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Whiskey Distillation

Overview

Published: 03/16/2011

by Whiskey.com

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Whiskey Distillation

 

Learn About The Whiskey Distillation Process

If you have ever wondered about the whiskey distillation process used to create your favorite whiskey, then you are in luck. Here you will find information on the whiskey distillation process and learn how simple grains, water, and flavoring become the complex spirits whiskey lovers enjoy. The first whiskey distillation probably used fermented fruit rather than fermented grains. It was not until the middle of the 14th century that fermented grains first started being used in the whiskey distillation process.

 

Start of Whiskey Distillation

No one is sure when or where the very first batch of whiskey was created. Whiskey distillation probably started sometime during the 12th century in European countries where Irish whiskey distillation was first recorded as a commercial enterprise. By the 14th century, the whiskey distillation industry was enjoying a brisk expansion as both supply and demand were increasing year after year.

 

Whiskey Distillation Process

The process of whiskey distillation changed little from the 12th to the 19th century. The first stills were called alembic stills and were used by Greek alchemists to make medicinal tinctures. It did not take very long for people to figure out that you could use an alembic still for whiskey distillation as easily as alchemists used them in the creation of medicines.

 

Improvements made to the alembic still produced what is known as the pot still, and it was put to work for the use of whiskey distillation. The pot still was widely used for over 450 years in the whiskey production industry. Connoisseurs around the world still believe that the pot still method of whiskey distillation is the best way to produce whiskey.

 

Whiskey distillation through alembic and pot stills works in the same manner. Heat is applied to the fermenting mixture to speed up the fermenting process and separate the aromatic esters and alcohol from the water and impurities during the first distillation process. A second process produces a colorless alcohol that is aged in barrels where it acquires its familiar color and additional subtle flavors. Pot stills are limited because of the onerous task of cleaning and refilling the still after each whiskey distillation process; but, they do the job well enough to remain in use today by specialty whiskey manufacturers.

 

Continuous Stills for Whiskey

In 1826, Robert Stein invented the continuous still. Continuous stills were a great innovation for the whiskey distillation industry, because they allow producers to maintain a continual whisky distillation process as opposed to the downtime that pot still distillers experience. Continuous stills also have the advantage of producing distillates with up to 96% alcohol compared to the 50% that single pot stills can produce.

 

Operation of a continuous still in whiskey distillation is similar to a pot still with the addition of components that allow material to be added to the column still as needed. Alcohol is siphoned from the top while spent materials are siphoned away through the base of the column. Within a few years, the consensus in the whiskey distillation industry was that continuous stills were more efficient than pot stills.