The Origins and History of Alcohol Distillation and Fermentation and The Way Alcohol has Helped Shape Civilization and Developed Through Out the Centuries.
The Early History of Alcohol And It’s Origins:
The history of alcohol and alcohol drinks can be traced back to the stone age where the discovery of Jugs suggest that people would intentionally ferment fruit as far back as 10,000 BC. Many have proposed that fermented drinks started before the formation of agriculture and that agriculture was actually motivated by the desire to make and drink beer and wine. Hunters and gatherers were making beer before they had agriculture in places like Goblekli tepe, in present day Turkey where rituals would be performed with big pots believed to contain beer and also hallucinogens. In other sites there is a “beer before breed” hypothesis that suggests that people wanted to get high from alcohol, so they started agriculture in order to make beer. This theory is based off places such as South America where they would make chicha from teosinte, which is the wild ancestor of corn. This was perfect in the making of beer but is not a good grain for making tortillas or bread to eat. If early cultures were looking to make food through agriculture, they would overlook teosinte and find something else to grow. But if they were looking to make beer, teosinte would be the perfect thing to grow and harvest (6).
The middle east is credited with developing a mixed fermentation process using grapes, rice, and berries around 7000 BC. Moving forward with further development of wines the Greeks and Romans are credited for using wine at most meals mixing their wine with water. By the turn of the 15th century almost every society around the world had developed their own way to develop and create beer and wine and some had developed ways to distill and increase the alcohol percentage! Many societies drank daily and even some laws would state that up to 6 pints were allowed each day. Now for most societies the ability to develop alcohol at higher percentage levels was very difficult and most beer and wine would only be about 1-3% ABV (alcohol by volume). So a lot of alcohol drinking was self regulated by the fact that a person could only drink so much before they needed to urinate or they were just to full to drink more. Many adventurers would use alcohol and drinks to be used on long voyages because it would not spoil easily and was a source of hydration for their crew as well as a way to fight off water born diseases such as cholera (2). Some believe that the alcohol levels themselves was not the reason for killing bacteria in water but the boiling of the water that was required to make the beer and wine killed the bacteria in the water. Many argue and debate whether or not the alcohol levels in the beverages would have made it possible to then store the beverages for weeks or months to be safe to consume at a later time.
Distillation and It’s Origins:
The Egyptians were the first to start developing distillation from alchemists that were working in Egypt around the 1st and 2nd century. But the process of distillation didn’t spread to Europe until the 12th century. Even with theory of fractional distillation being discovered by Taddeo Alderotti (1) with the theory of producing a beverage with a 90% purity of alcohol could theoretically be obtained, the technology of the day made it difficult to produce and test the theory. IT wouldn’t be until much later that the technology of the day allowed for these theories to be tested.
The Church and It’s Thoughts About Alcohol:
The 15th century brought with it new religious leaders who’s teaching was not wildly different than the Catholic church in that alcohol was a gift from God but should be used in moderation, and that drunkenness was viewed across all religions as a sin. This period, all the way through the 18th century, alcohol continued to be viewed as a positive when used moderately. There did however remain a growing concern about heavy consumption and drunkenness. Producing and distributing spirits continued to spread slowly, but was not in the main stream of the average drinker. Drinking was reserved more for medicinal purposes into the 16th century, distilled spirits would not become popularized until the 18th century for the average every day consumer.
The Development and Creation of Champagne:
The emerging beverage that came out in the 17th century that we all continue to enjoy today was champagne! Many give false credit to Dom Perignon to be the inventor of sparkling champagne but there are older records dating back to 1531 to a physician and scientist names Christopher Merret (3). Merret wrote down and documented his discovery of adding additional sugar to a finished wine creating a secondary fermentation of the wine. Christopher Merret made this discovery 6 years before Dom Perignon. But Perignon did develop a much stronger bottle to store the champaign in that could contain the pressure accumulation better than any other bottles on the market. They would still struggle with exploding champaign bottles due to the increased pressure from the effervescence inside. This problem was solved in the 17th century and spurred on the popularity of champaign that remains to this day!
Grain Alcohol Development and It’s Use in Distilled and Aged Spirits:
Moving into the 18th century we see legislation by Britain encouraging the use of grain for distilling spirits. This was in part a plan by the government to get rid of their surplus of grain in storage, and it worked! Gin consumption alone grew from 0.5 million to over 11 million gallons. The English government also began taxing the sales of alcohol to increase their revenue. The Government continued to pass more legislation, but the height of Britain’s gin epidemic hit in 1743 when a population of 6.5 million people drank around 18 million gallons of gin (4). Gin consumption would decline over the next 2 decades <2 million gallons and even further declined towards the end of the century due to regulations on distillation and the increase in cheaper and stronger beer.
America, Whiskey, And Prohibition:
Coming into the 19th century America was a melting pot of many different cultures bringing with them deep drinking traditions. Drinking more often was compounded further with the surplus of corn which aided in the production of cheap whiskey. Production of cheap whiskey peaked in the average consumption of whiskey of 7 gallons of alcohol per person (5) this led into the growing opposition of alcohol that developed into the temperance movement which led a movement in attempts to stop the consumption of alcohol culminating into prohibition that lasted from 1920 to 1933.
