Stop cutting for heads while distilling!

Distillation methods and improvements.

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Odin
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Stop cutting for heads while distilling!

Post by Odin » Sat Oct 19, 2013 1:11 pm

Why? Because I feel we spend a lot of time discussing cuts. Especially the cut for Heads. As if distilling is the way to control Heads. No, distilling is just one way to control Heads. The real way to Heads control? Mashing, washing, fermenting.

If you mash as well as possible. If you make sure your ferment went just perfect. You just may end up with a "beer" or "wine" that is pretty clean, pretty devoid of lower or higher Boiling Point alcohols.

The key to controlling Heads is not "while distiling", it is "while fermenting".

Consider that pro distillers don't make a Heads cut. They only distinguish between Fores, Hearts, and Tails.

Something else to consider. Something I hear over and over again, when I talk to pro distillers.

"Distilling?" they tell me, "distilling is the easy part!"

And when I ask them where the difficult part is, what do you guess they answer?

"Controlling fermentation."

And, well, as ever, I felt the need to challenge that. Telling those master distillers, it is the distillation process that makes all the difference.

You know what the answer is you will get? The same I got. A lesson to remember.

Here it comes. I will phrase it as a Q myself.

Do you know how much of the financial investment to start up (or keep running) a big pro distillery takes? No? Well, neither do I. At least I do not know it in advance and even then only approximately.

But ask a master distiller how much of his money is tied up in fermenting. And how much is tied up in his distillation equipment.

The answer you will be getting is this: "90% of our money is directed to equipment we use for fermenting."

A distillery spending 90% of their money on ... fermenting? So what do they spend on their distillation equipment?

The answer may baffle you.

It is just 10%.

My statement? If you want to control Heads, look at the way you ferment. That's where you can gain 90%.

Odin.
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Re: Stop cutting for heads while distilling!

Post by Bushman » Sat Oct 19, 2013 1:29 pm

I think my friend you have just taken a page from Mash Rookies book on making a controversial statement that begs a discussion (argument) so I plan on sitting back and letting the show begin!

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Re: Stop cutting for heads while distilling!

Post by Odin » Sat Oct 19, 2013 1:38 pm

Love it when you talk "Mash Rookie". One of the true "think outside of the brackets" kinda guys we have around here. Not sure I am in there yet. But the thought struck me. And it sticked with me.

I just took out the popcorn, poored myself another glass of Grappa Vodka ... let the party begin!

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Re: Stop cutting for heads while distilling!

Post by Jimbo » Sat Oct 19, 2013 1:49 pm

Odin wrote:The key to controlling Heads is not "while distiling", it is "while fermenting".
Amen brother! :thumbup:
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Re: Stop cutting for heads while distilling!

Post by Beerbrewer » Sat Oct 19, 2013 1:52 pm

How would you do this, lower fermentation temps, types of yeast?

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Re: Stop cutting for heads while distilling!

Post by Bushman » Sat Oct 19, 2013 1:53 pm

I just poured a 1 ice cube Jenever you sent me (I've been hoarding it) :thumbup:

I have yet to have a ferment end in less than 2 weeks usually 3 and I do believe there is a lot of truth in what you say but I got to admit it is a pretty bold and blanket statement.

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Re: Stop cutting for heads while distilling!

Post by Odin » Sat Oct 19, 2013 1:58 pm

I guess it depends on the wash, the recipe, Beerbrewer.

One strange thing I notice and learn from others as well ...

1. Fruit ferments seem to benefit from relatively higher temperature ferments
2. Grain ferments seem to benefit from relatively lower temperature ferments

Funny, if you think about it. Fruits are grown in warmer climates than grains.

There's more to it. Keep them thoughts coming!

Odin.

PS: Bushman, that's a gin/genever hybrid. Just to accomodate you. Meaning? When you come over, you will take the next step. True genever waiting for you.
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Re: Stop cutting for heads while distilling!

Post by Jimbo » Sat Oct 19, 2013 2:09 pm

Beerbrewer wrote:How would you do this, lower fermentation temps, types of yeast?
Correct. And keep the ABV of the wash low. All grain runs on beer yeasts (strained for maltose), at 68F fermentation, and 6-8% ABV makes a fine wash to still off. For sugarheads stick to 10%-12% max.
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Re: Stop cutting for heads while distilling!

