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The Compleat Distiller

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The Compleat Distiller

Authors:Nixon & McCaw.This book covers all aspects of small scale distillation, from first concepts to detailed analysis of the process, dealing solely with facts and not myths. It has been acknowledged as being the leading text on the subject and has been in heavy demand worldwide. It is even used by many students in chemistry and industrial engineering studies as they say it contains the clearest and most concise description of distillation theory to be found under one cover.

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The Compleat Distiller

The Compleat Distiller
Second Edition now available!
an Amphora Society publication

Worldwide, there is a growing interest in distillation by those who enjoy making alcoholic beverages, essential oils, botanical extracts and perfumes. We have read books that purport to describe how distillation works, but got it wrong in whole or in part, and some that detail how to build a particular type of still and operate it, but which are based more on myth than sound scientific and engineering knowledge. We came to the conclusion that there was a crying need for a book that gives a detailed account of the entire subject, avoiding old wives’ tales and dealing entirely in verifiable facts.

The Compleat Distiller describes the science and the principles behind distillation, the practice of small scale distillation, and several designs for different kinds of stills, all thoroughly tested. We fervently hope that our readers develop a thorough understanding of the process, which can only broaden and deepen their enjoyment of this activity. Following this philosophy, every subject introduced begins with “how does this work” and progresses to “how can I do this?”.

This book has been 9 months in preparation, 9 months of careful checking and painstaking research. For everything in it has been verified as fact, and every piece of equipment has been made and rigorously tested to prove that it works, and works well. You will find no myths in this book, no statements made that are not backed up by fact. In the process, many cherished beliefs have been exposed as fancy, and as a result have been swept away to make room for significant advances in design and technique.

We must stress that this book is NOT an incitement to those who live in countries where distillation of alcohol is illegal to rush out and break the law. Home distillation of alcohol is an ancient and honored tradition in many parts of the world, and is completely illegal in others. The wisdom (or lack of wisdom) of the laws prohibiting small scale distillation are not a subject for this book. If you live where this enjoyable activity is prohibited, you are free to read about it, but not to actually do it. If you feel that these laws are misguided, contact your representatives and make the case for changing the laws, do not break them.

Even where distilling alcohol is prohibited, it is legal to distill with water. However, some countries regulate the size of water stills! You must check carefully on your local regulations before engaging in this activity. Using water to steam distill the essential oils and fragrances from herbs, spices and other botanical materials is a fast growing hobby in its own right, and we devote a whole chapter to this subject. These techniques are as interesting and useful to cooks and perfumiers as they are to people who want to make liqueurs.

We have also included a chapter on workshop techniques, tips, and tricks that can be useful in building stills and many other kinds of equipment. This is not like a book that teaches you how to fly it’s like a book that also tells you how to make your own airplane and not just the airplane design of our choosing, but one that you yourself can learn to design, and which may well fly better!

In this vein, we also describe distillation techniques and designs that we have only recently developed and which have never before been published, and encourage readers to carry the torch further by using their own ingenuity.

One of the authors used an old industrial vacuum cleaner as his first boiler, and later investigated the possibilities of using jam jars to make a glass column. This provoked much mirth and not a little scorn from those who considered themselves ‘experts’, who considered anything new to be heresy. However, a great deal was learned about the properties of materials and techniques to handle them, knowledge that later proved invaluable. When you read this book, you will see what can be accomplished if you dare to step outside the frame and question preconceived notions of what can be done, and how. All you need is a good understanding of basic principles and a willingness to challenge old, ossified ideas. Home distillation is a fascinating hobby, and one which is fertile ground for those who enjoy exercising their ingenuity. It’s challenging, and it’s fun!

In Chapter 8, we draw back the curtain on the science behind distillation, a fascinating subject in itself. No myths. No half-baked notions of what we “think” may be going on. Just facts. Facts proven by centuries of hard work and discovery by skilled artisans, scientists and engineers.
Paraphrasing the words of Isaak Walton, the author of “The Compleat Angler”, and from whom we have respectfully borrowed for the title of this book:

“Doubt not, therefore, sir, but that distilling is an art,
and an art worth your learning.”

The Contents

With 97 illustrations

Chapter 1 Fermentation
How alcohol is created
Various types of fermentation
The art of fermentation
Special fermentation techniques
Dr. Cone’s methods for high alcohol fermentation
Turbo yeast products
Techniques for employing either the Cone Protocol or turbo yeast

Chapter 2 How distillation works

Vapor pressure
Mixtures and solutions
A graphical description for mixtures
Cleaning and Polishing

Chapter 3 Putting theory into practice

Batch and Continuous Distillation
Distilling water
Types of Still

Chapter 4 Equipment design

Boiler control
Designing and building stills
Compound still management

Chapter 5 Operating procedures

General principles
Pot Distillation
Fractional Distillation
Compound Distillation

Chapter 6 Botanicals and essences

The Flavors and Scents of Nature
Essential oils
Methods of Extraction
The Product

Chapter 7 The workshop

Some basic requirements
Basic techniques
Heating elements (control)
Brazing (Silver Soldering)
A final tip for the Distiller

Chapter 8 The Science behind the Curtain

Atoms and Molecules
Moles and Mols
Molecular structures
Volumes of Vapors
Mol Fractions
Dalton’s Law for Gases
Raoult’s Law for Liquids (boiling of mixtures)
Saturated Vapor Pressures
Latent Heat of Vaporization (LHV)
Clausius-Clapeyron Equation
Antoine Equation
Equilibrium Curves
Surge boiling
Supercooling and Column Stability
They were wrong!
A Final word
Appendix 1 Weights & Measures
Appendix 2 Carbohydrates for fermentation
Appendix 3 Hydrometer table
Appendix 4 Activated carbon
Appendix 5 Vapor Management
Appendix 6 Air-Cooled Condensation
Appendix 7 Scaling Up and Speeding Up
Appendix 8 References
The Authors

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