Page 6 – Distillation is used for numerous applications, including the distillation of essential oils and spirits. Our Copper Alembics are perfectly suitable for these applications nevertheless certain should be taken to avoid personal injury as a result of negligence or the continuous consumption of poor results.
Distillation is a basic chemical science which involves the separation of a chemical substance into its different components based on difference in the boiling point of each fraction. This is done by heating a mixture in an alembic pot so the fractions that make up the mixture begin to evaporate, these are conducted via a connecting arm or swan neck into a condenser where they are chilled and revert to their liquid state.
Ethanol alcohol evaporates at 78.3ºC at sea level and water at 100ºC but a mixture of the two components will evaporate between 78.3ºC and 100ºC depending on the ratio of ethanol alcohol and water. The more volatile components or those fractions with a lower boiling point will tend to evaporate first so the resultant vapours will be more enriched with those components with a lower boiling point.
- A fermented batch may be composed of ethanol, other higher alcohols such as methanol also acetone, various esters, water and furfurals.
- The more volatile components such as acetone, methanol and the various esters are undesirable; methanol for instance has been known to cause blindness.
- It is common practice to throw away the first portion of the distillate, this way you will get rid of the methanol.
Separate and discard the first 50ml If distilling a 25 L wash or mash in a reflux still or 100ml per 20L wash from the rest of the distillate if using a traditional alembic, these fractions are known as foreshots or heads and are distilled first. The result of any distillation is divided into three separate parts in the following order: heads, hearts and tails.
- The best and desired portion of the distillation is obtained from the hearts.
- Cut off points have to be determined between heads, hearts and tails, the art lies in when to start collecting the hearts and when to stop.
- Experienced distillers use their senses to determine cut off points, they monitor the taste and smell of the heads, these usually have a very sharp taste and are foul smelling.
The hearts portion of the distillate (the ethanol) should be totally transparent and odourless. The tails contain a large amount of compounds with higher boiling points, such as the higher alcohols and furfural. These compounds can spoil the taste of the spirit if the collection is carried on too long.
The cut off point for the tails can be identified by the taste, smell and milky cloudiness of the distillate. This is done by collecting a few drops on the back of a spoon every so often and checking what it tastes or looks like on a regular basis. The tails are usually saved to include in the next batch as a considerable amount of ethanol alcohol can still be recovered.
Cut off points may also be established based on temperature (see our ) or readings. Temperature readings may not determine the cut off point with the greatest accuracy though they may be helpful in determining the end of a complete distillation run. For instance when the vapour temperature nears 98° C most of the alcohol has already been distilled and it becomes unnecessary to continue the distillation process.
- The percentage at which to do the cut may depend on the flavour profile you may want to obtain and the kind of wash distilled.
- As a rule for fruit mashes the cut off point for tails may be 25% alcohol and for grain washes 18%, this is not a hard and fast rule and the distiller has to toggle with these values to obtain the desired flavour profile.
Most distillates are double distilled to further purify the distillation results and raise the alcohol percentage. A second distillation may also concentrate the flavour further. The cut off point for a second distillation in a fruit mash may be as low as 60%.
Why is it important to discard the first bit of the distillate?
Learning how to take cuts during distillation may seem like a daunting process to begin with but by following some basic steps and getting some practice, you’ll be a pro in no time! Taking cuts refers to the process where spirit is collected in small portions of similar sizes during distillation as opposed to allowing the distillate to collect in just one large vessel.
- This process gives you more control over the flavours and aromas that make it into your final product, allowing you to create something truly unique and to your taste.
- During fermentation, many compounds are produced along with alcohol such as acetaldehyde, esters, and ethyl acetate.
- By taking cuts, we can minimise how many of these by-products make it into our final spirit.
Some of these by-products appear earlier on in the distillation, and others come out later or towards the end of the distillation – this depends entirely on the compound itself. Not all these by-products are bad. Some do not taste wonderful on their own, however, it can be beneficial to introduce them in small amounts to contribute different attributes to your final spirit.
The foreshots are the first part of the distillate (usually 50-200 mL depending on what is being distilled) which are discarded as these can contain harmful compounds and off-flavours. The heads are the distillate collected immediately after the first 50-200 mL of discarded foreshots. They can contain some undesirable, but not harmful, compounds and off-flavours. Some of these are blended into your final spirit, however, most will be discarded or retained in a separate container for redistilling in future batches. The hearts are the middle part of a run and are the cleanest and most flavoursome part of the distillate. A minimal amount of undesirable compounds come through into the spirit. They make up the bulk of your final spirit. The tails are the final part of the distillation and contain some vegetal off-flavours. These are also typically discarded, however, like the heads they can also be kept in a separate container for redistilling.
The Stripping Run The stripping run is done first and ‘strips’ the wash down to a cleaner, more concentrated low wine. This distillation is usually done hot and fast, meaning temperature control isn’t as important as the aim is to strip the wash quickly.
Just be sure to take care not to run it too hot to avoid the loss of vapour from the condenser. The purpose of a stripping run is to capture as much distillate from the wash as possible, therefore, there is no need to remove the foreshots (50-200mL) as these can be removed during the spirit run. The Spirit Run Once you’ve completed the stripping run, it is then diluted with water to 40% ABV or lower and then distilled again – this is where cuts are taken.
During this distillation run, the flow of the still should be kept slower than on the stripping run, and ideally, the voltage going to the boiler should be controlled to ensure a nice gentle boil – the Grainfather G30 is a great example of a boiler that can double as a brewing system to make Whiskey and Bourbon washes, and then control the voltage during distillation.
How to Take Cuts During Distillation There are a few different methods to work out how to split and collect the different cuts from a spirit run, some people base it on temperature or ABV, while others evenly split the whole run and then taste and smell later. Either way can work but to simplify things, we’re going to talk through splitting the entire run.
To do this, you will need an adequate number of glass jars, preferably 300-500 mL in size, that will be able to collect the entire run – this amount will depend on how many stripping runs have been done, if it is only one, then approx.24 x 400 mL jars should suffice.
- For best results, number these so you know where exactly the cut was made.
- The next step is to fire up your pot still and get ready to start the process.
- You will need to discard the foreshots as usual.
- Depending on how many stripping runs you have done this could be anything from 50 to 200 mL.
- Once the foreshots are discarded, you can start collecting the remaining distillate into the jars.
Ensure you collect the same volume into each jar (250 mL – 300 mL is usually a good figure – you can test and adjust this to suit your still later) and then set the jar aside. Depending on what you wish to do, and what you’re making, you can stop collecting the distillate once the ABV drops to 10% or below, although some stop it even higher.
- You may start to notice some more visible by-products forming in the last number of jars – this could be an oily looking substance or off-colours coming through.
- We then suggest you let the jars air out for 24 hours for the more volatile aroma compounds to dissipate.
- This can be done by covering them with a thin type of material, such as muslin cloth, being careful it does not dip into the jars.
Now that you’ve taken your cuts and have allowed the jars to aerate for 24 hours, you’re ready to blend them together. To find out how to do this, check out our article How to Blend Cuts,
Why do you get rid of the head of moonshine?
The heads contain traces of substances that can dramatically affect the flavor of the finished product, so they’re set aside. In modest amounts, they might add some complexity to spirits like whiskey and gin—it’s all up to the discretion of the distiller.
What does first alcohol affect?
When you drink alcohol, you don’t digest alcohol. It passes quickly into your bloodstream and travels to every part of your body. Alcohol affects your brain first, then your kidneys, lungs and liver. The effect on your body depends on your age, gender, weight and the type of alcohol.