A leading Irish spirits brand has secured direct control over the supply, quality and cost of its grain whiskey thanks to a custom-designed distilling line supplied and installed by Frilli, part of the renowned Della Toffola Group and sister company to AVE UK.

“Since installation, the grain distillery designed and installed by Frilli has only ever made Grade 1 spirits,” says Frilli’s Chief Operational Officer, Filippo Cannoni. “All the equipment was delivered, installed and commissioned within the agreed timelines. And when it comes to the conversion of starch to alcohol, the efficiency of the plant is among the best in the industry.”

In safe hands

The spirit in question is a carefully balanced triple blend whiskey, combining grain (from wheat), malt (distilled from malted barley) and pot whiskey (half-and-half barley and malted barley). The distiller wanted to gain direct control over the grain, a key component in its blended whiskeys, to avoid a significant ongoing cost in outsourced supply and ensure consistency of quality. So, it turned to Frilli for support in developing a new grain distillery comprising the characteristic Coffey (or column) stills.

Bespoke project management

Frilli took full responsibility for the “heart of the process”; chiefly, the mashing, fermentation and distillation stages. Filippo explains what this involved: “The distiller initially engaged us with the front-end and then base engineering. This was the high-level process concept: the kind of equipment, rough sizing and process flow diagram which would achieve the necessary outcomes in terms of chemistry and organoleptics.”

The next stage was the detailed engineering to turn these concepts into an executive project. “The flow diagram was transformed into a detailed process and instrument diagram, complete with precise sizing, pressure, and so on,” says Filippo.

“Then, we needed to manufacture the key equipment, including the column stills, heat exchangers and distillation trays, as well as overseeing the third-party manufacture of additional equipment to meet our specifications,” he explains.

Matching the character

The hands-on installation, fine-tuning and commissioning took just a few months; an entire project of this sort, from first concepts to production, can easily take two years. The most challenging and time-consuming part of this process, however, revolved around the need to obtain a close match between the character of the new whiskey and that specified by the client.

“The distillery operates to very high levels of efficiency,” says Filippo. “Process guarantees might stipulate the amount of grain, energy, water and overall process yield, so duplicating the sample was not easy.”

AVE UK represents Italian-based Frilli and other Della Toffola Group companies in the UK and Ireland. AVE’s Sales Director Steve Bradley understands the relationship between this type of fine-tuning and the way an installation is calibrated. “The key point is to build in high levels of flexibility in order to allow these finer adjustments to take place, to ensure the client is completely satisfied with the end product,” he says.

Consistency through automation

Prior to this project, Frilli had already established a strong reputation for whisky distilling. “Before 2010, the company had built its first grain distillery in Scotland,” says Steve. “The team introduced a lot of innovation, even in the confines of the fairly traditional Scottish whisky industry, and this became a benchmark for distillers internationally.” 

In this instance, one area of innovation is the level of automation in the grain distillery. “The start-up and shutdown procedures are fully automated, which is not always the case for distilleries,” explains Steve. “Keeping the process 100% fully controlled enables the same product quality and character to be replicated every day. In this case, automation is not about reducing manpower, but about ensuring the consistency of the final product.”

This approach has certainly paid dividends. “Spirits can be classified as Grades 1, 2 and 3,” says Filippo. “Since installation, the grain distillery has only ever made Grade 1 spirits. There was an allowance in the contract for a certain amount of Grade 2 and Grade 3 spirits in the initial stages. But our installation has only ever made Grade 1 product, right from the very start.”

Hygiene and energy efficiency

As well as quality, hygiene was of paramount importance to the distiller. The Frilli installation has hygiene at its core throughout. “The entire process, from mashing and cooking to converting starch to sugar and then alcohol, is all fully cleanable,” says Filippo.

Efficient energy use was another prime consideration, both from the perspective of production costs and environmental sustainability. Energy recovery systems have been integrated into the grain distillery to ensure no energy is wasted.

“The aim is to deliver the required results at as low a temperature as possible, but also to maximise the use of that energy,” explains Filippo. “For instance, one column still shares energy with the next, and so on, in a cascade effect, to ensure that none is wasted.”

A perfect partnership

For this project, Frilli repeatedly went above and beyond what it was contractually obliged to do. “There was a very personal feel to working with this distiller,” says Filippo. “Our team met every criteria asked of them, and in fact went beyond the strict terms and conditions of the contract multiple times to be of assistance.”

Frilli has already made a further contribution to the site, having designed and installed an ethanol recovery plant, and there are plans for further collaboration in the future.

Any further design and installation in the UK and Ireland will be supported by the local presence and expertise of AVE UK. In conjunction with Frilli and other members of the expanding Della Toffola Group, AVE UK is able to supply end-to-end turnkey lines and individual equipment all the way from raw materials handling, through to processing, bottling, capping and end-of-line solutions.