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  1. #1
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    The Proof, The Whole Proof, and Nothing but the Proof.

    On another thread we were discussing (veering from topic actually) higher proof off the still. Perhaps a discussion on how that works.

    Column stills used by the majors are run continuously, which is to say alcohol laden mash is constantly fed into the top and as is falls down rising steam strips out the alcohol which rises as vapor to the top to be drawn off while water and mash solids run out a drain in the bottom. A full description is more complicated but that's basically the idea.

    A column still can be set to bring off the alcohol vapor with an alcohol by volume (ABV) as high as 195 proof which is almost pure alcohol. Vodka is 190 proof which is almost odorless, colorless and tasteless at that point which is why the regulations limit Bourbon to 160 proof to make sure the vapor contains enough flavoring elements to age into the characteristic flavor of Bourbon. Of course lower still proof has more flavor, that's the reason Stitzel -Weller brought the new whisky off the stills and into the barrel at 105 proof. Wild Turkey was 103 at one time for the same reason.

    The reason a distiller sets the still at 140-160 proof is because over the course of a working day that will produce 40-60% more beverage alcohol than would be had at 100 proof. Profit, pure and simple.
    We're Bourbon Geeks, it's who we are, it's what we do.

  2. #2

    Re: The Proof, The Whole Proof, and Nothing but the Proof.

    Squire, I always appreciate your thoughts and ponderings both here and on bourbonenthusiat

  3. #3
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    Re: The Proof, The Whole Proof, and Nothing but the Proof.

    Yes, the column still or coffey still system does work as described by squire. However, the final statement above would only be true if the limiting parameter for the still was the volume of distillate produced (without regard for proof of distillate), which is unlikely.

  4. #4
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    Re: The Proof, The Whole Proof, and Nothing but the Proof.

    MaudiSon - I'm not a chemist or distiller, so just want to clarify. If the distilled at a lower proof than a higher proof, would they produce more distillate from the same output? Also, are you suggesting that they don't produce at a higher proof in order to increase profits? I had always assumed this was the case (assumed being the key word here )
    Gary
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  5. #5
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    Re: The Proof, The Whole Proof, and Nothing but the Proof.

    From a mass balance perspective the same amount of grain will produce the same amount of alcohol. If you make it higher proof you will have a lower volume, which means fewer barrels and less storage expenses for the same net volume after aging (excluding evaporation losses). Even if barrels and storage aren't the highest cost (seems likely they are) then you at least have more stored potential volume in the same number of rickhouses then you do at lower proof.

  6. #6
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    Re: The Proof, The Whole Proof, and Nothing but the Proof.

    If I read Maui's post correctly (and please say so if I'm wrong) is if the limiting factor of the still is how many liters it can produce in an hour. 100 liters of 160pr is more profitable then 100 liters of 105 proof.
    Peggy: Look Al, the rubes think I'm sexy!
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  7. #7
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    Re: The Proof, The Whole Proof, and Nothing but the Proof.

    Okay, back to apples vs apples. If you fill a pot still with 8% alcohol mash you can only get a certain amount of alcohol out of it before it's done and the still has to be emptied and refilled. The limiting factor is the capacity of the still.

    A modern column still is not limited to it's internal capacity because new mash is flowing in constantly from the top while spent mash flows out the bottom. So the amount of alcohol you get is determined by the amount of mash going in and the amount of steam used to strip out the alcohol. In short, the faster you run it the usable more alcohol you get.

    The modern column still has plates at intervals which slow the rising alcohol/water vapor causing some reflux which traps heavier elements while the rising steam continues carrying the alcohol we want to the top. The space between each plate serves to in effect redistill the vapor by separating out more water at each stage. So by using more plates the rising spirit becomes cleaner and higher in proof as it ascends.

    Skillfully operated a column still can take an 8% mash and turn it into a 80% (160 proof) ABV new make whisky.

    And yes, at the end of the day making 160 proof whisky every hour instead of 100 proof is 60% more profitable.
    We're Bourbon Geeks, it's who we are, it's what we do.

  8. #8
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    Re: The Proof, The Whole Proof, and Nothing but the Proof.

    Quote Originally Posted by DrBob View Post
    From a mass balance perspective the same amount of grain will produce the same amount of alcohol. If you make it higher proof you will have a lower volume, which means fewer barrels and less storage expenses for the same net volume after aging (excluding evaporation losses). Even if barrels and storage aren't the highest cost (seems likely they are) then you at least have more stored potential volume in the same number of rickhouses then you do at lower proof.
    Boiiiing! We have a winner. And that in a nutshell is what is driving the higher proof trend.

    Both Rutledge and Russell have said they would rather be coming off the still and going into the barrel at lower proof but it isn't entirely their decision. Bean counters.

    Rutledge has said that when they were forced to use higher proofs he was gratified to discover that a higher proof in the barrel took on average an extra two years to mature. His first thought was that it would tip the profit balance back to lower proof. However the market has moved in such a way that a Bourbon that is age dated two years older commands a larger profit margin than a younger. More than enough to make up the extra two years of storage and evaporation cost. So it looks like higher proof will be he new normal until the market changes. Or perhaps until some of the Micros start making really good juice starting with lower proofs and find a market that will pay a super premium for it.

  9. #9
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    Re: The Proof, The Whole Proof, and Nothing but the Proof.

    Quote Originally Posted by squire View Post
    Skillfully operated a column still can take an 8% mash and turn it into a 80% (160 proof) ABV new make whisky.
    With a column still, are there still heads and tails? or are those only products of a pot still?

  10. #10
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    Re: The Proof, The Whole Proof, and Nothing but the Proof.

    Quote Originally Posted by Oboe Cadobro View Post
    With a column still, are there still heads and tails? or are those only products of a pot still?
    I too often wondered that ? Also on a pot still when they used a thumper in the middle of the process, I wondered what that actually does, I heard it actually increases the proof, but how, does the steam enter the barrel which is full of water? I don't think it's heated, does the vapor get fed into the bottom via copper tube and then rise back out of the water(on it's own) to continue it's journey thru the condensing tube? And while it is doing that it causes a thumping or pounding sound, eg.. thumper.
    Everyday my spirit seems to find its way to the bottom of a glass...... Don

 

 

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