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Is smearing always such a bad thing

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Post time 2022-10-27 13:22:13 | Show all posts |Read mode
I may be flamed for this, but I'm prepared. It's the cost of asking questions, I suppose. Sometimes they'll be dumb. Let me preface this by saying that I have a few guidelines which I try to follow in all aspects of life, and they've generally served me well:
#1 When there is a long standing tradition, practice, or belief, there's likely a damn good reason for it. Respect that, and try to understand the reason.
-but-
#2 Question everything.
-and-
#3 Don't be afraid to think outside the box.
-but-
#4 Try not to repeat other people's mistakes.
With all that said, in my quest to understand the theory and practice of making good spirits, I have hit upon a question which I hope someone here can help answer. For the sake of argument, let's say we're making whiskey in a pot still. The conventional advice is to do the spirit run low and slow. As I understand it, that's to help prevent smearing heads, hearts, and tails. I get that, I respect it, I have started doing it, i see the difference. So far so good. So we're collecting our entire run in numbered jars, which we will then taste, blend, proof down, and age. If the product is to be consumed white, we are going to make a pretty tight hearts cut. However, this stuff is destined for a barrel. Now, conventional wisdom says that we need to add in some of both the heads and tails in order to add complexity which will only come out after aging. Again, so far so good, makes sense, I'm right there with you.
But wait.. If I'm going to mix in the later heads and the earlier tails (the ones which I've noticed are most likely to have flavors I want to add - feel free to correct me), but I intentionally spent 3-4x as long distilling just to separate those from the hearts, why not just run the still faster, let it smear a bit, and make the cuts on that? Yes, there will be heads in there, but that's the goal. Same for tails. Or am I missing something obvious? I fully respect my position as novice who is likely to miss something any experienced distiller would know.
To be clear, I'm talking about a product which is destined for long aging, and which the distiller knows from experience (and presumably testing) will come out well given a certain level of smearing. Has anyone compared the same recipe (maybe a UJSSM, since it's so popular) made hot and fast vs. low and slow with fairly generous cuts? I can imagine a fairly simple way to test the idea, but I have a feeling there will be opinions and advice aplenty here without the need for more data.Steve, you’re way behind time. This is not 38, but it’s old 97. You must put her into Spencer on time.
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Post time 2022-10-27 13:36:49 | Show all posts
Steve, I like your philosophy and I think you're asking in a sensible way. I still a novice as well but here's how I look at it:
The slower we run the more isolated any element will be, acknowledging that none of them will ever be completely isolated by pot distillation. Not just heads/tails but flavor elements which come off at a certain temperature or abv will be more isolated.
Some chemicals and flavors we really don't want. Early heads, deep nasty tails, so we are likely to increase our useable product by running slowly when we're near those extreme ends of the run.
In the middle we would still see more isolation of components running slower but as you say, we are likely just going to recombine them anyway. For the sake of learning I'd still say it's a great exercise. I also like to take some hearts out to enjoy white.
So you'll see a lot of people talk about running low-and-slow until they're through heads then speeding up a bit until the first hint of tails. How low, how fast, well, that's for you to figure out.
Hope that helps.
TwoSheds
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Post time 2022-10-27 13:40:27 | Show all posts

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My thoughts are with a slow run you are controlling the amount of smearing happening, compounds from the first jar will be present in all jars (just in different volumes) and this is based on run speed. 12 years aging in a 200L barrel may well allow me to run my still flat out and make a super wide cut but I don't have the resources to do that. So I'm a slow run and careful cut guy." you can pick your nose and you can pick your friends; but you can't always wipe your friends off on your saddle" sage advice from Kinky Friedman
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 Author| Post time 2022-10-27 13:42:28 | Show all posts
I've missed that idea, TwoSheds. Thank you. I've been under the impression that it was considered best practice to run the entire batch low and slow, but this makes a lot of sense to me. And I confess that there is a practical aspect to my curiosity. My distilling time is limited, so anything I can do to save time is welcome. And If I HAVE to make a tradeoff between time and quality, I want all the information in hand so that I can make an informed decision.Steve, you’re way behind time. This is not 38, but it’s old 97. You must put her into Spencer on time.
