|How Absinthe Is Made III - Distillation
|Part two of a step-by-step account of the making of absinthe, based on an actual distillation at the historic
Emile Pernot distillery in Pontarlier.
The original old Egrot alambics at the distillery are in all respects identical to those used in the absinthe era.
The dual Egrot alambics. The larger
alambic at left has a capacity of
900l, the smaller one at right holds
200l. Both are jacketed with wood,
and topped by a traditionally shaped
chapiteau, which leads via copper
pipe up to a rectifying ball above the
The rectifying balls return some of
the heavier vapours to the pot, while
the balance condenses in the
cooling coils submerged in water in
the grey coloured tank below, before
being collected in the horizontally
mounted cylindrical distillate tanks
at the bottom.
It's possible to conduct two
distillations simultaneously with this
The manufacturer's nameplates are
recessed into the stills, allowing one to feel
the temperature of the inner copper jacket.
An overhead photo of the alambics. In the middle are the rectifying balls, with
the twin condenser coils in their water tank visible below.
In a separate room in the distillery
are the alcohol tanks holding the
97.3% pure base spirit used for
absinthe distillation. Generally in
France beet alcohol is used,
although some manufacturers
(including, historically, Pernod Fils),
prefer grape alcohol.
A quantity of base spirit is added to the alambic pot, diluted with water to
about 85%. The mixed crushed herbs are stirred in, and left to macerate
overnight in the high proof alcohol.
In the morning additional water (together with any tails or phlegms from
previous distillations) is added, before the distillation run commences.
It takes two to three hours to heat the alambic to the required temperature.
The rectifying balls are continually cooled with water, allowing the heavier vapours to condense and be redirected back to the
pot. Everything else passes through the condenser coils below. In most cases the rectifying balls are only used for part of the
run, and many distillers prefer to bypass them entirely.
The precious distillate is collected in calibrated 2 or 5 litre jugs from the copper tanks below the condenser. The clear distillate
is carefully monitored by sight, smell and taste, as the end-run or tails must be collected separately. Tails may at first be lightly
coloured, especially if pollen rich or finely powdered herbal material has been used, but will end up a milky white. Rich in
anethole, they are added to future runs and re-distilled - nothing is ever wasted in a distillery, and every drop of alcohol has to
be accounted for to the excise authorities.
After the run is complete, the herbal charge must be removed and the distilling pot thoroughly cleaned. The perforated grille
shown in the centre picture helps stop the herbs clogging the pipework, and also reduces eructions or 'burps' in the herb mass.
The clear distillate is now ready for coloring!
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|Some of the pictures on this page used by kind permission of Damian Hevia.Unauthorised reproduction strictly prohibited.
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