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  1. #11
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    Re: Cutting those heads and tails

    Flyfish (great handle by the way), I believe tour guides are there to entertain not educate. They are tightly scripted and their job is to promote the brand. Can't blame them when you think about it, I mean why should they give out technical details of their operation to any stranger who walks in the door. There's also a very good chance the guide doesn't know those details either.

  2. #12
    Disciple
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    Cutting those heads and tails

    I don't think the distillers are likely to reveal that information. They typically won't even reveal distillation proof.
    Jim

  3. #13

    Re: Cutting those heads and tails

    For artisan "craft" distillers like ourselves it is pretty much done the old fashioned way, i.e smell and taste with a little guidance from temperature reads and boiling points. We use a 125 gallon Vendome pot still. The decision to make the cut is largely based on taste, but the temperature of the vapors coming over is a very good indication of the compound that is in the distillate. Here is a list of the major chemicals in distillation and their boiling points:
    Acetone (134F)
    Methanol (wood alcohol) (147F)
    Ethyl acetate (171F)
    Ethanol 78C (172F)
    2-Propanol (rubbing alcohol) (180F)
    1-Propanol (207F)
    Water (212F)
    The heads portion of the run is the Acetone to Ethyl Acetate, Hearts is Ethanol as you know, and the remaining components comprise the tails. There is always some leaching of the heads into the hearts phase and hearts into tails since few stills are equipped for 100% separation like some laboratory stills or the stills in the oil industry. Using the boiling points and temperatures as guides, and then smelling and tasting you get a pretty good idea of when to cut the heads to the hearts and then hearts to tails. If you have ever had the opportunity to smell and taste the heads and tails v. the hearts you can pick it up pretty quickly. Hope this helps answer your question to some degree Flyfish, at least that is generally how we are doing it these days.

    Peter Pogue

  4. #14
    Enthusiast
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    Mar 2013
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    O'Fallon, MO
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    Re: Cutting those heads and tails

    Great post, Peter, thanks for the info!

  5. #15
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    Toledo, OH
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    Re: Cutting those heads and tails

    Thanks, Peter. We're making progress. But I'm interested in not so much how the cuts are made but where. Where is that sweet spot that includes as many of the desirable traits without getting the less desirable? Without revealing any proprietary information, can you say "We tend to make the cut at X point (XXX F ?) because we think the taste there has the best balance of Y and Z"? Is this a factor in determining why some whiskey tastes rough around the edges or have I just gone too far out on a limb?
    If God made anything better than bourbon he must have kept it for Hisself.

  6. #16
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    Re: Cutting those heads and tails

    Thank you very much Peter, that's exactly the sort of answer I've requested from tour guides in years past but finally stopped bothering to ask. Ya'll are a bit out of my drive range but if those the kind of answers I can get you are certainly on my list of out of the way places worth visiting.

    By the way, is Limestone Landing on the market yet?

  7. #17
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    Re: Cutting those heads and tails

    The old timers had their take on it relative to their job responsibilities, mash men would say whisky was made in the tub, not the still, still men would say they made the whisky good, warehouse men would say the others supplied the ingredients but they were the ones who made the whisky fit to drink.

    Good whisky is round stone smooth like the rocks found on the bed of a constantly flowing stream.

  8. #18
    Advanced Taster
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    Dec 2012
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    Wisconsin
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    Re: Cutting those heads and tails

    "... can you say "We tend to make the cut at X point (XXX F ?) because we think the taste there has the best balance of Y and Z"? Is this a factor in determining why some whiskey tastes rough around the edges or have I just gone too far out on a limb?"

    Will be very cool is Peter is able to provide additional information on this point. My suspicion is that a distiller's judgments in this regard do make a significant difference. There are a couple of interviews on tequilawhisperer.com where tequila distillers (who were using pot stills) talk directly about this process. I recall at least one saying he liked to keep extra tails to add character, but I do not think he identified particular temperatures if that is the primary info you are after.

  9. #19
    Virtuoso
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    Re: Cutting those heads and tails

    The mash tub it not heated precisely evenly so there is overlap of elements from different boiling points.
    Some heads and tails do add complexity as long as they don't dominate. The wood will modify their taste, often in a positive or complimentary way.

    Disclaimer - I don't distill and what I just posted is what I have been told by distillers in recent conversations.
    Last edited by sailor22; 03-16-2013 at 16:11.

  10. #20

    Re: Cutting those heads and tails

    Well, not to confuse the process any more, but when ethanol and water mix their boiling points average out to another boiling point depending on the relative concentrations of each chemical. It's call an azeotropic mixture (more here if curious: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Azeotrope). If we get a 10-13% alcohol solution from the fermentation we'll usually see the heads section from about 170F to 180F, hearts from 180 to 192F, and tails from 192- 206F. If we get a 14-16% alcohol solution the vapor temperatures will be lower by about 1 degree because there is more alcohol in the water/alcohol mixture.

    There are potentially several other factors to consider when making a cut, including the proof of the distillate, the rate at which the distillate is being collected, the type of still and the amount of reflux occurring if applicable. You can try to quantify the cutting process by accounting for all of the above, but your sense of smell and taste will ultimately be the deciding factor. After all, if it tastes bad, you probably wont drink it and certainly wont sell it. Some try to stretch the hearts by cutting early into the heads and late into the tails to get more marketable product, but we think that adversely impacts the overall product, even after aged, so we try not to get many, if at all. Sailor is correct that some may add complexity if aged properly.

    Thanks for asking Squire. Yes, our Limestone Landing is in limited distribution in Kentucky, Illinois, and New York, and likely soon in Indiana. We also will have an aged rye in the next few months with limited distribution as well.

    Peter Pogue

 

 

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