Distilling Craft: Ep 020

PoTAto/Potato w/ Mark Kleckner from Woody Creek – Basalt, CO

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Distilling Craft: Potato-Potato by Dalkita Architecture & Construction is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Potato fermentation is covered including ways that it is similar to and different from grain. What to look for in your potato crop is also covered. Mark Kleckner from Woody Creek Distillers in Basalt, Colorado is interviewed to talk about growing potatoes and making vodka. 



Mentioned in this Episode:

Woody Creek Distillery: woodycreekdistillers.com

Check out other episodes of the Distilling Craft Podcast here.


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Colleen Moore (00:00): You’re listening to Distilling Craft, episode (20): “PoTAYto/ PoTAHto “. Today, we’re going to be talking with Mark Kleckner from Woody Creek Distillers in Basalt, Colorado.

Dalkita Promo (00:15): Distilling Craft is brought to you by Dalkita, a group of architects and engineers who specialize in designing craft distilleries across the US. More information is available at our website www.dalkita.com

Colleen Moore (00:32): Hello everyone. Welcome to Distilling Craft, I’m Colleen Moore. Just a quick thing before we start today’s show. When we are hard at work, lining up new interviews and producing new shows, and you are so kindly waiting on us, we’re going to reissue a couple of our episodes from season one with some previously unreleased material mixed in. Mark is going to talk to us about growing potatoes and making vodka. Later in the show, our radiogenic part-time distiller, DJ, is going to talk about potato fermentation. How it’s similar to and different from fermenting grain, also what to look for in your potato crop. Welcome to the show Mark.

Mark Kleckner (01:13): Thanks, glad to be here. .

Dalkita DJ (01:15): So, you’ve been with Woody Creek from the start, is that right?

Mark Kleckner (01:19): Yeah, my partner and I started knocking around the idea of doing this up here in probably around 2008, and really got heavily into the business planning from probably 2009, 2010. Then 2011 to 2012, we started building the facility and getting the licenses, doing all the research we had to do on the agricultural side as well as the alcohol production side. And then, we started our first batches of vodka back in August of 2012.

Dalkita DJ (01:58): And you guys are definitely most well-known for your vodka, that’s how you started out; but the other day in the store, I saw you guys have a whiskey available now?!

Mark Kleckner (02:06): In the beginning, what we found out really quickly is that, we noticed a variance in the quality of what few potato vodka’s were still out there, depending on if they were using fresh potatoes or or cellared potatoes. And, once you pull a potato out of the ground, it starts changing pretty rapidly. The quality decreases and they dehydrate within 30 days, %15-20. Depending on the type of seller it’s in, what we were seeing out there was potatoes were being processed for vodka, with product that was past the expiration date. So, they basically were ready to be thrown out. And we found the spirit came through just so much purer and cleaner if we used fresh potatoes. So, when we start harvesting in September, we’ll dig what we need for that given day. Let’s say, we need 10 tons to process that day, we’ll dig 10 tons of potatoes, process those and do the same thing the next day and the next day. So, our vodka making season is parallels to the potato harvesting and we do it for about two months. And then once you get into early November, it gets a little cold up here and a little hard to harvest. So we ended up making vodka for a couple months, and then switch over, cleam up the facility, and make a whiskey the remaining eight or nine months of the year. So we’ve been making whiskey since 2012 as well. We’re big fans of straight whiskeys. We didn’t want to release anything that was too young, so we didn’t release our first whiskey or Straight Rye until 2015, two years after we’d started producing.

Dalkita DJ (04:15): I have so many questions in there about the potato thing. How do you guys define, I mean, obviously for your distillery, you’re digging the same day, you’re getting it milled and fermented, but how would you define a fresh potato for somebody who wasn’t growing their own? Or are you looking at a moisture content or days out of the ground, or what would you use as a defining characteristic?

Mark Kleckner (04:36): Exactly. When you harvest a potato, it’s right out of the ground, it’s going to have a pulp like, an apple or jicama, it’s nice and moist. And then the potatoes you’re getting in the store have been cellared for probably a month or two or more. And what we find is, anytime a potato has been cellared for a couple of months, you’re gonna start seeing a lot of dehydration and the moisture content is probably gonna drop at least 20%. We’ve even seen 30% in some potatoes. So when you’re mashing them to prepare for a fermentation, your mash will need to be re-hydrated by that 20 to 30%, if you’re using older potatoes. When you use the fresh ones right out of the ground, the moisture content is such that it makes it a perfect fermentation without any rehydration.

