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Lesson 6 Distilling : How Spirits are made. The complex alcohol beverage which delivers intense fruit and plant flavours. Lesson 6: Distilling: How Spirits are made Lesson Overview. 6.1 Introduction 6.2 Raw materials and base ingredients of distilled spirits

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lesson 6 distilling how spirits are made

Lesson 6Distilling : How Spirits are made

The complex alcohol beverage which delivers intense fruit and plant flavours.

lesson 6 distilling how spirits are made lesson overview
Lesson 6: Distilling: How Spirits are made Lesson Overview
  • 6.1 Introduction
  • 6.2 Raw materials and base ingredients of distilled spirits
  • 6.3 Methods of alcohol separation
  • 6.4 Principles of distillation
  • 6.5 Systems for determining alcohol Strengths of distilled spirits
  • 6.6 Maturing and oxidation
  • 6.7 Tasting distilled spirits



lesson 6 distilling how spirits are made aims and learning outcomes of the lesson
Lesson 6: Distilling: How Spirits are made Aims and Learning Outcomes of the Lesson

On completion of this lesson the learner will be expected to

be able to;

  • Outline the base ingredients and production methods of spirits.
  • Explain the systems used for determining the alcohol strengths and the influence of maturation on spirits.
  • Demonstrate the knowledge and techniques involved in the evaluation and tasting of spirits.
lesson 6 distilling how spirits are made 6 1 introduction
Lesson 6: Distilling: How Spirits are made 6.1 Introduction
  • The world of distilled spirits have benefited enormously from the dramatic increase in interest worldwide in the past couple of decades.
  • Consumers are widely travelled now and they have been exposed to an increasing number of delicious, well-made and, reasonably priced spirits from around the globe.
  • Specialist drinks magazines carry many articles on distilled spirits and there are spirit columns in several national newspapers.
  • Distilled spirits education is now widely available and is central to the continued success of these alcoholic beverages and their contribution to the overall business success of every bar.
lesson 6 distilling how spirits are made 6 1 introduction continued
Lesson 6: Distilling: How Spirits are made 6.1 Introduction(continued)

Historical Background of Distilled Spirits

  • The word distillation comes (from the Latin destillare meaning to drip) which is the extraction of higher alcohols from fermented drinks by using the action of heat to vapourize them. Basically what distillation is the concentration or increasing of alcohol strength.

Evolution and development of distillation;

  • About 1810BC in Mesopotamia, the perfumery of King Zimrilim employed a method for isolating scented oils of flowers and plants to make hundreds of liters of balms, essences and incense from cedar, cypress, ginger and myrrh every month. These were used to embalm the dead and for spiritual, medicinal and cosmetic purposes
  • 3rd Millennium 374BC, Aristotle is born and later in his life he writes of distilling in his ‘Meteorology, he suggested the possibility of spirit distillation when he wrote: "Seawater can be made potable by distillation as well and wine and other liquids can be submitted to the same process.” (striving to achieve clean drinkable liquids)
  • From 4AD onwards, alchemists in China, India, Arabia, Egypt and Greece were using distillation to make turpentine, cure diseases or prolong life with medicines, or to create powered cosmetic for eyes that they called al kuhl, refers to the Arab practice of producing a black powder by condensing a vapour of the metal antimony.
  • 6th century, Irish monasteries spread the distillation skills around Europe, perhaps Irish monks had encountered the art in Sicily or Andalusia or though their ancient trading links with the Phoenicians.
  • 12th century, people in Armagnac and Pyrenees started distillation and by the 1400s through contacts with the Dutch they start trading in eaux-de-vie.
  • 1500, Dutch designed the Classic pot still for the French to make burnt wine Brandwijn. This meant a ten-fold increase in the single distillation brandewijn, the burnt wine that could be taken back to Holland on each trip.
  • Mid 1500s, Chevalier de la Croix Marron develops the process of second distillations (second purifying boiling of the distillates), this second distillation was good for purity.
  • 19th century, introduction of the continuous still, allowing second and third distillations making production more economical and easier to control.
Lesson 6: Distilling: How Spirits are made 6.2 Raw Materials of Distilled Spirits6.3 Methods of Alcohol Separation

Raw materials of Distilled Spirits:

  • The availability of this base ingredient and the uniqueness of the land which is it grown all play an integral part in the different complexities and qualities found in these distilled spirits.
  • Anything that can be fermented can be used as a raw material for spirits – whether fruit, grain or vegetable.
  • Where sugar is present in the primary material, as in molasses or fruit, the fermentation can be started directly.
  • Some spirits can be made from one particular material only, (i.e. whiskey, vodka, genever), some schnapps and akvavit from grain. Other, such as Vodka, can be made from a broad range of raw materials, including various grains, potatoes, and even sugar cane and grapes (see Chapter 6 table 6.1 – p. 168 ‘distilled spirits base ingredients’)

Methods of alcohol Separation:

Two distinctively different methods to separate alcohol: Congelation method (freeze distillation) and the boiling method or (heat distillation)

which is commonly referred to as the distillation method.

