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Learning to Distill?

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I was inspired by the guy who started Breucklen gin in Brooklyn (surprise, right? / http://drinkingny.wordpress.com/2010/...) and I am contemplating what it takes to open a distillery.

Currently I'm still very employed, I know there would be a lot of legal to deal with if I ever decided to take this into the realm of actuality- but I'd like to learn more about it. I was wondering if anyone knew of some good books/sources to learn a bit about the distillation process from a practical stand point.

(ps, I know there's a lot of good wet blanket reasons why I shouldn't open a distillery, and they're all valid. But let me have my escapism dream, I'm just looking to learn a bit about it right now

)

any recommendations?

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  1. A good place to start is the American Distilling Institute, which is an association for microdistillers. Their website has links to relevant books and they even hold workshops to teach distilling (all legal, of course).

    http://www.distilling.com/

    1. Also, JMF, on this board, is a microdistiller. He may be able to give you some tips.

      1. As sku said, The American Distilling Institute (ADI) is the place to go for info on professional distilling. I am a consultant to ADI, and an administrator for the ADI online distillers discussion forum. I'm one of the small handful of experts in the US on artisanal distilling. ADI is the organization at present for professional artisanal distillers and those who want to learn to open a distillery. It isn't for home distillers. ADI has annual conferences and tons of available info.

        Some additional background: Over the past several years I was partner in a winery, opened a brewery and distillery, (plus we had a restaurant and culinary education center), up on the coast of Maine. Now I am just starting construction in NY State on what will be the largest farm distillery in the US, 440 acres, and it looks like the world. I am partner and managing director. This new facility is going to be a showcase for "Green" industry, and will be self sufficent energy-wise, and actually sell electricity back to the grid. I will have gin, genever, and unaged whiskey on the market hopefully by summer 2011.My goal is to have the first single estate whiskies in the world. I am growing all the grains for the whiskies on the farm. (We planted 50 acres of grain for bourbon this year and are about to harvest it. Next year we plan to sow over 120 acres of grain, and more each year until we are at full capacity.)

        If you go to the ADI website you can find a list of a majority of the artisanal distillers in the US, and also a link to the ADI forum. Join the forum and read all the posts. It's a lot of info, but if you read first, and post questions that aren't asking to have the world handed to you on a platter, and you will learn a lot. You can also message me, Jonathan Forester, directly through the ADI Forum with questions.

        You can also join ADI, and take workshops and buy books on distilling from the website. The workshops are not cheap, nor books, but it's the way to go if you want to learn about how to open and run a distillery. Before ADI was started by Bill Owens, it wasn't unusual to spend years and several thousand dollars to track down all the books on distilling. To be very up front. It takes about two years of research to learn enough to be able to open a distillery. If you get fanatical about it then maybe one year. A lot of this is so you can learn the basics, and the language. Until you know what to ask, in the correct way, most distillers won't give you the time of day. But when you have shown that you are dedicated, then you will get lots of help. The reason for this is that there are thousands of people who say they want to open a distillery, but few who are willing to do the hard work necessary to actually do it.

        One of the first things you also have to do is learn fermentation first. So learn to home brew beer and make wine and hard cider first. Once you get the fermentation part down, then comes the distilling part. That's actually easier in many ways, which is why you need to get the fermentation part down solid. That's where the flavors are developed.

        The folks who home brew and make wine, while studying about distillation, are the ones who stand the greatest chance of success in opening a distillery. (Unless you have several million to throw around to hire one of the 3-4 consultants like me to build and staff a distillery for you. If that's the case I can put you on my waiting list and in three years I will be available.)

        Opening a distillery is easier right now than at any time since Prohibition ended. ATF (Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms) was broken up after 9/11 and the Firearms part is under Homeland Security. Alcohol and Tobacco are now the new Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) The former ATF was a police organization and treated opening a distillery in a hostile fashion. It was the same way for the first few years with TTB, then they realized that they were a Tax agency, and WANTED people to open distilleries to bring in more tax revenue. So they now have an expo almost every year where they give seminars on all the relevant info. Also TTB does seminars at the ADI annual distillers conference. The next ADI Conference is in Portland, Oregon, April 4-8, 2011.

