How do the big producers make their cuts?

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kyolic
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How do the big producers make their cuts?

Post by kyolic » Thu May 06, 2021 1:56 pm

This is something I really wonder. Think about Johnnie Walker for example, they sell about 130 million bottles annually. So I don't think that they collect in fractions and decide by smelling and tasting like we do. I assume they make their cuts by monitoring heat and ABV. Am I right?

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Re: How do the big producers make their cuts?

Post by Butch27 » Thu May 06, 2021 1:59 pm

kyolic wrote:
Thu May 06, 2021 1:56 pm
This is something I really wonder. Think about Johnnie Walker for example, they sell about 130 million bottles annually. So I don't think that they collect in fractions and decide by smelling and tasting like we do. I assume they make their cuts by monitoring heat and ABV. Am I right?
Do you think they make cuts?

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Re: How do the big producers make their cuts?

Post by kyolic » Thu May 06, 2021 2:03 pm

Butch27 wrote:
Thu May 06, 2021 1:59 pm
kyolic wrote:
Thu May 06, 2021 1:56 pm
This is something I really wonder. Think about Johnnie Walker for example, they sell about 130 million bottles annually. So I don't think that they collect in fractions and decide by smelling and tasting like we do. I assume they make their cuts by monitoring heat and ABV. Am I right?
Do you think they make cuts?
They cannot be barreling it with all the heads and tails. :|

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Re: How do the big producers make their cuts?

Post by Butch27 » Thu May 06, 2021 2:07 pm

kyolic wrote:
Thu May 06, 2021 2:03 pm
They cannot be barreling it with all the heads and tails. :|
There is a huge difference between "cannot" and "should not". Barrel aging theoretically gets rid of or at least tames down a lot of the nasties. If you were in it for profit, what would you do?

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Re: How do the big producers make their cuts?

Post by Hügelwilli » Thu May 06, 2021 2:11 pm

Johnnie Walker doesn't make cuts because it isn't a distillery. It is a bottler.
But yes, the scotch distilleries cut heads and tails. Not by taste.

Edit: At least the malt whisky of JW is cutted. The grain whisky is normally column distilled, what means that there is no heads or foreshots cut.
In most cheaper bottles of JW is a mixture of malt and grain Whisky.
Last edited by Hügelwilli on Fri May 07, 2021 1:11 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: How do the big producers make their cuts?

Post by MartinCash » Thu May 06, 2021 2:50 pm

Big producers do absolutely make cuts, and suggesting otherwise suggests a bit of ignorance of the process. They have an imperative to produce a consistent product of a consistent quality and with consistent flavour that people identify with their brand.

Where that cut is differs between producers. One thing they pretty much all have in common is that they will have a production line dedicated to a specific produt and they know where the cut points are for that product from experience, usually based on proof. However, some distilleries I've visited still have the master distiller making the decision on where to make the cut as the spirit comes out of the still, particularly smaller-scale ones that don't have the luxury of raw material consistency due to smaller batch sizes.

Another thing to note is that a lot of larger distilleries have a process aimed at maximising recovery, so aging, filtering, etc are part of the process so that they can move those cut points out a little and get a bigger product fraction.
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Re: How do the big producers make their cuts?

Post by still_stirrin » Thu May 06, 2021 4:00 pm

MartinCash wrote:
Thu May 06, 2021 2:50 pm
Big producers do absolutely make cuts”..... and suggesting otherwise suggests a bit of ignorance of the process.

They have an imperative to produce a consistent product of a consistent quality and with consistent flavour that people identify with their brand...
I consider Jack Daniels Distillery as one of the biggest in the world in terms of sales.

I have been to the distillery, and NO they DO NOT make cuts. They use a continuous still and run the product through their proprietary carbon filters. Then, it goes into the casks. No cuts at all because that would be a loss of product. They rely on the carbon to pull some of the “stink” out, but I’ll tell you....they absolutely don’t get it all out.

There is so much heads in their whiskeys that I can’t drink it any more. I’m surprised anybody can, especially with all the small batch, craft distilleries springing up around the country now. There is definitely a “whiskey rush” spreading around the world, and the producers are responding to the market. But, quality is less of a guiding principle when compared to sales and profit margin. Cutting heads would reduce product and revenue along with it.

So, your statement is very presumptuous and not very close to the facts.
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Re: How do the big producers make their cuts?

Post by MartinCash » Thu May 06, 2021 4:15 pm

still_stirrin wrote:
Thu May 06, 2021 4:00 pm
...They use a continuous still...
Continuous stills that are geared to produce a specific product and proof. Continuous stills are not comparable to what we do in any way.

The original question is not about Jack Daniels, it is about Johnnie Walker, which is a blend of NGS and single malts, and subject to strict rules on the manufacture of scotch.

Care to walk back your insults?
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Re: How do the big producers make their cuts?

Post by still_stirrin » Thu May 06, 2021 5:05 pm

Martin, I don’t need to argue with you. I quoted you and your claim about “big producers”, not Johnnie Walker specifically. And I did not insult you, unless you took it that way. I simply added correction to your mis-statement.
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Re: How do the big producers make their cuts?

