect the distinct qualities of our time, place, and culture here in the Pacific Northwest.” 

Developments in American Single Malts

  According to Adam Foy, Vice President of Business Development for Skagit Valley Malting, “Barley grown for yield is about sameness, whereas, we grow barley for distinction by searching the globe for unique and distinct barleys that provide varietal nuances.” Connecting the origins of the barley used in the mash to a single farm or variety adds another dimension to the term “single malt.”

  Distilleries like Copperworks partner with Skagit Valley Malting and other like-minded companies to craft what Parker refers to as non-commodity malts. “Instead of measuring our efficiency from farm-to-bottle, we measure the flavor from unique malts to bottle, and share these flavors as different whiskeys, rather than a standard release whiskey.”

  Currently, Copperworks is maturing whiskey that was produced using locally-grown malt from the Skagit Valley and infusing it with smoke from Washington-sourced peat. They brewed the malt into a beer with no hops, distilled, and matured in new, charred American Oak barrels with a number one char, the lightest of chars, so as not to overwhelm the peat flavors.

  Currently, Westland is working with partners on a holistic barley program that focuses on flavor and includes breeding unique varietals suited to the Pacific Northwest region. “We’re malting them using innovative new technologies, and building a sustainable—both agriculturally and economically—model for bringing those barleys to market for use in distilling,” Hawley said.

  A few distilleries have begun to experiment with imparting smoke instead of peat into their barley through the use of cherry wood, mesquite, or scrub oak. In particular, mesquite lends a natural smokey and spicy flavor without adding artificial flavorings found in commercial cinnamon whiskey.

  Then comes Wanderback Whiskey Company, a distillery with a unique production focus. They partner with various single malt producers in the United States to make their whiskey using a bespoke grain bill that’s grown in the Pacific Northwest. Then they age, blend, and bottle small batch releases on their family farm in Hood River, Oregon.

Pushing the Boundaries with Innovative Cocktails

  While Scottish tradition maintains that one should drink Scotch neat, adding only a drop or so of water to help bring out the flavor, some American distillers are blazing new territories by creating craft cocktails. At events, such as PROOF: Washington Distillers Festival, participants can sample a range of single malts, as well as unique cocktails while sitting in on educational sessions. A trek to Tankard & Tun, Pike Brewing Company’s Seafood Restaurant, features beer cocktails made with spirits from Copperworks Distilling. Historical tidbit: Parker was the first brewer for the Pike Brewing Company when it opened in 1989.

  In addition to offering tasting flights, House Spirits Distillery serves up a range of cocktails including a Boulevardier (a Negroni for whiskey lovers). Also, during their repeat appearances at Feast Portland, they showcase their traditional side by featuring Westward at one of Feast’s signature BBQ events, Smoked. But then they’ll display their more flamboyant side by demonstrating how a quality spirit can enhance the cocktail experience. For example, at Smoked 2019, they featured a S’Mores Old Fashioned made with Westaward American Single Malt Whiskey, graham cracker honey, chocolate bitters, and toasted marshmallow.

  As members of the ASMWC continue to win national and global awards and competitions, this commission continues to push for the formal establishment of a “single malt whiskey” category. Already, the American Distilling Institute has established the “American single malt whiskey” category for those whiskeys made according to ASMWC’s proposed statement of identity.

Boilers in the Distillery: Gentle Giants That Pack A Punch

By: Gerald Dlubala

Boilers are rarely glamorized in any distilling discussions. The end product is the star, whether swirled, stirred or shaken in the able hands of a local mixologist. However, any boiler manufacturer will tell you that a reliable boiler affects every facet of the distilling process, including the cost of production. During fermentation, the mash is heated with steam to transform the carbs to sugars. The wort gets removed and transferred to a fermentation vessel to cool and get ready for the introduction of yeast. Steam provided by a boiler generates a gentle, consistent heat, very conducive for vessel heating, temperature maintenance and successful fermentation. Once fermentation is complete, the product is moved to the still, using steam heat to separate and remove the impurities.

