Stop cutting for heads while distilling!

Distillation methods and improvements.

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Re: Stop cutting for heads while distilling!

Post by Dan P. » Wed Nov 06, 2013 1:20 pm

Of course how you ferment will effect the flavour profile of the distillate. I think we all (should) know this already.
But consider this, if you will;
You don't know my still.
You don't know my recipe.
You don't know how I like to cut my distillate.

Given these points, we can stroke our beards about yeast, temperature, ph, nutrients, bla bla bla as much as we like, but actually it has no real correlation to how cuts are going to be made unless also we also factor in every other variable in the process, which are pretty much infinite. You'd also have to factor in the spectrum of personal taste, if such a thing were possible.

What I'm trying to say is that, for me at least, the strictures of efficiency and scientific method do not take precedence over me doing things they way I want to do them. In my case that means easy, interesting and fun, not always in equal measure. And, yes, making a wide cut for foreshots and heads!
Last edited by Dan P. on Wed Nov 06, 2013 3:24 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Stop cutting for heads while distilling!

Post by Dan P. » Wed Nov 06, 2013 3:20 pm

wierd double post

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Re: Stop cutting for heads while distilling!

Post by nabtastic » Thu Nov 07, 2013 6:55 am

Jimbo, from what I gather it's made for easier retrofitting. if you had a reducer you could probably use it for a (steam) jacketed piece too - but I'm not 100% on that. You will probably want to insulate the outer jacket for both efficiency and comfort. Our still is direct fired and gets hella hot in summer time. I don't think you'd really need to go to the trouble of a gauge in the jacketed area. I'd just keep one in the still or cooker and adjust heat based on time/temp of mash/wort/whatever

Some of the equipment on the site, you'll notice, has a large box underneath (firebox). That is typically where the dry heat will blow into. I suppose it would save a lot of material if you just used a box around the base, but the more contact area you have the more efficient it will heat and will dissipate heat.

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Re: Stop cutting for heads while distilling!

Post by EDragon » Fri Nov 08, 2013 12:49 am

"Distilling?" they tell me, "distilling is the easy part!"
This is something I've felt for a while in this hobby, and am glad to hear discussed.

From my second distillation run forward distilling has 'made sense' to me. I've been able to read, learn, experiment, and progress. It's seemed almost a little too easy at times. However making a mash or even a sugar wash? I'd rather pay someone else to do that for me! ;) And I have a new found regard for brewers and wine makers. It feels less scientific, more 'messy', and more prone to easy errors. Of course there is the potential for easy errors in distilling, but I feel these can better be controlled for.

Thanks for starting this discussion, and I'm still trying to catch up on the thread!
ED

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Re: Stop cutting for heads while distilling!

Post by Odin » Fri Nov 08, 2013 1:01 am

Thanks ED,

I don't mind mashing at all. I do mind the grinding and the part where you have to get rid of spent grains. So my next step is to get the mill automated. And I am thinking on a way to get rid of spent grains. Well, luckily that does not have anything to do with creating the best wash to minimize heads cuts, so - even though the not so easy part - these are not the most important parts in the process.

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Re: Stop cutting for heads while distilling!

Post by Jimbo » Fri Nov 08, 2013 8:02 am

Here's a write up on a hefeweizen beer yeast strain. The comments highlight well the dramatic effect that gravity, ferment temp and pitch rate all have on ester production.

This yeast strain produces a beautiful and delicate balance of banana esters and clove phenolics. The balance can be manipulated towards ester production through increasing the fermentation temperature, increasing the wort density, and decreasing the pitch rate. Over pitching can result in a near complete loss of banana character. Decreasing the ester level will allow a higher clove character to be perceived. Sulfur is commonly produced, but will dissipate with conditioning. This strain is very powdery and will remain in suspension for an extended amount of time following attenuation. This is true top cropping yeast and requires fermenter headspace of 33%.
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Re: Stop cutting for heads while distilling!

Post by sambedded » Fri Nov 08, 2013 11:05 am

Odin wrote:
I actually like to think of heads as just a transitional phase between fores and hearts. Where most lower bp alcs gather in fores, yet some keep on contaminating the next part, thus postponing (and decreasing) our hearts cut.
Yes it is. For example take a look to figures at the and of that article - http://www.artisandistiller.com/2012/08 ... on-is.html" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;" rel="nofollow

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Re: Stop cutting for heads while distilling!

Post by Odin » Fri Nov 08, 2013 12:27 pm

Great read. Bit of a scary picture you have as an avatar though. New one, right?

