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How much heads + tails into barreled whiskey


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Hey all,

I've been running a 150 gal pot still, soon upgrading to a 300gal. Whenever I have down time I find myself on here trying to further educate myself. 

When putting a product into a barrel, I'm reading that a bit of heads and or tails helps with the chemistry or the full flavor of a barreled spirit. I fill mainly 53's thus many years of maturation. It takes me 3x 300gal ferments to fill +/- a 53gal barrel. I do my cuts in 5 gal Korny Kegs. I then make my hearts cut, filter and cut to X proof (right now rye at 113p) and fill the barrel. My hearts cut is clean and if heads or tails are present I usually don't add em. Clear it taste fantastic. In your opinion how much heads/tails would you include in your cut? Is this adding to the mouthfeel, more flavor depth or what? 

If there are any links or books I could further educate myself with please include them. 

Thanks everyone, y'all rock!

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When you say "filter" what kind of filtering are you doing on the new make?

This may sound stupid but is important.  How do you determine what is heads, hearts and tails? I ask this BECAUSE you said you're filling 5 gallon Corny Kegs which is a huge amount for a still of your size.  If you're not cutting on the fly but trying to make cuts after the fact then 5 gallon containers is way to high for cut over points.

So the question.  What is heads to you vs hearts?  When is this determined?  Using temp or proof or only taste/smell?

How many different people are sampling and contributing to these cuts points?

Learn to work the spirits and understand what is actually heads and tails, then you can learn how much of either to mix in with your hearts based on age time planned or how full bodied you want the spirit to be.

To a point more heads and more tails can be good for flavored spirits, but it depends on your climate and how your spirit will age.  Many a people use to much heads or too much tails and you can taste this in the finished spirit if under aged.  To narrow a cut and the spirit lacks depth and seem thin.

 

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My two cents, this is completely meaningless bullsnit that is probably best ignored.

There is no such thing as heads or tails.  Distillation is a continuum.  It's far too easy to simply classify all the first runnings, to a point, as "heads", then shift to "hearts" as a distinct fraction, then flip to tails at the end.

In what we would call heads, there is tremendous variation.  In tails, there is tremendous variation.  Don't think about heads and tails, think more about how wide or narrow your hearts cut is, and whether that cut leans early or late.

Narrow cut spirits are clean, easy to drink, especially young, but can sometimes be uninteresting, or lack complexity and depth.  When aged, they tend to come across as being 'thin' or one-dimensional.

Wide cut spirits care far more complex, interesting, have more mouthfeel, longer finish, but require age, and the wider the cut, the longer the duration to 'maturation'.

Fruit-based spirits, brandies, etc - would be boring as narrow cut spirits. For very good reason, the hearts cut on a brandy tends to lean towards heads.  Without the later heads fraction in a brandy, you would lose all sense of the base fruit.

Molasses based dark rums - would be boring as narrow cut spirits.  However, the hearts cut on a dark rum distillation tends to lean towards tails.  That's where you find the molasses, caramel, darker confectionary flavors.  Higher ester, funky rums, tend to take that already wide cut, and widen it even more towards the heads side.

Unaged spirits - tend to be narrower cut, lest they come across headsy or tailsy.  Some eau-de-vies tend to be headsy, some white rums tend to be headsy (wray and nephew).  Not sure I have a good example of an unaged spirit that should be tailsy (poor quality locally made spirits, "moonshines").

What I've found, is that spirits intended for short maturation periods, should likely be cut on the narrower side.  This tends to take the harsher edge off at the distillation time, versus during maturation.  We've seen good luck with narrow cut whiskeys aged 1-3 years, smaller format barrels (but not TOO small).

However, that main criticism you'll find, is that narrow cut spirits lack real depth and complexity, especially in the finish.  A wider cut can fix that, but requires more maturation time.  Just giving that narrower cut whiskey more time on oak does improve it, but still seems to lack "that special something".  Don't get me wrong, it can be good, but will always seem a little bit boring, one dimensional (as oak becomes predominant by far).  The opposite, a wide cut whiskey aged a short period of time, likely in a small barrel - is going to be a real challenge (read: not so good).

Based on what you've said, 900 gallons of a typical rye mash, to fill a single 53 at 113 proof, and especially one that you say is pleasant to drink off the still, seems to be like a very narrow cut whiskey.  If it comes off the still more like a grain eau-de-vie, it's pretty narrow cut.  White dog is called that for what should be obvious reasons.  Caveats apply here, maybe you are just seeing really poor yield, or are mashing at very low starting gravities, etc.  

Would love some other folks to chime in here, but 900g of fully attenuated rye mash, with a wide cut, would nearly fill 2 53 at 113 proof.  Would imagine that's what the big commercials are seeing as yield.

