Time for an update....
First, I've found the source of the blue, oily distillate I was collecting all winter, via the upper plate takeoff. It's that nasty feed molasses! Whatever's in that shit was causing it, and even though I ran a few other washes in it during the rum runs and saw the same blue-ish crap(thus thinking the feed molasses wasn't the cause), it must have been enough of the feed's stuff left in there, maybe in the packing, to cause it. Now that I'm done with that shit, the plate collection is much clearer, and doesn't turn to a slight blue-green until deep tails. And while it's slightly oily, still, no where near like it was. I dumped out the jars of the blue stuff I'd saved up(4 quarts), and had to toss the jars, too, as they were coated with a slimy blue gunk. None of the rum I made in this time is anything but crystal clear and doesn't go cloudy when diluted with water, so I'm pretty sure the slant plate column and collecting the upper plate's distillate saved me from drinking some of that crap, but I'm going to run all of what I made(several gallons) back through as a neutral, later, just to be safe. Doesn't taste that good anyhow, but a small run of it as a neutral a couple weeks ago showed the flavor can be completely stripped, and I'd rather not have a reminder of what a waste of time and money that feed 'lasses was.
Going forward! Back to making good rum, I'm again seeing 2 quarts of clean hearts in one run if I run the rig at 750 watts, after doing the heads collection dance with the power cord; yes, I still haven't built a controller, but maybe tomorrow. As it is, I have this down to a near science anyhow, so the controller will only make it simpler. Nothing changed here, and still happy with what I'm seeing, though I'm ready for an "enhancement" session
Next run was adding a gallon of the winter's 'feed' rum hearts to the hot dunder in the boiler right after I was done with a "good rum" run, to see if I could lose the nasty flavor and induce the goodness of a fancy molasses wash to it, while cleaning it up some at the same time. First thing that had me scratching my head was that when the column temperature came up, I didn't get anything but maybe a drop every 4-5 seconds from the plate collection! WTF? So I tap on the valve with a wrench, make sure everything's open, etc.. Still doing the heads collection dance with the power cord, I slowly let the temps come up a bit more, and still, barely a drop here and there. After 15 minutes of this, I just plugged it in and let it go, and when the column hit 180-182, sure as clockwork, I begin to see a steady, thin stream from the liebig, but still only a drop every 4-5 seconds from the plate. And the column quickly rose to about 190, and stayed right there 'til near the end of the run, where it quickly climbed past 200. Then it hits me! I can't collect heads, because there aren't enough in the boiler to collect! These were very clean hearts I added to the boiler, and sure enough, we can't separate what's already been separated. if I had any doubts that the hearts I was collecting from this rig were as clean as my nose thought they were, now I am sure! But, other than showing that the separate heads collection does indeed work very well, this was a wasted effort because the nasty rum wasn't any better.
On the next run, I packed the bottom of the column, below all the plates, added my spiral condenser, and ran it as a BOK to make a neutral. Loaded 1-1/2 gals. of the nasty rum, diluted to around 30%, and cleaned that rum right up with a good bit of refluxing. Despite the short column and my lack of patience with high reflux runs(IE: I collect pretty quickly and don't reflux that much), I still collected the "neutral" hearts at 88% ABV, running a quart an hour(give or take). Not quite world-class neutral, but it'll be a good diluting neutral, I hope.
After this one, with a good rum ready to go, I left the packing in the column, yanked the spiral and reinstalled the liebig, and ran as usual, but this time I tried to push more power to see what would happen. Nothing happened. I did the heads dance as usual, then let 'er go at 3000 watts, my pot still power of choice. What surprised me was that I no longer was getting anything at all from the plate, where at 750 watts, even when in the hearts run, I would still see a steady drip, especially in the early hearts, but here, nothing. And sure enough, the first quart was head heavy. Sure enough; with too much power pushing the vapors, the plates do nothing at all. I had hoped the packing would have allowed me to run more power, but if anything, it hurt. So at this point, I just poured-on the power and did a strip run and collected it all. Right after the run, when I dismantled the column, when I tipped it over to drain the plates, nothing came out. Bone dry! The inside of the column was dry. I usually saw about a couple cups' worth of distillate that the plates were holding, but at the high power of this run, nothing, but nothing stayed in the plates! What I "learned" here is what I preached earlier, and that is that this setup is very sensitive to power input. Find the sweet spot, and it rewards me with good single-run rum, but miss the sweet spot, and it's nothing more than a glorified pot still, much like others have complained about here.
So, where to from here? Well, I want to run it with more power, to speed things along. As it is, it's still faster than doing strip runs followed by a spirit run, and it is cleaner than the spirit run in pot still mode(at 3000 watts). It's successful, and if you take the time to find the sweet spot with the power, it can be replicated, and is a nice, simple rig that does what I had hoped it would. But now I'm getting antsy to see what else we can do to get similar results but with quicker collection, no doubt fueled by OldDog and LW's recent builds
Gonna keep my nose down and see if I can't score me some copper this summer.