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Re: Stop cutting for heads while distilling!

Post by MitchyBourbon » Fri Nov 08, 2013 3:58 pm

buflowing wrote:
So what do get or not get when you clear your mash before distilling it? What do you get when you toss it all in and distill on the grain?
If you allow your ferment to clear for a few days you will get a lot less yeast in your still. Yeast cells in your boiler will rupture when you heat up your still. They will impart whatever chemicals and flavors they are made of.

I have distilled dirty many times and it's easy enough to get good results. It just requires good conservative cuts. Even then it still has a slightly different taste.

I have not tried distilling on the grain. I don't think I ever will. The big commercial distillers do but they do a lot of things we don't do. They also use plated stills so they can remove all the crap they put in. Running a real pot still I don't have that luxury.
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Re: Stop cutting for heads while distilling!

Post by lampshade » Fri Nov 08, 2013 11:26 pm

sambedded wrote:Yes it is. For example take a look to figures at the and of that article - http://www.artisandistiller.com/2012/08 ... on-is.html" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;" rel="nofollow
Reading the referenced article, am I correct in assuming that the "other" alcohols in the heads and tails contribute to whiskey flavor, or are other compounds responsible for whiskey flavor? If the latter is true, can the flavor compounds be added to the ethanol without also adding the undesirable, hangover-producing, alcohols?
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Re: Stop cutting for heads while distilling!

Post by buflowing » Sat Nov 09, 2013 5:05 am

There are several variables here, but it might be interesting nonetheless. I did three mashes of AG barley, the grain bill being the same for each. The first two were fermented with a mix of Danstar Nottingham and Fleischmann's active dry yeast. Their ABVs were 7.9 and 6.8, the difference arising from how well I converted, sparged, fermented and how much I pulled out for experimental beers. The 3rd I used only bakers yeast and sparged the daylights out of it, getting 5.8 ABV. The first two were stripped after fermenting a week. They were not clear, but not cloudy either, with a thick layer of trub in the bottom of the buckets. Last week i stripped the 3rd after only 3 days fermenting. The wort was quite milky, a lot of suspended yeast, with only a thin layer of trub. I thought, this will be interesting.

Well, interesting indeed. The 3rd and dirtiest run was quite noticeably the best of the three. It seemed there was significantly less heads, the hearts were much tastier, and the tails were least nasty, almost drinkable to the end. In fact, for the 2nd batch, I noted how disappointing it tasted throughout, hoping it would get better in the spirit run.

To what do I attribute this to: yeast used; ABV; wort cleanliness; other?

These were all stripping runs, run the same on a simple keg based pot still, heated by propane. Batch size 7 to 11 gallons. I'm a rookie, full of dumbness and bewilderment. So, I always sample as I run, strip or spirit, trying to learn more about what is going on.

I have a hard time with seemingly contradictory statements about wort cleanliness. Many say to wait until you can see through it. Some say it doesn't make much of a difference. Some say fermenting and distilling on the grain, the dirtiest of them all, is best.

BTW, today I do the spirit run. 6+ gallons of 30% low wines. Yahoo.

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Re: Stop cutting for heads while distilling!

Post by nabtastic » Sat Nov 09, 2013 6:18 am

I don't believe anyone can accurately answer you question buflo. There's too much missing information, and too much theoretical information about. The first and most notable question I would have for you is how well do you clean? An all grain batch of beer is just as likely to be prone to infection as an AG batch of distiller's beer. I can only hypothesize about the yeast - I know that yeast will absorb or adsorb (not 100% which) many of it's own off flavors. The off flavors are produced for a variety of reason though, heat stress, nutrient stress, oxygen stress. The grains used could've had different levels of moisture or freshness or different levels of kiln dried. Maybe you're getting better at distilling? Maybe the still wasn't as clean as it should've been on your first two runs. Maybe you scortched grains or maybe less hydrogen sulfide was produced/more removed based on intimate contact with copper in your still?

With the bakers yeast, did you hydrate any of the batches or pitch it straight from the package? How fresh was the Nottingham? I think most probable cause was improvement in conversion - many different (very temperature sensitive) chemical reactions happen when mashing AG, I suppose you probably are finding your sweet spot for the grains used.

I'm no expert either though. I'm trying to get used to AG mashes myself.
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Re: Stop cutting for heads while distilling!

Post by buflowing » Sat Nov 09, 2013 9:21 am

I really don't expect any answers, because as you say, there are too many unknowns and variables. I' ll likely be finding out on my own as i learn this craft and build my experience, together with input, feedback and discussion with the good folks on this forum.

