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Distilled beverages are alcoholic beverages that are obtained by distillation from alcoholic beverages or masses. The distillation material can consist of wine, a concentrated sugar solution or a fermented grain suspension. The used ingredients, the course of the process, the reuse or non-reuse of the alcohol, the implementation of maturation, all give a variety of distilled beverages.
|Production process of brandy|
|Production process of cognac|
|Production process of vodka|
The best-known distilled beverages are:
- Brandy, a matured distilled beverage from (white) wine.
- Cognac, a kind of brandy of a very high quality, the heating is more intensive than with brandy.
- Rum, a matured distilled beverage from juice of a sugar cane, or molasses.
- Vodka, a non-matured distilled beverage from grain (sometimes fruits); nowadays aromas are often added for the flavor.
- Gin, a non-matured distilled beverage from grain flavored with juniper berry and other ingredients.
- Whiskey, a non-matured distilled beverage from grain.
The wine is heated to a temperature between the boiling point of alcohol (68°C) and the boiling point of water (100°C). In this way, all alcohol evaporates from the wine while the percentage of water is not reduce.
The still in which the distillation takes place consists of:
- a big vessel in which the wine is heated
- a condensing coil on top of the vessel in which a part already condenses
- a swan-neck that transports the alcohol vapor
- a condenser in which the alcohol vapor condenses
- a vessel in which the almost pure alcohol (96.5%) is caught.
To produce brandy from the heated non-alcoholic wine it is mixed with the distillate (the almost pure alcohol) until an alcohol percentage is reached of 40%. There are two ways to reach such a percentage: apart from the distillate extra alcohol is added or a part of the heated non-alcoholic wine is thrown away. The quality of both brandies is the same, the choice between these two is based on the costs of the processes.
Aging of brandy happens in oak barrels. Generally the wine is not aged longer than 6 years. There are exceptional brandies that have matured for 50 years. In maturing the brandy receives aromas from the oak barrels. Finally, the brandy can be bottled.
After the fermentation the first distillation takes place. The juice is heated to a temperature between 78.3 and 100°C. This temperature is sustained until a third of the liquid is distilled. The distillate contains 30 volume percent of alcohol. The distillate called broullis is distilled for a second time. During this second fermentation the distillate is divided into three portions. The ‘head’ has a too high percentage of alcohol, the ‘heart’ is the part with the best quality and the ‘tail’ has not enough flavor/identity. These three parts are distilled several times and are used to mix.
The bright liquid that is obtained after the many distillations is called eau de vie. For a second time this is reduced to a third of its original amount. The alcohol percentage is now 70%. For each liter of cognac 9 liter of grape juice is required.
The eau de vie is matured in oak barrels which give the wine their aromas. The age of the barrel is decisive for the final flavor. Depending on the desired flavor the liquid is poured into other barrels. Besides that, the cognacs from different barrels are mixed with each other to obtain the desired flavor.
After years of maturing (minimally 2.5 years) the cognac is bottled in bottles that are characteristic for a certain company. The bottles of cognac are ready for transport or they are stored until they will be transported.
To avoid microbiological corrosion the bulk is first sterilized by heating it till the point of boiling. To obtain the desired acidity for a good progress of the fermentation lactic acid bacteria are added. At the right acidity the fermentation is started by adding yeasts. For two to four days the yeasts convert the sugars into alcohol.
The liquid mass with a large alcohol percentage is transported to the distillation tower, which consists of several condensers on top of each other. After heating up (to a temperature between 68 and 100°C) the alcohol evaporates and condenses. Besides that, the irregularities are removed. The alcohol vapors rise and condense in the higher chambers of the distillation tower. The materials that are to be removed remain in the lower chambers and are carried off. Remainders of grains are converted further to feed.
The alcohol extract that is obtained in this way contains 95 to 100% of alcohol. To make it drinkable it is diluted with water till a percentage of 40% is reached. Frequently, flavors are added like lemon, red fruits and peach. These vodka-flavored beverages are becoming more and more popular.
Gin is not matured. After the production gin is filled in bottles and made ready for transport or storage.
The vodka is poured into wooden barrels for maturation. The maturation happens in barrels of wood instead of stainless steel so that more aromas are given to the product. During maturation aromas like tannin are transferred from the wood to the liquid. The humidity is kept high in order that the wood transfers the aromas more easily. Because of the high humidity the whiskey also absorbs moisture, which reduces the alcohol percentage.
The maturation of whiskey ranges from three to fifteen year.