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Saturday Magazine, 1835, on distilling

Read a good book? Any topic is a good one. If it is about moonshine of other spirits, beer, or wine then that is a bonus.

Saturday Magazine, 1835, on distilling

Postby jake_leg » Sat Jan 14, 2012 5:52 am


Every liquid which is susceptible of fermentation will yield alcohol, or spirits of wine, by distillation, after the first or vinous stage of that chemical action has taken place. Now as all liquids which contain starch or sugar of any kind will ferment if the fermenting principle is present, the juices of all vegetables containing farina or saccharine matter may be employed to obtain alcohol from.

The peculiar flavour of the different spirits obtained from these vegetable substances, depends on the presence of some foreign matter, as an essential oil, &c, for the alcohol or basis is the same, from whatever source it may be obtained.

The process of distillation is founded on the principle of different degrees of caloric being requisite to convert different liquids into vapour. Thus, if water and alcohol are mixed and exposed to a moderate heat, sufficient to volatilize the spirit,—but not to convert the water rapidly into steam,—and the vapour arising from the mixture, lie collected and condensed in a separate vessel, the liquid will be found to be stronger, or to contain more alcohol in proportion to the water, than that from which it was obtained.

The instrument contrived to effect this separation is called a Still. It consists of a large copper or boiler, with a vaulted head, from which rises a funnel-shaped tube, which, being bent downwards, terminates at some distance from the fire of the boiler, in a leaden, copper, or tin tube, made into a spiral form of many turns, and hence culled the Worm. This tube is enclosed in a tub, or vat, capable of holding water, and the end of the worm terminates in a tap, which passes out of the vessel at the bottom.

When the liquid to be distilled is put into the boiler and is heated, the vapour produced passes through the head and into the worm, and, by the coldness of the water in the tub, is condensed into a liquid, which may be drawn off at the tap. This liquid product is called singlings, and is again returned to a still, and the process repeated,—the resulting condensed liquid being each time stronger, or containing less water,—till the spirit is obtained of the requisite purity, or at what is termed proof. AH spirit for drinking remains diluted with a large proportion of water. Instead of redistilling the products, after a certain number of times, other chemical processes are employed for the purpose of separating the alcohol from the water, and from any badflavoured essential oil which may have been distilled over from the original liquid. These processes are generally termed the rectification of the spirit, and vary for every different liquid employed.

There are three principal spirits used in this country; of the first of these there are several varieties, all obtained from grain of some sort, and known by the names of Geneva, Whisky, Hollands, &c.

Gin, or Geneva, is procured from raw barley, oats, and malt, mixed together in certain proportions. Every particle of soluble matter is obtained from these ingredients by repeated mashings, (see the article Brewing, Vol. VI., p. 243.) The worts are then made to ferment by the addition of yeast, as for brewing, but the fermentation is continued till all the saccharine matter is converted into alcohol. This fermented liquor is called wash by the distillers. The grains are put into the still along with the wash, and the first product being redistilled, the spirit obtained is rectified. The peculiar flavour is given by infusing a few juniper-berries and some hops. The Dutch employ barley, malt, and rye meal only to distil their Hollands from.

Irish Whisky, Potsheen, or Potteen*, owes its highly prized flavour to the mode in which the usual processes are conducted, rather than to any peculiarity in the grains. The barley is wetted with bog-water, in order to excite germination, and the malt is dried with turf instead of coal. The malt is mixed with about one-fourth of raw corn, and the mashing is made in a tun, the bottom of which is covered with young heath and oat-husks, to supply the place of a false one. When the wash begins to boil in the still, the fire is suddenly quenched, and the spirit which runs, though weak, is of the true flavour. The singlings are distilled again and yield the real potteen.

* The account of the peculiar process of manufacturing potteen, is taken from Professor Donovan's work, that gentleman having, at some pains, procured an opportunity of witnessing the whole in a genuine Irish illicit distillery. Mr. Donovan is doubtful whether the turf used is the cause of the flavour of the spirit, but attributes this to the proportions of the grains and the mode of distillation.

Rum is a spirit obtained from molasses, or the fluid which drains from the crystallizing sugar: the molasses are diluted with water, fermented and distilled. In the distillation acetic ether passes over, and commuuicates a strong disagreeable flavour to the spirit, which must be subsequently got rid of. The leaves of different plants arc put into the still to give a pleasant taste to the rum.

Brandy is distilled from any wines, but the best is procured from weak. French wines, which are unfit for exportation. In consequence of the enormous quantity of this spirit consumed, every mode of economizing labour and expense is had recourse to: the principal of these is the adoption of a peculiar mode of distillation, which merits description here, and by which fuel is saved. Instead of a single still there are a series of copper vessels, which we shall distinguish as 1, 2, 3, &c. A tube rises from the top of 1, and is bent down again to pass through the top of 2, to near the bottom of that vessel; from the top of 2 another similar tube communicates in the same way with 3, and 3 again communicates with 4, and so on. These tubes are open at both ends, but are soldered air-tight to the holes in the vessels through which they pass, so that there is no opening to the external air by means of them. Each of the vessels being half filled with the wine to be distilled, the fire is applied to the first only, the vapour which passes over is condensed by, and mixed with, the wine in the second, and as this vapour, by the nature of distillation, contains more alcohol than water, the wine in the second vessel is strengthened by the addition, while it is heated by the caloric disengaged from the vapour: and since a less degree of heat is sufficient to convert this stronger liquid into vapour, that which rises from it contains a yet greater proportion of alcohol to the water. This vapour from 2 is condensed again in 3, the wine in which is thus strengthened more than that in 2 was, and the heat imparted to 3, though less than that which 2 acquired from 1, is yet sufficient to distil the si longer wine contained in 3. The action is continued, if necessary, to four vessels, but usually three are sufficient, and the vapour from the last is condensed in a worm in the usual manner, only instead of water, the tub containing the worm is filled with wine, which, getting heated by the process, is pumped back into the first vessel, and is therefore made to boil sooner, and fuel is thus still further economized. This ingenious process was the invention of an uneducated man of the name of Adam, and goes by his name.

Brandy, whatever wine it may have been obtained from, is at first colourless; in France a good deal is used in this state, but the greater part is coloured by different methods. Cognac brandy is put into new oaken casks, and chips of the same wood are also added; the oak communicates a yellow tinge to the spirit, and probably some flavour likewise. The various liqueurs known by the names of Eau-dore, Maraschino, Kirsche-wasser, &c. consist of brandy, flavoured by the essential oil of different aromatic plants, and sweetened by sugar. Arrack is a name given in the East to spirits generally, and has hence been employed here to designate very different liquors, as that obtained from rice, the cocoa-tree, &c.

The fermented liquids obtained from potatoes, beet, carrot, turnips, the fruit of the potato, service-tree, apples, cherries, &c. have been employed with different degrees of success for obtaining alcohol from. In Kamtsuhatka, grass is made use of for this purpose, and many plants might, doubtless, be employed with advantage, if it were not for the severity of our Excise laws; but no friend to his species could wish to see the use of spirits as a drink increased in any country.
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