Post by woodshed » Sat Oct 19, 2013 2:13 pm

As a point of reference Odin what are you considering low & high ferment temps? My heads cut is normally only 2% compared to the amount of my hearts cuts. I consider that to be pretty low.
And before some one jumps on the "maybe you aren't making your cuts right" wagon I've been doing this for a few decades now and am pretty damn sure I've got it down. Have often considered skipping the heads cut but I still notice a difference with smell, touch etc...

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Re: Stop cutting for heads while distilling!

Post by Odin » Sat Oct 19, 2013 2:21 pm

Great addition, Jimbo!

I would like to formulate it as thus: "on a grain ferment, never seek to go higher than 8.5% in abv." AG and sugar head. I find higher than 8.5% abv sugar heads on grains (UJ, Sweet Feed) give off hot tastes.

But funny enough ... does the same hold true for fruit bases / wine based distillations? The best Cognacs are made from 9% white wine. That sounds low, but pretty much the most part of France cannot produce a wine higher than 9%. I mean, they make wines of 12%, but the climate, sugar content of their grapes ... is just not enough. Not saying those Spanish trucks filled with Spanish wines, seen all around French "chateaux" have anything to do with that ... but back on topic.

I know I can make a great tasting brandy from as much as 11% wine. In grains I wouldn't go that high. AG or not, 8.5% seems to be my maximum. The maximum before I get off tastes. Where with wines I can go much higher.

Just asking. Do fruits / grapes have a higher sugar content than grains? Just asking! I know a grape ferment usually is between 9 and 12%. AKA wine. I also know a grain ferment is usually between 5 and 8%. AKA beer.

May that - logically, theoretically, experimentally - explain the differences, the influences on controlling "Heads"? That some "carier vessel" has evolved over thousands & thousands of years to perform better at higher/lower temps, with higher/lower specific sugar gravities?

I feel that if we follow that road, we may find rules to guide our fermentation processes to the extend ... we can pretty much stop cutting for heads while distilling.

Odin.

PS: Woodshed, posting as I was, I feel your Q is very, very good. 2% sounds like you are there. A Q. back. How do you do that? I know I can get there with 40 re-distillations, but that is solving the problem after it has occured. A generic rule for pro distillers is a Fores (they do not heads cut) of around 3 to 5% of boiler charge on second distillation. Not stating this as true, just ... as the way many do it. Which is much less than most homedistillers do. For instance Ian Smiley, even after 15 re-distillations ... 17% of total abv considered to be heads
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Re: Stop cutting for heads while distilling!

Post by NWBrewer » Sat Oct 19, 2013 2:36 pm

Granted I'm still sorting through and reading stuff here, but something I haven't seen discussed yet that surprised me is yeast pitch rate. The less (viable) yeast being used, the more esters/"yeasty flavor" you'll get. In rustic bread this can be a very good thing but in beer, there needs to be a balance and I presume booze to be the same. In addition, low pitch rate means slower start up risking infection. The sooner the yeast you're intending to ferment with get going, the less likely anything else will take its place.

Too high a pitch rate you will get a rapid fermentation but the necessary yeast flavor development won't be there and can yield some odd flavors. In distilled spirits I'd presume it'd be hard to over pitch. But don't know.

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Re: Stop cutting for heads while distilling!

Post by acfixer69 » Sat Oct 19, 2013 2:38 pm

woodshed wrote:As a point of reference Odin what are you considering low & high ferment temps? My heads cut is normally only 2% compared to the amount of my hearts cuts. I consider that to be pretty low.
And before some one jumps on the "maybe you aren't making your cuts right" wagon I've been doing this for a few decades now and am pretty damn sure I've got it down. Have often considered skipping the heads cut but I still notice a difference with smell, touch etc...
Woodshed
I wish I could get down to 2%. I too think the fermentation is a huge factor in the heads ratio. Care to share your recipe or twist on fermentation with us :?: I now go way past the transition point as I make vodka with the fients.

AC

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Re: Stop cutting for heads while distilling!

Post by MitchyBourbon » Sat Oct 19, 2013 2:42 pm

Odin,

I am totally with you, please do a search of my posts. What you will find is that I have been concentrating on the treatment of yeast. I think many people on this site don't give yeast the respect they deserve. I was in this camp myself for many years. My epiphany came a couple years back when I started to brew beer. I learned early that the treatment of yeast was very important to the outcome of a good or bad tasting beer. I have attempted to make this point to people and the response I get is "we clean all that up during distillation". I firmly believe the best way to keep off flavors from ruining a good product is to avoid creating them in the first place.