The Process of Distillation and It’s History:
When it comes to the distillation of spirits there have been a lot of theories by great scientists over the centuries, but until the last couple hundred years the technology wasn’t advanced enough to put it into practice. From an evolutionary standpoint humans have not evolved to be able to have our bodies process the higher levels of alcohol that we are able to create now. Through all the technological advancements there are a lot of people creating alcohol and lots of different alcohol brands with Vodkas, Tequilas, Whiskey, Bourbons, Gin, Cognac, Brandi, Conchaca, ChiCha, and others. The process is so widely available, and the technology has hit a point where no further advancements have been made to increase the quality of Spirits beyond what has been perfected over the last 100 years.
The process of distillation does not produce alcohol, it is able to concentrate alcohol. The process starts with the wort batch or a wash that contains a lesser concentration of an alcoholic liquid. This is the liquid that is heated up and separated to produce the concentrated alcohol. A wash or a wort batch is basically a beer or wine like substance. Yeast is still used to produce the wash. Drinkable, or potable, alcohol is Ethanol. Water and ethanol boil at different temperatures and therefore can be separated. Ethanol boils at a temperature of 173.1 degrees Fahrenheit whereas water boils at 212 degrees Fahrenheit. Other important chemicals to know the boiling point of are Acetone which has a boiling point of 132.8 degrees Fahrenheit and acetaldehyde which has a boiling point of 68.36 degrees Fahrenheit. By heating up the wash in an enclosed and controlled environment we can separate out the different chemicals to attempt to create a purer concentrated solution. Other chemicals are present within the initial wash that are needed to be separated but often are not. This group of chemicals are called congeners. This process is complicated because of the different boiling points of each liquid/chemical. Some of these chemicals are wanted to remain in smaller amounts, but others are not desirable. In some Spirits like Vodka the emphasis is placed on trying to remove everything else beside the ethanol in order to make a pure and smooth product. Other spirits like whiskey and bourbon might be desirable for their oak finish or smokey characteristic. These chemicals are needed to remain to have the desired effect for the final product. There are many congeners that are harmful to be consumed. Some have a higher boiling point than ethanol and others lower.
The first vapors that boil out of the wash are the more volatile chemical compounds that have a lower boiling point than water and ethanol. These are typically known as the “head” and some call it the “forshots”. The vernacular depends on the part of the world you are in and the type of spirit that is being distilled. The desirable portion of the wash is the ethanol. This is called the “heart”. If the goal is to create a purer ethanol concentration the head can be discarded by diverting the flow of vapor emerging during the distillation process at different temperatures. Where the “heart” would want to be separated out and saved to be used later.
Once the head and ethanol have been heated past their boiling points and separated the remaining alcohols are less volatile with higher boiling points. This is known as the “tail” or also referred to as “faints”. The distillation process continues to separate out these chemicals from the rest. The heating up of the wash typically continues until the remaining liquid in the wash is <1% alcohol when tested. At this point It is less economical to continue to try and separate further, the remaining liquid is good fertilizer due to its very low levels of alcohol and can be given to farmers to be spread out over their fields. The “head” and the “tail” are usually added to the next wort batch for the next distillation cycle to recycle any trapped ethanol that remains.
One of the key skill when it comes to the distiller is knowing and judging when the right moment is to cut the distillation outflow from the “head” to start collecting the ”heart” and then turning it off when it’s the “tail”.
The Head: This will be comprised of the more volatile alcohols and chemicals that have a lower boiling point. This will be comprised of:
Esters: these are a naturally occurring chemical that are found in different types of fruits. They have sweet odors and are often wanted for their aromas and sweet tastes. There are different esters and each have different boiling points: Ethyl Formate (129.2 F), Ethyl Acetate (170.6 F), ethyl formate (129.2 F), hexyl acetate (340.7 F), Ethyl Butyrate (249.8 F)
Acetaldehyde: This chemical is the byproduct of plants as part of their normal metabolic processes. It can also be produced by the oxidation of ethanol. The Boiling point of acetaldehyde is 68.36 degrees Fahrenheit and is the reason why you have a bad hangover the next day after a night of drinking and is also a carcinogen.
Acetone: I am sure this is familiar to a lot of you as a cleaning solvent. But it is a substance in the group of ketones. This is used as the active ingredient in nail polish remover and in paint thinners. The boiling point of acetone is 132.8 degrees Fahrenheit. Acetone is one of the main reasons people will “black out” when drinking alcohol.