Distillery Environment Matters

  “You always have to be aware of any unique requirements due to installation environment,” says Mike Bonjo, Sales Manager and Brewer for Columbia Boiler Company.  “Boilers are mandated to be a certain distance away for safety, but in general, it’s best to have them within eyeshot. Low-pressure boilers generally provide enough energy for craft distilling. However, if the boiler is situated a long distance from the other equipment, high pressure reduces heat loss during long runs in between distillery equipment.”

  In addition, when it comes to boilers, the type of building where the distillery is located makes a difference.  “The current trend of renovating historic buildings into rustic craft distilleries and breweries is aesthetically very cool, but these old buildings require custom installations because of building materials, floor strength and utility availability,” says Bonjo. “Professional consultation is needed to determine floor strength, layout viability and fire ratings. Also, you never want to situate a steam boiler directly on those old wooden floors. We have custom stands and risers for these situations.” 

  Columbia’s boilers are popular because of their performance and compact design. Their flagship units—the MPH boiler series, manufactured to fit through a standard thirty-six-inch door opening, provide up to eighty horsepower. Columbia also offers the CT line, a vertically-designed, tubeless boiler created for the dry-cleaning industry, now repurposed for artisan distillers.

  “Our boilers are easy to install, easy to use and a breeze to service,” says Bonjo. “They are operable right out of the box and come with everything needed to get up and running. Anyone with a basic mechanical aptitude can operate and maintain our boilers. We use standard industry controls rather than custom or proprietary controls. Parts are standard, so you don’t have to find a certain distributor in the area and hope that they have your part in stock. We also feature a copper coil inserted into the boiler to carry and heat city water—to be used as potable water—for cleaning or any other domestic water situations around the distillery. We fire up and thoroughly test our units before shipping to the customer for, what ends up being, a plug and play installation. If there are issues, we can relay our test settings and compare them with the customer’s running settings to make sure the boiler is in an optimal run state.”

  Maintenance on Columbia boilers is minimal. In addition to the mandatory annual state inspections, the boilers should be “blown down” at the end of the day, flushing out the silt and sediment that naturally forms at the bottom of the boiler. If that sediment isn’t regularly flushed out, it congregates and sticks to the steel, forming scale. Over time, scale causes the affected steel to fail due to improper heat retention and metallurgical issues. Blowing down takes 10 to 15 seconds, transferring the water to a blowdown separator to cool the liquid before disposal, nullifying any potential damage to drains and plumbing lines. Monthly water chemistry level checks should be performed to keep it compatible with the steel. For steel boilers, the pH should remain a constant 10 to 11.

  “If by chance, the proper maintenance has not been kept up with, the tubes on our boilers can be replaced independently, saving money on repairs and reducing downtime,” says Bonjo.

Safety Is Always The Priority

  “Your boiler is the one piece of equipment in your distillery that is more powerful than dynamite,” says Dave Baughman, President of Allied Boiler & Supply Inc. “It can relocate your whole business in an instant.”

  Let that sink in, and you’ll understand Baughman’s emphasis on boiler safety before selling you a boiler.

  “Boilers are truly the heart of the distillery, but there’s a critical need for training in daily boiler operation,” says Baughman. “When I ask potential customers if they’ve had any training on boiler operation, even if it’s just about keeping daily operational boiler log sheets, their answers reflect a need for training. We don’t expect boiler experts in these craft industries. They know the biological processes of distilling and rely on others for boiler recommendations, and frankly, the competence out there is lacking. The end-user is being thrown to the sales wolves.”

  This incompetence may even extend to the sales wolves themselves, who are often aware of the national codes but may not be as educated on those closer to home.

