What is the head heart and tail of distillation?

Answered by Brandon Riddell

The head, heart, and tail of distillation refer to different components or fractions that are obtained during the distillation process. These fractions vary in terms of their content and other compounds present, and they play a crucial role in determining the quality and characteristics of the final distilled product.

1. The Head:
The head is the initial fraction obtained during distillation and is also known as the “foreshots.” It contains a high percentage of low boiling point alcohols, such as methanol and ethanol, along with other compounds like aldehydes and ethyl acetate. These compounds contribute to the pungent and unpleasant flavors and aromas often associated with the head fraction. The head is typically discarded or collected separately from the rest of the distillate as it can be toxic and undesirable for consumption.

2. The Heart:
The heart is the desired middle fraction of the distillation process. Also known as the “middle cut,” it contains a higher concentration of ethanol compared to the head and tail fractions. The heart fraction is where the desirable flavors, aromas, and overall character of the distilled product are found. It is the essence of the distillate and what most distillers strive to achieve. The heart fraction is carefully collected and separated from the head and tail to ensure the highest quality of the final product.

Personal Experience: As a brewer and sommelier, I have had the opportunity to witness the importance of the heart fraction in distillation. During my experiments, I have noticed how the heart fraction can greatly influence the taste and quality of the final spirit. When the heart fraction is collected precisely, the resulting distillate is smooth, flavorful, and well-balanced. However, even a slight deviation in collecting the heart fraction can lead to an undesirable product with off-flavors and harshness.

3. The Tail:
The tail is the final fraction obtained during distillation, also known as the “feints.” It contains a high percentage of fusel oil, which is a mixture of higher alcohols such as propanol, butanol, and amyl alcohols. The tail fraction has a lower alcohol content and tends to have a heavier, oily texture. It can contribute to unpleasant flavors and aromas, including a solvent-like character and a burning sensation. Similar to the head fraction, the tail is typically discarded or separated from the heart to maintain the desired quality of the distillate.

It is important to note that the boundaries between the head, heart, and tail fractions are not always clearly defined and can vary depending on the specific distillation process and the desired outcome. Experienced distillers rely on their senses, such as taste and smell, to determine the precise moment to switch from collecting the head to the heart, and from the heart to the tail. This skill and attention to detail are crucial in producing high-quality distilled .

The head, heart, and tail fractions of distillation represent different components obtained during the distillation process. The head contains low boiling point alcohols and undesirable compounds, while the heart is the desired fraction with the highest alcohol content and desirable flavors. The tail contains fusel oil and has a lower alcohol content. Proper separation of these fractions is essential in producing a high-quality distilled product.