Congelation (cold extraction): separation by freezing below zero degrees Celsius or 31F degrees;

  • only problem with this method is that this is a dangerous method of separation,
  • most International countries do not officially recognize this method of alcohol separation and have banned its use making the method of alcohol separation illegal,
  • less than 2% of the worlds distilled spirits are made using this method.

Distillation (heat extraction): separation by vaporization of the fermentable liquid at 78.5 degrees Celsius or 172

Degrees Fahrenheit to create alcohol’.

  • scientifically the best separation method and research figures indicate that this method accounts for 98% of the worlds spirits produced,
  • the most widely method officially recognized by International governments to separate alcohol for creating spirits which taxes and duties are levied.
lesson 6 distilling how spirits are made 6 4 principles of distillation pot still process
Lesson 6: Distilling: How Spirits are made 6.4 Principles of Distillation [ Pot Still process ]

Pot Still: (alembic or alambic)

  • This looks like a large copper kettle and is heated by direct heat.
  • The vapours collect in the head and are led off through a narrow tube at the top, called the swan’s neck from where they go to the condenser. Here they are liquefied.
  • Such a still is not very heat-efficient, but it produces spirits with character.
  • Pot still distillation is a small batch process, This redistilling often several times is necessary to achieve the appropriate alcohol level.
  • Most spirits made with a pot still are double distilled, but sometimes it is done in three or even four stages (i.e. Irish whiskey, distilled three times).
  • Several spirits are produced using the Pot still: Cognac, brandy, Scotch malt whisky, Irish whiskey, American Bourbon whiskey, some rums (usually the darker ones) and some other spirits.
Lesson 6: Distilling: How Spirits are made 6.4 Principles of Distillation[ Continuous (Patent, Column) Still Process ]

The Still man:separates the poisonous parts (methanol, propandl, butanol), from the required spirit (ethanol). The still

man identifies all these separations and parts by (a) tell by nose and (b) the rising hydrometer, the first and the last parts

will not be included in the final spirit as they contain toxic compounds.

Continuous still: (referred to as the Patent, Column or Coffey Still): invented by Robert Stein in 1820, developed by

Aeneas Coffey.Consists of two tall columns, each about sixty feet in height, called the analyzer and the rectifier.The

alcoholic wash is broken down into its constituent vapours, or analysed, in the analyzer, and the vapours are selectively

condensed, or rectified, in the rectifier.

Large coffey still (exterior view). Coffey still diagram. Small coffey still (interior view)

Lesson 6: Distilling: How Spirits are made 6.5 Systems for Determining Alcohol Strengths of Distilled Spirits

Pure alcohol is impossible to obtain as alcohol has a great affinity for water

Ancient Methods, Proof, Proven spirit:Proof or a proven spirit as an indicator of alcoholic strength derives from the early use of

gunpowderin testing spirits. Spirits were mixed with gunpowder and set alight.

Sykes Hydrometer system (1816-1980), Sykes proof law:

Invented by an English Customs Official named Sykes proof law, based on a very simple law the law of flotation. This states that a floating body

displaces its own weight of liquid. Pure alcohol is lighter than water. he took advantage of the difference in the specific gravity of water and alcohol.

He fixed his standard weight at twelve thirteenths of the weight of an equal quantity of distilled water. After calculating it out, by an involved

process of mathematics, this means that 100 proof is equal to 57% abv or 175 proof is equal to 100% abv.

Gay Lussac system:Gay-Lussac perfected a new alcoholometer easy to use and which gave directly, due to its calibration, the alcoholic

rate at a given temperature. Gay Lussac (GL) also expresses percentage volume but measures it by hydrometer at 15 degrees Celsius giving a

reading slightly higher than the OIML

Percentage of pure alcohol by volume (ABV): On the 1st January 1990 the Sykes hydrometer system was abolished under the EEC

Directive 76/766 and ABV was introduced by the Organisation Internationale de Metrologie Legale (OIML) system measures this by hydrometer

at 20C degrees. Original Skyes Hydrometer system set

lesson 6 distilling how spirits are made 6 6 maturing and oxidation
Lesson 6: Distilling: How Spirits are made 6.6 Maturing and Oxidation

The barrel: most common vessel used for maturing spirits, usually 500-litre size (although smaller sizes can also be used

which restricts the oxygen intake and changes the character of the final spirit) wooden barrel help the chemical reactions,

extraction of taste, extraction of bouquet and extraction of colour.

Evaporation loss of spirit (like angels share contains dangerous fusel oils this vaporises first.

In summary the wooden barrel helps the spirit to;

  • change as the congeners (fusels) interact with air filtering through the porous wooden barrels
  • new congeners are absorbed from the wood itself, adding flavouring agents to the final spirit (flavours are married, blended). Not all spirits are aged.

