First apple brandy run - the French method

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stillanoob
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First apple brandy run - the French method

Post by stillanoob » Mon Jun 15, 2020 3:22 pm

Howdy All,

We just ran our first batch of apple brandy. We had about 12 gallons of 10% ABV cider that had been fortified with honey to reach that. Since the boiler fits about 10 gallons maximum I decided to use 5 gallons of ~ 5% drinking cider to add to the two leftover gallons of 10% for a second strip run.

We had the incredible good fortune to have a master distiller present for both the stripping and spirit runs. My still partner was an acquaintance of his and last year when we started the still project we reached out to him. He had us over to his place to help with a bottling run and to taste his apple brandy, which is absolutely incredible. For obvious legal reasons I can't involve him in any of the shenanigans we get up to here. What I can say is that he started 35 years ago at home, was trained in the French method including a few seasons in France with some of the biggest names in Cognac, has worked every aspect of the wine and spirit trade and currently owns and runs a very successful distillery. He does things a little differently then I have read here.

Firstly, he does not use the term "foreshot". To him there are heads, hearts and tails. He also does not discard what we would call foreshot. He saves that to put in the next stripping run with the cider. He says that one can expect between .75% and 5% of start volume of what he call heads that are to be recycled into the next strip run, depending on how oxidized the cider is. He tasted our cider and declared it excellent and said that he expected the very low side of heads. He quickly calculated the amount expected from the volume we were running and closely monitored the foreshot as it came out, capturing small amounts in a glass, sniffing it and dumping it into a jar. As we got near the expected amount we were all smelling it and right near the volume expected was the change he was looking for. He says with apple brandy that the foreshot always smells "too good to be true" and when the first burst of great apple scent fades you have reached the end of what he calls heads.

He does stripping runs just as slowly as the spirit runs. When I asked about running harder to pass more flavor forward he chuckled and said that what a pot still does is pass flavor and that you can't stop it from doing so and that the product is much better with a slow strip. He also runs down to close to 0% when stripping and says you are just throwing away alcohol and flavor if you cut off earlier. He places great importance on output temperature of the distillate. During a stripping run he said that that 12C is the correct temperature and that 15C is the correct temperature for the spirit run. He also recommends the use of a parrot during both stripping and spirit runs. When I asked about smearing during a spirit run he said that over 150mL or so that it isn't an issue. He said that the time to start smelling the product to find the hearts/tails transition is when the ABV drops to 65% and that the average stopping point is between 62-59%. We ended up stopping at about 62% and I have to say it still smelled pretty good to me and I am unsure I can catch the scent difference next time although there was a noticeable difference between two jars. He said another old test was the "three pearls" test. Collect 20-30mL in a brandy type glass and swizzle it. If three largish bubbles (pearls) form and hold that it is time to stop collecting hearts and that he stops just before that. The tails of the spirit run he saves for the next spirit run and again we ran down to almost 0%.

He also is big on cleaning and sanitation. He had us use 0000 steel wool on the inside of the still after the stripping run and said he would have done so before the stripping run as well. Not to the point of polished but pretty darn clean. He is equally into sanitation on the ferment side, whether it is fruit or grain. He told us a story of a winery/brandy make that asked him to help them as they were struggling and almost bankrupt. He said their process was fine but their sanitation was poor and all he did was get them to clean up the place and improve the equipment sanitation.

He was very pleased with the product and said that it was excellent, first rate. We wound up with about 3/4 of a gallon at 70%. He said that with the small quantity we have that he would probably drink it white as "eau de vie" because it is straight up delicious as it is. If we do want to oak and age he recommends taking oak chips and making a tea out of them, steeping warm but not boiling for a day or two. Then use the resulting tea to water down the brandy. He recommends dropping ABV in no greater than 5% increments with a few days to a week between adjustments.

So much more to tell, so many things he had to say but it would take too long to chronicle here. He brought with him three whiskeys of his which were outstanding. I particularity liked the cask strength rye over an ice cube. He regaled us with many stories like when 3500 gallons of wine destined for brandy got left in the sun for a day and a half when the truck broke down and what they had to do to salvage it. He also is a local history buff and had much local lore to share that I didn't know.

