Adding Craft Spirits to your Brewery

Craft Spirits

Making craft liquors is a market opportunity that could be a logical ‘brand extension’ to your craft beer offerings. Craft distillers report significant opportunities for ‘cross-branding’ between their beer and liquor products. Because you may already have the equipment, ingredients, and knowledge needed to produce craft spirits, the profit opportunities are boundless.
Since almost all liquors are produced by the distillation of an 8 - 10% ABV ‘beer’, this process requires little additional equipment, other than a still, to produce great liquor in your brewery.
Modern brewery equipment can produce very clean worts; which are easy to distill and will mature quickly (traditionally the distillery wort was not boiled and after mashing there was no wort-separation, so the spent grain was included in the fermentation adding harsh flavor components which needed to be aged out).
• Clear spirits like vodka, Grappa, White whiskey, and moonshine are the easiest to make since they require no aging. Most pioneers of Craft Distilling started with these products to generate quicker cash flow.
• Clear spirits with the addition of flavorings, like the juniper and lemon to gin or the medicinal and mint flavorings of “schnapps”, are only slightly more difficult to make.
• Brown spirits like whisky and rum get their character from prolonged barrel aging which adds color, flavor, and smoothness. This barrel-aging cannot be emulated by the addition of caramel as attempted by some producers. The production of this type of liquor is the most costly and time consuming but represents the pinnacle of the distiller’s art. Craft Distillers continue to affirm that ‘Whiskey is King’.
• "There is also an opportunity to create new liquor styles. For example, pot distillation of IPA's yields liquor which has some hop aroma and flavor. The distillation of Belgian style beers will similarly give spirits which retain some of the beer flavor component."
Grist or Grain Mill
Grist is grain that has been separated from its chaff in preparation for grinding. It can also mean grain that has been ground at a gristmill. A variety of malted grains go into a grain mill. You can use your existing mill to crush the malted grains or purchase pre-gelatinized flakes of cereal adjuncts from your malt supplier to add to your mash to increase the alcohol content allowing the operator to have a higher yield in the distillation phase.
Mash process
The Mashing Process is the procedure of combining a mix of milled grain and hot water (commonly call Hot Liquor) and heating this mixture in a vessel called a "mash tun". Mashing is a form of steeping, and defines the act of brewing. Traditionally the hot liquor and grist are heated to 140F, the wort (the liquid containing sugar extracted during mashing process) is then drained and a second mash is typically done at 158F. Many current single step infusion and mash-out procedures can emulate this. Wort clarity is not as important as it is in beer production but a short vorlauf (recirculating the wort though the grain bed) and careful run-off will make downstream steps easier.
Lautering is the separation of the wort from the grain bed. This is done either in a mash tun outfitted with a false bottom, in a lauter tun, or in a mash filter. Most separation processes have two stages: wort transfer (run-off) from mash tun to kettle or fermenter, and “sparging” in which diluted wort, which remains in the grain, is rinsed off with hot liquor and delivered to the appropriate vessel.
Kettle and Wort Chiller
Flavors created by bacterial interaction of the wort during mashing and early fermentation are carried over during distillation, so close supervision is required. A short wort boil to pasteurize the wort will help control this carryover. Yeast nutrients can also be added at this stage. For spirits that require some bacterially derived flavors, the deliberate kettle sour/mashing techniques, now followed by many craft
beer brewers. Wort aeration and knock out at 68F into the fermenter, is typical current beer processing practice.
Fermentation Vessels
Your brewery’s modern, aseptic, temperature controlled, stainless steel, cylindro-conical fermenters are also the state of the art for the modern distilling industry. Yeast strain selection and fermentation temperatures have the same importance as they do in beer production, following the same principles.
Yeast Removal
Yeast removal is used with the same techniques as used for beer. Common methods include crashing, filtering, and centrifuging. The beer does not need aging before distillation so the brite tank is used for only a short time.
Liquor distillation is the process of heating a water/alcohol mixture, (the “wash” or “beer”) and condensing the vapor on a cooled surface and collecting the liquid. The boiling point of water is 212F. The boiling point of ethyl alcohol is 173F. If a water/alcohol mixture is heated, the alcohol will boil before the water and exits the boiling vessel as a gas. As this liquid cools, this alcohol vapor will return to the liquid state with a higher concentration of alcohol than the original mixture.