Some more worthless "knowledge" - if you can ever call it that..

For longer aged spirits, erring on the side of a wider cut towards heads is not a major flaw.  That sharper edge can/does age out in my experience.  Fruitier whiskies tend to have leaned farther towards heads, but alas "fruitier" diminishes dramatically during aging.

This is not true for tails, going too deep into tails yield a spirit that is unrecoverable through aging, you tend to have a bitter flavor that predominates - and increases over time, a kind of back of the mouth phenomenon that carries long into the finish.  There are numerous deep tails flaws, most of them tend to be funky, musty, bitter, etc etc.  Like I said before, deep tails flaws rarely age out.  These barrels tend to be included in larger volume blends.

Here is where it gets tricky.  It's easy to distill a narrow cut spirit, it's much more difficult to distill a wider-cut spirit.

If you collect in small containers to cut, you are making the cut decision based on the smell/taste of only one container, or the transition between a few containers - but not the smell/taste of the aggregate hearts blend.  Jars are great, we use them all the time, especially with new spirits.  But the jar is only the jar, and the jars are very concentrated compared the the aggregate.  If you cut by jars, especially with a plated still, you are going to err on the side of narrow.  The challenge is, to go wider, how do you determine how wide to go?  One jar?  Two jars?  10 jars?  That requires a lot of faith.

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Dr. D,

You brought up valid points and I consciously think of most of these when doing cuts, the others I will start. I run the spirit through a coconut husk charcoal filter, but my cuts are already made prior to filtration, given I fraction out my cuts in 2.5-5gal fractions. I am monitoring the temp of each fraction as well as proof. My main source for making cuts is sensory. Smell, taste, burn on the front or back or even back sides or more burn on the gums or lips. I let the spirit sit open overnight and make my cuts in the morning where all I've had prior is coffee and a chew. That part is fairly consistent ha. Heads I get a burn on the lips and gums and front of the pallet and sides of the tongue, I proof to 40% everytime but I do add water and right after the spirit is "shocked" with water I sample. This part I will change after reading your response. Thank you for that. Hearts have a nice nuance flavor of the sub straight and yeast. The flavor really pops and ill take into the "heads" even if these aren't there depending on burn and other sensory and previous runs (proof, temp, sensory). I'll make the cuts and then if the owner (the only other distiller) is there then he will help chime in, but he has a business to run. 

"Think about this one.  How did the guys of old do cuts when they had no access to the spirit (no smell, no taste) but only had a spirit safe to work with using spirit and water?  Do you know how they determined cuts?  What did they look for on heads and tails?"

This has me scratching my head. If you could elaborate on this I think I could learn a thing or two. Or point me to a place to start research, I'm not looking for all the answers but at least a place to start always helps. 

Tails are fairly easily detected with the heavy rougher spirit. Smell, heavy oils, astringency... they differ from spirit to spirit and in rum I'll go deeper into the tails. I wonder how these play after the spirit is aged in a barrel for 4 years in Colorado mountain dry climate. We have large temp deltas and humidity is low causing a rise in proof over time in the barrel. 

Silk, 

I have read many of your responses on this forum so thanks for replying. Your mealiness bullsnit is my gold ha. I agrees with a lot of what you said. I do believe I need to go wider in the "heads" fraction. You are correct that distillation is a continuum and there is no distinct line and that the molecules that make heads, hearts and tails are blending together throughout the distillation and are found to be in higher concentrations in different time, temp, and proofs of the run. Being a young inspiring distiller I'm trying to make the proper fractioning without the ability to taste any of my spirits that have aged to maturation yet. This makes it difficult for me to determine the proper cuts that makes the labor or love end spirit that I want and picture. As far as yields go I'm working on getting a 3.9 pg per bushel up to a 4.5-5. Ive added more steps in my mash, different yeast and enzyme game. I'll get there in due time. I'm already seeing a good steady increase in yields as I'm dialing in, this is why this post is here. The end cut I believe is where I'm making to narrow of a cut out of fear of an inadequate end spirit. I need to take off the white gloves and widen my cut into the "heads" fraction more. The tails is not where I'm going to expand into in a whiskey, I'll save that for my rum. 

Thanks for the insight, it is truly appreciated.

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22 minutes ago, Mountain Brewer said:

"Think about this one.  How did the guys of old do cuts when they had no access to the spirit (no smell, no taste) but only had a spirit safe to work with using spirit and water?  Do you know how they determined cuts?  What did they look for on heads and tails?"

