More distillations for more purity, less distillations for less purity. How come? How does it work, and what are the pro’s and cons of adding more or less distillation cycles to your standard operating procedure? Let’s dive in deeper!
What a distillation cycle does
If you distill a beer or wine, there are basically three components in the boiler:
Since alcohol comes over at lower boiling points than water, as a general rule, a distillation run concentrates the alcohol. Most of the water remains in the boiler. Alcohol consists of a family of different molecules. Some have lower boiling points, some have higher boiling points. Ethanol, the most famous alcohol, sits in the middle, with a boiling point of 78,3 degrees Celsius. Many of the flavors come over with the alcohols, so a distillation run concentrates both alcohol and flavor, while water and some other flavors stay behind.
What multiple distillation cycles do
Multiple distillation runs translate into alcohol and flavor being concentrated even more. More water and more flavor stays behind.
It is important to note that certain flavors come over with certain alcohols. Fruity flavors come over with the low boiling point alcohols that come over during the first part of a distillation run. Rooty and nutty and earthy flavors come over with the high boiling point alcohols, at the end of the run.
The more distillation cycles are performed, the better alcohol and water are separated. Also, the more distillation cycles one does, the better the various families of alcohols separate. Ergo: more distillation cycles lead to less smearing of flavors and to more localized flavor concentrations. Fruity flavors in the headsy parts of the run, rooty, earthy flavors in the tails part of the run.
The influence on flavor
More distillation cycles lead to less flavor, via two processes:
- The boiler remains have flavors that are discarded after the run, and don’t come over in the spirit;
- Better separation leads to less smearing leads to less intense or less complex flavors in the hearts cut.
The more often the craft distiller distills, the more flavor he or she looses via the boiler remains, that will be discarded. The more often the craft distiller distills, the more the flavors will be localized in the heads and tails factions of the run. Instead of in the hearts faction that, well, makes the cut.
This information leads to one conclusion and one conclusion only: less is more and more is less. Less distillation cycles lead to more flavorful spirits. More distillation cycles lead to less flavorful spirits.
Spirit archetypes and the number of distillation runs
Vodka is distilled many times. Often more than 14 times, in order to reach the desired ABV. At the same time, the multiple distillation cycles lead not just to a high proof base spirit (95% and more), but also to a relatively neutral spirit. Perfect separation of heads and tails and their associated flavors. Water soluble flavors, that reside in the boiler, are perfectly separated out.
Bourbon, an American style whiskey, is often distilled around four times or more. On a plated still or on a continuous still. The result is a lighter style whiskey. Irish whiskey is most often triple distilled. It has a lighter flavor than Scottish single malt whisky, which is double distilled.
Most fruit brandies are made on plated stills and are usually quadruple distilled (yes, just like Bourbon is). Cognac is made on more traditional set-ups (Alambics Charantais – basically a potstill that uses the next batch as coolant) and is double distilled. Cognacs have a heavier flavor profile than fruit brandies.
Rums that are pot distilled, like Jamaican rums, are very heavy flavored. Rums that are distilled on a continuous column, including multiple distillation cycles, like Bacardi, are much lighter in flavor.
Less than a decade ago, iStill’s CEO invented “Distilling 1.5” as a technique to lower the number of distillation cycles in order to give craft distillers a competitive advantage over traditional Big Alcohol producers. In the Distilling 1.5 procedure, a first distillation creates low wines. The low wines are added back into the boiler. To further fill the boiler, fresh wash is added. This mixture of low wines and fresh beer or wine now sees a finishing run.
Since the resulting new make spirit is now distilled 1.5 times instead of twice, more flavor is retained. First of all, less flavor is lost to the boiler remains. Secondly, the lower ABV end product needs less water (neutral!) for dilution to barreling or bottling strength.
Distilling 1.0 with iStill’s ABV Control
Over the last few years, iStill has innovated further on this idea that less is more. We have designed and perfected ABV Control, where the iStills can now bring your alcohol up to any desired percentage in one go. One Single Distillation Run! This is the ultimate “less is more” technique, where the craft distiller creates the most flavorful rums, brandies, and whiskies!
ABV Control ON!