Dalkita DJ (05:34): Wow, that’s really cool. How many acres do you guys have cultivated up there?

Mark Kleckner (05:41): This year, we’re looking at, let’s say about about a million pounds. And, our yields are varying between 40,000 to 50,000/acre. So, we probably harvested on the order of 20 to 25 acres up here. My partner Pat Scanlon has a beautiful ranch that has a lot of acreage that we can utilize for potatoes. But over the last three, four years, what we’ve also been doing is, Pitkin County, open space and trails, has all kinds of great farmland up here that has been donated to the county. So, we’ll actually lease Pitkin County open space land and use that for potatoes as well. So, we grow them all up here in the valley. In the first few years, we grew them just on our ranch. But, now, as we’ve grown and are utilizing more acreage, we’ve been leveraging some of the county open space land as well.

Dalkita DJ (06:55): Interesting. So, what potatoes are you growing?

Mark Kleckner (06:58): My partner Pat Scanlon, he really is the agricultural side of this. He focused on started out with about seven different varietals, indigenous and otherwise, including when we looked at this business, we were like, Chopin Vodka was the vodka that we thought would be like, hey, let’s make an American Chopin plus, and they were using a Polish potato called a distil browser. So we got the distil browser. We got some lady Claire, Ranger Rio Grande all like russet style potatoes and worked with all of them for the first couple years, both on an ag side and an experimental vodka batch side. And what we zeroed in on, was the Rio Grande. And it’s an indigenous potato up here. It’s a Russet like potato. Nice starch content. And, that’s what we’ve been using and growing since 2012.

Dalkita DJ (07:56): What is the starch content on that and how do you guys check that?

Mark Kleckner (08:01): That that can pretty easily be measured once you do your conversion from starch to sugar in the initial phases of your prior to fermentation. We can measure the bricks content, and then extrapolate that to the starch content to the potato. The Rio Grande has a starch content in the 20% range. The only potato we found that had higher starch contents was like that distil browser potato that was, I don’t believe Chopin uses that potato anymore, but that’s a real starch bomb and you can get starch contents up around 30%.

Dalkita DJ (08:48): I was just curious if you were doing any testing in the field. So, really you’re harvesting the potatoes, getting them clean, mil move them in, doing your conversion, measuring that, and then back calculating to your actual starts on the potato.

Mark Kleckner (09:00): Yeah, I mean, there’s ways you could actually measure the starch scientifically through other means. But, we’ve never bothered to do that.

Dalkita DJ (09:10): I guess let’s talk about the process a little bit. You’ve got a field full of potatoes, I guess you’re harvesting by machine is normally the way I’ve seen it done in Idaho, walk me through the process.

Mark Kleckner (09:22): When you look at commercial potato farming now, like if you go down to Montrose, Colorado or whatever, you’ll see there, the farming is done on like a Teryx tightened size scale. I mean, they have harvesters that’ll do eight rows at once. And we’re the antithesis of that. I think when we started out, we basically had a one row harvester that you’re basically run down through the field. It’s digging up the row of potatoes and dumping the potatoes on the ground. And then, we would have volunteers and agricultural workers walk behind with buckets and pick them up off the ground, that was like year one. But what’s interesting, we started to find that, the potato equipment that works best for us is like 1960s vintage where they were to roll in for rural harvesters. So, we’ve been in the pretty regular business of going down into the potato country near Mantrose and Center, and just looking at some of this old potato equipment on the side of the road and going and talking to the farmer, and we end up buying these things and refurbishing them. But now, we’ve got a more modern, I guess it’s probably a late 60s two row harvester that we use, and where we can actually drive a truck along beside it, and it’s separating out the rocks from the potatoes, from the dirt, and the bad stuff goes out one way and the potatoes go the other way into a truck that’s driving alongside the harvester. And, we just chug along and fill up the truck with the potatoes. And then, we’ve built a couple of different potato washing tables, washing machines. It’s almost like a conveyor that we basically put a bunch of sprayers going up the length of the conveyor, and then we run the potatoes up through that to clean as much of the dirt off as we can. So it’s going from a truck up a conveyor into another truck. And when they hit the other truck, they’re clean and we fill up that, it’s just a live bottom potato truck and fill that thing up in the field, and then drive it down to the distillery. And then, we have another conveyor that we run in from the truck into our big pre-mash Bin, if you will. They fall into there and then get picked up by another conveyor, and then go through a fairly standard commercial, a masher crusher, and what comes out looks like mashed potatoes.

Dalkita DJ (12:04): That’s really cool. So, you’re not doing a whole lot of prep work on those potatoes besides just getting rid of the stones and dirt and getting them crushed up?