This is an easy one, because it's a trick question.  The guys of old did a shitty job at cuts.  Not having access to the spirit meant that cuts were by temperature and or time alone.  This created massive product inconsistency, which is exactly why there was such an emphasis on blending in the scotch industry, one that you didn't see carry over to American whiskies to the same extent.  Why would it?  There was no similar legal restriction put in place.

This is one of the major factors behind the concept of the blank run, something uniquely core to scotch whiskey production.  A distillation cut so poorly, it required redistillation.

Shocked why anyone would celebrate want to celebrate a "spirit safe" - I see people asking the manufacturers to replicate them.  IMHO - it's something that should be relegated to a footnote about time when the government forced distillers to make whiskey that was clearly of lower quality.  Celebrated by the same folks that celebrate the "demisting test" as being an advanced technique - not realizing that it was at best, a stop gap measure to try to achieve a more consistent heads cut - because they were prohibited from tasting the whiskey.

Fire away boys - I love to rattle the cage and upset the status quo.

 

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Nah it's not a trick question at all and I completely disagree with you Silk on quality or why blends were made.  It's only been "recently" 1983 that the spirit safe was not under control of the excise officer.  Even after the restriction was lifted many distilleries kept the safe off limits to employees and a company officer held the keys vs the excise officer.  Anyone who loves scotch can testify that some of the best Scotch whisky made was distilled in the 1960s, 70s early 80s.  These were points when no one "touched" the spirit during distillation.  All they had was the spirit safe which could flow distilled spirit as well as water and it had both temp gauges/thermometers as well as a proof & tralle hydrometers with different ports to direct flow.  Inside the safe were glasses/tubes that could be filled for testing along with a traditional parrot for watching the proof during the run.

So of course they had the ability to watch different temps on the still itself which are good points of data to know where in the run you are at.  They could watch the parrot in the spirit safe as well which is another good data point but what else did they do?  How did they use the water and the glass?  Silk touched on it with "demisting test".  Now before debunking what went on keep in mind most of your large distilleries today producing the best spirits made use automation based on temps throughout the still & electronic parrots as well as other sensors but they have just automated what was done manually previously and taken personal bias out.

So the demisting test was a method of mixing water and white dog together in the safe to usually 46%/92 proof and looking to see how cloudy it was.  Based on the clouding or lack of they would make the heads to hearts cut. They could tell by look and how much water was added how much "funk" was still in the heads. When the stills are ran back to back (no cleaning/flushing) the fresh spirit foreshots/heads would clean the still from the previous run as the fatty acids and esters would cloud the spirit.  These first spirits off the still were both cleaning the still as well as contain what we know to be heads or high volatile alcohols and the "cleaning" pretty much aligned up with the end of heads (a nice accident).  So "your" heads will likely contain tails from a previous run (something to think about).  Now they would also do a demisting test when the proof dropped and temps went up when they were near tails.  Again when tails come over the 46%/92 proof glass mixture would start to cloud and you knew you were in tails.

Now I'm not pushing for you to make cuts like this but to understand it and maybe use it as a data point!  It's just another tool to know and understand and even play with during a run to get comfortable with.  The more we know the better distillers we should be.  Most distillers will know by time, temp, proof when they are near cut over points.  Add in this test and you have another data point.  That's before ever smelling or tasting the product.  You can teach a pure rookie how to make cuts using data points.  Same for you when you have a cold and can't taste/smell anything. As I mentioned previously your smell and taste can change drastically based on what you eat, smoke or drink but these other data points won't change.  Use them ALL!

Stop cutting to big 5 gallon containers during the whole run.  Sure use one for feints when you KNOW you are in heads and tails.  Use one or many during the true center/hearts run but SWITCH to much smaller containers when you are near the cut over points.  Hell even switching to gallon containers and using a couple between heads/hearts and hearts/tails will allow you to evaluate them the next day and get a better understanding of where the cuts should have been.  Use that technique along with other data (temps and proof) for repetitive batches.  With 1/2 gallon to 1 gallon used to collect during the cut over points you will have more to look at an include/exclude. Track your proof and temps along with which of these you kept or discarded to feints gives you more room next time to fine tune.

Many a home distiller will collect the whole run on a keg still using quart jars half filled.  That's excessive but doing that around your cut over points can teach you a lot and give you more choice of exactly where the cut is or should be and you can play if you want with the cut after distilling this way.  But if the "cut point" happens to have fallen in the middle of 5 gallons container which is big for cut over points on that size still it's a bit of a problem if doing the cuts the next day.

PS Don't get me wrong, there was bad whisky produced back then just as there is now.

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Thanks for the read,

Coming from the brewing side, I still have things to learn about the distilling world. This helps no doubt. To me I reflect the spirit safe to the german purity laws. They are different no doubt, but a government regulation to maintain certain protocols or consistency. When I get some down time I'll further educate myself on this. 

