Distillation basics and questions

Sepulchritude Forum: The Absinthe Forum Archive Thru March 2002: Archive thru February 2002:Distillation basics and questions
By Drbeer on Monday, February 11, 2002 - 10:35 am: Edit

To add to the music comment made by Don...

There are many things that come from those islands - music, culture etc., that are attributed to the wrong places. :)

By Don_Walsh on Monday, February 11, 2002 - 07:03 am: Edit

And of course Angostura is also the maker of the famous Angostura Bitters tonic and digestiv.

By Don_Walsh on Monday, February 11, 2002 - 06:51 am: Edit

Ah. Angostura is Trinidad & Tobago's main distillery.

These are islands just north of Venezuela's coast, southern Carribean. Often referred to as T&T or TnT.

Nice place, by all accounts. Greetings from Thailand!

A whole lot of music that we wrongly think of as 'Jamaican' comes from these islands originally: limbo, calypso, steelband, jump-up.

By Lmarchegrisiste on Monday, February 11, 2002 - 05:31 am: Edit

Hardy is the nickname for a plant manager for a controlled but unconsolidated subsidiary of Angostura and his plant is engineeered for 24.000 cases a day. Previously his plant was independent.

By Don_Walsh on Monday, February 11, 2002 - 12:39 am: Edit

I went through the distillery directory from Antingua to Venezuela...it's pretty comprehensive, for example Segarra is listed in Spain, with website...

But no Hardy. Maybe they operate under a different name?

And let me apologize in case I sounded like I was lecturing. I did not mean to. I was only trying to be helpful.

By Don_Walsh on Sunday, February 10, 2002 - 11:59 pm: Edit

And by the way an awful lot of (often awful) absinthe is made by blending neutral spirits with various essential oils, and water, and coloring with 'appropriate' dyes. This a lot easier and cheaper than doing it the right way, though, and produces an inferior absinthe.

The tricky parts have to do with herbal selection and balance, control of distillation, and proper coloration by herbal chlorophyll -- the final step being the trickiest by far.

If I had to compare absinthe making to the making of any other alcoholic beverage I would mention some extremely high end gins, some herbal liqueurs such as Chartreuse, and that is about it.

None of those comparisons are perfect, obviously -- if they were the product would be absinthe,

By Pikkle on Sunday, February 10, 2002 - 11:50 pm: Edit

Huh... did someone say something? No, it's all that cuban... damn it Castro, get back in there, you smarmy bastard you!

By Don_Walsh on Sunday, February 10, 2002 - 11:49 pm: Edit

G.Hardy in the Carribean, or T.Hardy in Australia?

There's more than one Hardy in the distillery biz.

Rum making is a very widely dispersed activity!

By Pan on Sunday, February 10, 2002 - 11:45 pm: Edit

Pikkle . . .

Are you following any of this?

By Lmarchegrisiste on Sunday, February 10, 2002 - 11:27 pm: Edit

He is blending pot rum and neutral spirits which he is then required to store for two years before selling.

By Pikkle on Sunday, February 10, 2002 - 11:26 pm: Edit

Don is in his element...

By Don_Walsh on Sunday, February 10, 2002 - 11:22 pm: Edit

Ah, I see on closer reading that you did say that he blends pot stilled aged rum with his column still product. And from your description, it is clear that the column still product is neutral spirit.

So I guess that this is legit where he is.

I will look up Hardy and see where the distillery is. There are good directories of distilleries worldwide, and most everyone is in there.

By Don_Walsh on Sunday, February 10, 2002 - 11:12 pm: Edit

Sorry, there's no comparison.

Absinthe does not involve a fermentation step; the high proof alcohol already exists, and furthermore, it is not produced from cane juice or molasses (sorry, our friends in Brasil.)

To make absinthe one starts with the correct high proof, very high quality ethanol from the correct feed stock, steeps the right mix of herbs in it, then pot-distills this mixture with the herbs still in after adding the correct amount of water to accomplish several things at same time.

Absinthe is NEVER made with a column or continuous (Coffey) still. It is always a batch process in a pot still.

If you tried to make absinthe with a column you would leave the herbal oils in the pot, and frustrate your purpose.

Back to rum: I think you will find that pot-distilling mash (including cane or molasses mash) will yield 70-90 proof only, not 190 proof. At least not in one step. Nobody takes the procewss to 190 proof (95%) unless they are producing NEUTRAL SPIRITS. And with a pot still that takes about 6 steps.

With a fractionating (column) still, if it is very efficient you can go from mash to 190 proof but you'll go broke on energy costs. Nobody does it that way. You strip the mash first, then you fractionate the resulting 35-40% raw spirits through a fractionating still.

WHY? Because the mash can't be more than 14-16% alcohol, and with such a concentration you are having to boil up an awful lot of water along with the ethanol. Water takes about 2.5 times more latent heat of vaporization than ethanol does. So if you have, say, 1 part ethanol in 7 parts water, you will have to waste 18 times as much energy on the water phase change as on the alcohol. See? That costs MONEY. So you don't waste your energy (money) fighting the water, you strip the alcohol in a pot still first, then once you have 35-40% alcohol, the energy situation will be more favorable. You will still be using 8X more energy for the water than for the alcohol, but that's a lot better than 18X.

If your friend is really making RUM as opposed to NEUTRAL SPIRITS I think you will find that he pot distills to maybe 100 proof, then cuts it back to 80 proof for aging. If he distilled to 190 proof he'd leave most of the flavors behind along with the congeners. Which is why neutral spirits aren't aged, they are filtered through activated carbon, and what comes out isn't rum any longer -- it's vodka.

Your friend MIGHT be pot distilling and aging a small volume, then mixing it with his neutral spirits to whatever proof he wants. That is sort of cheating, though, and depending on where his operation is may or may not comply with national laws.

By Lmarchegrisiste on Sunday, February 10, 2002 - 09:59 pm: Edit

One of my friends is a rum distiller whose family have been in the business for 150 years. I have toured his plant a few times and have some idea of how his product is made. I have not been to an absinthe distillery and am not sure how consistently the concepts apply accross the products.

My friend Hardy showed me the company has two stills one is an older small pot still which makes rum in batches. The other newer and is much larger say 50 feet high and is called a coloumn or continuous still. The liquid fom the fermented mash is heated in either of the stills and the fumes condensed are in the range of 190 proof. The product is then diluted to 150 and barreled or put in tank trailers.

He has told me that drinking any too high proof product neat will damage your throat. He also said that the particular product of the pot still needs to be aged four years before drinking even if cut. The pot rum has impurities like fusel oil which are absorbed by wood in an aging process. The coloumn still rum can be drunk immediately diluted.

The pot still rum is used to flavor the coloumn still product which tastes bland. There are barrels of pot rum varying up to 20 years old and are used for adding flavor to the coloumn still product which is then further conditioned by being stored in barrels for two more years.

Hardy sells raw alcohol his fresh rum product to other bottlers and blending plants who make rum, vodka, flavored rums, gin and cordials, these last are made by blending in flavoring extracts and essences. In my family we make a product for household consumption by soaking berries in rum for six months.

Could someone with their own first hand absinthe still, blending and bottling experience compare and contrast the making of leading brands of absinthe with rum as described.

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