Post by MartinCash » Thu May 06, 2021 5:22 pm

Ok, but I'm still trying to answer the OP's question. Let's say I think the important point is that the industrial process is geared to repeatability and so it's hard to compare to our home-scale hobby.

Alcohol distillation at that scale is a manufacturing process, not an art. For those large-scale producers that still do batch distilling, the process is very consistent and there is seldom a need to fine-tune it, once it's been dialled in.
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Re: How do the big producers make their cuts?

Post by jonnys_spirit » Thu May 06, 2021 8:14 pm

I agree. Once you have a grain bill / mash / ferment / strip / spirit / cut protocol dialed in you can use temp/abv for cuts and micro’s are going to do that then train their staff to follow the protocol. Sampling and blending from barrels on a particular vintage. We can definitely the same thing at home. Larger producers do the same at a larger scale whether the components are partially outsourced or produced in-house. Smaller rigs in the r&d department might experiment and develop different protocols. At home i think we tend to bounce around on recipe variations a lot more - i hardly ever do it the same twice - so the selection part of the process is a little more drawn out and experimenting with different cuts even on the same recipe yields different product because on one hand our tastes and experience aren’t static and we don’t have a certain requirement to fulfill.
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Re: How do the big producers make their cuts?

Post by Demy » Fri May 07, 2021 12:05 am

Maybe I shouldn't intervene ... but I think that something about the fact that when you always produce the same product, the same quantities you can at some point "automate" the cuts (if they are made) trying to maximize the yield.

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Re: How do the big producers make their cuts?

Post by Timothy_W » Fri May 07, 2021 12:42 am

jonnys_spirit wrote:
Thu May 06, 2021 8:14 pm
I agree. Once you have a grain bill / mash / ferment / strip / spirit / cut protocol dialed in you can use temp/abv for cuts and micro’s are going to do that then train their staff to follow the protocol. Sampling and blending from barrels on a particular vintage. We can definitely the same thing at home. Larger producers do the same at a larger scale whether the components are partially outsourced or produced in-house. Smaller rigs in the r&d department might experiment and develop different protocols. At home i think we tend to bounce around on recipe variations a lot more - i hardly ever do it the same twice - so the selection part of the process is a little more drawn out and experimenting with different cuts even on the same recipe yields different product because on one hand our tastes and experience aren’t static and we don’t have a certain requirement to fulfill.
It seems to me that only by experimenting can you get the product that you like the most. When the wines are aged, some of the varieties are aged in a calm state, and some of the wines were obtained when the wine was agitated during transportation. It's the same with home distillation - you never know what you get when you do it in a new way.

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Re: How do the big producers make their cuts?

Post by Tom Kat » Fri May 07, 2021 7:01 am

I have a good friend who used to make shine. He loves Jack Daniels. We were having this discussion last week. He thinks that Green label Jack is actually the tails. Any input on the difference between Black Jack and Green label?
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Re: How do the big producers make their cuts?

Post by bilgriss » Mon May 10, 2021 5:01 pm

I think repeatability on a large scale becomes less about cuts and much more about aging and blending.

Granted I'm not familiar with a lot of the large distilleries, and I defer to any of you have have interviewed and collected specific information, but my understanding is that they do less of cuts and more of a throwaway the extreme ends of a run or recycle a certain amount.

Later, the barrel houses have a routine for aging that has a predictable effect, and then the experts at producing a flavor profile (whether it be Johnnie Walker or Jack Daniels) know how to find those flavors in various barrels and blend to get a consistent product. The cuts are not the driver, and as SS indicated, are seen first as a profit loss.

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Re: How do the big producers make their cuts?

Post by MartinCash » Mon May 10, 2021 5:40 pm

Tom Kat wrote:
Fri May 07, 2021 7:01 am
I have a good friend who used to make shine. He loves Jack Daniels. We were having this discussion last week. He thinks that Green label Jack is actually the tails. Any input on the difference between Black Jack and Green label?
If, as ss says, JD use a continuous still, then there are no tails produced by their still.
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Re: How do the big producers make their cuts?

Post by bluefish_dist » Mon May 10, 2021 6:55 pm

A continuous still can make cuts. Simply by taking off below the top, you leave the worst of the heads behind. Same as a hydrocracker for crude oil. You pull different boiling points off by height.

When touring beefeater, they had a tasting station. I didn’t see the run, but I expect that someone verifies cuts by taste.

I know from my experience, I was able to predict cuts on known runs within one jar. That would be plenty close for a long aged product. I expect that most big distilleries know when the cuts should be by volume and then sample/taste to verify the cut point.
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Re: How do the big producers make their cuts?

Post by NZChris » Mon May 10, 2021 7:34 pm

Some used to use the demisting test to find the end of the heads. I doubt large distilleries still do it.
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Re: How do the big producers make their cuts?

Post by cob » Mon May 10, 2021 8:30 pm

NZChris wrote:
Mon May 10, 2021 7:34 pm
Some used to use the demisting test to find the end of the heads. I doubt large distilleries still do it.
https://www.bostonapothecary.com/demist ... %20louche.
interesting read Chris especially the paragraph after the bit you highlighted.