For cuts, I figured the 5 gal was a good method but yes I can go smaller during the transitional time, temps, and proofs on the still. I'll find the middle ground between feasibility and becoming to tedious. When the still is running i'm often juggling 3-4 other tasks. What I'm doing now is rather than taking a full 5 gal during the cuts, I take half fills to help dial it in. I'll try a few different methods and take what works best for me. 

Thanks. 

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I think 5 gallons is far too big a fraction.  I would say even a gallon is too large for a 150g still.  Keep in mind, you only care about the fractions around the cut points.  Don't worry about collecting fractions of initial heads, center hearts, or late tails.

Just so I'm clear - you are collecting a full 5 gallons as "heads" on a 150 gallon still run?  If so, that's far too much.  You can't tip that container and pour it into your product/hearts tank, as it's already mixed early heads, mid heads, late heads, probably early hearts as well.

 

 

 

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1 hour ago, DrDistillation said:

Stop cutting to big 5 gallon containers during the whole run.  Sure use one for feints when you KNOW you are in heads and tails.  Use one or many during the true center/hearts run but SWITCH to much smaller containers when you are near the cut over points.  Hell even switching to gallon containers and using a couple between heads/hearts and hearts/tails will allow you to evaluate them the next day and get a better understanding of where the cuts should have been.  Use that technique along with other data (temps and proof) for repetitive batches.  With 1/2 gallon to 1 gallon used to collect during the cut over points you will have more to look at an include/exclude. Track your proof and temps along with which of these you kept or discarded to feints gives you more room next time to fine tune.

 

Bingo

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Perfect,

SOP CHANGED, on this next run I will be much more diligent on that cut, making sure I use smaller vessels and dial in that cut with more precision. I really appreciate the help here gents. 

Yes Silk, I was using 5 gals to get that heads cut. Not any more thought. After a spirit run I would have 30+ 5 gals kegs lined up on my floor. Your saying that I shouldn't even get 1 full 5 gal of heads after I take off my methanol cut?

My process:

Strip run, get a methanol cut, grip it and rip it on the still collecting all into a 55 gal drum. 3 runs fills the still for a spirit run. Low and slow on the spirit run taking another methanol cut to be sure, then fraction in 5 gal kegs, when I get into the head-hearts cut half fills (2.5 gal) then back to full 5's when I'm in hearts. When tails comes along, back to half fills 2.5 gal. Then when I'm in tails,  grip it and rip it for the rest of the run. Take the hearts into one vessel, feints into another. Feints get ran through a vodka column to for another hearts cut for specialty products, aquavit, multi grain vodka etc. . 

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There is a lot of good advice already in this thread, but I have a few comments to add. 
What is the methanol cut you mention, and how is it different than your heads cut? How much are you collecting?

Is the spirit run happening on a pot still or similar low-rectification still? If so, recycling all of your feints to a different product is robbing the spirit many of the components that provide complexity, weight, and flavor to the spirit. This is likely also why you are only yielding 1 barrel of product instead of 2 from 900 gallons of mash. I've worked a place that used a similar protocol, and the resultant whiskies are pretty grainy, awkward, and simple. Changing to recycle the feints made a huge difference in the quality of their spirits, especially as they increased in barrel age. 

I am also surprised to see that you are charcoal filtering the spirit prior to barreling. Depending on your filtering process, coconut charcoal could be stripping out some-to-much of what will make the whiskey interesting after maturation. It's appropriate for some product styles, but hard to imagine doing it with rye whiskey unless there were serious flavor issues you are trying to mitigate. 

As you've probably grasped, everything is connected to everything else. Making wider or narrow cuts is one element, but it's important to understand how those connect to the compounds & flavors created from the processing of the raw material and fermentation, and your plans for maturation. Each step changes the decisions at the next step. It's fun. 

 

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Yes, I've read this thread 3 times over to retain what has been said. 

Just Andy,

On strip runs I collect approximately 1-2 gals of the first off the still as a methanol cut. I'm sure that is way to much, but given our small distillery, I would rather be safe than sorry as well as those early heads are not desirable for consumption anyways. I watch the proof drop about 10-15 points, it stabilizes, and then start collecting. Maybe I am mistaking this as methanol when really it is my heads. The smell is very sweet (candy like) and comes off around 65% 130p and then within 5 mins is down to 505 100p (Low Wines). This is what I have always perceived as methanol/early heads. I repeat this same process when doing a spirit run as well, even though I already have done a methanol cut, without a lab to be sure, safer than sorry. I'm aware this is excessive. There is probably very little methanol given its a grain spirit, but being novice and no way to tell for sure, this has been my process. As always I'm open for any and all suggestions.  

