IMPLEMENTING PROCESS EFFICIENCIES TO MAXIMIZE PRODUCTION, OR...
HOW MANY BARRELS CAN WE CRANK OUT IN THE SHORTEST TIME POSSIBLE? W R I T T E N A N D P H O T O G R A P H E D B Y P AT R I C K H E I S T, P H . D .
’ve worked with distilleries around the world, and from that experience I know that very few distilleries start with 24-7 production, and many have hours of operation that are relative to the amount of “free time” the owners/distillers have from their “other jobs.” This is especially true with smaller craft distilleries. Using our facility, Wilderness Trail Distillery in Danville, Kentucky, as an example, when we started in 2013 we were running a five day a week operation and averaging between 10-12 hours a day in production. Our system was to set fermenters and distill four days a week, which would give us one day for maintenance, grain receiving and paperwork. Our daily production was about one barrel a day from our “single batch single barrel” process, so in the beginning we made four barrels of bourbon per week. Fast forward to today and we are within one year of releasing our fully-matured (four-plus years) Wilderness Trail Kentucky Straight Bourbon. Looking at the projected demand (including reserved bottles, and thousands of cases requested by the distributors), turns out what we thought was a lot of bourbon (1,500 barrels-plus) is WWW.ARTISANSPIRITMAG.COM
only a drop in the bucket compared to the demand. That’s a great problem to have, so no complaints here. However, our current strategy to confront this problem is to use our knowledge across a world’s-worth of distilleries to pull out every stop and round out every corner of production to produce as much damn bourbon as we can with the equipment we have in as little time as possible. I hope to help you do the same in this article, where we will look at several areas of the process and how each one can be manipulated.
GRAIN QUALITY AND PROCESSING In a separate article (Artisan Spirit, Spring 2015, Page 82-85) we looked at process optimization in terms of maximizing proof gallons of alcohol per bushel of grain (also referred to as “yield”). All of those same concepts are important when optimizing your process, so refer to that article for more details. Since alcohol production is a direct
function of grain quality and starch content you want to make sure you are getting high quality grains with a solid starch content. We typically see 65-75 percent starch depending on the grain, corn having the highest and malted grains having the lowest starch content. There is another Artisan Spirit article that focuses on sugar utilization (Fall 2015, Page 87-91) if you need more details on starch or starch conversion. How the grain is prepared/milled is another factor. The ongoing debate about whether a hammer or a roller mill is better will forever endure, but we see good results in both scenarios when looking across many distilleries. The main goal is achieving a particle size that offers excellent conversion from starch to fermentable sugars (mainly glucose and maltose), which takes place in cooking/mashing. If you are milling and feeding the flour directly into a cooker, the speed at which your mill can process grain is a key factor in how quickly you can turn out a batch. For example, if you are adding 8,000 pounds of grain to a batch and the mill will only process 1,000 pounds an hour then it will take eight hours just to mill the grain. The