Ideas wanted for bourbon industry’s surplus stillage

FRANKFORT, Ky. (WTVQ/Press Release) – As the amount of Kentucky distillers has increased 250% over the past ten years, the need to address the industry’s spent-grain byproduct, or stillage, has also increased.

Innovators and entrepreneurs can now submit creative ideas, technologies and solutions for expanded uses of distilling byproduct. The top submitted ideas will enter a reverse pitch competition Oct. 25 during the 25th Distillers Grains Symposium in Louisville to an audience of distillers and industry stakeholders.

“Our state’s bourbon industry continues to grow at an incredible rate. That means more revenue coming into the state, more quality job opportunities for Kentucky residents and more global recognition for our outstanding brands,” Gov. Andy Beshear said. “However, it also means a rise in byproduct within the industry, so we are asking people for their best ideas to use this stillage in ways that create jobs and moves Kentucky’s agritech industry forward. We’re building a sustainable economy that works for all Kentuckians, and that includes ensuring our industries operate as efficiently as possible.”

Proposals should be submitted by Aug. 30, which is when five winners will be chosen to present their ideas at the reverse pitch competition during the Distillers Grains Symposium. Leading up to the symposium, presenters will work with entrepreneurs and pitch experts to refine their pitches. Among other prizes, the pitch competition winner will get the opportunity to work alongside distilleries and stakeholders across the state to implement their ideas for surplus stillage usage.

“We are working closely with multiple stakeholders to find innovative and environmentally responsible ways to manage this increased volume of stillage,” Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet Secretary Rebecca Goodman said. “We believe it could be an integral part of the state’s agritech initiative.”

For every gallon of bourbon produced, approximately 10 gallons of stillage remains, with an estimated 96 million gallons of stillage produced statewide annually. Currently, demand for stillage – including traditional low-tech uses – is declining as the supply of stillage continues to increase.

Whole stillage, though mostly water, is acidic and has a high biological oxygen demand. Its useful life ranges from one to two days for wet – or thin – stillage, to an extended shelf life for dried distillers grains. Current uses of stillage include animal feed and supplements.

Ideally, pitches should meet the following criteria:

  • 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 any equipment or 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;
  • Highlight the financial, sustainable and environmental benefits of the solution;
  • Explain if/what testing or pilot demonstration has taken place and whether it was successful;
  • Highlight the scalability of the solution; and
  • Project the solution’s implementation/start-up time.

The reverse pitch competition will be hosted through a partnership between the 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, with support and guidance from the Kentucky Distillers’ Association.

To learn more about stillage, or to submit a proposal for the reverse pitch competition, visit

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