Mark Kleckner (12:13): Yeah. After they’re harvesed and cleaned, we actually in the first couple of years– The growing season up here, you need a really commercial farmer is gonna grow a potato for 120 days. And you can’t really plant until after the last frost. So, us up here, we probably plant right around June 1st, and then we started harvesting in September. Because after three months, the potato is pretty much grown too to its size. And that last month, what tends to happen, it grows a little more in size, but the skin, it starts to develop a thicker and thicker skin. And the skin doesn’t really do us any good, cause you can’t ferment potato skin. It’s just a byproduct, a waste product. So, the first couple of years, we actually had in our potato line, in our processing line, we had a big commercial peeler. So we were peeling the potatoes as well. But after those two years, what we were finding is, peeling them was just a lot of extra work and didn’t really provide any positive outcome. So for the last, I’d say less three years now, we haven’t been peeling, we took the peeler out of the line. So, we’re just taking the potatoes right out of the truck and running them right through the crusher. The only thing that we see leaving the peels in as he’d get a little bit more fibrous matter in the stillage, the byproduct post fermentation after we strip the alcohol out of it. There’s a little more solids in there then when we repeal now than when we repealing before.

Dalkita DJ (14:00): So, you get your milled mashed potatoes and you transfer them over to a mash tun to do your cooking. I guess what’s your ratio of potatoes to water? How does that mashing process work for you?

Mark Kleckner (14:17): Well, like I said, we’re using fresh potatoes and we’ve never had to hydrate a single batch which is great. So what we ended up doing is, we’ll fill our our mash tank, one of our two mash tanks, and it’ll hold around five and a half tons of potatoes is a single batch. So we’ll just run that penal five to five and a half tons through the crusher. At the bottom of the crusher, there’s a collector tank with a pump on it and it’s pumped up into the mash tank. We’ll heat the mash for an hour, cook it at about a 200 degrees Fahrenheit up here, which is boiling. Then, we actually use a natural liquefaction enzyme to break down the starches further. And then that will bring the temperature down to about a 170 degrees to do that. Then, we’ll bring it down to about 140 degrees to at our scarification enzyme. And I’m going to bring it down to 90 degrees, and pitch the yeast in it. That whole process of cooking and then the two enzyme applications, and then the yeast is about a four hour process.

Dalkita DJ (15:44): That’s actually really fast. I’m surprised you’re able to get that much conversion. Potatoes seem to be up there with corn inneeding high temperatures and long times.

Mark Kleckner (15:54): No, no. That’s just the four hours to the point where we’ve pitched the yeast, then we’ll pump it over into a fermentor in our vodka fermentation until we get good conversion is probably around three days.

Dalkita DJ (16:10): I was talking about starch conversion. Just getting your starch into sugar.

Mark Kleckner (16:15): It works pretty rapidly. It’s interesting too what we’ve found is probably in our Liza stripping distil to do the initial stripping of the low wine out before we do a rectification run in our potstills. And when we don’t get good conversion and you’ve got a lot of any unconverted starch, it’ll end up burning in the stripping still, and you can smell it and it almost like caramelizes and clogs things up. So, we’re very cognizant to get a complete conversion messes up our equipment.

Dalkita DJ (17:01): That makes perfect sense. What percent alcohol are you guys typically getting from that five and a half tons of potatoes?

Mark Kleckner (17:08): Te five and a half tons becomes a 6,000 liter batch. We’re probably gonna look at 10% by volume raw alcohol. So we’ll probably get about 600 some odd liters out of a single batch. And then, obviously, it’s not all ethanol. So after like maybe 10% head cut and 10% tail cut on the back side, a single batch, I’m probably looking at around 480 liters of 190 coming out of the rectification.

Dalkita DJ (17:50): Let’s walk through that real quick. So you initially do a stripping run. Are you guys just stripping there or are you also pulling heads and tails off what you’re stripping?