It's been an uphill battle. I plan on joining you in yours.
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Re: Stop cutting for heads while distilling!

Post by Odin » Sat Oct 19, 2013 3:02 pm

NWB,

I feel there is really no reason to excuse yourself. You raise Q's worth asking. Yeast pitch rates.

As distillers, in general, we pitch 2 to 3 times more yeast than a beer brewer would do.

We also feel we should "out smarten" bacterial colonies, right?

Explains why we pitch more ...

But why do most pro distillers actually add bacterial infections later on in their ferments? Controlled, managed, yet with the purpose of getting over more taste? I know for a fact JD would not be JD without them adding a lacto infection on day 3 of their ferments.

Why do that?

Or why is it so that my whiskey has improved since I shied away from those "boring" brewers rules, stating everything has to be sanitised 100%?

Another twitch.

Know about "rum agricole"? No? Well, it is rum made as it once was. With dunder pits in the ground/soil of a tropical country.

The French (mediocre thought their wines may be) did an asthounishing amount of research on rum.

Pre-pitched rum has a taste level of around 20 to 50, where "rum agricole" has a taste level of up to 600. That's like 10 to 20 times more taste. And with smaller cuts at that. Where did it come from? This Big Taste and that Small Heads Cut?

Not sure.

But their findings showed a few things we may benefit from.

Pre-pitched rums had one sort of yeast added to the cane juice. Gave like a "20" on taste. Okay, they could add backset, even aged backset to get it to "50", but nowhere did they come close to 600.

So they looked at the "rum agricole" and took measurements of yeast and yeast colonies during the fermentation process.

What they learned? That - by wild infection - as much as 12 or 13 or 14 sorts of yeasts were present when fermentaton started up.

What they learned after that? That some of those colonies overwhelmed the wash in the early stages, others at later stages. Some were more competitive at certain stages, other sorts of yeast were more competitive at other stages.

Together, these strings of yeasts were able, by strong pressures of evolution, to achieve:
1. a much better flavour profile;
2. to lower the amount of lower/higher BP alcohol contents.

Could an environment - in the fermentation process - that mimicks the actual natural environment & habitat of co-habitation as well as "fighting for survival" benefit our ferments?

And when I write "just asking", I usually mean "just challenging".

Evolution did most of the work we try to re-itterate while fermenting.

Instead of trying to fool the process, shouldn't we just follow in its foot steps?

I feel the differences between fruit & grain ferments tells us something.

As do the differences between rums grown on wild fermentation strings in a tropical environment as opposed to rums that are "pre-pitched" with standard yeasts.

May yeasts battling to hold their ground improve their effectiveness in maximizing their use of the environmental resources? Maybe better than us, distillers, pre-selecting one variety and letting it do its thing without any competition?

Just asking. I mean ... just challenging.

Odin.

PS: Mitchy, you are telling us lessons ... I couldn't agree more! Thanks for sharing. Posting while I was.
Last edited by Odin on Sat Oct 19, 2013 3:16 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Stop cutting for heads while distilling!

Post by Halfbaked » Sat Oct 19, 2013 3:06 pm

I gotta say good read. I never got 2%. I was picky about heads and still am. My ferments were outside and covered but heat did change by 10-20 degrees and maybe that helped piss my yeast off a little. I thought what I was getting was normal. I appreciate the post and everyone that posted.

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Re: Stop cutting for heads while distilling!

Post by Prairiepiss » Sat Oct 19, 2013 3:14 pm

Ok I missed this post. And never seen any debate about it. It went right into fermenting discussion.

The big boys say running the still is the easy part. And only make fores hearts and tail cuts.

I just have to say this. Maybe they need to spend a little more time on the still. And maybe they need to make a heads cut. Because I smell what I would consider heads in most all store bought stuff. And if they were doing a good job. I wouldn't get a hangover from drinking their product.

I'm not saying fermentation isn't a big part of it.
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Re: Stop cutting for heads while distilling!

Post by Odin » Sat Oct 19, 2013 3:20 pm

Glad you made it. Glad you catched up, Mr. P!

Not talking about them big boys improving their drinks. I know you & I could. Hey, I know I do, consulting some of them.

Talking about us here. Here, were moste true developments take place.

Talking about heads control? My statement is: let's talk about fermenting better.