Methanol: This chemical is also known as methyl alcohol, this is a colorless, highly flammable, volatile chemical with a boiling point of 148.46 degrees Fahrenheit. It is difficult to separate methanol and ethanol because their molecules hold onto each other tightly and even though they have different boiling points are very hard to separate during distillation. It is however imperative that they are separated because methanol needs to be discarded due to its toxicity that is very harmful to the liver and that its consumption can lead to blindness. Methanol can be fatal at 30 ml and cause blindness at 10 ml. There are strict stipulations on the amount of methanol that can remain in distilled spirits with Europe having the strictest standards on vodka
The Heart: The heart is the middle part of the distillate that is produced after the head has been removed. To put it plainly, the heart is the good tasting and safe part that we want to drink! The main chemical compound that is found in the “heart” is Ethanol. This is part that we want to isolate and use for consumption. It is very common that parts of the head and tail get into the “heart” but the attempt is to limit the amount of other undesirable chemicals that are more harmful when consumed.
Ethanol: Ethanol is also commonly called ethyl alcohol and even though it is drinkable it effects the central nervous system and results in mood and behavioral changes. As we all know now ethanol has been used for recreational purposes since man walked the earth! Ethanol is the main type of alcohol that is found in alcoholic beverages and is the reason why you get “high” after consuming an alcoholic beverage.
The Tails: This is the last part of the wash to be distilled in the distillation process, it is also called the “faints”. The chemical compounds in the tail are less volatile and have a much higher boiling point.
1-Propanol: 1-propanol is formed during the fermentation process, typically in small amounts. The boiling point of 1-propanol is 206.6 degrees Fahrenheit. It is often used as a solvent in other applications such as different pharmaceutical applications and is in the class of Fusel Oils.
Butyl alcohol: Is very common in beer and wine and occurs as a byproduct of fermentation with the presents of sugars. Butyl alcohol has a boiling point of 244.4 degrees Fahrenheit.
Amyl: This is another Fusel oil that is colorless with a strong smell and a very sharp burning sensation if consumed.
Acetic acid: very acetic that is most noticeable in vinegar and has a distinctive sour taste with a pungent smell. The boiling point for acetic acid is 244.58 degrees Fahrenheit.
Furfural: Derived specifically from the distillation of oats, corn, and wheat barn. Distinguished by its yellow color when exposed to oxygen and the burnt almond taste and smell, typically only with direct fire still and set ups.
The Next Progression in Alcohol and Spirits:
The process of distillation has only been perfected in the last century and is now readily available in commercial distilleries around the world. The Chemicals that are needed to be eliminated are very well defined and documented. All the different chemicals that remain have varying side effects that are well known. The main issue that remains and has always been the problem throughout the last millennia, is the technology available and more importantly the cost effectiveness of being able to produce an end product that is purer. Within all the mainstream alcohol brands we continue to find many unwanted chemicals in the finished bottled product. We continue to find acetone, acetaldehyde, methanol, and propanol in almost all bottled spirits. The amounts in each bottled product will defer depending on the number of times it is distilled, and the base material is used, but the reason that these chemicals remain is that to reduce them further would be too expensive. We currently have the knowledge and the technology but on a commercial level it is too expensive to implement. The bonding of certain chemicals together is very strong, and the amount of time and resources needed to unbind and separate them to create a more pure final product is possible but not at a cost that makes sense for companies selling alcohol to the consumer. Many higher end brands will distill multiple times and charge their customers a higher price, this is somewhat effective but only to a certain degree. Additional distillation cycles repeat the same process in the same way that doesn’t release the unwanted chemicals that are bonded together. Because these bonds are not released from one another the unwanted chemicals continue to be present in the final solution. To help resolve part of this problem every distillery will filter their final product, this sounds good in theory, but most distilleries are using very basic charcoal filters that don’t create any real difference in the final product. The current filters that are used have not progressed the technology of the filters to create any real change in the bonding of the unwanted chemicals. The only company that has focused on resolving this issue is Classy Spirits.
The focus for Classy Spirits is to create a filtration system that allows the average consumer to produce a better product from existing bottled spirits. Classy Spirits filters are lab proven to reduce acetone by >58% and acetaldehyde by >10%. This is a reduction to a huge degree that hasn’t been possible in reasonable economic methods. This reduction in acetone and acetaldehyde creates a big difference in the amount of heat and burn that is present in the taste of the final product as well as the long-term side effects from consuming acetone and acetaldehyde. This type of filtration technology is not meant to be used on all types of alcohol but works extremely well on any truly distilled or aged spirit. It will not work on botanicals such as rums, gins, and flavored vodkas as they add in their flavor artificially after the distillation process. Classy Spirits provides the newest and most cost-effective way to reduce the amount of unwanted chemicals and congeners that remain in bottled alcohol and spirits. It works so well that it can take a low-quality spirit and, based off of the taste test, turn it into a high-end spirit by just reducing the amount of unwanted chemicals. Classy Spirits was developed by a team in the United States that spent years developing their propriety filtration systems to specifically work with bottled alcohols and spirits. Many have attempted to replicate their formula but have not been able to come close to the final outcome that Classy Spirits filters have been able to generate. This type of technology has been the next evolution in alcohol and distillation that has made it more cost effective to create a better, smoother, and safer alcohols and spirits. Try yours today by going to Classy Spirits and filter your way to better taste and less of a hangover tomorrow!
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