Mark Kleckner (17:59): No, just crude stripping. Basically, separating just all the raw alcohol from the solids, from the stillage, and we’ll end up with, probably around 140 to 150 proof high wine or low wine, whatever you want to call it. So, we’ll run the entire batch through that stripping column. And then, we’ll end up with the volume of 140 proof uncut raw alcohol. And then that’s put into our finishing still if you will, our potstill, which has 42 plates of rectification. And then we’ll run that, just one distillation around through those 42 plates. I’ll see outputs well in excess of 190 proof, like 194 proof. Anyway, our finishing rectification columns probably run around 60 liters an hour. So, if I’m putting 600 liters through that still, and I know I want to do a 10% head cut that the first 60 liters is where I’m going to see the heads, where I’m going to see them methanol to butanol. So, we’ll run for an hour and we actually just run the heads into buckets at first. And we know after about an hour, we need to really start checking and the switch happens pretty quickly from the heads, from the methanol and the butanol to the ethanol. You can sit there and within five minutes, it goes from that banana nail polishing, hetty alcohol to just pure ethanol. And you could empirically measure for that, but it’s really easy to just subjectively sit there, and you can tell when…

Dalkita DJ (20:06): It tastes pretty different.

Mark Kleckner (20:08): Yeah. The smell, the taste, you get so good at it pretty quickly. It’s not rocket science to determine when that transition occurs. And, again, it’s usually about 10% into the the end of the direct rectification. So then when we hit that point, we’ll actually switch over the alcohol stream and into our main tank, that we’re collecting. So, it comes over like between 190 and 194 proof with one distillation, with one rectification.

Dalkita DJ (20:41): That’s just awesome. I obviously being up at that elevation is helping you getting up to, what’d you say it was? 97% alcohol, somewhere in that range is your peak?

Mark Kleckner (20:52): Our stills are made by Carl out of Gulping in Germany, like the my back of still. They really didn’t know, like I really wanted to get this facility such that we could with one– With one, I didn’t want to have to distill three times, five times, seven times. I wanted to just still once and get a really pure product out of it. So based on the calculations they did and we did, we figured that the 42 plates of rectification would do it, but they weren’t sure. You never know because of the altitude you’re at, and just the other thermodynamic principles of your set up and just how things are laid out mechanically, the distances between things. So, it’s a crap shoot the first time you turn the thing on. And we were all just blown away by the purity that we were getting with the alcohol, the level of the proof of the alcohol and just one distillation.

Dalkita DJ (21:53): Yeah, that’s amazing you’re getting that. Have you guys done any testing on your distil it to any of the chemical testing to see what you’re actually getting out or how pure it really is?

Mark Kleckner (22:04): I’d love to get my own gas chromatography set up here, but we send samples off all the time to make sure we’re maintaining the levels of purity that we want. We want to make sure there’s no methanol in there. There’s no butanol in there. We don’t have any like really strange stray aldehydes or anything in there. We’re very lucky how we did the setup and using good equipment, you’re going to get good results. And I think that’s a lot of the reason we get such good pure product out the back side.

Dalkita DJ (22:42): I can certainly vouch for it you guys make a fantastic vodka. Do you want to talk about your whiskey a little bit before I let you go. Right now, you’ve got your rye out there, you guys making any other whiskeys besides your rye?

Mark Kleckner (22:56): Yeah. We released the rye in 2015. It’s a straight rye, two year age statement, although the last batches we’ve been dumping and then the aggregate age of the barrels, let’s say I dump 10 barrels for the last batch, the aggregate age was actually over three years, that rye won the double gold at San Francisco in 2016. The last year, 2017, we released a single barrel program of that same rye with the all four year plus a statement rye. So, we have accounts that come in, restaurants, bars, liquor stores or whatever. They’ll come in and they’ll select a barrel of the four year rye. But we also pick a couple of them ourselves and send those down to southern wine and spirits, our distributor for distribution. So, within the shelf set of the rye, you’ll see the original rye and now you’ll see a single barrel rye, which depending on the barrel we pick, tend to be higher proof. I think one of them that we sent into distribution was about 107 proof. That sounds really high, but the stuff was amazing at that proof. But, I think, we have a couple of other single barrels out there that are in distribution around a hundred proof. At the same time, in late December, early January, we released our four-year-old bourbon. It just the first four pallets ship a couple of weeks ago and sold out and we digest another couple pallets went down to southern, I think yesterday. So the Bourbon is out there now and we’re seeing the sales go pretty quickly. Again, it’s straight bourbon that is four year age statement. Cool thing about having a distillery is, we make lots of different ways. I have thousands of barrels of whiskey now since we’ve been making it, since back in 2012. And I’ve done single malts. I’ve got straight corn. We’ve hundreds and hundreds of orphan barrels that are going to provide some pretty cool stuff in the future. But, I think, next year you’ll see a single malt from us as well.

Dalkita DJ (25:32): That’ll be fun. How old are you projecting that to be?

