Distillation is a key process in the world of gastronomy. Distillation separates alcohol from water and other volatile components that contribute to its aroma and flavor, such as volatile components found in fermented spirits that don’t convert 100% of their sugar molecules to alcohol through fermentation processes, leaving only distillation to safely extract this liquid and make it safe for human consumption.
Distillation systems rely on columns – ascending plates which vaporize and strip away volatile compounds in wash. Each plate is slightly cooler than its predecessor so any condensate that hits it condenses and drips back down again to be re-vaporized, before rotating and channeling those vapors to their collection vessels for each turn of plates.
As the vapors move down the column they collect various flavor compounds known as congeners that must be selected carefully in order to meet desired flavor profiles. Unfortunately, this skill cannot be learned in school and it explains why so few distillers become master distillers.
Many variables can impact the end results of a distillation run, from how hot or cool the still is, to the angle at which lyne arms are set, even to whether tubes or worms are used to collect vapor. At its core, spirits produced at higher proof will contain less congeners while being purer in terms of ethanol content, while lower proof spirits will have more and provide a fuller taste profile.