Overall, I am still riding high a day later. This was a dream come true, a long term plan that finally came to fruition, producing apple brandy from trees I planted in a still of my own making. And then to have a master present on the first brandy run, unbelievable. A red letter day for sure. I'd like to say a big thank you to all on this forum for the invaluable help that got me here. Pintoshine, if by any chance you see this your plans are so easy to follow and at least one french trained master distiller has declared it a fine piece of equipment capable of making the best brandy.

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Hambone
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Re: First apple brandy run - the French method

Post by Hambone » Mon Jun 15, 2020 3:27 pm

My (limited) experience with apple brandy is that it's pretty harsh for awhile. I'm jelly that you had a tasty product from the start.
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Re: First apple brandy run - the French method

Post by NZChris » Mon Jun 15, 2020 11:19 pm

stillanoob wrote:
Mon Jun 15, 2020 3:22 pm
Overall, I am still riding high a day later. This was a dream come true, a long term plan that finally came to fruition, producing apple brandy from trees I planted in a still of my own making. And then to have a master present on the first brandy run, unbelievable....
Wow.

You've done the hard work, then you've had the good fortune to have been spoiled rotten for your efforts. :thumbup:

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Re: First apple brandy run - the French method

Post by DSmith78 » Tue Jun 16, 2020 2:27 am

What an experience! Jolly good for you mate!
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stillanoob
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Re: First apple brandy run - the French method

Post by stillanoob » Tue Jun 16, 2020 6:18 am

Yeah, I sure got luckier than I deserve. I'll tell ya though, it underscored how much there is to learn about this craft. I am grateful to have this place to come and ask questions, that is for sure.

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Re: First apple brandy run - the French method

Post by DSmith78 » Tue Jun 16, 2020 6:21 am

I know... saving foreshots - outrageous!
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Re: First apple brandy run - the French method

Post by 80Vette » Tue Jun 16, 2020 6:26 am

Well, I know what I'm going to try out when we press apples this fall!

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Re: First apple brandy run - the French method

Post by cranky » Tue Jun 16, 2020 9:29 am

There are a few things I disagree with here so here's my 2 cents.
stillanoob wrote:
Mon Jun 15, 2020 3:22 pm
Firstly, he does not use the term "foreshot". To him there are heads, hearts and tails. He also does not discard what we would call foreshot. He saves that to put in the next stripping run with the cider. He says that one can expect between .75% and 5% of start volume of what he call heads that are to be recycled into the next strip run, depending on how oxidized the cider is. He tasted our cider and declared it excellent and said that he expected the very low side of heads. He quickly calculated the amount expected from the volume we were running and closely monitored the foreshot as it came out, capturing small amounts in a glass, sniffing it and dumping it into a jar. As we got near the expected amount we were all smelling it and right near the volume expected was the change he was looking for. He says with apple brandy that the foreshot always smells "too good to be true" and when the first burst of great apple scent fades you have reached the end of what he calls heads.
I agree that Heads smell too good to be true but taking only .75-5% is leaving plenty of heads in there for flavoring and potential headaches but apple brandy needs heads for flavor.

The thing I strongly disagree with is not discarding forshots. The reason for this is the recycling back into the next run. I don't remove fores on stripping runs so on a 13 gallon spirit run I think I wind up taking something like a pint of fores. If I recycled this back into the next run it would be 2 pints which would then go into the next run and be 3 pints...etc. Eventually the harsh tones of the fores tend to smear into the hearts and add a bad harshness.
stillanoob wrote:
Mon Jun 15, 2020 3:22 pm
He also is big on cleaning and sanitation. He had us use 0000 steel wool on the inside of the still after the stripping run and said he would have done so before the stripping run as well. Not to the point of polished but pretty darn clean. He is equally into sanitation on the ferment side, whether it is fruit or grain. He told us a story of a winery/brandy make that asked him to help them as they were struggling and almost bankrupt. He said their process was fine but their sanitation was poor and all he did was get them to clean up the place and improve the equipment sanitation.
While sanitation is important scrubbing the still with steel wool before and after every run in a small still is a recipe for disaster for a couple of reasons. #1- I use copper and if you do this with copper you are removing the protective patina from the copper and have to rely on that .75-5% of fores/heads to re-establish the patina. This is a good way to introduce the taste of copper into your brandy, which is not a good thing. If you are running stainless steel maybe this isn't that much of a factor. #2- 0000 steel wool will embed bits of steel into copper and cause corrosion, it could also cause problems with stainless steel as well as potentially adding bad flavors to the product.