Mark Kleckner (25:36): Well, so the cool thing about some of the seal malt is, right when we finished doing our first runs of vodka back in 2012, the first grains I purchased, I actually got through, I guess, we were thinking like, whatever we decide to make, we’re going to need malted barley. So, I set up a business relationship with the cores, golden malting- I was getting ready to get corn and wheat, and rye and everything we wanted to use. But the first big delivery of grain we got in was the malted barley from cores. And we had a truckload of that here and it got here before everything else did, so we were like, “Hey, let’s make a single malt.” So some of the first batches we did were 100% malted barley whiskey and probably, I would say maybe once a quarter, we’ll do a run of at least a week or so of single malt or just a barley based whiskey. And I’m anticipating that we would be releasing someday a single malt.

Dalkita DJ (26:48): If that was the first thing you got in that’s looking to be what, six, seven years old when you release it next year?

Mark Kleckner (26:54): Absolutely. I’ve tasted some five and even six year old original barrels that we’ve done and the stuff, this is phenomenal. I mean, I love it. if I could send you the cyber taste through this podcast, I certainly would. What I found too is that, a single malt barley probably of any whiskey tends to mature and the quickest like you can taste single malts and even after six months they’re starting to develop a tasty, less youthful character. They’re at one end of the spectrum. I think, rye comes around quicker than bourbon. But the more corn you have in your mash, the longer you gotta let that stuff age. Like I said, I think two year year bourbons are just way, way, way too young. Releasing a four year bourbon even, we thought about that for awhile before we did it. Like, do we really want to sit on this or do we want to let it out at four years? But yeah, I’m not a fan of a lot of the younger bourbons that are out there.

Dalkita DJ (28:06): Does that mean you guys are planning your Bourbon for 10_12 years or how old are you gonna sit on yours?

Mark Kleckner (28:14): We got the four year old now. There’s a big difference between two and four, but we’re going to start doing some special releases. I mean, if you look at it like a pappies, they’ve got everything from 10, 8, 10, 12, 15, 20, I think we’re looking forward to the future when we can go into the barrel house and pick out some 12 and 15 year old whiskeys down the road.

Dalkita DJ (28:45): So if you were gonna start your distillery over again, what would you do differently this time?

Mark Kleckner (28:52): Well, I guess, inhindsight, I I can look back on. I think some of the biggest challenge we had, external challenge, that we faced was just working with the building department and the the fire marshall and trying to get the approvals to get this place built. I mean, it was a challenge in a learning process on both sides. I think a lot of municipalities that don’t understand distilling tend to overreact to the potential danger of a distillery and certainly safety is of paramount importance. But some of the early on requirements that will being- though that they were trying to levy on us, we’re regarding the type of facility we had to build, the type of fire suppression, that was a challenge for sure. I would say, be very well-prepared to address those and, and work with your local building department and fire marshals, so you can get the approvals you need, and so it won’t take a year or two to do that. But I guess, if the one major thing I can think of that I was like, wow, it’s like, if I’d known this at the beginning ,I probably wouldn’t have built this facility up here in basalt and that the sewage treatment down here, they have like a 1 million gallon a day facility downstream from us. And if I were to put one load of stillage down the drain, I would knock the plant completely offline. So, basically, all our waste product, all our stillage, we have to transport, I’ve got like three tanker trucks. I transport them to farms and ranches, who love the stuff for cattle feed, so I’ve got this whole extra expense of what do I do with my waste product coming out of the distillery where a big distillery, like a Stranahan’s in Denver because the storm sewers and the sewage system are commingled and it’s all about dilution. They can put their stillage right down the drain. So you got to really think and plan like, when we went into this, I didn’t put two thoughts into like, “Well, where is our waste product going?” I had worked at other distilleries in big cities and to a facility everyone just puts their waste right down the drain. Well, we can’t do that up here. It a whole nother level of logistics just trying to get rid of that stuff. I mean, there’s things like that you need to plan for everything. And that was probably the major lessons that bites me to this day is, like I said, we have this whole other process of getting rid of our stillage that other people don’t even have to deal with. And it just adds, expense and effort to what we do.

Dalkita DJ (32:04): I think it’s a shock to a lot of distilleries that even 40 proof liquor is regulated the same as jet fuel. And then getting rid of your stillage is a lot more. The waste planning is certainly more complicated than most people think. And if you’re on a septic system, it’s a whole nother world than even having an actual waste treatment plan available to you.

