How Much to Collect
Note: this assumes 95% collection efficiency
Residual tails should be cut by hydrometer in pot stills then redistilled
with the next batch. Column still tails should be redistilled in process,
as much as possible then pumped though an activated charcoal filer. A
drinking water type filter cartrige is best, pump it through several times
for vodka results. Chilling the distillate will improve filtration.
Neutral spirits require little to no age (0-30 days). Using refined raw
materials helps produce more neutral distillate and reduces tails.
Tails are always volitle, oily and rancid. Once they come over they will
dominate/spoil the flavor of the entire batch. I suggest having 3
recieving containers on the output side: center cut, orgaoliptics,
heads/tails. That way if tails start on the oganoliptics the entire batch
is not at risk. The danger/fun is that the organoliptic range changes with
the raw material. In general tails are: Early- tequila, Armagnac, Cognac.
Moderate- Brandy, Irish style (3x) whiskey, Corn whiskey, Rye whiskey,
Bourbon, American whiskey. Late- Malt whiskey and distilled spirit
Each style and flavor profile has it's own target cuts for optimun results.
The cuts differ a few points between companies and account for "house
flavors" & "regional traditions". The shape and composition of each still
(or addition) effects the reading of cuts as well. A short pot still will
give a stronger and hearty spirit with early oily tails, whereas a taller
onion dome pot still will give a lighter spirit with a later tails. This
means that with good hydrometers, anybody with any still, can produce the
target flavor with the proper cut. Much money is spent on still
improvement, before tool improvement.
Save money by using good tools and accurate measuring equipment.
Mark has built a really neat device to allow him to monitor the alcohol
purity during the course of the distillation. It floats a hydrometer in
the distillate as it is received. Just remember to correct the readings
for the higher temperature ....
|You may be interested in something that I built so that I could
monitor the quality of the output from my still. The device basically takes
the output from the condenser and runs it past a hydrometer. I built this
from a 6" length of 3/4 copper tube with a 1" tube flanged down and silver
soldered at the top. I then connected a piece of 3/16 copper tube to the
bottom of the 3/4 copper (input) and at the other end silver soldered on a
funnel I then connected another piece of 3/16 copper to the 1" copper tube
that collects the overflow from the 3/4 tube (Output tube). This connection
was a little difficult as the 3/16 tube will not fit in between the 3/4 and
1" tube. To do this I drilled a small 1/8" hole into the side of the 1" tube
and but welded it on. You could probably increase the 1" tube to 1.1/2" tube
to make this easier The reason that the tube sizes are small is to ensure
that the hydrometer can quickly follow any changes in output. A down side
to the 3/4" tube is that if you have a high flow rate the hydrometer will
give higher reading as flow of alcohol causes the hydrometer to rise. So if
you are considering construction and you have high output rates you may need
to increase the size of the tubes. This will of course decrease the
sensitivity. I would also suggest to make sure that you hydrometer will fit
inside of the 3/4" tube with some clearance for the output to flow past(My
hydrometer is 1/2' diameter).
To keep aware of the temperature getting too high at any stage, theres several
digital thermometers coupled with alarms available. See
If you get a Polder type electric thermometer they can be programmed at set
temp to alarm. They also have a nice timer feature...helpful in charting
your temps/time and the probe is 1/8 in Stainless which fits easily in a
compression fitting at the top of the column.
When measuring the density of the distillate, you need to correct the reading
for temperatures higher or lower than than which your hydrometer was designed for.
Most are happy at 20C. Geoff has calculated the corrections required at different temperatures;
download his Temperature correction table
example of which is the following graph :
Jack advises ...
Collecting spirit by temps alone is really unreliable- everyone has the
thermometer set in the still in a different point- for some it could give
false high readings- low for others- practice helps you figure out how to
read your specific thermometer- going by the strength of the alcohol is far
more reliable- and repeatable.
Now, for the good stuff:
Most pot stills that are run commercially are run until one-third of the mash
volume has been collected (3 gallons of wine gets reduced down to 1 gallon of
The second run has the spirit collected when it starts coming out of the
still at 75%abv, and you stop collecting at 55%abv. The stuff that came out
stronger than 75%abv is thrown out as heads. The stuff that comes out lower
than 55%abv is saved as feints, and added to the next run. The feints are
added to the next beer stripping run if a lighter, more neutral spirit is
wanted- common in Cognac distilleries, not with whisky, though. If the
feints are added to the next spirit run, the resulting spirit is a bit more
flavorfull- this is how whiskey is distilled. The total spirit collected
tends to average somewhere in the mid-60%abv when collected in this style.
The 75% to 55% cutoff points are known as a "middle-third cut" among
distillers, and is the industry standard for most (except Glenmorangie, which
collects only from 75% to 65%abv- this is called a "middle-fifth cut").
Details from "Increasing Direct Marketing for Fruit Farmers by Connecting Producer to Producer through Research and Development of a Value-Added Product"
include some details about the cuts made when making brandy from apples:
- each cut done by "sensory analysis" - diluting to 40% with distilled water first
- cut from heads to heart when no longer sensed ethyl acetate present
- cut from heart to tails when aroma changed from fruity to musty/rancid
- no pattern for when to make the cut - varied for each different fruit, and from batch to batch. Using set amounts etc would have resulted in lower quality brandy.
- fruits only fermented out to 5-7% alcohol
- lower quality fruit had more heads/tails