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pot still/smelling cutoffs

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  • John Vandermeulen
    Good morning Geof, congratualations with your potstill . I really like the straightforward approach - no big design problems, no major machining, just a pot
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 3, 2002
      Good morning Geof,
      congratualations with your 'potstill'. I really like the straightforward
      approach - no big design problems, no major machining, just a pot + lyne arm +
      condenser. I suspect that in the old days, in the hills and glens of Scotland (&
      Ireland, & Tennessee) many homes had just this sort of set-up. Enough to brew up
      a bottle or two.
      Re: smelling the tails etc. off a surface. Not too long ago I read an account of
      a tour visit to one of the Scots distilleries. The author described how the
      still master suggested that, instead of smelling a drop on one's finger, that one
      take 2 or 3 drops in the palm of the hand, rub the hands together, and than let
      the spirit evaporate by the heat of the skin. I've since tried that, and it
      For me this particular finding is important as I still have difficulty
      distinguishing by smell only between foreshot and middle, and again betw. middle
      and tails. So I still rely heavily on my thermometer in the head of the column.
      And Geoff, many thanks for the sketch of your setup. It is now in my files.!
      John V

      Geoff Redman wrote:

      > Hello all,
      > Awhile ago I promised John V that I would send info on my setup.
      > Attached is a diagram of my pot still. I bought only some copper tubing
      > and some brass compression fittings and used some stuff around the house
      > to build something to do the trick. No theory was considered in the
      > design; I put my boiler on the kitchen stove-top, the condenser coil
      > inside a mop pail in the kitchen sink, and placed a length of copper
      > tubing between them. As luck would have it, I get some nicely flavoured
      > spirits (mainly schnapps) in the following manner.
      > The first distillation run converts a wash with an ethanol concentration
      > of 10% to 20% abv into an approximately 40% abv spirit. I put 5 to 6 L
      > of wash into the boiler, toss the first 50mL down the drain and collect
      > the remaining distillate in 100mL increments until the ethanol
      > concentration drops to 10% abv. I get a lot of good flavours and most
      > of the ethanol (e.g. maybe >75%) at the cost of including a lot of bad
      > stuff (e.g. fusel oils, etc.). So at this point, the distillate tastes
      > like crap.
      > It may take 4 to 6 similar runs to work through a 20 to 30 L wash.
      > After the whole wash has been reduced to a 40% spirit I'll usually clean
      > the still by running some vinegar/water through the system, and then
      > rinse by running water. I find these cleaning steps necessary to clear
      > out all of the bad tasting oils left by the tails of the first
      > distillation runs, or else the heads of the second distillation run will
      > be significantly yet needlessly degraded.
      > The second distillation run converts the 40% abv spirit to a 75% to 80%
      > spirit. It seems that starting with the higher concentration of ethanol
      > makes more efficient both the ethanol extraction and the exclusion of
      > the bad flavours in the tails of the run. I collect the distillate in
      > 100mL increments until the ethanol concentration drops to 60% to 70%
      > abv. All the good stuff gets poured through a funnel into a glass
      > gallon jug as soon as it is collected. I make the cut when I detect
      > the first hints of bad stuff (e.g. "wet cardboard" taste) in the
      > distillate. Actually, I can't smell directly 'a small quantity' of bad
      > stuff while it is within the distillate, but I've found recently that I
      > can smell it easily on a large surface off of which the tainted spirits
      > have evaporated. Each time I collect 100mL and pour it through the
      > funnel, I shake off the funnel (as wiping would remove most of the bad
      > smelling oils) and set it aside for a minute to let the distillate
      > evaporate completely. Once I smell even the slightest undesirable odour
      > in the dried funnel, I divert the remaining distillate to a new glass
      > jug labeled "tails". I continue collecting the distillate until the
      > ethanol concentration drops to 30% to 40% abv. These tails can be added
      > to the next wash.
      > I don't use temperature as a guide for making cuts. In fact, my
      > thermometer is little more than a fragile pressure valve.
      > I've found that the spirits obtained with this technique are quite
      > smooth even before aging and flavouring.
      > Any comments on the diagram or otherwise would be appreciated.
      > cheers,
      > geoff
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