The art of distillation has very ancient origins, in fact cider and wine were distilled already in the times of the Babylonians and the ancient Egyptians. It was a skill practiced almost exclusively by priests, and by a few other followers, then handed down to the Arabs.
The Greeks, having learned of this technique, exploited it to obtain fresh water from the sea. It was in the 10th century that the Salerno medical school began to extract brandy from wine only for medicinal use; this production system was taught to him by the Andalusian Arab doctors.
The etymology of the word distillation refers to the meaning of "drop by drop separation", and it is precisely a technique that allows the separation of the volatile components of a fermented product based on their different degree of boiling. It is a physical principle based on on the factor by which water boils at 100 ° while ethyl alcohol boils and evaporates at 78.4 °; it will thus be possible to extract only the vapor from the alcohol and then, once condensed, collect it.
In most cases, the following products are used for distillates:
- cereali, per i whisky, brandy e gin
- sugar cane, for rums
- pomace, (waste derived from the processing of wine, i.e. skins and pips) for grappa
- fruit, for the Kirsch
- potatoes and cereals, for the Vodka
- cider, for the Calvados
- vino, per Cognac e Brandy
- grape must, for the brandy.
The main element for distillation is the must, it must be fermented; if not, it will be necessary to add specific yeasts to activate it. If the raw material has glucose or fructose among its components, just grind or crush it and it will already be fermentable. Cereals and potatoes are rich in starch, so they must undergo the action of specific enzymes, and then proceed with the addition of yeasts. These saccharomyces will induce fermentation, and in three or four days, approximately 12% of ethyl alcohol and other substances will be obtained.
The stills or stills for the production of distillates can be discontinuous or continuous. The former are composed of a copper boiler that conveys the hydroalcoholic vapors into the collector, the dome or capital (part on the top), the swan's neck (connecting tube between capital and condenser coil), and finally the condenser (coil which ends up in the refrigerator). The refrigerant part is fundamental, since the vapor that passes inside it will return to the liquid state, and will then drip into the appropriate containers. Two other indispensable elements are the heat source which serves to bring the boiler to a boil; and a thermometer, to check the temperature of the alcohol which must remain constant until the end.
Of the distillate that will come out of the coil, the so-called "head" must be eliminated, that is a first part composed of the most volatile fractions that can include harmful substances. Another part to be discarded will be the "tail"; thus only the "heart" will remain. once the load, also called cooked, the boiler will be emptied and, if necessary, refilled again with fermented. This distillation method is carried out in copper stills for the production of Grappa, Vodka, Brandy, Gin, Rum, Whiskey cereals, and for the industrial production of good taste alcohol.
As for the continuous still, it does not require loading and unloading and the liquid comes out as a distillate in the same quantity. This faster and cheaper process is used by large industrial manufacturers.
With this system, the basic alcohol used to produce Gin is obtained, but also other fine spirits such as some types of Irish Whiskey, Rum, Tequila, Armagnac and even Grappa. Many of them, before consumption, need to harmonize with a short rest in steel or in the bottle, to mitigate the pungent and aggressive flavor; others, on the other hand, are diluted with distilled water to reduce the alcohol content. These distillates also undergo a stabilization at about -10 ° to precipitate the heavier substances, and are filtered to make them clear. Sometimes, to give it a touch of softness, sweetener is added and to make some young spirits appear aged, they are added with caramel or burnt sugar.
According to the production specification, many spirits including Whiskey, Cognac or Armagnac must be aged in wooden barrels (mainly American Oak); while it is optional for grappas.
During the years of aging, which can last for many decades, the liquid is enriched with the aromas released by the wood based on its quality, the toasting of the barrel, the degree of humidity of the premises and the environmental conditions. The aged distillates mature over time and while they pass the years to rest in the barrel, in addition to the flavor, they also collect the particular color that determines the final profile of that spirit.
If we have left you with the desire and curiosity to discover and savor new tastes and flavors, discover our collection dedicated to distillates
"Alcohol is a precious liquid: it preserves everything .. except secrets."