Distilled spirit, also called distilled liquor, alcoholic beverage (such as brandy, whisky, rum, or arrack) that is obtained by distillation from wine or other fermented fruit or plant juice or from a starchy material (such as various grains) that has first been brewed. The alcoholic content of distilled liquor is higher than that of beer or wine.
The production of distilled spirits is based upon fermentation, the natural process of decomposition of organic materials containing carbohydrates. It occurs in nature whenever the two necessary ingredients, carbohydrate and yeast, are available. Yeast is a vegetative microorganism that lives and multiplies in media containing carbohydrates—particularly simple sugars. It has been found throughout the world, including frozen areas and deserts.
Distilled spirits are all alcoholic beverages in which the concentration of ethyl alcohol has been increased above that of the original fermented mixture by a method called distillation. The principle of alcoholic distillation is based upon the different boiling points of alcohol (78.5 °C, or 173.3 °F) and water (100 °C, or 212 °F). If a liquid containing ethyl alcohol is heated to a temperature above 78.5 °C but below 100 °C and the vapour coming off the liquid is condensed, the condensate will have a higher alcohol concentration, or strength.
|The history of distillation|
Because the two ingredients necessary to alcoholic fermentation are widely spread and always appear together, civilizations in almost every part of the world developed some form of alcoholic beverage very early in their history. The Chinese were distilling a beverage from rice beer by 800 BCE, and arrack was distilled in the East Indies from sugarcane and rice. The Arabs developed a distillation method that was used to produce a distilled beverage from wine. Greek philosophers reported a crude distillation method. The Romans apparently produced distilled beverages, although no references concerning them are found in writings before 100 CE. Production of distilled spirits was reported in Britain before the Roman conquest. Spain, France, and the rest of western Europe probably produced distilled spirits at an earlier date, but production was apparently limited until the 8th century, after contact with the Arabs.
The first distilled spirits were made from sugar-based materials, primarily grapes and honey to make grape brandy and distilled mead, respectively. The earliest use of starchy grains to produce distilled spirits is not known, but their use certainly dates from the Middle Ages. Some government control dates from the 17th century. As production methods improved and volume increased, the distilled spirits industry became an important source of revenue. Rigid controls were often imposed on both production and sale of the liquor.
The earliest distiller consisted of only a heated closed vessel, a condenser, and a vessel for receiving condensate. These evolved into tank stills and are still in use today, especially for the production of malt whiskey and some gin. The next improvement is to heat the alcohol-containing liquid in a column consisting of a series of vaporization chambers stacked on top of each other. By the early 19th century, large-scale serial stills, very similar to stills used in the industry today, were used in France and England. In 1831, Irishman Aeneas Coffey designed such a distiller, which consists of two columns connected in series.
Since distillation requires evaporation of the liquid part of the fermentation mixture, a large amount of heat must be applied to the process. The fuel used for distilling alcohol has always been the most readily available fuel at a specific time and place. Peat, coal, and wood are the fuels used in history, but the fuels of choice today are coal, natural gas, and oil. Until the industrial revolution, the high steam demand of continuous distillation operations inhibited the development of distillation towers for the production of spirits.
Many trace components of distilled spirits exist only in the form of one part per million, which can be detected by taste and smell, but the lower detection limit of analytical methods often hinders efforts to chemically identify and quantify these compounds. Aldehydes, organic Acids, esters, and alcohols are easily identified by conventional methods, but many of these compounds cannot be identified until the development of chromatography. Russian botanist Mikhail Tsvet (Mikhail Tsvet) was an early pioneer of this measurement technique, and he reported his first work in 1903. In the first half of the 20th century, technology and equipment were improved so that a variety of flavor components in distilled spirits could pass gas chromatography.
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