One of the most important parts of distilling your own spirits is knowing when to "cut" your run. While it might sound like an arcane part of distilling lore, cutting simply means changing out the jar or container you're using to collect your distillate.
As we explained in separate post, your distilling run consists of four parts: foreshots, heads, hearts and tails. Each of these sections contains various compounds that you will either want to include or exclude from your final product. As you get more experience as a distiller, you'll be able to have a pretty good sense of when to cut each of these stages based on the look and smell of your distillate. Until then though, you can use temperature as a good gauge. That's why all of our handmade copper stills come with a thermometer built in.
In general, the distillate you'll most want to capture – the hearts – is the ethanol that will evaporate out of your wash. Because ethanol boils at about 175 degrees Fahrenheit, anything that condenses out before this temperature is known as the foreshots, and basically consists of harmful chemicals that need to be discarded.
As the temperature in the still climbs past 175F, the run will move into production of the section called the heads. While the heads aren't necessarily harmful, they can dramatically skew the flavor of your whiskey, so it's best to set them aside as well – unless you're looking to add some bite to your final product. Generally the heads will condense out between 175-185 degrees Fahrenheit.
Next in the distillation process comes the hearts – the most desirable part of your run, and the one containing the most ethanol. Even though ethanol will start to boil off at 175 degrees, because your wash isn't pure ethanol, you'll be capturing other compounds found in the foreshots and heads first. By the time the still reaches a temperature between 190-205 degrees Fahrenheit however, you can be fairly certain that the fluid flowing into your jar is the liquid gold you are seeking.
After you've collected about 30 percent of the total liquid from your run in this sweet spot of 190-205 degrees, you can go ahead and cut again. The liquid that comes out at this point will consist of what's known as the tails, another undesirable part of the run due to the release of certain chemicals with a higher boiling point than ethanol. Also, water boils at 212 degrees Fahrenheit, so the tails tend to do nothing more than thin out your whiskey. In fact, when your still reaches this temperature, you can turn it off and call it a day.
And, while you definitely want to discard the foreshots, your reserved heads and tails are known as the feints and can be either distilled on their own or added to another wash, as they do contain valuable ethanol. You can even decide to save up your feints and distill them in a larger run, which would be known as "the queen's share." In any case, you should still discard the foreshots to keep your whiskey safe, smooth and highly shareable!
Posted by Jason Stone on