An alembic is a copper distillation apparatus, handcrafted and primarily used for producing high-quality alcoholic beverages, such as brandy, whiskey, chacha, calvados, as well as essential oils and fruit water. Its construction typically comprises three main components: a distillation flask, a helmet, and a condenser.
The operation of a copper alembic involves the following steps:
Loading the Mash: The fermented mash or wash is poured into the distillation flask.
Heating the Mash: As the wash is heated, alcohol vapors rise and enter the onion-shaped helmet, which acts as an air deflegmator, assisting in the separation of heavier fractions.
Vapor Movement: The desired ethyl alcohol, along with aromatic compounds, moves through the swan neck (bent tube) and enters the condenser.
Condensation: The condenser, usually consisting of a water-filled container and a coiled tube, facilitates the condensation of alcohol vapors back into liquid form.
Collection: The cooled liquid, now the final product, exits through a spout into a collection container.
The choice of copper is crucial for several reasons:
Sulfur Absorption: Copper absorbs sulfur compounds found in fruit and grain mashes, reducing the risk of off-flavors and odors.
Thermal Conductivity: Copper's excellent thermal conductivity allows for efficient and rapid heating and cooling during the distillation process.
Flavor Contribution: The use of copper imparts unique flavor and aromatic characteristics to the final product, especially notable in high-quality spirits like cognac and whiskey.
In summary, the copper alembic is valued for its ability to preserve the distinct flavors and aromas of raw materials, making it a preferred apparatus for distilling various beverages and extracting essential oils.