We run a pot still with no plates, strip than spirit run. I've thought about running feints back in... It is nice to run them as another product such as aquavit after refined through a vodka column. If it makes my whiskey better than I would be willing to change this protocol. How much feints are you recycling back in. Rather than running 3 strips and a spirit, I could do 2 strips (100 gal LW) and 50 gal of feints from the previous spirit run. Do these number sound about a good starting point? 

The filtering prior to barreling is our way of trying to put a spin on the Lincoln County Process given it's a rye. I don't filter our bourbon before barreling. They use sugar maple, we use a mix of coconut charcoal. Again I've filled 2 barrels of rye and am very open to all suggestions. I wondered if the filtering striped some of the flavors. I sampled before and after filtration and it made a better clear spirit, but in the barrel it may come out on the other side better without filtering. These are things I have yet to learn. I'v been reading and researching about the chemistry of the molecules in the barrel aging process. Silk had a great research paper on smaller barrel aging. It was a great read, so thanks for that Silk. It talks about the extraction rates of vanillin and creation of butyric acids and extrication at different times in the barrel aging process. That was one of the reasons I made this post. I'm ALWAYS looking to better myself as a distiller and have a lot to learn so I truly do appreciate all the contributors on this site!   

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You don't need to make any cuts at all on your stripping run. All cuts should be done during your spirit run. How low are you getting your strips? You should be collecting down to 10-15 proof (5-7.5% abv). If you're looking for a good resource, I recommend the WSET level 3 Award in Spirits. It's been a huge help to me.

 https://shop.wsetglobal.com/collections/books/products/understanding-spirits-explaining-style-and-quality 

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Posted (edited)

kleclerc, 

Are you saying leave in the foreshots/methanol cut in the low wines and wait until the spirit run to and fraction it out there? More than one way to skin the cat but I'll try anything twice. 

I stop the still at +/- 196.8F which puts me at 20% abv 40p here in CO at 7,000 elevation. I was taught that after that there isn't much left given the amount of water coming through the still with the spirit. What advantages are you gaining by going that deep into tails? Flavor, aroma, yields, heavy oils.. 

Thank you for that resource, I will look at it now. 

@kleclerc77 I was willing to spend 40 Euros on this, but shipping was double the price (coming from euro?).... Is it worth 80 Euros / $90-$100 after shipping? If it is worth it I will but thats some dough for a book.. I'll look around locally for a copy 

Edited by Mountain Brewer
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I took the WSET 3 for spirits last year, and thought it was a good overview of spirits production in general. The brevity of the course (1 week) and the audience it focuses on means it's not very technical though, so it's utility will really depend on your expectations and experience. I took it as someone wanted me to teach the level 1 & 2 (now cancelled indefinitely due to covid 😒), and it was great to get a framework for how to explain some aspects of distilling, but I didn't take away much specific info from it.  Although midway through this post I just looked something up in it for my wife about pisco, so I guess it's more useful than I said.

RE:methanol cut - 1 to 2 gallons per stripping run is way too much, there is little methanol in grain spirits and the separation you'll get on the first distillation of a potstill is not enough to concentrate them meaningfully. There are some reasons to take a heads cut on a stripping run; if there were fermentation issues or if you are trying to balance the abv of your spirit run on a simple pot still (it's sometimes done this way with Cognac) but most people don't take one. You might think it's essentially the same to take it on the stripping run vs the spirits run, but it's not as the higher abv charge of the spirit run will allow for greater separation & concentration of compounds by boiling point, which will allow for a smaller heads cut with less good ethanol & other stuff mixed in. 

For recycling the feints, there are a few points to consider. On a pot still charge strength makes a big difference, it's something you can play with but likely around 30% abv is what you want. So you'll need to balance out your system so that strip run + feints = still volume @ 30%.  If you are stopping your strip run at 20% abv (which is much too high on a simple pot still), if you recombine the spirit run feints with your stripping run, the abv charge to the still will likely be too high. You can choose to dilute down with water, but that might mean rebalancing things so the volumes work for your equipment. If you make a regular product (not a lot of one off batches) I would endeavor to recycle all of the feints, even the first fraction/fores can be recycled to the ferment. 

There is a lot of interesting stuff that comes out at the end of the tails, oils, waxes, acids, etc which can have a role in the spirit depending on the style. There is some cost/benefit analysis to do about the value of what you are recovering, but both cognac and scotch malt whisky are distilled down to 1% at the parrot. I generally go down to 5% as the place I work now has a water bath still which makes it slow to run out the tails. 