No louching if the still is to clean? really?
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Re: How do the big producers make their cuts?

Post by NZChris » Mon May 10, 2021 10:20 pm

cob wrote:
Mon May 10, 2021 8:30 pm
No louching if the still is to clean? really?
The article doesn't say that, so that's an assumption that you will have to test yourself. I'm a hobby distiller, so I don't make the same product through the same dirty still head every day, but I often do let the heads clean up the still head and condenser when running a similar product through a still and haven't noticed any problems.

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Re: How do the big producers make their cuts?

Post by NZChris » Mon May 10, 2021 11:21 pm

cob wrote:
Mon May 10, 2021 8:30 pm
No louching if the still is to clean? really?
Don't assume that commercial distillers are doing their spirit runs using the same still that has just done three or four stripping runs of wash like many home distillers would be doing.

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Re: How do the big producers make their cuts?

Post by MartinCash » Tue May 11, 2021 1:16 am

Certainly the whisky distilleries I've been to use separate stills for low wines and spirit.
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Re: How do the big producers make their cuts?

Post by cob » Tue May 11, 2021 12:08 pm

"At the chemical level, the demisting test is slightly counter intuitive. What is louching is not even from the heads of the new distillate, it is rather residue left in the condenser from the tales of the previous distillate. These congeners from the previous distillate are not so soluble in water therefore as the proof is lowered, they start to come out of solution and louche. If the still is too clean and you essentially have no previous distillate, you cannot perform a demisting test."

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Re: How do the big producers make their cuts?

Post by Saltbush Bill » Tue May 11, 2021 1:10 pm

The whole demisting thing sounds wierd to me.......Ive never heard of or seen heads louche.
Your theory could be right Cob.

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Re: How do the big producers make their cuts?

Post by NZChris » Wed May 12, 2021 12:42 am

I've never bothered to try proofing whisky heads jars to 40% to see if they louche and I'll probably forget next time too.

I have seen some spectacular louches happen when putting an OEG foreshot into about 80ml of clear spirit taken after Odin's recommended 400ml. They mostly happened when doing another OEG after not aggressively cleaning the still head and condenser between runs.

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Re: How do the big producers make their cuts?

Post by Saltbush Bill » Wed May 12, 2021 2:07 am

You will find that any gin foreshot will louche.......nothing unusual there.

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Re: How do the big producers make their cuts?

Post by Toxxyc » Wed May 12, 2021 3:10 am

Interesting that this video popped into my feed after checking out this thread:

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Re: How do the big producers make their cuts?

Post by LWTCS » Wed May 12, 2021 6:12 am

bluefish_dist wrote:
Mon May 10, 2021 6:55 pm
A continuous still can make cuts. Simply by taking off below the top, you leave the worst of the heads behind. Same as a hydrocracker for crude oil. You pull different boiling points off by height.

When touring beefeater, they had a tasting station. I didn’t see the run, but I expect that someone verifies cuts by taste.

I know from my experience, I was able to predict cuts on known runs within one jar. That would be plenty close for a long aged product. I expect that most big distilleries know when the cuts should be by volume and then sample/taste to verify the cut point.
This ^
But to clarify with a bit more explanation, heads don't get left "behind". Heads continue past the collection branch and are vented off at the top of the spirit column. Precise control over a heavy duty reflux condenser facilitates this.

Also, there is no cut point really. And therefore no predictions are made as to "where to make the cut" as with a batch system. The continuous system is constantly being fed and therefore there is no dedicated point during the run to make a cut. Cuts happen continuously. This is accomplished by pulling condensed distillate off of the plate rather than taking product out of the apparatus as vapor.
This process is not perfect. But remember that to make good whiskey you have to put it down a little dirty in order to have the desirable complexity. Talking whiskey now. Not vodka. Essentially, the master distiller is exploiting the inefficiency of the process in order to make a robust, complex finished product.

"Tails" or the like, absolutely get recycled back through the system. And in some cases (secret sauce?) so do heads. Ultimately the repeat exposure to heat transforms (or converts) many of the constituents. This is very similar to how propanol is converted to propanoic acid with prolonged exposure to heat.
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Re: How do the big producers make their cuts?

Post by DAD300 » Wed May 12, 2021 1:03 pm

This is why most of us got interested in distilling in the first place. We can remove the heads!

I have yet to visit a commercial distillery that makes fores and heads cuts or recycles the tails. The just can't justify it time/cost wise.

And there is less and less aging (that removes heads) taking place.

One of my biggest issues is people get accustomed to drinking heads and think "GOOD" drinks are supposed to give you google eyes and a headache.
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Re: How do the big producers make their cuts?

Post by LWTCS » Wed May 12, 2021 1:49 pm

Dad on the continuous operations recycling the heads or tails back to the beer well happens automatically. The entire process is automated.
Continuous systems provide a 30% reduction in operating expenses compared to batch systems that can produce the same volumes in the same time frame.
That absolutely justifies any recovery.
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