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Very dumb question regarding proofing


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I have what is probably a pretty dumb process question. I'd appreciate any insight you guys could give me.

So, I've got a wash. I run it, get up to 96%. I want to run it again, either to get the proof up or to strip flavors out, or to make gin or whatever. From what I understand, I need to proof it down to 50% (depending on who you ask) before running it again.

Why? Is it because it's dangerous? Off flavors? I can't seem to find a straight answer.

Thanks in advance!

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Hi Chizeck,

This isn't a stupid question at all. If I understand you correctly, you are asking why it's better when redistilling that you proof down instead of running at previous proof of distillation. Is this correct?

Like much in this business, things are conjectural, but I'll tell you why I would proof down:

1) Cuts are easier: When you have a lower proof of charge (the stuff you load into the still), the additional water acts like a cushion, giving you more time during your run between 'acceptable' distillate and 'unacceptable' distillate (in terms of heads-hearts-tails, or post-heads and pre-hearts; post hearts and pre-tails, intermediate tails, or whatever you like to call the transitional stages between the good stuff and the bad stuff).

2) a lower proof of charge helps prevent so-called 'blank runs'. When your proof of charge is below say... 75 proof, it's a lot harder for volatile oils and alcohol to be in solution at the liquid-vapor interface (the surface of the liquid in the still where the liquids volatilize into vapors that pass through the system) at still-temperatures. When the proof is high enough, and there are enough volatile oils dissolved into your charge, you can encounter a situation where the volatile oils want to stay connected to the alcohol (or other solvents) so badly that you can't prevent your distillate from going cloudy when water is added... because those volatile oils came with the alcohol during distillation to the extent that when water was added, they fell out of solution causing the 'loosh/luche' effect.

3) depending on your heating source, if you were running a high-proof charge, your still could potentially run dry... creating a nasty shit-layer on the inside of your expensive, fancy copper pot interior at the heat interface. If your still doesn't have a man-door where you can climb in and scrub that shit off manually, you'd have a serious problem. Ironically, this is exactly the thing that the TTB asks you to do when determining obscuration through distillation... except in this case you would be doing this on your production equipment and not on a lab still.

There are other reasons, but in my experience these are the main ones.

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One way to look at this question is to compare it with washing a pair of dirty socks.

If you only use a very small amount of water they will not be nearly as clean as if you use a lot of water

The more water there is in your pot at the end of the run, the more flavour it will have "washed" out of your spirit. This is a simplification of point 2) above.

At 96% (I assume you mean 96%abv not 96 proof) there is no way you can increase the alcohol percentage by distillation, if you do attempt it the condensate will actually reduce to about 95% Google ETHANOL AZEOTROPE.

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95.63% to be accurate, so if he actually rounded the result, it suggests he achieved the azeotrope. Way to go!

Another way to think of this: if you want to make a cleaner spirit, you need to produce "tails" to remove the bad stuff. You need water in there to make significant amount of tails.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Thanks guys for your very thorough responses. I'm glad this is answered, and maybe anyone else liking for this info can find this thread with Google.

Also, 96% was a typo! Highest I've gotten was 190 proof so far).

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