Unveiling the Art of Distillation: A Concise Introduction

Unveiling the Art of Distillation: A Concise Introduction

Brewers: We don’t need to tell you that beer is a good business with its 85% profit margin, but did you know that with $150 worth of malt, you can produce two hundred 0.7 liter bottles of strong whiskey?

At $8 per bottle, your profit would be approximately $1450, or a 90% profit. Some producers are even selling bottles for as high as $30 to $70. Similar opportunities exist with beer-brandy, also known as beer-schnapps.

Growing or fruit-packing companies: Prunes, apricots, cherries, pears, or apples. Often, you don’t know what to do with leftover fruit that is not suitable for direct consumption or other types of processing because they are undersized or too ripe. Two thousand pounds of prunes valued at $0.10 or less per pound could yield 250 bottles of fruit brandy, which sells in Europe (and now in some places in the U.S.) for $20 to $70 per bottle. With a $200 investment in raw materials, you can make $1500, resulting in a profit of $6.00 per bottle.

Wineries: Vineyards often find themselves with wines that they consider to be of insufficient quality for supermarket shelves. These wines can be converted into a Cognac-style brandy or even your own port wine to expand your product line. Another option is to make trendy grappa from grape residuals that are not useful for wine.

The opportunities are endless. Considering the success of the beer revolution over the past 20 years, distilling could very well be the next booming industry.

What is distillation?

1. Distillation is the process of obtaining or extracting spirits, essential oils, etc. by distilling. For example, brandy can be distilled from wine, alcoholic spirits can be distilled from grain, and essential oils can be distilled from flowers. Distillation can also be used to obtain fresh water from sea water.

2. Distillation can also refer to subjecting substances like molasses, barley, rye, corn, etc. to the process of distillation.

Types of Stills Used in the Spirit Industry

Alembic Pot still

– This is the oldest and most recognized still design. The flask or kettle, typically made of copper, resembles a huge onion shape that allows the alcohol to be liberated from the mixture. The vapors rise and pass through a narrow pipe and then through a serpentine coil. A cold-water bath condenses the vapors in the coils, converting them back into liquid form.

Reflux or Column still

– This is a technological advancement over the pot still. It is more efficient, requiring only a single distillation done in one continuous operation. This type of still allows for precise separation techniques. Additionally, adjusting the reflux rate provides great flexibility in creating the style and quality of the spirits produced.

The reflux still is not only more efficient but also equipped to reduce potential harmful substances, such as cyanides and ethylcarbamate, if present in excessive amounts.

ACE 2000L copper column still

Other Considerations

Water consumption per batch: For every 500 liters of batch, approximately 1000 liters of water are needed. The water is required for cooling and should not exceed an inlet temperature of 20°C. The water outlet temperature should be around 70°C. If water costs are high, there are technical solutions available to circulate chilled water. The temperature of the output distillate should be about 20°C.

Steam consumption: For a capacity of 500 liters, the standard value is about 50 kg/h, assuming it takes 1 hour to bring the mash to boil. To complete the process, an additional 1.5 hours is needed, consuming approximately 75 kg of steam per hour.

For calculating energy consumption, the following basic numbers are used: 170,000 BTU net is required per hour. For gas-fired steam boilers, this translates to 220,000 BTU on input. Based on the BTU value of your natural gas or propane, you can calculate the cost of fuel.

Origins and History of the Process

Distillation, the process of separating a liquid into different parts through evaporation and condensation, is an ancient practice that may have begun as early as 2000 BC. Some believe that distillation was first used in China, Egypt, or Mesopotamia for medicinal purposes as well as to create balms, essences, and perfumes. Over time, the knowledge of the distillation process traveled thousands of miles, spreading across Europe, reaching England, Scotland, Ireland, and eventually settling in the Americas.

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