Wood finishes: More and more, some distilleries are producing whisky with various finishes, achieved by the last 6 months

to 2 years of maturation being in ex-Sherry, ex-Port, ex-Madeira,

Maturation periods: can differ (a minimum of 3 years before it can be legally called Irish or Scotch whiskey).

Used Bourbon cask. French oak cask. New American white oak.

lesson 6 distilling how spirits are made 6 7 tasting distilled spirits
Lesson 6: Distilling: How Spirits are made 6.7 Tasting Distilled Spirits

Distilled Spirits Tasting techniques

Keep it fun, the more you taste the more you trust your olfactory senses, the nose is important (35,000 smells), it can detect

aromas diluted one part in a million. Taste (sweet, salty, sour, bitter). Spirit tasters use their nose more than taste.

  • taste in the morning (if possible) when the palate is fresh, professional tasters and blenders in the distillation industry also use their nosing skills more than their tasting skills, their taste buds are of secondary importance when it comes to the sensory evaluation of the spirit
  • don’t wear scent or after-shave, no smoking during tasting, or half an hour before the tasting as it impairs smell and taste sensations
  • use glasses that will best bring out the aromas of the spirit, for example a glass with a decent tulip shape and bowl (for swirling the spirit) and a narrow lip (to catch the aromas) made from clear crystal so the colours of the spirit can be considered
  • take short sniffs, and pause from time to time to breathe in fresh air and rest your nose, you smell the spirit while trying to have a first impression, smelling a substance for a prolonged time has an anesthetizing effect on the olfactory bulb, as our sense organs tend to ignore a smell which was perceived for a very long time
  • pour a small portion of the distilled spirit into the palm of your hand, rub your hands together and breathe in the aromas between both insides of your palms, this technique is favoured especially by distillers
  • adding water: dilute the spirit to around 30% ABV with water in order to allow other aromas to emerge towards the opening of the glass,careful of water even a half centiliter can destroy a good spirit, dilute to a point when any prickle or burning sensation you might feel on the nose when you sniff is gone, use bottled water or tap water (if it is completely odorless), don’t chill the water or use ice because this will close down the aromas
  • take a little sip of the spirit , hold it for a moment while making sure the tongue is perfectly in contact with the beverage in order to better appreciate the fundamental flavors; the diluted spirit will be well tolerated by taste buds, swallow it slowly while trying to analyze the many gustatory nuances
  • conclude on the spirits finish and aftertaste, finish is the length of time the flavour lingers after you have swallowed, and is rated long, medium and short, aftertaste, if there is any, should be pleasant and not at variance with the flavour of the spirit for example the aftertaste of rare whiskies can last for hours.

Further information: (Chapter 6 – pp. 178-180)

lesson 6 distilling how spirits are made conclusion
Lesson 6: Distilling: How Spirits are made Conclusion
  • The varieties of distilled spirits are infinite there are hundreds of ways in which this beverage that is roughly half water and half alcohol can be made.
  • Every base ingredient from the grape to the grain to the water and yeast can make a difference to its final taste.
  • The choice of the distillation method is crucial to the final product and the aging period and storage conditions produce different characteristics.
  • The type of wooden barrel, charred or un-charred, has a definite effect on flavor.
  • The blending and flavouring processes for each distilled spirit brand contribute significantly to their individual uniqueness.
  • As customers continue to seek new tastes and flavours from their foods and beverages the challenge for bars with their distilled spirit offerings will include the strategic selection, storage, presentation and appropriate staff education for these fine beverages to meet consumer demand.
lesson 6 distilling how spirits are made references
Lesson 6: Distilling: How Spirits are made References
  • BNIC (2012) Bureau National Interprofessional du Cognac, available www.cognac.fr [accessed 4/02/12].
  • Brown, G. (1995) Classic Spirits of the World, Multimedia Book, Prion: UK.
  • Burroughs, D. and Bezzant, N. (1990) The New Wine Companion, 2nd edn, Wine and Spirit Education Trust, Heinemann Professional Publishing: Oxford.
  • Blue, A, D. (2004) The Complete Book of Spirits: A Guide to Their History, Production and Enjoyment, Harper Collins: New York.
  • CEPS. (2011) European Spirit Organisation, available www.europeanspirits.org [accessed 4/01/11].
  • CIEDV. (2011) International Centre for Spirits and Liqueurs [accessed 7/01/2011]
  • Fielden, C. (2004) Exploring the World of Wines and Spirits’, WSET: London.
  • Walton, S. (2000) The Complete Guide to Spirits and Liqueurs’, Anness Publishing Ltd: London.
  • Wilson, S. (2000) The Complete Guide to Spirits & Liqueurs, Annes Publishing Ltd: London.

Web resources

  • www.whiskymag.com Whisky magazine.
  • www.smws.com Scottish malt whisky society.
  • www.straightbourbon.com Bourbon whiskey.
  • www.bushmills.com Bushmills.