Perhaps the most important part of distilling is making the right cuts. Cuts refer to the alcohol you keep and the alcohol you throw out or re-distill. There are three parts to making cuts. These are the Heads, Hearts, and Tails. The Heads are what comes out first. The Hearts are what comes out midway through the run. And the Tails are the last to come out. The Heart of the run is what you will want to keep. You do NOT want to keep the Heads or the Tails.
So how can you tell the difference between the heads, hearts, and tails? For this you will need your sense of taste, smell, and an alcohol hydrometer.
For a 5 gallon still you will want to throughout the first 250 ml that come out. The first alcohol that comes out is poisonous and bad for your health. You do NOT want to keep of drink it. The next thing you will want to do is to store everything that comes after this into small masson jars. Keep these jars lined up from the first alcohol to come out of your still down to the last.
After you have all the jars filled and lined up, you will be ready to make your cuts. After doing several runs you will be able to make your cuts based on smell and test alone. Until then you may find it advantageous to use an alcohol hydrometer. An Alcohol hydrometer tell you the alcohol content of the distilled alcohol in your Mason jars.
The Heart of your run (the part you keep) will be between 80-60% alcohol. This can vary depending on many factors. The Head of your run taste and smell incredibly harsh. As you get into the tails the alcohol will begin to feel oily and sell somewhat like wet dog. Be sure to water down the alcohol as you taste it. You may think that your Hearts taste and smell too harsh. But remember that everything smells and tastes harsh when it’s 70% alcohol. Typically people will stop distilling once the alcohol coming from the still drops down to 20% alcohol.
After you have made your cuts you can save your heads and tails to distill late. You can mix them together and dilute it down to 40% percent. You can than add it to your low wine from your next beer striping run.