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 Author| Post time 2022-10-27 13:49:12 | Show all posts
Control is obviously a great thing to have. In an ideal world, I would love to be able to have each compound in my whiskey in a separate vial and just blend them at the exact perfect ratio. That's not practical, so we accept -some- level of smearing regardless. Slowing down tempers that. But, it seems that what we're doing by blending is essentially re-smearing, which led me to wonder if we could save some time by just figuring out just how much smearing is ideal for a given product?
That brings up another aspect of the equation. I'm guessing that more time and more wood (within reason) would want more smearing. While I'm not really interested in computer control or automation and whatnot when it comes to something as artistic as my spirits, I cam imagine a theoretical program which would take the planned aging treatment into account and output the ideal degree of smearing that's acceptable/desirable. But, maybe I'm totally wrong on that.Steve, you’re way behind time. This is not 38, but it’s old 97. You must put her into Spencer on time.
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Post time 2022-10-27 14:31:25 | Show all posts
I do the drip drip through the fores, drip drip drip through first half of the heads, then speed up a little until i am in hearts the go to a pencil stream (30 litre charge)
I then leave it at that setting until well into the tails - BUT - it slows down naturally as the wash needs a higher and higher input to vaporize.
I find most of the tails bring a decent flavour to the mix, in fact i use enough of them to bring my final quantity to 62 - 65% for ageing.
The early heads are terrible, hence the slow bit there, but the later heads give the nice subtle bite a product for aging needs in my opinion. I find too narrow a cut, although smooth, is a bit bland
So yeah - once through the early heads - speed up!
my 2 centsMy fekking eyes are bleeding! Installed BS Filters - better! :D
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Post time 2022-10-27 14:49:52 | Show all posts
This is just like making a pot pie.
Pop Marie Calendars in the oven, comes out fine.
Take your time, use select ingredients, build it yourself, it's another level.
Lot's of people like Marie Calendars just fine.:)
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 Author| Post time 2022-10-27 14:51:35 | Show all posts
Took me just a second to get the analogy, Ben, but I like it. Point taken.Steve, you’re way behind time. This is not 38, but it’s old 97. You must put her into Spencer on time.
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Post time 2022-10-27 15:04:43 | Show all posts
There's another consideration, which I discovered a little while ago and which drastically changed my attitude to cuts. Sometimes you'll find something really interesting fairly deep in the tails but where the cuts jars between are just tailsy hell. With the improved separation from your slow run you can find those jars and use them, while skipping over the stuff that's not bringing anything to the party. If you just smear your way to hearts cut, those jars are going to have far more funk and may require a lot more ageing to make them palatable."I have a potstill that smears like a fresh plowed coon on the highway" - Jimbo
A little spoon feeding *For New & Novice Distillers
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 Author| Post time 2022-10-27 15:17:39 | Show all posts
I found the same thing on a batch of apple brandy. Way down low in the tails, I found something that had an amazing apple flavor. I think it was down around 5-10% abv. I just collected that low for the hell of it, but I'm glad I did. Given that, what do you think of running slow for the heads and tails, but speeding up through the obvious hearts?Steve, you’re way behind time. This is not 38, but it’s old 97. You must put her into Spencer on time.
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Post time 2022-10-27 15:30:13 | Show all posts
I think it depends greatly on your setup, and tastes.
I run a 4" column, usually 2 plates for whiskey. I run fore's pretty slow then run a stream through the end of hearts until I get tails funk, I end up slowly regulating power up to keep my take-off just about consistent through the hearts run. Once I hit wet dog, or a point I feel like nothing further is making the blend I kill the defleg and turn the power all the way up to collect the remaining feints. Feints go into the next batch.
Running with no plates on a spirit I run fores and heads slow, turn up for hearts, turn up more for tails collection.
Just figure out what works for you.:)
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Post time 2022-10-27 15:47:36 | Show all posts
Agree with all this!
I've ready that folks don't particularly feel that running "very slow" is a good protocol for whiskies and similar.
It might be a bit of a "gray area"...
Practically everything involved from mash -> ferment -> strip -> spirit -> fraction -> cut/air -> blend -> age affects the end product...
Cheers!