Ancient methods used a ‘Pot Still’ (see image A). The vapor from a simple boiling pot with a domed cover is led through a water-cooled copper spiral where it condenses and drips out into a jug. The vapor leaving the boiler is not pure ethyl alcohol. All the other volatile components of the “wash” will evaporate depending on their boiling points. Some of these are dangerous (methyl alcohol and acetone), some add character to the liquor (esters), and some taste poorly (the fusel oils). The distiller’s skill is in watching the temperature of the vapor as it leaves the still and collecting the fraction over an appropriate temperature range. For the purest alcohol this is typically 172F to 180 F. Fractions collected below 172 F (the Heads) contain acetone, methanol, and ethyl acetate. Fractions collected above 182F (the Tails) contain fusel oils. The inclusion of small amounts of Heads and Tails is what gives traditional spirits their character. The liquor made with a Pot Still inherently includes some of these congeners (chemicals responsible for most of the taste and aroma of distilled spirits).
Modern distillation technology has given us the Fractionating Column Still which passes the alcohol vapor through a series of plates in a column. Since each plate is at a slightly different temperature and has its own run-off port, the operator has much better control over the content of the final product. You
can produce more pure ethyl alcohol, so this is the equipment of choice for those specializing in clear liquors like vodka and gin.
Some craft brewing equipment manufacturers are now also offering distilling equipment. The trend amongst small distilleries is towards hybrid pot/column still or “Artisan Stills” which can produce a wider range proof spirits.
When choosing a still and project production volume, pay attention to the increased loads on your existing heating and cooling systems. Some start-up craft distillers report overloading of existing brewery systems during peak production periods
While sourcing the correct still may seem a little daunting, here are a few things to consider. Most equipment manufactures understand not all prospective brewery/distillery facilities are created equally. Some manufacturers are willing to customize the equipment to fit the brewer’s specific needs and space. Another thing to consider is how often you plan to operate the equipment. In some cases, bigger is not better, and if it’s too small you may have and issue with keeping up with demand.
Reflux Pot Still:
The Artisan Pot Still is a great piece of equipment due to some of its unique components. Most Artisan Stills have valves built into the Rectification Column (where separation of distillate compounds takes place) that give the operator the ability to turn the plates on and off. Meaning, if the column has 12 plates and the operator wanted to make whiskey he/she could bypass 10 plates to achieve their ideal proof. Most are equipped with a Rummager. This component allows the operator to reduce the chance of scorching the wash to the bottom of the pot. Artisan Pot Stills can be manufactured with different heat sources such as direct fire, steam jacket, or electric.
Continuous Still:
The Continuous Still is great from a mass production stand point as it can produce large volumes of neutral proof spirits. Typically, these units operate continuously for several months until maintenance and cleaning are required. The wash is fed into the still where it is hit with a burst of steam from the bottom side of the column. As the steam vaporizes the wort, the distillate is sent up the column to a series of bubble cap trays. Each tray is spaced closer on the bottom of the still, and each are spaced further apart as they reach the top of the column. Each plate has an exit valve that sends the distillate to the heads, hearts, or tails receiver. Higher boiling compounds trickle back down the column still and are sent to the drain.
Reflux Pot StillPot Still
Maturation Post Distillation:
You can use your brewery tanks for spirit storage. Since you do not need to control temperature or hold under carbon dioxide pressure you can substitute much simpler, less expensive tanks for this step. The liquor at this point will need to be held in a separate bonded area for tax purposes, and you must have fire suppression measures in place according to local code. Maturation depends on the particular product being made. White spirits can go immediately to finishing and packaging. Others must be allowed to mature in casks. Aging in new, charred, wooden barrels is the most common procedure. This is sometimes followed by a shorter, second aging in used wine or fortified-wine barrels.
Blending is the Master Distillers key to the art of distillation. Choosing the right water for blending plays a huge factor on your finished product’s look and taste. The water being used to dilute your crafted spirit should be free of calcium and magnesium as these elements are insoluble in water and may cause hazing according to Victoria Redhed Miller, Author of “Craft Distilling” Making Liquor Legally at Home. She says ideally the water used for dilution should be distilled or Reverse Osmosis filtered to produce a higher quality spirit.