RE:filtering - I'm not going to look it up, but I would guess coconut charcoal has an order of magnitude (maybe more!) greater surface area and adsorptive capacity than sugar maple charcoal, and I would be concerned with stripping too much out of the spirit. It might be appropriate if you wanted to age in toasted barrels that don't have a char layer which will help remediate fusel oils, or if you had good QA and process controls and could dial-in how much filtering is happening, but I personally wouldn't do it prior to aging.         

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JustAndy,

Thank you for that response, I am stripping now and would have turned my still off at this point but am running it down much lower. I just spoke with the owner and we are changing around a lot of things due to this thread.

I was adding water to get my spirit runs down to 40% charge, I will now add in feints and lower the ABV to 30%. I hope this will also get me below the 160p range as my still was hitting 160p right at the start and then dropping to a collect hearts of 140p (spirit runs). I'm very intrigue of the flavor profile change according to the changes made by all those that have added their input in this thread. I am going to reorganize my mash schedule to accommodate the different ratios of strip to feints, as well as more collected on strip runs going down to lower ABVs. I will no longer take any foreshots on my strip runs and those will all now be collected on the spirit runs. I will also no longer filter the rye before barreling in hopes that it will increase the depth of the spirit. 

Is it better to add feints from the previous runs into the strip runs or the spirit run? I can't imagine much of a difference and when I change this around, still space will most likely be the determining factor. 300 gal ferments with a 150g still means its packed full, but we have a 300 gal still awaiting shipment, thanks CO-VID ...

 

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I found it to be worth it. It's not extra technical like say The Alcohol textbook ($~200), but it gets into how every step of the process is going to impact the quality/style of the final result. It also has prompted me to research certain points I wouldn't have thought of otherwise. I definitely think it's worth it. It's high quality, unbranded education. I bought two copies by mistake and would send it to ya if I hadn't already given it to another local distiller. Unfortunately you won't find it locally, as it just came out and is only sold through the wset site. 

But yeah gotta agree with Andy about your spirits run charge being in the ~30% range. Collecting everything from a strip down to 5-8% ABV should get your low wines collection in that ballpark. I've also found some really kick-ass flavor from adding feints from a previous spirit run. I'm Doing some yeast trials at the moment so am being more straightforward with my runs, but I plan on collecting 10-20 gallons of feints after my tails cut to add to the next run(~250 gallon total charge). When you add these, the end of your hearts towards the tails gets an awesome, rich flavor and texture, like what you're enjoying about the end of your hearts but amplified a bit. I'm excited to get back to doing it. 

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Okay, That is enough to get me to spend 100 on knowledge. Thanks.

Nice! This has seriously been such an educational thread. Thank you. Give me a few weeks to dial this in and I will revisit it to let you know the results in yield, flavor and profile. Unfortunately it will be years before I reap the benefits of the barrel. Brewing beer had such a fast return, whiskey has been much more complex. Thanks everyone for helping me out, one day I will be passing it down to the next green horn. 

The next step for me is going to be messing around with different yeast. I'm not dialed in enough for this step quite yet but soon. I would like to have no variable changes other than yeast, so once I'm there, that will be a fun stage. 

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Sorry, I didn't realize they sold materials separately, it's definitely worth $100, the in-person course is something like $1500 which might be hard to justify depending on your company / role. 

You'll generally want to add the feints to the spirit run, as the idea is getting some esterification and other reactions between the fatty acids and higher alcohols in the feints with the abundant ethanol in the spirit run. Some of the feints are sometimes recycled to the mash/wine in brandy production and perhaps in other distillation protocols but the results and goals are different.  Adding the feints to the mash for stripping will conversely (perhaps counter intuitively) produce a less flavorful spirit in a pot still, as you are significantly raising the abv of the mash which results in less concentration and higher abv average of the strip. It's more relevant to fruit brandy production, where you might have a mash with an alcohol content of 2-4% which doesn't give enough alcohol to fraction correctly, or to supress certain characters in wine brandy (cognac) and make a more neutral brandy.  

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Don't do cuts on the strip run.  The idea is to run your still as fast as possible to create low wines.  The exception would be if you run very slow at the start of the run like it was a spirit run.  Then take a quart as foreshots to discard, then crank up the still to strip as fast as possible.  I actually like to do it this way because the first spirits that flow on each run in part clean the still from the last run so the first quart is garbage anyway.

Remove the coconut from your filtering.  Charcoaled Sugar Maple is ok but maybe you don't want that either.  Maybe do half and half for blending later?  Come back to using the sugar maple later after you get the new process down.  You might like the white dog as is.

Strip down to nothing or at least 5% left in the boiler when creating your low wines.