        8 Replies
        1. re: JMF

          Hi JMF,

          I work for a winery that is looking into producing Baijiu, the Chinese white spirit. Do you have experience distilling Baijiu? I'm currently in the research phase and gathering information (costs mainly) that will help me decide if this is a viable business idea before I get too involved. I don't have experience in distilling and am having a difficult time finding sources of information on Baijiu distillation.

          Some questions I am trying to answer:

          Is the equipment required to distill from Sorghum any different from Vodka? If not, then I can research what is needed with more ease.

          I am looking for more details on the actual production process. Since there are several varieties of Baijiu all with different recipes and methods, I'm a feeling a bit overwhelmed trying to get a clear picture.

          Do you know anyone who is knowledgeable in Baijiu or resources I could try looking for?

          Any advice you can provide is greatly appreciated!

          1. re: Hanlon

            To be perfectly honest, why would anyone want to make baijiu? How big is the market for it? I don't know anyone outside of China making it, and don't see the demand being there for a non-Chinese baijui. Even in China there is a trend towards Western style spirits, with whiskey gaining in popularity. Although there is a small trend in the US for white spirits, mostly this is a "Moonshine" thing. Shochu, isn't doing well in the US and the quality and styles are much better than that of baijui.

            That said, you can make anything on one of the modern hybrid stills with 4-6+ plates. I think you need to do research on distilling in general. Take one of the 2 day to week long courses that have become available the past 2 years. Join the American Distilling Institute at http://www.distilling.com/ and find out more, it's basically the trade organization for artisanal distillers and those wishing to learn more.

            1. re: JMF

              I had a feeling that would be your reaction! The more research I do into the business, expanding into Baijiu does seem like a risky idea. It is for the Chinese market (which, of course, does not make it any less risky).

              I'm not in North America at the moment, so taking a course isn't an option. But I will definitely find more reading material on distilling and get a better idea of the process. I don't intend on doing the distillation myself, but I still want to know how the process works.

              Could you tell me what kinds of companies/individuals seek out consulting services provided by someone like yourself? I know you said it takes a whole lot of cash, but I'm wondering if it is more big business that seeks out consultants.

              And by the way, your business in NY state sounds amazing. When do you expect it to be in operation? Please keep us all informed of its progress.

              1. re: Hanlon

                All different size groups hire consultants. They can be a way to learn up front what you need to know: money, research, market conditions, etc.

                Just a general idea, a winery that already has all the equipment for fermentation, tanks, filtering, pumps, etc. could do a small 400 liter distillery, which could be put together for $US100K to $150K that could make around 5-8 cases a run, 2-3 runs in an 8-10 hour day, as a very rough approximation, depending upon product. That's using a modern hybrid still with four plates. The cost is much less using a pot still, but that's a different ball game with a lot more work to design and set up, and more work to actually distill. I've done both, it really depends upon what you want to make, and how.

                My distillery is in construction, building from the ground up, and should be open some time summer or fall 2012 (permits take a lot more time than construction does.) I have 70 acres of corn planted for bourbon, and several acres of botanicals for gin and bitters planted so far. I have already started making products at three other distilleries, and will have three or four on the market this summer.

                1. re: JMF

                  Where's the peach brandy?

                  1. re: davis_sq_pro

                    It's in the barrel aging, will be on the market by late summer.

                  2. re: JMF

                    Well you already have a captive market here!

                    1. re: JMF

                      Thanks JMF. I appreciate the comments. Good luck with your distillery!

            2. Oh, by the way... there are now four distilleries in Brooklyn. NY state has more artisanal distilleries than any state east of the Rockies.

              1 Reply
              1. re: JMF

                Wow, thanks JMF for all of the information.

                I've taken a look at the site, and I've been hunting down some information to kind of get acquainted with it a bit more. I'm glad to know that the beer making kit I have in my apartment is a good step in the right direction. I'm excited by the list of distilleries already because now I know some new makes of gin and whiskey to hunt down and try.

                Right now its a bit of a dream, but that site looks like a great resources to get started on. I've picked up one book already, and I think I might look into picking up another couple that I see on your site. and of course, this is kind of a long term dream here, so I'm looking to take the long road and learn slowly until I'm ready to "take the plunge." and even if I don't, distilling seems like such a mystery thanks to the last near century of government regulation, and being the gin lover I am- Its great to have a better appreciation for the craftspeople that distill.