Local Wine Co's Blog

Distilling – How old is this art? by cdbakunas
February 8, 2011, 5:31 pm
Filed under: Making Cocktails, Word on the Street | Tags: , , , ,

When did distilling begin? We are certain that a rudimentary distillation began approximately 3000BCE. As recorded records go our first glimpse into the technology of distilling (essential oils) can be found in written cuneiform in the Epic of Gilgamesh.

Figure Drawing of an Ancient Still

In Babylon a technique was used placing a collection of herbs in a boiling cauldron, capturing the steam on the fluffy side of lamb skin, then wringing the solution from the fur to be caught in a bowl where the surface was skimmed for the essential oils: we have rudimentary distillation.

What a gorgeous thing to take a mash of herbs (or in our case nowadays fermented grains or fruits) bring it to a boiling point and make it disappear in a gossamer vapor, only to recapture this vapor from the grasp of the sky and distill it down to the essential ingredients of a pure, water like beverage. When you think of this it really is amazing.

This distillation technology is refined and begins to travel around the globe. By 500BCE the first signs of a distillation industry are evident in India in an area that was known as Taxila (now NW Pakistan). Large terra cotta pots filled with water were boiled, the steam filtered through a bed of fermented grains, thus picking up the essence of the grain and the alcohol,l then hits a second terra cotta pot that was filled with cold water (a condensation plate of sorts) and passed into a tube where the vapor would condense and be captured.  Amazing!  This technology spread rapidly through Asia and Africa. Finally by 1100 CE the Moors bring distilling to Spain and Italy on their conquests of Southern Europe and distillation begins to travel across Europe over the next several hundred years.

By 1600 CE texts are being written about distilling, and an industry springs forth during the Renaissance as the science of distillation is spread to the common man and no longer remains the domain of monks, scientists and the wealthy. This is a good thing for us today, otherwise we would never see the proliferation of styles and vast quantity of distilled elixir.  One bump in the road to the populist movement in distillation was that the church and the wealthy did not want to give up their perceived monopoly on this industry. Thus we see the beginning of restrictions and taxation. More on this heavy topic in a later blog.

America is experiencing a revitalization of micro distilling, done for the love and passion of the craft that we have not seen since before prohibition. I recommend that you walk, run or drive to your nearest bottle shop and begin asking questions about what new craft spirits are available in your city or county and begin a wonderful journey of exploration. This might just lead you to a new passion, or a profound hobby and five years from now you’ll be sitting in a distillery in Oregon, talking with the men and women that have made this revolution happen and be the happiest person on the planet, sipping fine barrel aged gin, white lightening or exquisite vodka, straight from the source.




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