Mark Kleckner (32:26): Yeah. I’m actually right now looking at implementing a pretreatment system here, so that we can convince the mid-valley metropolitan district to take our- what is the waste products have to be for them to take it? And I’ve been working with a couple engineering firms and with the engineers from the district to try to come up with a pretreatment solutions. Basically, what we want to do is spent grain and instilling is actually a commercial product, dry distillers grain, it’s great cattle feed. But, right now, what comes out the stripping still is almost 90% just water, so it’s very inefficient to transport. So I’m looking at getting a de-watering system, so I can separate a lot of those solids out of there. And then with what’s left, we’ll do some sort of chemical treatment to it to get the Ph where it needs to be and get the COD, and the BOD where it needs to be, so we can actually put it down the drain. But that’s something that wasn’t even in my universe when we were building this place. But now, it’s become one of the major things that I have to deal with.

Dalkita DJ (33:53): So if somebody came to you and said, “Hey I don’t have a lot of money for my distillery”, where would you suggest that they focus that money?

Mark Kleckner (34:03): Something I like to tell people was like, get the best possible equipment you can afford. You can’t understate the value of having having a good still and good equipment, good raw materials is going to end up being a good product. So, I mean, I would definitely get the best deal I can afford. I guess, I might one end of the spectrum where I make every drop that I sell. I’m never gonna use NGS for anything. I’m never going to buy whiskey from another producer, that’s just me. It’s not an inexpensive business to get into, I would say, do it right. Scale yourself down to the point where you can get the best still, even if it’s only a little 140 liters still or something like that. But get the best possible equipment you can do and don’t take any shortcuts. Don’t cheat.

Dalkita DJ (35:14): Let’s talk about marketing a little bit. What advice would you give for somebody who’s trying to get their brand picked up for the first time to develop that partnership with a distributor?

Mark Kleckner (35:25):Well, that’s interesting. At the beginning there’s two ways you can go. You can either go with the big guy that has the fleet trucks and touches every single liquor account in your home state and obviously, I think you want to start out by building your brand and your town, and then go outside. it’s concentric rings after the town, your region, then your state, you’re building from the inside out. A big distributor is great cause they touch all the accounts. The downside of the big distributor is, you can get lost. They’re focused on selling patroned and the [Cardi] and the stuff that keeps the lights on for them. So, they’re basically an order taker and a delivery person. But the onus is on you and your brand reps to get out there and get it sold. That worked for us in Colorado, but it takes a lot of resources and incentives and boots on the ground that you have to pay for to do the selling part of it, because the distributors not really doing that for you unless you give them a big incentive in there. You’ve got to buy five or 10 salespeople, chasing a trip to Mexico based on the volume that they sell or something like that. So that’s the one side of it. The flip side would be find the little guy, who’s basically feeding his family or her family off every bottle that they sell. And what I’m finding is, the states that I’m in now, I think we’re in 22 states now. The states where I’ve gone with the motivated little guy, if you find the right one, you really don’t even need a rep in that state on the ground because, those people are, in that model, they really want to learn your product and they’re almost like an extension of yourself. And they get out there and sell it to every account. So, I’ve flipped. I’ve gone from like, in the early days, I thought this is great. We got in with southern wine and spirits, we’re going to build with this big guy. It’s worked for us here in Colorado, but it’s it’s been a learning process and it’s cost us a lot of resources to do it through the big distributor model, whereas like I said, now I’m fine. I think, if I had to redo it, and especially, if I was started out as a small guy, I think, the smaller distributors make a lot more sense.

Dalkita DJ (37:54): My last question for you is, where you feel the industry going. Where do you see craft distilling or your view on the industry in the next five years or so?

Mark Kleckner (38:08): I think, you can definitely use the beer business as a model of what’s gonna happen. I think, what happened in Craft Beers 15 years or so before the distilling industry is, what we’re seeing now. I think, in the beer side, you had your Sam Adams, your Sierra Nevada, your new Belgium’s that started out as little local guys and now have grown into regional powerhouses and then national. You’re going to continue to see probably some of that same thing in our business where you’re going to see some of the people that are really doing it right are going to continue to grow and gain a national presence. And then you’re going to see just what happened in beers, you’re going to see them being acquired by the the big liquor brands because, they’re losing and you look at the statistics there, they’re losing market share. The big brands are losing market share all the time, test little guys and the one easy way they can address that is through acquisition. So, you’re going to start seeing more and more merger acquisition stuff. A lot of the brands that are proving successful and taking a bite out of the big guys sales are gonna end up getting acquired. And I think that’s just going to continue to go in that direction.

Dalkita DJ (39:29): That’s what we’re all hoping for. Well, Mark, thank you very much for coming on the show.

Mark Kleckner (39:35): I appreciate it. And again, anytime I’m more than happy to participate in this.