There are different methods of filtration for different sprits. If you are filtering a vodka or natural spirit, you may want to use an activated carbon filter. This will remove unwanted congeners and other off flavors. Active carbon media is another filtration method. It may come powdered, pelletized, or granular. Be sure to source food grade media. Granular activated carbon is said to be the best for filtration due to its surface area and its porous nature. An activated carbon filter may not be the best for darker or aged spirits such as whiskey or rum due to the risk of removing more than just the unwanted congeners. If you have a big enough batch to be filtered, a lenticular filter may be the best choice for clearing up a cloudy batch.
Beware that barrel storage can take up a lot of space, and that this area must be licensed for flammable liquid storage.
Starting a new craft distillery is a challenge all of its own. Then, of course, the packaging equipment must be purchased to get the product into the bottles. Some manufactures offer several different types of bottling equipment and configurations for different production levels.
Gravity fillers and Overflow fillers are the most common for the smaller start-up distilleries that venture into the finished package market. These manual systems range from simple ball valve controlled units to more elaborate electronic fill valve controls.
Direct-Line Processing – Direct Line bottling is most pertinent to the developing or growing craft Distillery. Direct Line systems allow an operator to rinse, fill, cap, label and post rinse bottles on one line. All functions should come from one supplier to make for easy warranty and troubleshooting.
Monoblock Rotary filler – Once the demand of production exceeds the capabilities of the Direct-line bottling system the next step up is the Monoblock Rotary Filler. These systems are usually custom build to meet specific customers’ needs. They are generally equipped with many fill heads ranging from 8 to hundreds for high speed applications and some are capable of processing different sizes of bottles. A commonly overlooked issue for rotary filling machines and monoblocks is that it is a very good idea to use a common sized cap and neck finish for whatever range of bottles that need to be filled, because change parts and changeover time is very expensive, increasing greatly as the need for speed increases.
Bottle labeling can be accomplished by way of several technical methods. Most common are Pressure sensitive, Shrink Sleeve, Roll Fed, and Laser Etching directly on each bottle.
Pressure Sensitive Labels Pressure-sensitive labels are “self-adhesive” labels that are pre-glued to a paper backing and are considered to be one of the least complicated methods of labeling.
Shrink Sleeve Labels are one of the most durable labeling products since it's printed on plastic or polyester film material – perfect for products that encounter damp or abrasive environments. Popular benefits of using shrink sleeve labels are Full color, 360° design coverage.
Roll-Fed Labels wraparound the container, but do not shrink. There are several non-shrink materials available for these including: monolayer oriented polypropylene (OPP) films, laminated OPP and/or PET films in clear, white or metallized as well as paper substrates. The laminated versions offer higher levels of scuff resistance, gloss and stiffness properties as well as recycling advantages (the label composition traps the inks between the material layers).
Laser labels are made out of Pressure Sensitive materials and contain an adhesive glue coating that adheres onto the face stock, which is usually a paper, plastic film or foil. The facestock is what will be printed on by using toner. This facestock is laminated to a backing. This backing is referred to as liner and is always silicon-coated paper so that the adhesive on the facestock does not bond, allowing for easy separation.
Most artisans’ report brewers are able to quickly cross-train as distillers with a little help. The American Institute of Distilling has useful resources such as conferences and training courses. Equipment manufacturers should also provide support and training on their specific equipment.
Safety Considerations:
Safety is the most important element in any manufacturing facility, and a distillery is no exception.
According to the American Distilling Institute, OSHA defines a distillery as “a plant or that portion of a plant where flammable liquids produced by fermentation are concentrated and where the concentrated products may also be mixed, stored or packaged,” ( The main cause of distillery incidents is fire or explosion. This is caused from vapors being released into a confined space with an ignition source. The vapors can be released by leaking equipment components such as mating surfaces, leaking tanks, gaskets, valves, casks, even transfer pumps.
Ignition sources include:
•Open flames
•Torch cutting and welding
•Sparks (static, electrical, and mechanical)
•Hot surfaces
•Heat from friction
•Radiant heat
Other Hazards:
•Hazardous chemicals – cleaners, chemicals for mash pH adjustment.
•Air contaminants – byproducts of mashing and distilling.
•Physical hazards – noise, pressure in distillation equipment, boiling liquids, and hot surfaces.
•Ergonomic risk factors – working in awkward postures, lifting excessive loads, and repetitive activities.
•Electrical hazards – electrically fired boilers and ignition sources.
•Brewing hazards – carbon dioxide and sanitation chemicals.
•Confined spaces – vats, tanks, and vessels may be permit-required confined spaces.
