Whiskey distilleries across the United States craft unique products with intricate balances of complex characteristics. Each facility is as distinct as the landscape that surrounds it and the people who orchestrate the production of its beloved spirits. Different as they may be, there’s one inescapable quandary shared among them all; once the good stuff is made, there’s a whole heap of stuff they have to get rid of.
We asked an expert insider to get to the root of what distillers really want to know about turning their waste into profit – how to do it and if it’s worth it? Jack Schanie, the Applications Engineer for Louisville Dryer, has eyes and ears on the ground every day in this niche field and tells us what he knows about the business of distillers grains.
What are distillers grains?
Essentially, it’s the leftovers after distillation – or the material that was not converted to alcohol through the fermentation process. A liquid consisting mostly of protein, fiber, fat, and water remains in the still and is no longer useful to distilleries. This material is called Whole Stillage and needs to be disposed of quickly and properly to prevent slowdowns in production.
“The value of the material may be a significant portion of the original grain purchase.”
-Jack Schanie, Applications Engineer, Louisville Dryer Company
How do distilleries dispose of these grains?
This material cannot be disposed of through sewage treatment, so it’s processed as a byproduct. Some distillers will give it away as Wet Distillers’ Grain (WDG) to local farmers, or ship it short distances at a cost. WDG can be fed to livestock, but the problem is, if it’s not transported and consumed immediately, it will spoil or rot, leaving it useless.
The solution is to dry the material in a rotary dryer at the distillery. This way, it can be stored for long periods of time. Distillers can sell it as a nutrient-rich feed additive for cattle, hogs, chickens, and fish. The term for this product is DDG (Distillers Dried Grains) or DDGS (Distillers Dried Grains with Solubles).
What are the advantages of drying distillers’ grains, and how can this process benefit distilleries?
The benefits of the process are a win/win situation for both the distillery and agricultural industries. Drying the grains significantly extends the shelf life of the byproduct. Dried Distillers Grains typically last six to twelve months in a cool, dry warehouse or silo, compared to Wet Distillers Grains, which have a shelf life of less than one week. Drying makes the grains more valuable to farmers, and it’s easier for distilleries to unload while making them money instead of costing them money.
Is DDGS a viable source of revenue for a distillery?
Yes. For distillers with large quantities of WDG that don’t have a dependable local source to accept it, DDGS converts waste into a revenue source. In fact, once the WDG is dried, the value of the material may be a significant portion of the original grain purchase.
What’s necessary to dry distillers’ grains?
Two crucial elements are necessary:
- The proper equipment
- A partnership and support from an experienced team in the industry
The main component in the equipment is a Rotary Steam Tube Dryer. It’s a heat exchanger that uses the energy in steam to dry the material. It’s the best method because it provides more gentle heating, which gives the grains a light color. And that’s the key when assessing the value of the DDG product.
Engineering the equipment to adequately handle the weight and size of the material, mixing, air pollution control, and efficiency is vital for effective operation. There’s a lot that goes into it, and the proper design for all the moving parts is critical for distilleries. That’s why Louisville Dryer designs, engineers, and distributes “Dry Houses” complete with everything a distillery needs to process their DDGS, and all the back-up and support of the leaders in the industry.
Which distilleries are currently preparing and selling DDGS?
Most large distilleries and ethanol plants make DDG/DDGS. Louisville Dryer is the preferred equipment throughout the Bourbon Trail in distilleries such as Buffalo Trace, Jack Daniels, Wild Turkey, and others.
What kind of history does Louisville Dryer have in the Distillery industry?
Louisville Dryer has been building steam tube dryers for distilleries for over one hundred years and continues to do so. We’re proud to have a history of trust and reliability in the industry. We built the oldest known DDG dryer, which is still operating in the Old Forrester Plant in Louisville, Kentucky. The unit started drying in 1932 and has run continuously for eighty-seven years. We only recently replaced three dryers at Buffalo Trace, which were manufactured in 1944.
What are the benefits of going with a Louisville Dryer product?
Louisville Dryers are designed to last. Louisville Dryer Company builds very robust equipment designed to run twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, with minimal shutdowns. We hold ourselves to the highest standard of quality when it comes to our workmanship. Distilleries who invest in a Dry House from Louisville Dryer know they are getting a quality dryer that will last for years to come.
Where can distilleries get what they need to successfully and efficiently prepare DDGS?
Louisville Dryer can put together complete equipment proposals for Dry House designs for any distillery to prepare DDGS.