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Distillation refers to the process of separating components or substances from a liquid mixture. This is done either via selective boiling and condensation. Both complete distillation and partial ones are possible; the former refers to the separation of nearly pure components, while the latter increases the concentration of selected mixture components.
Whatever the chosen process used, the idea is to work on the volatility of the components. Heat is applied to what is called a boiler, a container with an alcoholic wash, some mixture of ethanol (drinking alcohol), water, and often other solid and liquid substances. The distillation process happens with the interaction of yeast and sugars, a process called fermentation.
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When the alcoholic wash is heated to a boiling point, some of the wash becomes vapor, which expands and leaves the boiler by way of its lyne arm. The vapor travels through this lyne arm and goes into a separate container called a condenser which is cooled externally, often by circulating cooling water. When the vapor is cooled, it condenses back to a liquid called the condensate, which when collected becomes the distillate.
The two methods for distilling are pot distilling and column distilling. The former, also known as the alembic method, is the use of a big, kettle-shaped vessel where the primary fermented liquid is heated up. Column distilling involves giant gleaming columns. The wash is continuously injected into the column, with steam constantly rising up to meet it.
Adam Quirk is a former operative at a tech startup and the co-founder of Cardinal Spirits, a craft distillery opening in Bloomington, IN. More writings on liqueurs and spirits here.