Participants

Distilling Contest period has ended.

We would like to thank all our contest participants who accepted the challenge and contributed in their own way to the preservation of this ancestral tradition, enriching the content and experience of visitors to this site.

 

Contributions from our participants:


French Experience

Soon after the grape harvest in late October or early November from my home in the Northeast of France I begin to distil the wine must from that years vintage in my cask hood alembic for producing a genuine home style eau-de-vie.

STAGE 1: Removing the Pomace

I removed the pomace from the wine press and loosened the solid mass with the help of a metal rod before placing the pomace in large plastic buckets.

Generally the eau-de-vie is produced in the cold winter months so the pomace may remain firmly pressed, preserving the alcoholic essences found in the grape skins.

STAGE 2: Separating the pomace

The pomace had to be separated by hand because it had become compact after all that time in the press. I initiated the distillation immediately so the pomace would not loose its' alcoholic essences.

STAGE 3: Filling the Alembic Pot with water, Pomace and Win.

I then filled the cucurbit or alembic with 20% water and proceeded to add the pomace. Also 20% lower quality wine from the 2003 Vintage was added. In that year the phases of the moon made the wine turn cloudy and so I decided to keep it for this purpose. I used a gas burner as the heat source which allows for easier temperature control and is far cheaper than wood. The time has past when there was a plentiful supply of wood and everyone had easy access to it. Nowadays if you are looking for a cheap supply of wood you have to source it from Eastern European suppliers.

STAGE 4: Spreading the Pomace evenly inside the Pot

I emptied the plastic buckets full of pomace into the cucurbit until it become completely full and pressed the solid mass into the sides to make room for some more.
I had to be sure not to concentrate the pomace in the center of the pot or else the rising vapours from the distillation in progress would not be able to pass through the mass of pomace.

STAGE 5: Mounting the Cask Hood

Once the pot was completely full, I first examined the chapiteau or cask hood for any obstruction before mounting it on the alembic, I did the same for the serpentine coil. I take care to follow these precautions always. Some years back I had a small accident with my alembic, a small obstruction in the piping caused the cask hood to literally pop of the alembic. This incident ruined an entire distillation process, the pomace cooled and the vapours escaped, I had to throw everything away. My experience has taught me to prevent rather than remedy a situation.

STAGE 6: Sealing and finalising the distillation process

In order to seal all off the Alembic and avoid any escape of vapours I prepared a rye-flour putty with water and applied this rye-flour luting between the cucurbit and chapiteau and also between the condensing coil and connecting pipe. The distillation process ran smoothly, I took care to use cut off points for the heads and tails of the distillate, keeping only the intermediate distillate, the so called hearts.

At the end of the distillation I bottle my eau-de-vie. In the old days I used to age it in oak casks for up to 10 years but I no longer have the patience and the youthfulness of earlier times to wait that long. The eau-de-vie is rather unpolished in comparison to its aged counterparts but I don't mind and my friends don't seem to mind either. Soon after the distillation my friends come round for a tasting of my home-style eau-de-vie.

STAGE 7: Commemoration

In my region the day the distillation takes place is always a festive occasion. Some regional delicacies are prepared in our country kitchen to accompany the eau-de-vie. Everyone is delighted with the samplings and no one remains indifferent to my eau-de-vie.

By rule festivities should begin at the end of the day or else those vapours will rise up the chapiteau!!

J.D., December of 2006

We would like to congratulate Monsieur J.D. for the excellent job his has done.
France is well known for the quality of the Eau-de-vie they produce even though the art of distillation continues to suffer various restrictions, seeing as only some distilleries and "bouilleurs de cru" (craft distillers or individuals authorised to distil their own Eau-de-vie in France) are allowed  to distil legally. The art of distillation is an art that is intrinsically linked to French culture. Although few people now practise this art we have noticed an increased interest in our alembic units and in distillation as a hobby. Many of our French clients take up this hobby for the distillation of floral waters, essential oils and liqueurs.

The "bouilleur de cru" is a well known figure whose legal status is protected by law in France.

In the past the "bouilleur de cru" would travel from place to place with his horse-drawn  mobile distillation unit. A working day would often begin at 6 am and end late in the day. The local farmers would bring their own wood and pomace to the "bouilleur de cru" who would distil each farmers Eau-de-vie.

The modern day "bouilleur de cru" possesses a more elaborate professional distillation unit but still follows in the path of his predecessors attracting the crowds as he roves from one village square to the next.

Once again we would like to thank Monsieur J.D. for  participating and opening a window into the fascinating world of distillation for our readers.