Feints get added to low wines and are not stripped again.  The combination of your low wines will likely be in the 25% to 30% range and you should NOT need to water this down.  If the ABV is above 30% you are either not stripping down low enough or have to high ABV of feints meaning to narrow of cuts on the spirit runs.

Pump from the low/middle section of your feints container to NOT take the top layer where oils will be.  You can wick the oils out or pump them out every once in a while.

Consider if not already using some backset (from strip not spirit runs) to lower pH when mashing.  Only use enough to hit your desired pH levels for enzymes.

Using both backset and feints will help to develop more nice flavors in your spirit with each batch and removing the coconut filtering will allow those to stay in the spirit.

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Is sour mashing the way to go? I can run a sour mash and see if it is the spirit profile I'm looking for. I will do more research on benefits of sour mashing vs non sour mashing. What are others takes on to sour mash or to not sour mash?  I need to find a way to store the backset in another container as I run the still and mash the same day. Mashing ends before the still is done stripping so the backset would have to come from the day prior. It's do able, but I'll have to adapt.  

I have been pumping those oils in with the LWs, figured why not. Are there problems with these oils other than still maintenance? I figured these oils carried flavor and other contributions to the final product. 

I'm not going to filter prior to barreling anymore, only one barrel has been filtered and that can be my test barrel for the filtering process. On the filtering note, are you suggesting to not use coconut charcoal for filtering even after the product is finished barreling or just on the front end? I'm interpreting that as just on the front end prior to barreling. Thanks for the information Dr.D

 

The esterification in the spirit run. Of course I should have known. The feints will really help with that. I did this with our rum and it turned out great. We run a double retort and the flavor was bold and delicious IMO. I ran my strip yesterday down to below 10 ABV off the parrot, this will give me enough LW to do 600 gal mashes to yield enough for a spirit run rather than 900gal per spirit. That cuts one mash out and 1/3 of the grain build per batch. This will help with yield undoubtably. I'll be doing a spirit run early next week. I'm looking forward to seeing the changes and progression. 

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  • 5 months later...

Really interesting discussion. Thank you for starting this, OP, and thanks to all for bestowing your knowledge upon us. 

@Mountain Brewer I think this has already been made clear to you by others but for what it's worth I also think that you are making your cuts way too narrow. 500-600 gal of 18 brix mash yields me a barrel. Also, if you insist on using charcoal I would filter it through as fast as you can to minimize contact time. 

@JustAndy and @DrDistillation - what's the reasoning for distilling a stripping run below 20% abv? I usually stop my collection around 20-25% because I find that the cost of running the still longer considered with the yield isn't efficient and after that there isn't much flavor in it anymore anyway. In general, the deeper I go into the tails during a stripping run results in more tails and dirtier hearts on the finishing run. Overall my low wines end up being around 35%.

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Calwise, 

Thank you for bringing this post back to life. I have since spoken with yeast and enzyme reps, and done hours of research. I have changed mashing SOPs and enzymes. I know am seeing much higher yields and a more flavorful spirit. The road has been fun and thanks to all of those that shared their knowledge, I am much happier with my spirits and yields. I am getting a 53gal barrel+ off of 600 gal mash at 18-20 brix. The flavor has much more depth as well. 

I have ran runs down below 10%, and personally it depends on the spirit. Rum I run below 10% to capture the rum oils. Rye I do the same as there are some nice flavors in our Maryland style 95% rye that come out late in the strip.. My Corn whiskey shows its oats late in the strip as well. In my Bourbon, I'm still dialing that in as the first spirit run is in progress as we speak. I'd be interested on others opinion on this as well. My buddy stops at 20% on all his strips regardless of spirit type. Personal preference, time, yield and flavor...

Thanks again everyone for all the help and the suggestions!  

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  • 4 weeks later...
On 5/12/2020 at 7:02 AM, Silk City Distillers said:

My two cents, this is completely meaningless bullsnit that is probably best ignored.

There is no such thing as heads or tails.  Distillation is a continuum.  It's far too easy to simply classify all the first runnings, to a point, as "heads", then shift to "hearts" as a distinct fraction, then flip to tails at the end.

In what we would call heads, there is tremendous variation.  In tails, there is tremendous variation.  Don't think about heads and tails, think more about how wide or narrow your hearts cut is, and whether that cut leans early or late.

Narrow cut spirits are clean, easy to drink, especially young, but can sometimes be uninteresting, or lack complexity and depth.  When aged, they tend to come across as being 'thin' or one-dimensional.

Wide cut spirits care far more complex, interesting, have more mouthfeel, longer finish, but require age, and the wider the cut, the longer the duration to 'maturation'.

