The craft distilling industry exists at a crossroads where tradition meets cutting edge technology. Distilling spirits has deep roots in techniques and methods that go back centuries, connecting with many cultures. At the same time, distillers are using apps to track inventory and innovations in AI to test new recipes. Distilling equipment follows this model. These machines are performing the same basic tasks that stills made from spare parts and scrap by frontiersmen, but now on a larger scale and with new, innovative tools. Choosing the right distilling equipment requires research and a little shopping around.
Main Equipment Pieces
Spirit production revolves around the still. Until recently, craft distillers were virtually left with one option: buy big. The only stills previously available were huge and designed for distilleries that churned out far more than a small independent distiller would create. Still manufacturers are now cashing in on the craft distilling boom and producing stills the right size for smaller operations. If a startup craft distiller has trouble finding a still that fits their production plan, they should keep searching. The right still is out there.
Boilers and mash tuns don't have the same rock star mystique as the still, but they are just as integral for distilling spirits. The same goes for fermenters, pumps, and tanks. Finding versions of these that fit a distillery's production scale is a little easier.
Keep in mind that stills are specialized industrial equipment. Buying one isn't like shopping for TVs at Walmart. It can take several months from when a still is ordered until it arrives at a distillery. The cost of installation should also be factored in to your search. A distiller with the engineering know-how may be able to set up the equipment themselves. Those who don't have that specialized skill set can expect to spend tens of thousands of dollars on professional installation.
Quality vs. Price
There will always be the undeniable temptation to do whatever possible to keep costs low. Cost control is a smart mindset for a startup to be in, but a bargain isn't always a bargain. The equipment with the lower sticker price can be more expensive if it's constantly needing repairs or an early replacement.
Don't Forget About Used
Many distillers are expanding their operations as the craft distilling boom continues. Distillers often sell their used equipment during this expansion. Those starting their distillery can usually get quality distilling equipment at a significant discount over buying it new. Always have used equipment professionally inspected before you commit to purchase though.
Used equipment can be a bargain, but make sure it still looks good. Customers will be touring the distillery, so the equipment should make a good impression. Piecemeal can be endearing, but the goal is to have customers wanting to try the spirits after seeing how it's produced, not wondering if they'll go blind after a couple of shots.
Know Your Water
Water quality and mineral composition can differ significantly between regions or even neighboring cities. It doesn't matter if a distillery hooks up to a municipal water supply or draws from a natural stream. Water composition and volume needed are essential factors when it comes to choosing distilling equipment.
Buying distillery equipment boils down to the distillery's specific needs and goals. Owners must evaluate these things, then focus on finding the right machinery to achieve these ends. Expansion and growth are key factors to consider when choosing the right equipment. Ask yourself how long can this equipment handle a growing business before it needs to be replaced?