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Re: Stop cutting for heads while distilling!

Post by RandyMarshCT » Fri Dec 06, 2013 11:02 am

Odin, I think this thread is excellent. I also think the title is excellent... it instantly captured my attention (better late than never). I don't think I'll ever stop making a heads cut, but if I could decrease the amount of heads generated I might be able to make a larger fores collection (stuff I throw away or use as cleaner and not recycle... I know, technically it's not fores) and move directly to the component of heads that I keep for bite and barrel maturation then I would have (somewhat) removed my heads jar(s) from the equation. I don't know if this is possible for me, but if I could get to the 2% that woodshed pulls (damn that's impressive) I might be able to.

My approach to this challenge has been to get back to my beer brewing roots. I'm going to start by modifying my strike water to optimal PH & mineral content before mashing (whether this has an effect or not, not sure). I'm going to start controlling my fermentation temperatures very accurately (building a glycol chiller / heater combo for my new conical). I'm not fermenting over 7% ABV with grains anymore. I'm going to stick to US-05 with a healthy starter for all grain bills this year (2014). Hopefully holding these variables as constant as possible for the next year will help me determine if any of it makes a difference. I'm very strict about sanitizing everything all the time (from beer brewing). I even use campden tablets in my fruit washes a day or two before pitching to kill off natural yeasts. I'll rack into secondary fermenters to fully clear for several days after fermentation is complete. I use a 5000w heating element, so I'll try and run even slower than usual... maybe under 10 amps.

When it's all said and done, maybe I'll notice a difference. Maybe not. It won't be a loss because I want to amass all this gear for making beer anyway. I think my first step is researching US-05 and documenting what the absolute optimal conditions are for this particular yeast strain and setting up my process around those conditions. I'm not trying to master a recipe to go legit with, I just want to make a whiskey that I can drink and say "this is the best whiskey I've ever had," and be able to reproduce it as consistently as possible. Higher yield due to less heads would be an excellent byproduct of this experiment.

Plan: Optimize fermentation minerals, temperature, PH, yeast quality & nutrients, gravity, and clarity.
Goal: Determine if this has an affect on my production of heads.

I'm sure my product quality will be better, even if the heads volume is unaffected.
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Re: Stop cutting for heads while distilling!

Post by Odin » Sat Dec 07, 2013 12:01 am

Randy, that's a great summary of what's been said. And on what my intentions were. I feel, with all the recent developments in distillation equipment, the bottle neck to advance this hobby / craft further, is down the line of making better ferments. A lot can be learned from beer making, fortunately.

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Re: Stop cutting for heads while distilling!

Post by Tater » Sat Dec 07, 2013 8:05 am

So from reading this thread Ive got a question .After all is said and done what are the ideal yeast and fermenting temp. For Grain and would you figure a different one for grains mixed or alone.Reason I ask this is my grandpa once told me corn likker was best if fermented in ground.(however everything he made was pretty much fermented in ground)At the time I didn't think much about it other then regardless what you be fermenting .Boxes being buried would stay pretty much same temp .After reading this topic got me to wondering about it.Maybe ground temp and heat generated from fermenting would be a starting point in researching grain ferments.On a side note grandpa always said wild yeast was best till after dogwoods quit blooming.But would use added yeast in winter months .Figured yeast left in his mash boxes and paddle kept yeast strain alive most of the year.
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Re: Stop cutting for heads while distilling!

Post by fshhnt1 » Sun Dec 08, 2013 5:07 pm

distilling is just one way to control Heads. The real way to Heads control? Mashing, washing, fermenting.

I somewhat agree to this statement, but clean fermenters probably the biggest deal, no foreign materials to disrupt fermentation and or kill it. Where I work more money spent on distillation than anything else in the whole place. As for distillation we have heads cut, esters cut, fusel oil cut, and product cut. Although this is a continuous type distillation facility and is a little different than what your talking about, "DISTILATION" is always more important than the mash....

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Re: Stop cutting for heads while distilling!

Post by humbledore » Sun Dec 08, 2013 5:45 pm

I have been a home brewer for years. Think of it this way - if you wouldn't drink it straight up as wash, why would distilling it make it better? Most brewing yeast is best at temps well below 70.... I think 65 or lower is a good range. And during ferment the wort will be 3-5 degrees warmer than ambient. So a 70 degree room is too hot. And you shouldn't pitch brewing yeast until the wort is nearly the same temps you will ferment at. Beer that breaks these rules can taste pretty bad. I know cause I've made some. I got into distilling so I could take a bad batch of beer and not waste it. I learned that bad in = bad out. So this thread is on the right track IMO.