-j————
i make stuff i break stuff
water into whiskey into water
just getting started in home distilling - been drinking for decades
16g copper pot still, 10l alembic, and a column or two
————
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Post time 2022-10-27 17:38:54 | Show all posts
My theory on smearing is that it’s needed to make whiskey.  To further expand on this theory, I believe all flavor is an impurity.  When me make very pure alcohol you have vodka.  Minimal flavor, nothing but pure alcohol.  Yet a whiskey comes off the still at 120-160 proof has lots of impurities and becomes flavorful after time in a barrel.
A still function is to separate components by boiling poin/molecular weight.  The better job it does, the less impurities.  More still plates or runs, less smearing,  Also note that we run a batch process which also separates components by time.  Lighter stuff first then heavier later in the run.  I have a theory on why this works as well.
Let’s look at how this all might apply to a pot still, by running low and slow you get better separation, but you still have smearing, just less of it.  Think of a pot still as a single plate still.  Two runs, a two plate still.  Yet most who run a column are 3 or 4 plates and people complain those whiskeys tend to be “thin”.  Hmm, I think it’s because you don’t get enough smearing and remove too much flavor.  Yet if you run a pot still too fast you don’t get a good product.  This suggests there is a minimum level of removal of impurities needed or a maximum amount of smearing that produces a good product.  
The same goes for columns, run the too clean and they make vodka, so there is also a minimum level of smearing required to make a whiskey that is interesting. Many claim pot stills are the only way to make whiskey, which further suggests that there is a level of smearing required for good whiskey.  
I found that a higher proof spirit, say 165-170 can be aged, but only a short time before the wood becomes overpowering.  Yet a lower proof spirit say 130-140 proof is undrinkable off the still as flavors are still rough and bold, becomes a good whiskey after many years in a barrel.Formerly
Dsp-CO-20051
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 Author| Post time 2022-10-27 17:48:02 | Show all posts
One of these days I intend to start back up making UJSSM. I've got the corn and backset from about gen 8 saved in the freezer, so hopefully I can juts pick up where I left off. Just for the hell of it, I might try a few variations if/when I run them. One fast, one slow, one slow for the heads and tails, fast for the hearts. See if I can tell a noticeable difference. I realize that it's not a true whiskey, but it's also not a huge investment in time or ingredients to do several batches for comparison. In general, I'm liking the idea of running the heads and tails slowly, speeding up through the hearts. I tend to collect heads and tails in pint jelly jars, switching to quart jars for hearts, so it makes sense to me that the time per jar ought to be about the same for both done that way. Something to think about, in any case.Steve, you’re way behind time. This is not 38, but it’s old 97. You must put her into Spencer on time.
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Post time 2022-10-28 03:43:00 | Show all posts
I have more experience now running rum and only have a few AG’s under my belt.  My process has evolved to slow through the fores and heads (slow, steady drip), speed up through the hearts (pencil stream), then hit tails and bump power up as needed (to maintain the stream).  
Feel like it’s good turning out to be good product, but oldest in a barrel is only 6 months (have much older in glass on oak run slower with tighter cuts that I don’t like as much) so only time will tell.
I will say this, while I like this process, when compared to the months / years of time I’m going to age it, the extra hours to run the still slower seems pretty minimal in comparison so would be worth it if I thought it would be better.
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Post time 2022-10-28 09:22:24 | Show all posts
First time Ive looked at this thread...using a pot still you have no option but to smear things .....if they didn't smear people wouldn't bother building plated columns and packed  reflux stills.
Its a good question and there are some really good points made and interesting opinions in this post.

  

Try running a 4 plate column , they will compress things much more that a pot ever will, you could /can collect smaller fractions.......when or if you chose you can blend from those cuts jars as you wish...............or much more so than using a pot still.
The other side of that argument is that the old hardcore  pot stillers amongst us still say that plated columns make wishywashy thin tasting spirit.
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 Author| Post time 2022-10-28 15:24:34 | Show all posts
So maybe this is a dumb question, but in a plated column, where does the flavor go? Let me explain..
