Calling all bourbon experts! Kentucky’s bourbon industry needs ideas for surplus stillage

By Hayley Robb, Building Kentucky

Bourbon continues to boom in the Commonwealth showing no signs of slowing down. The number of distilleries has gone up 250% over the last 10 years, according to the Kentucky Distillers Association. The industry is expected to continue its growth through 2025.

Successes lead to sustainability challenges

With the rise of bourbon and boutique distilleries comes the rise of distilling byproducts, called “stillage” or “spent grain.” For every gallon of bourbon produced, approximately 10 gallons of stillage is left over. More than one billion gallons of stillage are produced from all distilled operations in Kentucky.

Whole stillage, which is mostly water, is acidic and has a high biological oxygen demand. Some common current uses for whole stillage include sewer discharge, farm animal feed and on-site processing.

This unique combination of circumstances has created an opportunity for innovative solutions in one of the state’s signature industries.

Contest details

Team Kentucky is seeking new and innovative solutions for expanded uses of distilling byproducts (stillage). Problem-solvers, entrepreneurs, inventors and businesses are invited to pitch a five-minute presentation to distillers and industry stakeholders at the 25th Distillers Grains Symposium on October 25, 2021.

The submissions will be reviewed by an expert panel and 5-6 solutions will be selected to pitch.

Selected individuals and teams will have the opportunity to work with entrepreneurship and pitch experts to refine their ideas prior to the pitch. The goal of the event is to foster further collaboration between Kentucky’s distilleries and stakeholders.

If selected, the presenters will move forward to implement their solutions alongside Kentucky’s distilleries and stakeholders. Submitted solutions can target a particular distillery size; they do not have to be applicable for all distilleries.

The reverse pitch competition is made possible through the partnership with Distillers Grains Technology Council, the James B. Beam Institute for Kentucky Spirits, Incubation Innovated, the EEC and KY Innovation, the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development, and support and guidance from the Kentucky Distillers’ Association.

Ideal solutions

  • Prioritize sustainability and environmental impact
  • Demonstrate an economic value to the distillery and the end-user of the stillage
  • Identify the size of the distillery the solution is targeting
  • Address the location and space requirements of the solution (if an equipment/process footprint is required)
  • Estimate product development costs (if applicable)
  • Estimate the initial investment, ongoing costs, and profits (if applicable) of the solution to the parties involved in the solution (i.e. distillery, end-user, other party, etc.)
  • Highlight the financial, sustainability, and environmental benefits of the solution
  • Explain if/what testing/pilot demonstration has taken place and was it successful
  • Highlight the scalability of the solution
  • Project the solution’s implementation/start-up time

Who is eligible?

Solution submissions are open to anyone who has a potential viable solution for use of stillage and is committed to executing the solution.

This includes, but isn’t limited to:

  • Students
  • Researchers
  • Entrepreneurs
  • Inventors
  • Businesses
  • Farmers
  • Environmentalists

To submit your idea, visit the Bourbon Reverse Pitch website at Submissions will be accepted through Monday, August 30.

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