  “[Distillers] may need certain, critical support equipment with their boiler, depending on the environment and local code requirements. Do they need water treatment? What type and how much? What about chemical injection systems, blowdown separators, boiler feedwater systems with steam preheat, or condensate return systems? These can all be critical components that may or may not be necessary. Sales representatives may follow national code, but if they’re not aware of the local regulations, you’ll end up with a boiler that’s not code compliant,” says Baughman.

  Distilling is a cost-driven industry, but Baughman believes decisions should still be made based on technical specifications related to distillery needs. Some boilers are better at heating, some better at boiling. Older cast iron sectionals are great at heating but inadequate for production environments. Vertical boiler units were introduced for the dry cleaning industry, and when that industry dried up, manufacturers started pushing those high-pressure units into the next expanding market. That happened to be brewing and distilling, even if it wasn’t a perfect fit.

  “My best advice is to be diligent in research, and never buy based on cost alone,” says Baughman. “Instead, buy based on the technical needs of your situation. For smaller batch distillers, low steam boilers are sufficient. Larger production distillers with continuous columns need more steam, so high-pressure boilers with regulators that hold a constant temperature for longer periods are beneficial.”

  Purchasing the boiler is only the beginning. Baughman tells Beverage Master Magazine boiler training is an absolute necessity because manufacturers have a legal and moral responsibility to sell safe units to trained users. Allied Boiler & Supply offers a three-day, no-cost, on-site boiler training school and startup with every boiler they sell. Water chemistry, a significant contributor to boiler failure, takes up one of those days.

  “Everyone worries about the effects of scale, but most failures are attributed to improper oxygen levels,” says Baughman. “It becomes a very aggressive situation when heated and must be treated by the use of a deaerator or with chemical injection systems. Water softeners won’t treat the oxygen component. Underwater injection systems or sodium sulfite are used and should be administered by professionals, along with consistent tests for pH, conductivity and oxygen levels.”

  All Allied’s boilers come equipped with troubleshooting display modules and forced draft systems, which are more efficient and less prone to backdrafts.

  “These things add to the bottom line cost, but they are legitimate safety features,” Baughman says. “Our after-sale support is unmatched in the industry. Every sale comes with two emergency phone numbers, one being a service employee and the other being mine. We are serious about becoming a partner with your company and will never just sell you a boiler to make a sale. There is too much at stake personally and professionally for both of us.”

  Baughman runs his business on a motto that his father taught him.

“Consider service ahead of reward, and the reward will come because of the service.”

Boiler Choice Based On Technical Specifications and Business Goals

  Correct sizing without upselling is always the best for the customer, so before getting a recommendation for a boiler from Jack Coe, President of Rite Engineering & Manufacturing Corporation and manufacturer of Rite Boilers, there will be some technical fact-finding.

  Affordable Distillery Equipment is an OEM of stills and packages Coe’s Rite Boilers with their stills. Affordable Distillery’s CEO Paul Hall says, “We are sticklers for right-sizing because it can take four-to-five years to recoup the boiler cost, but if you get too large of a boiler, you can end up paying for that system for the next ten to fifteen years. Every boiler situation is unique and has different needs depending on the equipment used and the business goals.”

  Rite Engineering offers multiple boiler lines that maintain their efficiency, provide one hundred percent access for inspection and cleaning to help avoid costly repairs, and remain field repairable.

  When deciding what boiler is best, Coe recommends looking to your existing equipment. “To determine if you need a low-pressure versus a high-pressure boiler, look at the equipment you already have or are planning to use and see what the highest duty application will be,” says Coe. “In the craft distillery, it’s usually the wort boil. Subsequent pieces of affected equipment should be labeled with a steam pressure recommendation. If they are all rated as 15 psi or less, you’re good to go with a low-pressure boiler. If pieces of equipment are rated to handle higher than 15 psi, then you can consider a faster, high-pressure boiler, but boilers can use large amounts of fuel, so be aware of that when choosing components.”

