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9. The Distillation Cut

One of the first parameters that Jacopo narrowed was the size of the Cut. What is this Cut?

Heart of distillation retained, Head & Tail discarded

In the distillation process a fermented liquid is cooked at a low heat. Because alcohol boils at a lower heat than does water the first steam that comes off consists of alcohol. The alcoholic steam that is boiled off is broken into three parts, the Head, the first steam to emerge, the Heart, the middle, and the Tail, the last of the steam. The Head and Tail are thrown away. Only the Heart is retained.

The Cut

The boundary that separates the Head and Tail from the Heart is called the Cut. They ÔcutÕ the Head and Tail from the Heart. They perform this cut twice in the double distillation process, which they use to make grappa.

By products from head and tail

The Head is too stinky and the Tail upsets the stomach. The Head contains noxious aromatic elements, while the Tail is bitter. The Head is too strong in the nose, while the Tail is too strong in the mouth. The Tail is less digestible because it contains longer molecules. Both yield by-products: solvents from the Head and cosmetics from the Tail.

Originally a broad Cut, small Head and Tail

Originally the Head and Tail of the distillation process was very small. This was a broad Cut. A broad cut and the Grappa tastes like gasoline. The peasant only wanted something cheap that would fortify him for a hard dayÕs work. He wanted a small Head and Tail so that there would be more alcohol.

ÒDonÕt throw away that alcohol. I donÕt mind the stink or the bitterness. I just want some cheap alcohol so that I can afford it.Ó

First parameter: A Finer Cut

In order to refine his product the Grappa maker had to narrow his Parameters.

He had to make a Finer Cut to produce a more refined product.

While raising the quality, it decreased the volume of the end product and raised the price. As mentioned the Broad Cut increases the volume of the end product, lowering the price and also the quality. Using the Broad Cut 100 kg = 220 lb of pomace yields 4.5 liters of grappa, a little over a gallon of grappa from over 200 pounds of pomace. Using the Fine Cut one only gets 2.7 liters, a little over a half gallon. The yield from the Fine Cut is a little over a half of the Broad Cut.

Summarizing the Broad Cut yields a large volume but has a strong nose and bitter taste. The Narrow Cut yields a small volume but has a delicate nose and refined taste.

Double distillation for greater concentration of alcohol

As with Cognac the distillation process for Grappa is performed twice to increase the concentration of alcohol. This entire double distillation process is called a 'cotta' and takes about 2 hours. While wine is about 12% alcohol, 1/8, the residue, the pomace, contains only about 3% alcohol, 1/30, because of the solids, i.e. seeds, stems, and skins. After the first distillation the resulting mixture is about 25% alcohol, 1/4, 50 proof and 75% water. After the second distillation the percentages reverse; the mixture contains about 75% alcohol, 3/4, 150 proof and 25% water. (They add distilled water to the finished product to lower the alcoholic content to about 40%, 80 proof.)

First Cut most important

Because of the double distillation, if the first cut is broad, the second distillation will already be tainted with bitter and stinky elements. No matter how fine the second cut, it wonÕt be able to eliminate the unpleasant features of a coarse Grappa. The fineness of the second distillation is based upon what comes from the first distillation. Therefore the first cut is more important than the second.


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