Dalkita Promo (39:41): Today’s interview is brought to you by the team of architects and engineers at Dalkita. Dalkita has been serving the craft distilling industry for over 13 years, and committee to production facilities that work. Now, let’s get back to the show.

Colleen Moore (39:56): Especial thanks to Mark Kleckner from Woody Creek Distillers for talking with us on our show today. Up next are engineer intern, DJ, and his monologue on potato fermentation. How is it similar to and different from fermented grain? Also, what to look for in your potato crop.

Dalkita DJ (40:15): So today, we’re going to talk about potatoes. We’ve had a couple of requests come in to make sure that we cover potatoes in this fermentation series. And I wanna get back on the train doing that after having our little break for barrels. Originally, potatoes were thought of as junk. It was a fermentable that was thought of as a bathtub product. It was mainly grown regionally in Poland. Mostly the time they were using it because potatoes were just dirt cheap to make booths out of. And a lot of that is because, you can grow so many more pounds of potatoes per acre then you can with grain or fruit or anything else. The way that works is we get about 40,000 to 43,000 pounds of potatoes per acre right now. And each potatoes, somewhere in the neighborhood of about 18% starch. So, we get about 7,700 pounds of starch per acre. If you compare that over to say wheat, wheat is going to get you about 60 bushels an acre somewhere on the neighborhood of 3,600 pounds an acre, but it’s 62% starch. Still that only works out to about 2100 pounds per acre for wheat in order to break even with potatoes. If we’re talking industrial potatoes, the ones that are going to be that 18,20,22% starch, we need 206_207 bushels an acre of wheat. Even if we’re just talking table potato, something that’s not necessarily grown for making alcohol, we need to get a yield of about 138 bushels an acre. That’s incredibly huge. It’s really not doable on any scale and particularly in the US, so that’s why people are growing potatoes and using it as a staple crop. But it’s also why they got turned into a lot of booths and that cheapness of the potato led to the perception that it was making lower quality alcohol because it was a lower cost ingredient. As people shifted away from potatoes, there’s been that resurgence in potato vodka and making sure that people are getting the opportunity to taste the potato and notice that it actually does have a delicate flavor in there. You’re going to get a little bit more sweetness than you would with grain. And so really potato, particularly potato vodka, has started to become thought of as a higher quality ingredient. It’s certainly perceived as better than molasses or sugar beets or anything on that end of the spectrum. And while it may not be necessarily perceived as as well as a wheat vodka or a rye vodka, it’s certainly in that neighborhood is one of the premier vodka ingredients.

Dalkita DJ (43:10): So, what do we do with potatoes? Generally, for most of us anyhow, potatoes are going to come out of the ground. They’re going to get sent down to a root cellar or some cold ish storage, and they’re going to sit there for a while. Those potatoes are gonna dry out a bit, and then now they’re stable and you can buy potatoes year round. Potatoes are similar to grain in that primarily, they’re starch product that we’re then going to convert that starch over. For industrial potatoes, potatoes that are specifically grown for the making of alcohol, 18% is really the minimum for starch. The good industrial potatoes are going to be 20_22%. There are certainly some that are that are much higher than that, but they’re a specialized breed that you’ll have to search out. Generally that climate that you’re going to find, the industrial potatoes that are being grown are gonna model where industrial potato vodka came from. So, we’re talking Baltic coast area cold northern river valleys. And what we’re going to find in the US particularly, the Idaho region is more eating potatoes russets and that stuff. That being said, russets Yukon potatoes are actually really great for making a vodka. They have very high starch, relatively lower water content, your red table potatoes, your white potatoes, those are going to be lower starch. If you have them growing close to you, great. But you’re going to just have to use a whole lot more of them in order to get your alcohol out in them. So once you’ve chosen whatever potato is available to you, in most cases, the first step is going to be cleaning them and making sure you get all the dust out, get rid of the rocks depending on who you’re buying from that may or may not be much of an issue. Generally speaking, potatoes are going to be processed in a hammer mill type thing. There’s also some crushers out there that are a little bit more specialty product, but if you’re already milling grain in your facility, you can use your hammer mill. Just remember potatoes do have a lot of moisture, and so you’re really going to have to clean that mill out before you get back to processing grain in there. Typically, a hammer mill with one and a half to two mill slot screen will get potatoes fine enough that you’re in that mashed potato range, and you can take that out. If you’re looking at very fresh potatoes, then we’re going to be not needing to add a lot of moisture. Like I said, typically, a potato is going to be about 75% water by weight and so your starches 20%, your water, 75% that’s a pretty good ratio 3 to 1 right there without having to do a whole lot. That being said, if you’ve got a potato that’s been stored, been dried, we’re going to need to do a little bit more. In that case, I typically am looking at about two pounds of potatoes per gallon in your milling. What that really means is, cause they’re still going to be some retained water in there, we’re actually looking at about 410 gallons of water to a thousand pounds of potatoes and that should ferment out to get you about 500 gallons at 9% is a good ballpark mix for that. Three to four days for fermentation, you’ll end up about 7 to 11% alcohol. But that doesn’t answer the question of what do you do with this honk of mashed potatoes, not cooked, but just mashed potatoes?

