Distilling (Science-y goodness)

There are a lot of misconceptions and wrong ideas floating around out there regarding the liquor/spirits industry.  Every once and a while I will take the time to try and talk intelligently about scientific aspects of distilling, and attempt to shed some light on this mysterious world.  I should add the caveat that I am not a particularly scientific person, nor do I have any advanced degrees in chemistry etc.  As such, I won't be using many scientific terms, nor will I be discussing the pros and cons of different practices etc.  Instead, I will attempt to discuss what I know in layman's terms, the terms I learned them in.

So what is distilling?  In short it is the separation of liquids based on boiling point.  For example, water boils at 212 degrees Fahrenheit while ethanol (the alcohol found in your vodka bottle etc) boils at 173 degrees Fahrenheit.  So, by controlling the temperature we are able to separate out the alcohol from the water, and produce a drink that is a lot higher than 30 percent alcohol (which is the strength of Sam Adams Utopias -- one of the strongest fermented beverages in the world).  There are some things that confuse this process a bit, and other things we need to get rid of, like ISO-Propyl or rubbing alcohol, which would make the vodka too harsh etc.  But, this is the basic idea behind what we do.

The way we get that alcoholic solution with the mix of water and alcohol is the same way a brewery makes beer, or a winery wine.  In our case we start with apples, we crush them and then ferment the juice.  This makes a hard cider with between 8 and 10 percent alcohol.  That 10 percent alcohol is what we are looking for, and is what all of our equipment is used to extract.  So, when you get a bottle of Tree Vodka and pour an ounce just think of all the apples that went into it.  20 gallons of cider makes 1 gallon of 40% alcohol (vodka).  1 gallon is about 5 standard bottles, so each bottle took about 4 gallons of cider to make.  With that much cider it has to be good for you, right?

If you have any comments or questions please head to our Facebook page and post on our wall.  I will do my best to respond there.  Thanks and keep checking back.

Jeffrey Lennox