How many times does a spirit need to be distilled?
The answer to these questions depends on the spirits. Our vodka is 7 times distilled. We “strip” all the alcohol on the initial distillation of our vodka and collect it. Distillation is a process of heating alcohol until it becomes a vapor and then condensing that vapor. The stripping run of distillation is the run where we are collecting the alcohol from the fermented mash. No cuts are made during this run. Our only goal is to remove all the alcohol from the mash so that it will make excellent feed for Andy’s cattle.
The second run of our vodka is called the cutting run. We place the alcohol that we have stripped from the fermented mash into the still and add water. We then distill the alcohol using our still and two columns with trays. Each of our columns have 9 trays and a small condenser at the top. Each tray has a valve that can either hold a liquid level on the tray or allow the tray to be bypassed. The condensers at the top of each column control the amount of liquid alcohol refluxing the column. The trays hold a liquid level and each tray acts like another still. The vapors can pass up through the bubble plates on each tray as they travel up the column the proof of the product on each tray increases as do the vapors that are passing up the column. The still and each vessel the vapors pass through can be counted as a level of distillation. Meaning, in our case, the still is 1, the first column is 1 and the second column is 1.
The first alcohol that runs out of the final condenser is low proof and contains heavier more aromatic alcohols like methanol. We call this the “heads.” We collect the heads and use them for sanitizing equipment. When the proof rises the alcohol we are collecting begins to clear and becomes less aromatic. At this point we bench test the proof, assess the odor and clarity. When we are satisfied we can start collecting the alcohol in a different vessel. This alcohol is the “heart” of the run and the product we keep for the third and final run. When the proof begins to drop, aroma increases and the clarity is not as bright we stop collecting the heart and collect the alcohol in a different vessel. This alcohol is called “tails” and comes at the end of the run. We then repeat the same process for our vodka in the third run. After the third run our vodka is then chill filtered and carbon filtered.
A spirit only needs to be distilled as many times as it takes to create the correct flavor profile and remove the alcohols that are undesirable. The amount of heads and tails allowed to bleed into the heart of a run decides the distillery’s product character. We prefer to make our cuts based on proof, clarity, taste and smell. It is much an art as it is a science and takes years of experience to master. In our opinion Larry has mastered this art (and he definitely has the years and hairline to prove it☺).