Fruit-based spirits, brandies, etc - would be boring as narrow cut spirits. For very good reason, the hearts cut on a brandy tends to lean towards heads.  Without the later heads fraction in a brandy, you would lose all sense of the base fruit.

Molasses based dark rums - would be boring as narrow cut spirits.  However, the hearts cut on a dark rum distillation tends to lean towards tails.  That's where you find the molasses, caramel, darker confectionary flavors.  Higher ester, funky rums, tend to take that already wide cut, and widen it even more towards the heads side.

Unaged spirits - tend to be narrower cut, lest they come across headsy or tailsy.  Some eau-de-vies tend to be headsy, some white rums tend to be headsy (wray and nephew).  Not sure I have a good example of an unaged spirit that should be tailsy (poor quality locally made spirits, "moonshines").

What I've found, is that spirits intended for short maturation periods, should likely be cut on the narrower side.  This tends to take the harsher edge off at the distillation time, versus during maturation.  We've seen good luck with narrow cut whiskeys aged 1-3 years, smaller format barrels (but not TOO small).

However, that main criticism you'll find, is that narrow cut spirits lack real depth and complexity, especially in the finish.  A wider cut can fix that, but requires more maturation time.  Just giving that narrower cut whiskey more time on oak does improve it, but still seems to lack "that special something".  Don't get me wrong, it can be good, but will always seem a little bit boring, one dimensional (as oak becomes predominant by far).  The opposite, a wide cut whiskey aged a short period of time, likely in a small barrel - is going to be a real challenge (read: not so good).

Based on what you've said, 900 gallons of a typical rye mash, to fill a single 53 at 113 proof, and especially one that you say is pleasant to drink off the still, seems to be like a very narrow cut whiskey.  If it comes off the still more like a grain eau-de-vie, it's pretty narrow cut.  White dog is called that for what should be obvious reasons.  Caveats apply here, maybe you are just seeing really poor yield, or are mashing at very low starting gravities, etc.  

Would love some other folks to chime in here, but 900g of fully attenuated rye mash, with a wide cut, would nearly fill 2 53 at 113 proof.  Would imagine that's what the big commercials are seeing as yield.

Some more worthless "knowledge" - if you can ever call it that..

For longer aged spirits, erring on the side of a wider cut towards heads is not a major flaw.  That sharper edge can/does age out in my experience.  Fruitier whiskies tend to have leaned farther towards heads, but alas "fruitier" diminishes dramatically during aging.

This is not true for tails, going too deep into tails yield a spirit that is unrecoverable through aging, you tend to have a bitter flavor that predominates - and increases over time, a kind of back of the mouth phenomenon that carries long into the finish.  There are numerous deep tails flaws, most of them tend to be funky, musty, bitter, etc etc.  Like I said before, deep tails flaws rarely age out.  These barrels tend to be included in larger volume blends.

Here is where it gets tricky.  It's easy to distill a narrow cut spirit, it's much more difficult to distill a wider-cut spirit.

If you collect in small containers to cut, you are making the cut decision based on the smell/taste of only one container, or the transition between a few containers - but not the smell/taste of the aggregate hearts blend.  Jars are great, we use them all the time, especially with new spirits.  But the jar is only the jar, and the jars are very concentrated compared the the aggregate.  If you cut by jars, especially with a plated still, you are going to err on the side of narrow.  The challenge is, to go wider, how do you determine how wide to go?  One jar?  Two jars?  10 jars?  That requires a lot of faith.

Following a fairly old chain - sorry.  I just wanted to ask a few questions regarding efficiency on pot stilling whisky (Canadian eh?) as we are ramping up our whisky production and would like a bit more info on "industry standards" as we barrel more spirits.  Our oldest whisky is just over a year old (was in a 10 gallon barrel) so as we fill 30/53 gallon barrels I'd like to see into the future a bit better.  In this thread Silk suggested a 900 gallon mash would fill 2 x 53 barrels and Calwise suggested about 500-600 gallons @ 18 brix would fill a barrel.  Not too different so I'll use Silk's as an example: 900 gallons @ 10% = 90 proof gallon potential.  Assume the strip is @ 30% and it all goes into the pot still.  You have a pot still 300 gallons @ 30% (90 PG).  To fill 2 x 53 gallons @ 115 proof requires (106 gallons x 57.5%)  or about 60 proof gallons.  That would mean about 2/3 of what was in the still was captured as spirits to put in the barrel.  We have been using 1/3 heads, 1/3 hearts and 1/3 tails as a general rule but based on the math above we should widen our cuts considerably to get to about 2/3 of the output..  I know this is very much a personal preference but I'd really like some input from those with more experience.  Thanks

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