And I feel "fermenting better" has much to do with allowing the yeast as well as the sugar providing entities ... do just that. Let them do what they are good at. And creating the circumstances where they can do that best.

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Re: Stop cutting for heads while distilling!

Post by multipazz » Sat Oct 19, 2013 3:30 pm

is that why I don't get a hangover from my wine ?

I thought all home brew was hangover free as you don't use chemicals in production

many of my wines are from spontaneous fermentation,
but I suspect SN9 is the yeast strain that is dominant in these cases...

I don't pitch yeast unless I want a certain result

looks like I don't need to fear much about heads then :-)
Last edited by multipazz on Sat Oct 19, 2013 3:44 pm, edited 3 times in total.

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Re: Stop cutting for heads while distilling!

Post by Prairiepiss » Sat Oct 19, 2013 3:38 pm

Ok I'm with you now. I would agree that we as hobbiest should work on the fermentation side of things. But I'm not to a point yet that I want to work on that. I read as others do. And I store some of it in the grey matter. For later. I have done some experimenting. As you know Odin. But I'm still more into the still design and running. Once I'm happy with that side. And get the equipment I'm happy with. Then I will move to the fermentation side.
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Re: Stop cutting for heads while distilling!

Post by Beerbrewer » Sat Oct 19, 2013 3:41 pm

multipazz wrote:is that why I don't get a hangover from my wine ?

I thought all home brew was hangover free as you don't use chemicals in production

many of my wines are from spontaneous fermentation,

I don't pitch yeast unless I want a certain result

looks like I don't need to fear much about heads then :-)
You never get a hangover from homemade wine or beer? It will all contain methanol, drink enough of it and I think you will find it will, the vitamin content of the yeast will help counteract getting a bad head in the morning but not totally eliminate it.

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Re: Stop cutting for heads while distilling!

Post by Odin » Sat Oct 19, 2013 3:46 pm

Multi,

I am not stating anything ... just trying us to think about it. And I think your addition is great. So you make a wine by spontaneous fermentation and do not get a head ache out of it?

I have the same with Lambiek beers from Belgium. They are fermented with wild yeasts. The smell & taste of the beer is, though interesting (because it dates back to the 12th century), is almost alarming. All the "strange" taste notes there, warning you it will be tasty yet head achy.

And then, the next day it turns out it is not.

If we allow our yeasts to do what they do in the environment where they perform best, maybe we do not need to bother too much about that heads cut while distilling anymore?

I am off for a last cigar, some The Cure musit (A Forest about to start ...) and one last glass of Grappa Vodka.

It is "nighty night" to you, from me.

Please keep them thoughts coming.

I'd love to wake up to a world where we do not need heads cuts no more.

One challenging thought before I am off to that last cigar?

The master distiller of Filliers considers his final cut to be ready after distillation. It may benefit from 4 or 5 weeks of rest, but that is it.

He distills 3 times, making only Fores cuts ...

Odin.

PS: Mr. P: this discusion is very much, I feel, about bottle necks. Where can we gain most? You state for you it is in distillation equipment. Maybe my point is ... maybe there is - in general, not talking about your situation - more to be gained by most of us, if we are willing to look at where those alcs come from ... fermenting.
Last edited by Odin on Sat Oct 19, 2013 3:47 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Stop cutting for heads while distilling!

Post by multipazz » Sat Oct 19, 2013 3:46 pm

don't make beer only wine

and all my friends have commented on the lack of hangover
even after not capable of walking home after a session :-)

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Re: Stop cutting for heads while distilling!

Post by Beerbrewer » Sat Oct 19, 2013 3:48 pm

Jimbo wrote:
Beerbrewer wrote:How would you do this, lower fermentation temps, types of yeast?
Correct. And keep the ABV of the wash low. All grain runs on beer yeasts (strained for maltose), at 68F fermentation, and 6-8% ABV makes a fine wash to still off. For sugarheads stick to 10%-12% max.
So just to be clear, am I looking at making a fast wash (say for birdwatchers or something similar) then I will have to sacrifice more spirit, due to heads, as opposed to a slower ferment (two weeks at say 20oC instead of 30oC) in which I can gain more hearts? Saying that I am fermenting out at around the 10% mark?

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Re: Stop cutting for heads while distilling!

Post by Beerbrewer » Sat Oct 19, 2013 3:50 pm

multipazz wrote:don't make beer only wine

and all my friends have commented on the lack of hangover
even after not capable of walking home after a session :-)
You'll have to give me the recipe for that wine, I'm good at making alcohol but not that good :wink:

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Re: Stop cutting for heads while distilling!

