How to Create artisanal Spirits Through Distillation

Distillation is the process of taking liquid mixtures, turning them into vapor, condensing it and isolating out compounds of interest–in this case alcohol–for separation by condensation. A still is used to do this process and its design varies widely, from simple pot-bellied versions cobbled together out of spare parts to elaborate wonderlands with silver column stills stretching stories high – each still’s style having an influence on both flavor and character of final spirits produced.

Craft spirits have seen an upward trend towards buying local and becoming more connected to their production process, but unlike beer and wine most spirits on the market are produced anywhere around the globe; creating an ambiguity around exactly what one can get when purchasing one gin or whiskey bottle from any specific distillery or backstory with inspirational ingredients or artisanal processes may capture consumer imagination but does little to shed light on its real production methods.

Some larger craft distillers are using fresh local ingredients to craft spirits with more of an in-your-local taste, which is certainly an admirable effort; however, this can also be very labor intensive and the costs involved prohibitive for smaller producers. However, several smaller craft distillers are making quality spirits by paying closer attention to production details – which will likely become the standard over time.

Alcohol Distillation and Its Impact on Culinary Arts

Alcohol distillation and its impact on culinary arts

Distillation requires both extreme precision and intuitive skill to produce quality spirits, with every distillation increasing or diminishing some flavor molecules (esters and congeners) while eliminating others. Achieve 95+ proof spirits may require multiple runs through the still to reach that perfect result – each run may introduce new compounds which alter its final product. It’s important to keep in mind that alcohol and water make up only 40% of a starting liquid’s composition; most flavors make up at least another 40%, each having their own volatility that allows us to separate out those compounds that make up a finished bottle of spirits.

Starting liquid is heated in a steam generator before passing through a series of perforated plates – often made of copper – acting like miniature pot stills. As hot steam passes over each plate, its vapor is separated into different fractions; those coming off of the first plates, known as heads, contain volatile compounds with the lowest boiling points such as methanol, wood alcohol or wood naphtha; all have unpleasant or harmful aromas and tastes and could potentially be toxic to human beings, leading to blindness if consumed.

Hearts contain more desirable ethanol alcohol, and it is the distiller’s responsibility to redirect vapor flow from the head section into this part by altering its reflux ratio; increasing this ratio allows more vapor through and decreases head percentage; however, doing so increases energy costs.