Opening a Distillery: It Ain’t All Moonshine Anymore
What’s your hobby? Crocheting potholders? Whipping up enviable aspics? Creating paint-by-number masterpieces? Homebrewing beer? Congratulations if you chose that last one — that means you’re one of the few hobbyists who can reliably count on at least some people enjoying your wares. Well done!
So what happens if you love homebrewing beer so much you want to take it up a notch? How hard could it be, you say, to make small-batch bourbon or whiskey? Dreaming big is great, but a word to the wise: the difference between homebrewing beer and crafting spirits is night and day. So here’s a few things to think about before taking your hobby to the next level.
The One Thing You Absolutely Need To Know
If you’re intrigued by the idea of opening a distillery, it would be normal and natural to want to try your hand at distilling at home before going big. But don’t even think about it. Not an option. Unlike home brewing, home distilling is completely illegal… and that’s not likely to change anytime soon. Why? Not only does the process off-gas extremely volatile, explosive, high proof alcohol vapors inside a pressurized vessel (think ”bomb”), it’s possible to make straight-up poison if you don’t know what you’re doing. Seriously. You could kill yourself or someone else!
The Difference Between a Dream & a Goal Is a Plan
As expensive as opening a brewery would be, opening a distillery costs even more. Start by writing a business plan. How will you capitalize your distillery? Will you need investors? What equipment will you need? (BaneBio may be able to help with high quality, used brewery and distilling equipment.) Assuming you make a sellable product, will you have the means in-house to create a brand? Think of a name, design packaging and create a website? Also, who’s going to sell your products and to whom? These costs need to be part of your overall business plan to open a distillery– it all adds up.
Because spirits are of a higher proof than beer, everything will need to adhere to a higher standard of safety– and that means extra time and money. You’ll need to adhere to more codes, which means more inspections. Oh, and you’re going to be paying far higher taxes on spirits than you would for beer.
It’s important to answer two questions very early in the process: 1. What do you want to distill? 2. How much product do you want to make? These decisions, along with where you’re located and several other factors, are going to drive everything else. Regardless, there’s one thing you can count on: opening a distillery is going to cost more than you think. Estimates of $300,000 to $500,000 aren’t out of line.
As for equipment, the following is a bare-bones list. Keep in mind that distillery equipment is very specialized, but BaneBio may be able to help with some of the basics.
You can’t make alcohol of any kind without water, so regardless of what your answers were to Questions 1 and 2 above, you’re going to need a source of water. Yes, you can use garden-variety tap water, but some top shelf H20 isn’t a bad idea. Bourbon loyalists will tell you that there’s no good bourbon outside of Kentucky thanks to its unique, limestone-rich water, but absent that, just try for a good filtered water base.
You need something to bring your grain and water mixture up to a designated temperature for a certain amount of time. In a perfect world, you’d have a sophisticated way to send that mixture from the cooker to the fermenter, but a basic pump will work.
This is where the magic happens. Your fermenter is the large vessel where your grain, water, and yeast mixture hangs out for a few days—or long enough for the yeast to eat the sugar and create alcohol, which you can capture after a few days and distill it.
Now you basically have grain alcohol. If you want to make *drinkable* alcohol? Then you’re going to need a distillery, aka “still.” The process from here on out is an interesting blend of chemistry, physics, and old-fashioned luck. Select your vendors and suppliers carefully– be sure they are reputable, and that safety is their top priority. Distillation can be dangerous business. You honestly can’t be too careful…so plan accordingly.
Some people wonder if the market is already saturated with small-batch distilleries. Just look at craft beer breweries. New ones are popping up all over the place. We think the future of small-batch distilleries can be just as bright!