Dalkita DJ (46:41): There are certainly some studies out there that will recommend steaming your potatoes or pre-cooking your potatoes up prior to mashing. Some of that is to make the potato easier to mash or there’s some other ways to do it besides a hammer mill that crushed them a little bit gentler, but they require the potato to be pre softened a little bit. And then if you’re going to be doing a steam infusion type system again, the idea is to get that potato really hot and start getting that starch moving prior to getting it in the mill. Once we’re in your mash tun, we’re going to need to get hot potatoes are a lot like corn, and that they require a very high liquefaction temperature. We’re looking 194 to 203 F, basically 90 to 95 c. So, we’re going to need to get a lot of heat in there to get those liquified. The downside of potatoes is, they have absolutely no enzyme help in here. So, you’re going to be looking at having to do chemical additions both for liquefaction, then later to do your conversion into sugar. So, you’re going to do that liquefaction, hold it for about a half hour to really make sure we get it all converted over, drop it down. We’ve got to do a little bit of Ph conversion, again. Potatoes tend to be a little bit on the basic side of the spectrum, so we’re going to need to actually add some chemicals to get our ph down to a five. Do that Alpha hold 30_45 minutes. Cool it again, drop your ph again, four and a half to five, another 30_45 minutes at your Beta. With potatoes, they have a tendency to have a lot of protein, certainly, the high end which you would run into for grain. So, they do have a very high tendency to foam. So we’re going to need to do a protein rest and make sure we’re using an anti foam agent in that potato mash. Something that is a concern but not necessarily a dealt with concern is that, potatoes tend to have a very high level of pectin compared to grain. So, if you guys remember from a couple episodes back, pectin is what is going to create methanol. So if we can break down that pectin in advance, using some of that pectin enzyme or whatever, then we can decrease the amount of methanol coming off. Otherwise, we’re going to see a fairly high proportion of heads when we end up distilling this. I’ve seen numbers anywhere from maybe a gallon of heads on 100 gallon fermentation, so we start scaling that to quantities you guys are using five gallons of heads on a 500 gallon batch. There’s a lot of methanol and so one way you can cut that down is doing a little bit of pretreatment, not absolutely necessary. You could just know you’re going to have to have a bigger heads cut, and then that gives you more fuel for your fireplace or cleaning your distillery, or whatever you’re doing with it.

Dalkita DJ (49:39): Overall, potatoes are able to be treated very much like grain. We just have to remember there are just a couple of key differences, and a lot of it has to do with that really high moisture content. And if you let that potato sit around and you’re waiting until the very end of the season, if you’re buying potatoes in late spring, early summer before that harvest is begun, those are going to be practically year old potatoes at that point. So those are going to be your dryas potatoes, which probably isn’t the best thing from a flavor standpoint, but you’ll be able to process it a lot more like you do with your grain products. So if you’re one of those distilleries that’s making brandy in the early summer whiskey in the late fall doing your realm over the winter time and you’re starting to come into the spring, and you want to do a potato vodka, just keep in mind, you’re gonna need a lot more water in there. And maybe those potato sitting around to be degraded the flavor a little bit.

Colleen Moore (50:41): Are you interested in filing a report with us? Well, we’re actively seeking professionals to give us the lowdown on the technical aspects of distillery operations for our listeners. Contact us via our website with your pitch. Do you have feedback on this show? Well, send us an email to ([email protected]). Of course, if you want to find out more about this specific episode, go to our show notes on our webpage, that’s: dalikta.com/shownotes. Remember, you can subscribe to this podcast at Apple podcasts, or however you get your podcast. Our theme music was composed by Jason Shaw, and is used under a Creative Commons attribution 3.0 license. And finally, a special thanks to the Dalkira team behind this production, and the man that puts it all together, our sound editor Daniel Phillips of Zero Crossing Productions. Until next time, stay safe out there- I’m Colleen Moore.

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