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Re: Stop cutting for heads while distilling!

Post by woodshed » Sun Dec 08, 2013 7:17 pm

fshhnt1 wrote: "DISTILATION" is always more important than the mash....
A statement like this needs backup. Can you provide that? What do you base this on cause I 've been at this for decades and have found the reverse to be true.

humbledore, one thing for sure is your temps should match your yeast.

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Re: Stop cutting for heads while distilling!

Post by fshhnt1 » Mon Dec 09, 2013 1:15 am

no matter what kind of mash is sent to me (weather it be high abv or low abv), if the proper adjustments are not made during distillation, all the work put in on the mash will be completely scrap. A master distiller will be able to make the proper adjustments on his or her column to make even the worst mash taste great....

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Re: Stop cutting for heads while distilling!

Post by RandyMarshCT » Mon Dec 09, 2013 4:42 am

fshhnt1 wrote:no matter what kind of mash is sent to me (weather it be high abv or low abv), if the proper adjustments are not made during distillation, all the work put in on the mash will be completely scrap. A master distiller will be able to make the proper adjustments on his or her column to make even the worst mash taste great....

Maybe if you're making neutral. Otherwise, that last statement is just absurd.
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Re: Stop cutting for heads while distilling!

Post by Odin » Mon Dec 09, 2013 5:32 am

Exactly Randy,

The goal of this tread is to look into ways to improve fermenting, etc. so we only have to make the smallest cuts possible.

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Re: Stop cutting for heads while distilling!

Post by fshhnt1 » Mon Dec 09, 2013 9:03 am

Maybe if you're making neutral. Otherwise, that last statement is just absurd.
that's exactly what I make.......1 million gallons per day........

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Re: Stop cutting for heads while distilling!

Post by Jimbo » Mon Dec 09, 2013 9:11 am

Neutral and whiskey are at opposite ends of the spectrum. We need to be specific about what we're talking about or there will be all sorts of confusion and misinterpretations. Happens LOTS on forums when people arent explicit what theyre talking about. Mash and ferment are KEY to good flavorful whiskey. Less key to neutral, altho I gotta believe still play a role into how much tweaking you gotta do to get your column to strip out the gunk. 10000000 gallons a day or not.
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Re: Stop cutting for heads while distilling!

Post by fshhnt1 » Mon Dec 09, 2013 9:22 am

our neutral is sold to major whiskey makers to make whiskey....but you're right...knowledge on how to run your still is key to running any mash ....

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Re: Stop cutting for heads while distilling!

Post by Jimbo » Mon Dec 09, 2013 9:33 am

fshhnt1 wrote:our neutral is sold to major whiskey makers to make whiskey....but you're right...knowledge on how to run your still is key to running any mash ....

Ya, not to start a fight, but thats a whole 'nuther' story. There's lots of press about 'fakers' buying GNS to age and call whiskey. I wont go there, there's plenty been said all over about it already. But stripping the flavor out and then trying to put it back with oak is ludicrous. Its the reason so many honest whiskey makers are furious about these guys confusing the market and putting less than stellar stuff out there they call 'craft whiskey'. OK I did say a little, couldnt bite my tongue, but forums are all about opinions afterall....

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Re: Stop cutting for heads while distilling!

Post by fshhnt1 » Mon Dec 09, 2013 9:39 am

There's lots of press about 'fakers' buying GNS to age and call whiskey
yep a billion dollar year industry "fakers" who would have thought that crap would sell.....lmao...

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Re: Stop cutting for heads while distilling!

Post by Jimbo » Mon Dec 09, 2013 9:43 am

There's a billion dollar industry around Bud and Miller too. Its all good. No arguments. Jack Daniels is insanely popular too, and they go out of their way to suck all the flavor out with vats of charcoal filtering. :crazy:

To each his own I guess. People like what they like, and thats what they like. Nothing wrong with that. But when GNS forms the base of something marketed as craft whiskey, it confuses people who dont know as much as us here. LOL.
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Re: Stop cutting for heads while distilling!

Post by FullySilenced » Mon Dec 09, 2013 9:47 am

I wouldn't call em fakers.... more like innovators who found a market and filled a niche...

Keep Making it.. fhhnt1

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Re: Stop cutting for heads while distilling!

Post by fshhnt1 » Mon Dec 09, 2013 9:49 am

good point jimbo

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