  Speaking of support components, Hall says, “You absolutely need a condensate return to bring the condensate back to the boiler, or else you’re constantly pumping fresh water into the system. Additionally, a blowdown system used at the end of the day or when you’re finished with the boiler session will hold the blowdown water until it cools down to 140 degrees or so. [This is the] temperature that municipal discharge systems feel is safe to allow down the drain lines into their sewers. If you’re not using a municipal system and just have your own discharge pool on the property, you don’t need this component. Each of these components can run an extra three to four thousand dollars on top of the boiler.”

  Hard water will no doubt shorten your boiler’s life span. If testing shows hard water in your system, Coe recommends a Zeolite salt exchange type, and steers customers away from a deionized or reverse osmosis systems, as they can lower water’s conductivity and pH to unsafe levels.

  “After that, boiler professionals need to be brought in for consistent cleaning, checks and inspections,” says Coe. “Some of these are mandated by codes and laws and are in place to prevent small issues from turning into big problems. These professionals can also [help with] monitoring water pH and treatment options.”

  Whatever boiler system you decide to work with, both Rite Engineering and Affordable Distillery Equipment recommend installing them in a separate boiler room when possible.

  “That way, the boiler fire is isolated and kept from any equipment, and you’ll have some type of vapor barrier,” says Hall. “By rule, distillery equipment is classified as a Class 1 Division 2 Hazardous Environment, meaning boiler placement must be at least six feet away from any still parts that are 18 inches or less off of the floor, and at minimum 24 inches away from any still parts above that 18-inch mark.”

Connected Closures: Meet the New Technology

By: Robin Dorhn-Simpson

Do you remember when microwaves came on the market? Or when computers replaced typewriters? How about the huge mobile cellphones the size of a shoebox? Technology is constantly changing. Just when we think we have it figured out, it changes. It can add much stress to our lives, or it can make it more enjoyable. Once you embrace it and see how relatively easy it is, the fun begins.

  Millennials have been raised around technology, making it very comfortable to them. They don’t have the fear that baby boomers sometimes experience when learning new technology. Since many businesses are focusing their marketing dollars on the millennial audience, technology in marketing is a natural progression. Many marketing studies on millennials state that, amongst other things, they want experiences. As a producer, are you satisfying their desire for something fresh, new and authentic? Are you connecting with them on their terms via mobile devices? Near Field Communication Technology can help producers do just that.

Near Field Communication

  Quizelet.com defines NFC as a short-range wireless connectivity standard that uses magnetic field induction to enable communication between devices when they are touched together or brought within a few centimeters of each other. Many consumers may already be familiar with this technology through their use of Google and Apple pay.

  Similar to Bluetooth technology, NFC communication is faster and sends information over radio waves. It takes less than one-tenth of a second to establish a connection between two devices.

  Smartphones are the most common form of NFC devices. Most Android smartphones and newer iPhones have the technology included. For older mobile phones, apps can be downloaded to allow these devices to read a variety of NFCs.

  NFC requires at least one transmitting device, and another to receive the signal. A range of devices can use the NFC standard and will be considered either passive or active. Active devices can send and receive data as well as communicate with one another. Passive devices often take the form of a tag or chip, sending information to active devices without needing a power source of their own.

What does all this mean for you?

  In August, Guala Closures, a company that has traditionally employed advanced technologies and connected closures, used NFC technology to add communication content into the cap of a Malibu rum bottle. The chip inside the enabled “smart cap” is so small it’s practically invisible. Each cap then has a 4-letter code, which acts as the proof of purchase inside the lid. 

  Tapping on this cap allows both the consumer and the brand to know more about one another. The producer will know where and when it was purchased. In return, the consumer has access to recipes, contests, and different communications offered by the brand. This will allow the relationship between producer and consumer to reach a new level.

  Many people today are concerned about companies accessing their personal information. Simon Yudelevich, General Manager for Guala Closures North America told Beverage Master Magazine about the concepts of connected closures.