Safe Practices (A few general tips)
•Never leave a still unattended.
•Keep the distilling area well ventilated so that vapors will not build up if there is a small leak in equipment.
•Charge the still boiler with wash at alcohol concentrations below 40 percent. Charging the boiler with wash higher than 40 percent creates an explosion risk.
•Keep the distilled alcohol receiver at as low a level as possible, which can reduce risk of a spill if the container tips.
•Use a receiver that has a small filling opening, which reduces the vapor escaping into the room and saves alcohol. If a fire occurs at the receiver, it will burn at the small opening and can be easily controlled.
•Place the receiver in a large, nonflammable, ethanol-resistant container, which can control an accidental overflow. The container should be capable of holding at least an hour’s worth of output if the receiver spills or leaks.
•Dilute alcohol before storing it to lower its flash point.
Still Safety Components:
If you are in the process of sourcing an Artisan still, here are a few things to look for.
• If still is steam jacketed, make sure it includes both Pressure and Vacuum Relief Vales on the “jacket” itself.
• For additional safety, Pressure and Vacuum Relief Vales are also required on the “pot” of the still to ensure buildup of low pressure does not exceed established ratings and so a vacuum is not created during the cool-down phase.
• Some suppliers will provide a, less automated, manual relief valve for steam jacketed stills.
• If using direct fire, check proper installation procedures and ventilation of combustion chamber. Make sure to check with all local jurisdictions to ensure safe and lawful operation.
Regulatory Oversight
You will be required to get licenses from Federal, State and Local agencies.
Since Craft distilling is a fledgling industry there is often inconstancy and much variation between agencies. Craft distillery pioneers report that the licensing process can be difficult and some hire lawyers to help. Record keeping and reporting in the distilling world is more detailed and regulated than in the brewing world.
- Did you know that a Distilled Spirits plant cannot be located at any residence, shed, yard or enclosure connected to a residence?
- Did you know you cannot produce distilled spirits for personal use like you can with beer or wine?
- Did you know that before you submit your application to the TTB, the Construction of your facility must be complete and the equipment on order?
- Did you know that you must begin operations until your application has been approved?
Federal permit:
TTB Distilled Spirits Plant (DSP) – Beverage requirements:
1. TTB F 5110.41, Registration of Distilled Spirits Plant (click link below for instructions)
2. TTB F 5100.24, Application for Basic Permit (click link below for instructions)
3. TTB F 5110.56, Distilled Spirits Bond (TWO ORIGINALS, NO PHOTOCOPIES) (click link below for instructions)
4. TTB F 5000.9, Personnel Questionnaire, (SINGLE COPY) for each • Corporate stockholder of 10% or more, officer, and director, • Limited Liability Company (LLC) manager and member, • Partner in a partnership, or • Individual owner.
This is relatively straight-forward, it does involve what is, essentially, a full background check to ensure that the applicant (and his/her family, company, and investors) is a fine, upstanding citizen.
5. TTB F 5000.29, Environmental Information
This is brief description of the applicant’s location, heat and power, utility suppliers, and how the applicant plans on disposing of the spend materials.
6. TTB F 5000.30, Supplemental Information on Water Quality Considerations
The applicant will have to describe the operations that pertain to the TTB, and how waste water is disposed of, along with the contents of the waste water.
7. Diagram of the premises
8. Signing authority. If someone will be signing the application and/or supporting documents or act on your behalf, you must submit one of the following with your application if applicable you must file: • TTB
F 5000.8, Power of Attorney • TTB F 5100.1, Signing Authority for Corporate and LLC Officials, or • Corporate resolution or specific notification in organizational documents granting this authority.
State class license:
Acquiring a state license isn't as tough once you have your federal license, but rules and regulations differ from state to state, and some states are more welcoming than others. It’s a good Idea for the applicant to meet with their states local liquor control commission for regulations and zoning.
Kinstlick, Michael, 2018. So A 10-‐Year Prediction Was Quite Conservative And Left Room For A Slowdown. , , and In Fact, The Rate Of New Entrants Has Accelerated Since Then… . The U.S. Craft Distilling M 2 (2015): n. pag. Web. Spring 2016.
Miller, Victoria Redhed. Craft Distilling: Making Liquor Legally at Home. Gabriola Island: New Society, 2016. Print.
Shipman, F. M. (n.d.). Distilled spirit. Retrieved July 07, 2016, from