At least since 7000 BC, Chinese civilization has practiced distillation of fermented fruits and honey for use as alcohol. European artisans later perfected this art form when they converted Brandewijn (burnt wine) to cognac through distillation. While distillation may seem straightforward, its liquid output contains numerous chemical compounds known as congeners which give spirits their distinctive character; their weight vaporizes at different temperatures; therefore distillers must use skillful manipulation of these congeners in order to obtain only products suitable for consumption.
Home distillers should take special care to clean and sanitize all tools used during distillation before using their still. This will prevent contamination of vapor and product with bacteria, fungus or other potentially hazardous organisms. When selecting materials for distillation purposes, stainless steel is preferable due to copper’s potential metallic flavor inducing properties that could result in metallic tasting products.
Distillation requires monitoring the temperature of the vapor to avoid overheating and burning of ethanol, which releases toxic carbon monoxide gas. A thermometer or pyrometer attached to your still can do just this job, while sight gauges installed provide visual information regarding water level, pressure, and energy consumption.
At first, the heads – which have an unpleasant odor similar to nail polish remover – will be collected. Next come desirable and sweet-smelling esters; finally comes tails with grassy aromas similar to overcooked broccoli. A skilled distiller knows when and how to cut through these layers to reach more of the heart while simultaneously avoiding tails altogether.