  “When you tap your phone and connect, you give consent to the brand to gather information on when and where. When the consumer goes online to look at what this is all about, there is an explicit consent which requires the consumer to opt-in, in compliance with all applicable regulations,” said Yudelevich

  By committing to developing connected solutions in cooperation with its clients, Guala Closures help them learn more about their consumer habits and loyalty to their brands. In this framework, the company also deposited a patent of the solution that combines the NFC technology with aluminum closures.

Marketer’s Delight

  Since brand owners control the marketing of their product, they have an abundance of creative options with this new platform. The possibilities are endless.

  “By tapping the cap, you get access to great marketing content, which not only further strengthens the relationship between consumers and the brands they like, but also allows them to build a brand community of consumers via access to social media such as Facebook, etc.,” Yudelevich said. “Since the brand owner’s goal is also to engage the consumer, they can create recipes-of-the-month, which can be changed every day if wanted. They can create contests or ask the consumer to join their club. They can even ask the consumer to send a message to their friends about what they just purchased. Marketers can change the messages as often as they want. They can add, delete or amend the content. Since everything happens on the cloud, the changes are simple. They can tap, create video content whereby when the cap is tapped, a video uploads and the consumer can see how to use the product.”

  “Marketers want data from the consumer, including how much they paid to pay for the product. Businesses want the ability to track and trace where the product was purchased, as well as monitor anti-counterfeiting. This is already changing the face of marketing,” Yudelevich said.

  Malibu Rum has recently signed on with Guala Closures with limited-edition connected bottles currently circulating in Ohio and Texas. Marketers plan on including drink recipes and sweepstakes. Soon, consumers will be able to win prizes through a mobile game called Sunshine Slide.

  “Everyone’s excited with this new rollout for Malibu to develop these smart connected closures that enable the brand to get close to its consumers, Yudelevich said. “Once other companies see this new technology and its benefits, these closures for spirits and wine are going to be the leaders in direct-to-consumer marketing.”

Kilchoman Distillery Company Case Study

  In early 2018, Thinfilm Electronics of San Jose, California joined forces with Kilchoman Distillery Company, a producer of single malt Scotch on the island of Islay. Kilchoman distributes its whisky to 13 countries and wanted an effective way to interact with the end consumer. While they didn’t put their technology in the caps of bottles, they used NFC powered, interactive neck-tags for their Machir Bay and Sanaig Whiskey. Fully integrated with Thinfilm’s CNECT Cloud Platform, the tags were the digital touchpoint that consumers could tap to have an individual marketing channel.

  In a case study published at www.thinfilm.com, Thinfilm Electronics created a mobile-optimized product system where the CNECT Cloud Platform stored and managed all of the unique tag IDS. The tags allowed Kilchoman to track the time from “ship-to-shelf” across 13 countries as well as analyze item-level intelligence and consumer interaction data in real-time. Thinfilm produced a branded NFC scanner app called “Discover Kilchoman” available in Apple’s App Store.

  The results concluded that the end-to-end NFC mobile marketing solution was highly encouraging, with a 6.5% engagement rate. This rate is several times more effective than traditional digital marketing activities and created a way for Kilchoman to connect directly with consumers and build customer loyalty. It also mitigated the need for additional promotional support or omnichannel activities. 

  Compared to traditional digital marketing, the NFC display was 70 times more effective than email, search engines and social media. They concluded that there was a 35% virality rate (each bottle tapped by 1.35 consumers on average) and a 22% iOS engagement via the custom Kilchoman branded app. Finally, they were able to identify that it was an average of seven weeks “ship-to-shelf” time.

  Thanks to intelligent technology and the desire to connect with the end consumer, companies are now able to have a one-on-one relationship with those who love and use their products. Each brand has a unique story. Now they can make sure their customers know it.

  So, set yourself apart from the competition. While millennials are brand loyal, someone has to be the one they support. To gain loyalty and foster the next generation of consumers, have originality, offer a great experience, be authentic, have value, and keep the digital conversation going.