What is distilled alcohol

The production of spirits

Alcohol is produced through (alcoholic) fermentation, in which starch or sugar are converted into alcohol. Fermentation is activated by yeast or certain bacteria in combination with a lack of oxygen. Wine is z. B. made by fermenting grapes, beer by fermenting malt (germinated grain). Brandy, on the other hand, is, as the name suggests, “distilled”: This means that a fermentation product, the so-called mash, is heated in a distillation process in order to obtain high-percentage, drinkable alcohol.

Regardless of the production method, the chemical formula for (drinking) alcohol, i.e. ethanol, is always C2H5OH. Accordingly, the effect of ethanol in the body remains the same; the following applies: the higher the alcohol content, the stronger the effect. Therefore, alcohol, whether concentrated, i.e. distilled in spirits, or fermented in beer or wine, should always be consumed in moderation. During fermentation and distillation, however, different accompanying substances arise, which mean that different drinks taste differently and are "tolerated".

The distillation

Chemically speaking, distillation is a thermal, i.e. temperature-controlled, separation process in order to separate different, easily evaporable substances from a liquid mixture of substances that are difficult to evaporate. In the production of spirits, the mash, which can consist of grain, potatoes, rice, fruit or many other products such as cacti or nuts, is distilled. The mash contains alcohol due to the fermentation process. This is evaporated and separated off during the distillation. For this, the mash is poured into the still (heatable kettle) and heated. The mash consists of volatile, vaporizable substances, such as alcohol, water and aromatic substances, and non-volatile, i.e. non-vaporizable substances, such as kernels, shells, etc. The volatile parts begin to evaporate when heated.

Once the alcohol has evaporated, it is condensed, that is, it is cooled down and liquid again and drips into a collecting vessel. For some spirits with a very high alcohol content, several burnings are required. However, not all of the liquid obtained can be used. In the so-called flow there is, among other things, methanol, which is separated out. The heart of the distillation, the middle course, contains the desired alcohol (ethanol) and many aromatic substances. The spirit is obtained from this middle course. The caster has fusel oils, which are also eliminated.

The distiller must therefore separate the pre- and post-flow from the heart at the right time. “Distillation always sounds very chemical, but the distillation process also has a lot to do with experience and craftsmanship. Care and attention during the distillation process, as well as a love of craftsmanship and detail are very important prerequisites for production, ”emphasizes Julica Renn, the multiple award-winning distiller of the MILE HIGH 69 gin.

How do spirits differ in production?

Even if all spirits are based on distillation, they are very diverse due to different ingredients, different distillation processes and different ripening processes: From a legal point of view, grain may only be made from rye, wheat, barley, oats or beech wheat using the entire grain. The production of grain may only take place in the areas of the European Union in which German is one of the official languages ​​and in which this spirit is traditionally produced. Roughly outlined, the production of grain proceeds as follows:

The grains are ground wet to a fine pulp. The resulting meal is made into a paste with approx. 3-4 times the amount of water and, after the addition of malt or enzyme, heated to approx. 75 - 80 ° C, then cooled and mixed with yeast. By adding malt or enzymes, the starch contained in the grain is split into malt or grape sugar in two phases. This is necessary because the yeast is not able to convert starch directly into alcohol. The added yeast ferment the existing sugar into alcohol and CO2 (carbon dioxide); this process ends after three days. The alcohol contained in the mash is obtained by means of distillation. “The result of the distillation is the middle course - also called fine distillate. As a further manufacturing step, different types of fine brandy are blended with demineralized water to obtain drinking strength. The grain is 32% vol. and with Doppelkorn 38% vol. intended as a minimum alcohol content ”, says Ralf Hapke, master distiller & master distiller, August Ernst GmbH & Co. KG.

rum (The alcohol content must be at least 37.5% vol.) For example, it is made from molasses (dark sugar syrup, by-product of sugar production), vodka, mostly from grain or potatoes, and tequila is made from agaves. There are also great differences and many small subtleties within a "genre of spirits" that the connoisseur cannot ignore.

whiskey (Whiskey for American and Irish whiskeys), for example, is made from grains such as rye, barley or corn. The well-known American bourbon whiskey is made from at least 51% corn, while the American rye whiskey is made from at least 51% rye. Both varieties have to mature in charred oak barrels for two years. Scotch whiskey has to be stored in oak barrels for at least three years, but it is often stored for much longer - a special quality feature. It may only be made from malted barley (germinated barley) and unmalted other grains. “Whiskey is a product that takes many years of maturation in barrels to reach its perfection. With this in mind, you should also enjoy your 'Dram Whiskey' - loosely translated, your sip of whiskey: slowly and with pleasure. This is the only way to smell and taste the multifaceted aromas. Time is an important factor in whiskey production - and you should also take your time while enjoying, ”recommends whiskey distiller Michaela Habbel, who is the fourth generation to join the family-run company Destillerie & Brennerei Habbel / Hillock Park Distillery.

Also the trend spirit gin is very diverse in its recipe and production method. Gin is based on an agricultural alcohol that can be made from many raw materials, such as grain, sugar beet, potatoes or fruit. The selected neutral alcohol is then flavored with juniper and other so-called botanicals, such as herbs, spices or fruits. Flavoring can be done (among other things) via maceration ("cold extract"), in which the crushed plant substances are placed in the neutral alcohol, or via digestion ("warm extract"), in which the mixture of alcohol and flavor carriers is heated together before it is distilled. In addition, the process of steam extraction can also be used for flavoring. Here, during the distillation, the alcohol vapor is passed through the botanicals located in a ghost basket in order to extract their aromas gently.

These are just a few Examples of the diverse world of spiritsthat "enjoyed in moderation" are an integral part of our culture of enjoyment. The member companies of the BSI see their products as stimulants for adults who, as responsible consumers, make a conscious decision to consume responsibly.

Adam, Helmut, Hasenbein, Jens, Wrage, Nils: Cocktails: History - Bar Culture - Recipes. Mixed by mixology. Hallwag, Munich, 2016.