This section is from the book "Alcohol, Its Production, Properties, Chemistry, And Industrial Applications", by Charles Simmonds. Also available from Amazon: Alcohol: Its Production, Properties, Chemistry, And Industrial Applications.
Of these, cereals and potatoes are the principal substances used in making alcohol.
The chief cereals employed for the purpose are barley, maize, oats, rice, rye, and wheat. Naturally they vary in their content starch, and in large distilleries the calculations as to yield are ed upon analysis of the actual consignments of grain in use.There is little doubt, however, that distilled alcoholic beverages had been obtained from materials other than wine at a period far anterior to this. A number of examples have been collected by T. Fairley,1 who quotes Hoeffer's "Histoire de Chimie," Morewood's "Inebriating Liquors," and various other works as his authorities. Thus arrack, distilled from toddy, has been known in India since at least 800 B.C., and in Ceylon from "time immemorial." Toddy itself is a fermented liquor obtained from rice and various palms. In China, rice, millet, and other grains yield the fermented liquor tar-asun or tchoo, from which a distilled liquor, sautchoo, was obtained long before the Christian era. Similarly, sochu was distilled in very ancient times from the well-known Japanese drink sake, obtained by fermenting rice. The koumiss of the Tartars in Central Asia, and the kephir used by the Caucasians, are the fermented milk of mares and other animals, and have from "very ancient" times yielded distilled liquors known respectively as arika and skhou. In this country, Taliesin, a Cymric bard of the sixth century, sings the praises of distilled mead in the ' Mead of the ninth or tenth century. A mention of it is also said to be found in a manuscript of the twelfth century from the Mappa clavicula. Apart from this, however, there does not appear to be any trustworthy evidence of the production of alcohol from wine earlier than the thirteenth century. As the first definite indication, Berthelot quotes from Marcus Grecas' "Book of Fires" a method of distilling aqua ardens from "a black wine, thick and old." This book, he states, could not be of earlier date than 1300.
Fig. 4. - primitive still used in Tahiti.
The body of the still is a large stone hollowed to form a pot; the head is formed of a hollowed-out log. In this is inserted a long bamboo cane, which passes through a trough or gutter filled with cold water to serve as a condenser.
Fig. 5. - ancient still used in ceylon.
The still is of earthenware; a, b, form the alembic and head luted together; d, e. are the receiver and refrigerator, in one piece, connected with the head by a bamboo, c.
Fig. 6. - ancient form of still used in peru.
The still is an earthen pot, having a hole in the side near the top, through which passes a wooden gutter as shown, connecting with the receiver. A pan filled with cold water is placed on the -top, and luted to the pot with clay; this pan acts as a condenser. The spirit vapour condenses on the bottom of the pan, falls into the gutter, and passes out to the receiver.
1 Zeitsch. angew. Chem., 1912, 25, 2061-5; Chem.-Zeit., 1913, 37, 1313 et scq.
Fig. 7. - still used in thibet and bhotan.
A, an earthenware vessel in which the " chong " tor distillation is placed; B, another vessel open at the bottom; C, the receiver: D, an iron basin filled with cold water to serve .is condenser; e, e, e. staves of wood on which C rests. The spirit vapour rises through B, is condensed on the convex bottom of the basin D, and falls into C. f is the fireplace, and g, g, openings for the reception of similar apparatus.
Fig. 8. - ancient still used in southern INDIA.
The still is of either earthenware or metal. It is charged with fermented liquid from rice, molasses, or palm sap; then placed in a hole in the ground, and heated by a fire underneath. The vapour is condensed by a stream of cold water which runs off through the tube g, whilst the condensed liquid passes out through the lower tube.
1 Analyst, 1905, 30, 294; J. Inst. Brewing 1907, 13, 559.
Fig. 9. - distilling apparatus.
From a German edition of Geber's works dated 1710. The same apparatus is figured Braunschwick s " Das Buch zu Distillieren," dated 1512.
Song ": about 140 B.C., mentions water distilled from roses in an "ambix" - this name being the Greek word which, with the Arab prefix "al," gives us our word "alembic." Condensing apparatus is said to have been invented and used at Alexandria as early as the first century of the Christian era. The first exact description of apparatus for distillation in this part of the world, however, is given by Zosimus of Alexandria, in the fourth century. A figure of the alembic and receiver described by Zosimus, and said to have been copied from the ancient temple of Memphis, is given in Fairley's articles,1 and is reproduced here, with several others.
" Mead distilled I praise, Its eulogy is everywhere ..."
With respect to this, however, it is only fair to say that "Taliesin" is regarded by some scholars as a purely mythical personage, and they consider many of the poems in the "Book of Taliesin" to be of much later date than the sixth century.
Distillation is seldom referred to by Greek or Roman writers. Aristotle, however, states1 that " sea-water can be rendered potable by distillation; wine and other liquids can be submitted to the same process. After they have been converted into humid vapours they return to liquids." But if these views of Aristotle were applied in practice it was apparently done secretly. Nicander, Von Lippmann2 contends that although distillation apparatus was known to the Greek alchemists in Alexandria as early as the first century A.D., there was very little progress shown in condensing the vapour until the sixth or seventh century, so that the production of liquids with low boiling points was impracticable. It is true that at that period an "aqua vitŠ" was kntiwn, but according to von Lippmann this was not spirit of wine; it was an ancient Egyptian "elixir of life." Even as late as the year 1120, Al Khazini expressly declared that olive oil was the specifically lightest liquid known. This would not, however, exclude alcohol of 50 to 60 per cent. strength.
1 "Meteorology," lib. II, chap. ii.
Aromatic herbs were much used in Arab pharmacy, and a process for distilling water from such herbs is described in writings attributed to Geber, probably about the end of the ninth century; whilst later a physician of Cordova, Albucasis, gave an exact description of a distillation apparatus as applied in the preparation of medicines, which may perhaps have included spirits of wine. In any case, towards the end of the thirteenth century aqua vini had acquired the reputation of a valuable medicine. In Italy, it was sold as a general heal-all about the year 1250, and in more northern countries about 1400. Indeed for some centuries this medicinal use was the chief application of the spirit obtained from wine. The knowledge of it was spread into France and abroad by Arnaud de Villeneuve (Arnold of Villa Nova), Raymond Lully, and others. The processes were often kept secret, under severe penalties, in the hands of the priests, or of religious orders.
Wootton3 puts the matter thus: to refer to it. He does not intimate that he had discovered it himself, but he appears to treat it as something comparatively new. Aqua vini is what he calls it, but some name it, he says, aqua vitŠ . . . and golden water. It is well called water of life, he says, because it strengthens the body and prolongs life. He distilled herbs with it such as rosemary and sage, and highly commended the medicinal virtue of these tinctures."
"Albucasis, a Spanish Arab of the eleventh century, is supposed from some obscure expressions in his writings to have known how to make a spirit from wine; but Arnold of Villa Nova, who wrote in the latter part of the thirteenth century, is the first explicitly
1 loc. cit.