How Does Alcohol Get Distilled?

by Ezmeralda Lee


Alcohol has been distilled for thousands of years. The Romans are credited with being the first people to discover the process. The first distilled alcohol was brandy, which was made from wine. The original purpose for distilled alcohol was as an anesthetic for pain during medical processes such as amputation. It was also used as an antiseptic to clean wounds that occurred. However, people quickly soon realized that it worked great as a drink, and so they began making it for pleasure. It was only in recent years that alcohol has been eliminated from the medical field because of its adverse effects on the human body. During the prohibition in America home distilleries popped up all of the United States because people could not give up their alcohol. This brought distilled alcohol back into the public eye, and now many different forms of alcohol are made with the distilling process.

Preparing a Mash

A mash of grains is made usually composed of wheat or barley. Water and yeast is added to start the fermentation process. Usually this is done in a pot or boiler. The fermentation process can take some time, but usually not much longer than a couple of days. Sometimes a “starter” must be used to jump start the fermentation process. This means that a sterilizing tablet is added to the mash to ensure maximum alcohol production.

Heating the Mash

The mash is heated in the boiler or pot until it reaches boiling point. This releases the alcohol into the air. The vapors rise from the mash into the air, this is what contains the alcohol. Usually the first vapors contain less alcohol than following rounds of vapors. It is possible to reach a concentration of about 90% alcohol.

Collecting the Vapors

The boilers usually have a stem attached to the top of the boiler that collects the alcohol vapors. The stems then bend around and down to allow the alcohol to drip out once it reforms into a liquid. Usually these stems contain some sort of condenser, which removes the water vapors while retaining all of the alcohol vapors.

The Cooling Process

When the heat evaporates from the vapors, they return to alcohol or water form. The water is removed with the condenser, and the alcohol is drained into a container. The containers can be anything from a bottle to a large container used in industrial sized distilleries. The distillation of alcohol takes quite some time, because the liquid alcohol drips out at a very slow pace.

Industrial-Strength Alcohol

Industrial-strength alcohol such as rubbing alcohol is made a little differently. Most of this kind of alcohol is made from natural gas or petroleum gas. The alcohol is distilled the same way; however, the alcohol from these gasses are undrinkable because of the alcohol's source. These kinds of alcohol are best left to medical use.