Two stills, one a pot, one a 4 plated reflux (or whatever, you get the point). Same wash goes in both, but very different products come out. The pot stilled product has more flavor, body, etc. So, did all that goodness just stay in the boiler? (That’s my guess, but I’m a newb) Is it hiding in the heads and tails? In other words, is there any practical way of pulling it back out again? Or are the two stills so fundamentally different that they just make fundamentally different products that can never be comparable?Steve, you’re way behind time. This is not 38, but it’s old 97. You must put her into Spencer on time.
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Post time 2022-10-28 17:27:48 | Show all posts
Yeah.  That.  There are lots of threads on this, but here’s a quick summary
Pot is a single distillation that smears the fractions
throughout.  This smearing results in  greater “flavoring” which is basically a less effective separation of the head and tail (and backset / dunder) elements where some of the flavor exists.
Reflux (plated column) compresses the fractions by lots of multiple condense / reboil cycles during the process. And the opposite of above is true in that these stills are very efficient at at removal.
Yield is boosted in the reflux still, but at the expense of flavor carryover.  Given a lot of the flavor in commercial spirits is driven through oak, and they desire a maximum profit, many have moved to operating these stills which were really created to make a nuetral spirit.  
There are ways people “de-tune” their column for more flavor as well, but it still isn’t a pot.
Edit: btw I am not biased toward either.  Both have a place and a product fit.  The distiller can chose the right tool for the product they want to create which is part of what makes this hobby so interesting!Last edited by Dougmatt on Fri Oct 28, 2022 10:19 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Post time 2022-10-28 17:37:05 | Show all posts
You are correct.  If you look at my above post, impurities are flavor, the more efficient the still, the more the impurities stay in the still/boiler and are not allowed to get to the output.Formerly
Dsp-CO-20051
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Post time 2022-10-28 19:55:07 | Show all posts
Some of it gets compressed into the heads (or even the fores), some of it is (effectively) never allowed out of the boiler."I have a potstill that smears like a fresh plowed coon on the highway" - Jimbo
A little spoon feeding *For New & Novice Distillers
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Post time 2022-10-29 17:41:20 | Show all posts
Most of my stilling the last few years has been geared towards filling a Gibbs cask with bourbon, rum, and malt whiskey, and now back to bourbon again, in that order. I have a small pot, and it takes me 12-14 ferments to get enough to fill a cask. So, my grain bills and spirit runs are very constant and predictable.  My boiler size doesn’t lend itself to collecting numbered jars — I probably wouldn’t if I could anyway. I take a very generous fores/heads cut and toss it into the fire starter jug. The rest I collect until my smells & taste tells me to stop.  The rest I strip out as feints for the next spirit run. I usually wind up collecting hearts starting @ 76% and stopping @ 64%. My aggregate feints collection winds up being around 40%. This is based on a 27-30% boiler charge.
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Post time 2022-10-29 20:52:36 | Show all posts
A fun data point: I just blended the results of a reflux run (2" CCVM, packed with stainless and copper mesh, ~1800W power in, 800ml/hr takeoff). I got a consistent 95%+ abv across the run with perhaps a tiny slow-down as I reached the end and started getting some more concentrated flavour. The wash however was not made with neutral in mind. I had 15L of low wines from a sugarhead on spent grains (chocolate bourbon) and 5L of low wines from a dumping some Yellow Label yeast onto some unusable old wheat flour. Before running I adding 15 teaspoons of sodium carbonate and 5L of water to try and clean the low wines up as much as possible.
The blend is not neutral. It's at best a super-light whisky. The nose and flavour is fairly consistent across the run, becoming noticeably more pronounced as I neared the end. On the nose there's bitter orange and caramel (probably from the flour or the Yellow Label yeast, given previous experience) and a faint hint of chocolate. On the tongue, it's oily and enveloping (in a good way) with a slight caramel sweetness up front and a little bitterness on the sides of the tongue at the finish.
The plan was to make gin, so this is not ideal, but the gin is destined to become sloe gin, so I think the extra distillation step, plus the sugar and fruit should mask the residual flavours. If I wasn't pressed for time, I'd consider throwing it all back in and diluting back to 25% and running it again.
What surprised and impressed me is how much flavour managed to carry over in just ~4% water!"I have a potstill that smears like a fresh plowed coon on the highway" - Jimbo
A little spoon feeding *For New & Novice Distillers
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