Distillation

This page is under construction. Please be patient, after all, if you were making your own single malt whisky (illegal) you will have to wait at least ten years for it to mature.

Distillation is a way of separating some kinds of mixtures. You can get pure water from salty water by boiling the salty water and condensing the steam. This produces distilled water. The piece of apparatus you need is shown below. Most science teachers can set it up correctly, but my pet human says he has seen a chemistry teacher get it wrong.

This is a Liebig condenser named after Justus Liebig: Baron von Liebig:  1803 – 73. He was a German chemist who founded the study of agricultural chemistry.

It consists of a tube surrounded by an outer tube or water jacket. The bottom of the water jacket is connected by a rubber tube to a cold water tap. Water runs in at the bottom and out at the top via another rubber tube to the sink.

Steam comes in at the top of the inner tube and condenses into water droplets at the bottom because it is cooled down by the water jacket.

You can also separate tow liquids mixed together if they have different boiling points. Alcohol boils at a lower temperature than water. This means that if you boil wine, you will get alcohol vapour. When this condenses it produces brandy (burnt wine). Your science teacher can give you a demonstration of how this works for educational purposes, but it is illegal to distil your own spirits. SO DON’T TRY.

Why you get brandy, whisky, gin or vodka when you distil a liquid containing alcohol is a bit more complicated. To make brandy, you must start with wine made by fermenting grapes. To make calvados, you must start with an apple wine or cider. To make whisky, you must start with fermented grain instead of fruit.

If you try to make brandy with a glass still, it won’t work. What you will get will be more like gin or vodka. To make good brandy, you must have a still made out of beaten copper instead of glass. So get yourself down to the builders merchants to buy some copper tubing and a copper drum.

Actually, distilling your own spirits is quite dangerous. Even if you are not caught by Customs and Excise you are likely to make yourself very ill. This is because there are several different kinds of alcohol. The alcohol most of you like to drink is called ethyl alcohol or ethanol. This is quite poisonous, but if you don’t drink too much and don’t drive when you do drink, you should be OK. Wood alcohol, also called methyl alcohol or methanol is very much more poisonous. It can make you blind. Propanol and butanol are even worse and if there is any in your home made brandy you will be exceedingly ill.

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3 Responses to Distillation

  1. Celi says:

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  3. Enedina says:

    this is an awesome post, i appreciated it.

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