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Re: First apple brandy run - the French method

Post by stillanoob » Tue Jun 16, 2020 9:43 am

Cranky, please understand that you are not disagreeing with ME. I am too new and ignorant to be entitled to an opinion. I am just relaying what someone who does know their business told me. I don't take it as gospel, just the opinion of a person who clearly has a right to one.

The foreshot is the only thing that I find troubling. However, he was adamant that doing so would build quality as years go on. I'll ask him more about that.

We used stainless steel wool, I should have said that. Again, he was very adamant that cleaning is important for the copper to react as desired. We didn't take it all the way to bright. There certainly isn't any copper flavor to the product. His still is ancient and all copper and has always been cleaned this way.

Again: me, I really don't know. But this guy makes a living at it and his bottles fly off the shelves in $200 range.

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Re: First apple brandy run - the French method

Post by Hambone » Tue Jun 16, 2020 1:55 pm

stillanoob wrote:
Tue Jun 16, 2020 9:43 am
The foreshot is the only thing that I find troubling. However, he was adamant that doing so would build quality as years go on. I'll ask him more about that
Kind of like rum oils in reverse. But I'd still kick out the earliest...
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Re: First apple brandy run - the French method

Post by cranky » Tue Jun 16, 2020 6:31 pm

stillanoob wrote:
Tue Jun 16, 2020 9:43 am
Cranky, please understand that you are not disagreeing with ME. I am too new and ignorant to be entitled to an opinion. I am just relaying what someone who does know their business told me. I don't take it as gospel, just the opinion of a person who clearly has a right to one.

The foreshot is the only thing that I find troubling. However, he was adamant that doing so would build quality as years go on. I'll ask him more about that.

We used stainless steel wool, I should have said that. Again, he was very adamant that cleaning is important for the copper to react as desired. We didn't take it all the way to bright. There certainly isn't any copper flavor to the product. His still is ancient and all copper and has always been cleaned this way.

Again: me, I really don't know. But this guy makes a living at it and his bottles fly off the shelves in $200 range.
I know I wasn't disagreeing with you I was disagreeing with his method. In the research I've done the Calvados makers indicated that they do take foreshots and discard them, then do the repeated sniffing to determine the fores cut, but I have never been to France to study calvadose making so what I know of it is strictly off the interwebs. I personally take a whiff of that first jar or two and there is no way in hell I would recycle that. I will however recycle the rest. One thing we have to keep in mind is the miniscule amounts we make compared to someone who has a commercial distillery and the methods for a micro...(or maybe nano?...pico? :crazy: )... operation like ours may need to be different as a result.

As far as my thoughts on over cleaning the copper...in addition to my copper pot column I have a glass flute and glass neutral column so I can see what goes on during a run. As foreshots come through the patina lightens and continues to lighten through the heads, It actually gets pretty clean looking. As the hearts come through the copper begins to darken and gets darker throughout the rest of the run. When the run is over there tends to be a black residue which will wipe off easily if you push a rag through shortly after running but in a fairly short amount of time it will set up and be pretty permanent, or at least difficult to remove. Few people on this site feel the need to clean as much as he is recommending and personally I feel it is both unnecessary and a potential problem but that is just my opinion for what it's worth.

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Re: First apple brandy run - the French method

Post by stillanoob » Wed Jun 17, 2020 9:54 am

Cranky, that is fascinating that you can see the copper and watch it change color during the run. The copper in the still above the water l ine wasn't all that dark but I guess that is relative. The only black residue we got was from the stripping run after the second batch that had quite a bit of lees in it, the racking cane had an oopsie. It wiped right off.

Another cleaning technique he uses is to run what is left after the stripping run through the worm as it is acidic and then flush with water. We didn't do that as we weren't set up to do so. Usually we just run water through and then blow it out with compressed air.

Thanks very much for sharing your techniques. As I said, I take nothing for gospel and am just trying to learn until the day comes that I am entitled to my own opinion. With only an annual shot at making apple brandy that is going to be a while. :-)

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