by Jason Stone on July 11, 2012
If you want beer or wine, the process is straightforward – toss some yeast into your sugar plus water of course, let it ferment in a container with an airlock, filter the liquid after to remove impurities then add some flavors if you wish and in a snap alcohol is ready to drink. But if you want something tastier and with a blowing kick then all you have to do is distill the wash and you’ll get a strong spirit. You can still do a lot of things with the distillate, you can age it in a barrel or mix some flavors to it. That sounds easy!
Distilling the fermented mash is simply separating the water from alcohol, with the aid of their boiling point differences, to increase the proof of the liquor. In this process a still is your best friend. The still can be made up of copper or stainless steel and is basically classified in two types: a pot and a reflux. Both kinds of still are better for certain tasks. Let’s quickly compare the two.
This type of still is one of the earliest apparatuses developed to distill alcohol, it has been used by early bootleggers in Appalachia to create moonshine. A pot still is a relatively uncomplicated distiller. All that’s needed is to heat the mash in it and once it boils the alcohol will start to evaporate. The vapors will flow naturally into the worm (a coil immersed in cold water) and condenses back to liquid.
Obviously every run makes one condensation process and so distilling is made in batches. Pot stills give an incomplete separation which is desirable if you want to retain the flavors of the mash. This is what’s wanted if you’re making moonshine, whiskey or brandy - pot stills make them thick-textured, flavorful and really tasty.
It could yield an alcohol of 60-80% proof however distilling the liquid repeatedly will increase the proof of the alcohol and improve purity (but lessens the flavor).
Unlike pot stills, reflux stills are designed to create higher proof with little to no flavor alcohol. Inside the still is a fractioning column that allows the reflux of liquid to help condense the rising vapor and increase the efficiency of distilling, thus increasing purity. The taller the column and the more reflux liquid, the neutral the alcohol will be.
Reflux still is like a lot of pot stills assembled together that's why it can make multiple distillation in a single run. This is how vodka and rum are distilled and then just diluted to proof safe for human consumption.