Post by multipazz » Sat Oct 19, 2013 3:57 pm

I suggest you look at the vintners harvest SN9 yeast for some experimentation

http://datum.tv/webfiles/BrewCraft/file ... ochure.pdf" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;" rel="nofollow

as I said, I believe this is the yeast that has been dominating in my spontaneous ferments

rapid ferments to dry in the summer, 4-5 days initial SG around 1.080 - 1.090

it did take 2 - 3 days on the pulp before fermentation was evident for the spontaneous ferments

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Re: Stop cutting for heads while distilling!

Post by MitchyBourbon » Sat Oct 19, 2013 4:18 pm

Odin wrote

Or why is it so that my whiskey has improved since I shied away from those "boring" brewers rules, stating everything has to be sanitised 100%?
That was not my experience, my experience was that when I applied some of the practices from fermenting beer that's when I saw the taste of my bourbon improve. For me it was about eliminating all of the things that would cause stress in yeast. What I have found is that yeast produce plenty of flavor/congeners when they are "happy". As for adding other bacteria such as lacto, I'm all for it. But I want control. I want to isolate a culture myself or buy one. Good or bad, i want to add it on my terms. I don't want it to happen by accident. This is why I have applied many of those pesky beer rules to my bourbon mashes and ferments.
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Re: Stop cutting for heads while distilling!

Post by bellybuster » Sat Oct 19, 2013 4:39 pm

interesting discussion.


"Distilling?" they tell me, "distilling is the easy part!"

And when I ask them where the difficult part is, what do you guess they answer?

"Controlling fermentation."


I would have to agree, but, for different reasons other than the reduction of heads. Fermentation control and regulation has everything to do with reproducing results. Could you imagine a distillery who's product tastes different every month??

I would also debate the 90% invested in fermentation theory as well. That would be all of your money spent on something other than your end product. I might be able to see 90% of value at any one time being in fermenters.

Fermenting is incredibly easy, fermenting the same thing twice is not.

The fact that commercial distilleries do not make heads cuts has little to nothing to do with fermentation and everything to do with economics.

These are only my opinions of course.

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Re: Stop cutting for heads while distilling!

Post by Jimbo » Sat Oct 19, 2013 5:08 pm

Odin wrote: Or why is it so that my whiskey has improved since I shied away from those "boring" brewers rules, stating everything has to be sanitised 100%?
MitchyBourbon wrote:That was not my experience, my experience was that when I applied some of the practices from fermenting beer that's when I saw the taste of my bourbon improve. For me it was about eliminating all of the things that would cause stress in yeast. What I have found is that yeast produce plenty of flavor/congeners when they are "happy". As for adding other bacteria such as lacto, I'm all for it. But I want control. I want to isolate a culture myself or buy one. Good or bad, i want to add it on my terms. I don't want it to happen by accident. This is why I have applied many of those pesky beer rules to my bourbon mashes and ferments.
MitchyBourbon wrote: I think many people on this site don't give yeast the respect they deserve. I was in this camp myself for many years. My epiphany came a couple years back when I started to brew beer. I learned early that the treatment of yeast was very important to the outcome of a good or bad tasting beer. I have attempted to make this point to people and the response I get is "we clean all that up during distillation". I firmly believe the best way to keep off flavors from ruining a good product is to avoid creating them in the first place.
i am 1000% on board with Mitchy on this. Sorry Od.
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Re: Stop cutting for heads while distilling!

Post by NWBrewer » Sat Oct 19, 2013 5:19 pm

bellybuster wrote: Fermenting is incredibly easy, fermenting the same thing twice is not.
^^^^this^^^^

Again pulling from my beer and baking experience this is the main factor in variances in the same recipe.

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Re: Stop cutting for heads while distilling!

Post by Tater Patch Kid » Sat Oct 19, 2013 5:21 pm

I have thought lately that i have ben cutting to much heads, I have to look back through my notes but comments at certain stages indicates example should not be included in heads cut. Sometimes i think i am cutting to much heads, but have ben staying on the safe side (flavor,taste,.) wise.

I wonder, and now i see discussion about such thoughts.
so many thoughts on this subject.
Odin you are so correct but there is always conditioning to think about. settleing after ferment, and things like that.

But it does pertain to the ferment causes and effects.

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