June 2018:

It has now been an unbelievable 16 years (!) since the last major change to the website and forums. When you think that two to three years are an eternity for the Internet sector, that is really something. In any case, there has been so much going on in terms of technology that it has become urgently necessary to completely redesign not only the forums, but also the entire website, from scratch and bring the programming up to date. Naturally, along with this we also introduced various new features; for example it was high time we allowed pictures to be uploaded with a forum post too or enabled users to subscribe to the forums via RSS feeds. And of course we have subsequently included pictures that are saved on external websites and were then integrated here using an img tag, so that no valuable information is lost. In any case, we hope you continue to have fun swapping experiences and trying things out.

Juni 2002:

At this point, we would first like to extend a big thank-you to all the users of our specialist questions for their lively involvement. Without you, we could never have developed such an informative and high-quality reference guide in such a short time (the first post dates from April 8, 1999). The large number of posts and high numbers of visitors made it necessary for us to develop the specialist questions ourselves using PHP and MySQL (at last no more annoying advertising banners!). During the course of this, we have hopefully introduced several improvements.

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  • The three topic areas, i.e. distilling spirits, distilling essential oils/hydrosols and making vinegar, are divided into three different websites. Each website contains the two forums “Recipes” for all the topics concerning fruit and recipes, and “Discussion” for all the other topics related to distilling spirits, essential oils/hydrosols or making vinegar. If we find posts that are unintentionally in the wrong forum, we will move them to the right forum. These posts have not been deleted, just moved.
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So, that’s it. We hope you have a lot of fun swapping experiences, reading, posting and naturally also trying things out afterwards. Dr Malle & Dr Schmickl Dr. Malle & Dr. Schmickl
  • Question 1

    Greg | USA, 19.01.2020 17:53:48

    When describing ways to test the vinegar for both alcohol and acidic acid - there is no mention of ph. I am comfortable with titration. But I also have a small handheld ph meter. Could I use the ph meter to track the progress of the vinegar or is it too innacurate? How best to convert the PH to acidic percent ?

    Antwort
    pH is a logarithmic scale. Thus, pH 1 is the same as 10-1, pH 7 = 10-7, and pH 14 = 10-14 mol H3O+ per liter.
    The acidity of vinegar is the unit percent acetic acid, thus grams acetic acid per 100 grams solution.
    Example:
    The acidity of vinegar changes from 4 to 5 percent. How much is this change in mol per liter? For easier calculation, we assume 100 grams is equal to 100 ml.
    So 4 percent is equal to 4 g / 100 ml. This is the same as 40 g / liter. Molar mass of acetic acid is 60.05 g / mol. Thus we have 40/60.05 = 0,66611 mol / l = 10-0,17645 mol / l.
    The same calculation for 5 percent: 50/60.05 = 0,83264 mol / l = 10-0,07954 mol / l.
    Thus the simplified “pAcidity” changes from 0,18 to 0,08. BUT: acetic acid is a so called soft acid, which means the CH3COOH is not completely split in CH3COO- and H+. The ratio of the split to unsplit portion depends on the specific pKs value of acetic acid (which is 4,76, see wikipedia).
    So far the theory. I wanted to verify this with my brand-new handheld pH-meter which I’ve never used up to now. But unfortunately the instructions for use says “soak in KCl for 24 hours”. T
  • Question 4

    Magnus | Iceland, 19.01.2020 17:22:23

    Regarding the preparation and the fermentation of the Angelica root, do you have any literature references as there seems to be little references regarding preparing material for essential oils extraction other than your excellent book, which I was very happy to find :)


    In last February there was unusually warm week here in Iceland with no frost in the ground and I went to the country side and found some Angelica herbs from last summer and could easily pick up the herb from the ground along with the root.  The root had this wonderful mild spicy smell, and I‘m sure that the

    essential oils from the root is very special.


    In your book you say it is custom to store the root from 2 or 3 years before distilling, is that part of the fermentation process?


    In Iceland the type of birch we have here is Betula pubescens https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Betula_pubescens, but the white birch you mention is probably of the type Betula pendula https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Betula_pendula.  Anyways, I will try to distill both the bark and leaves for

    experimentary purposes.

    Antwort
    Angelica: seeds also contain oil, but the smell of the root is smoother. Harvest the root in autumn, not before the second or third year after the plant started to bloom.
    Fermentation: there are several variants, professional producers use specialized microorganisms to do this. A similar process is to repeatedly dry and moisten the plant material several times. To do this, cut the root in small pieces, dry them at low temperature as described in the book, take care the material doesn’t go moldy. As soon as the material is in a dry condition, moisten the cut roots with a spray flask or something similar. Put the material in a plastic bag for one or two days, after that let the material dry again, moisten again, put it in the same (!) plastic bag and so on, until the material has considerably changed in color and condition. Leaves become dark brown or rather black, but with roots the change of color is not so significant. The art during this proces is to avoid the material goes moldy. Alternatively ask a
    homegrower of hemp (cannabis) how he processes his harvested buds.
    Another method is to cut the roots in small pieces, put them in a bucket and leave it outside for several years. Outside means under a roof, but not in a closed room. So the change in humidity and temperature over the years also
    causes a fermentation. The disadvantage of this very simple method: it takes years instead of several weeks.
    Birch: commercially the oil is extracted from Betula lenta.
     
  • Question 8

    Mike | U.K., 19.01.2020 10:35:52

    I have a small still, very like the ones you recommend. This morning I carried out my third distillation. To practice, I am diluting shop-bought vodka down to 20%abv and getting 63% back out, which matches with your chart correctly. But this morning I got 8% which makes me think it must be refluxing slightly?


    However, I have also noticed that the mash retains a 5%abv (is that normal?) and that 1000ml of wash input resulted in only 960ml out - I'm thinking I perhaps have a leak, presumably on the seal? The 1000ml input consisted of 320ml 63%abv (from the previous run), but I returned only 240ml at 68%abv. There is obviously a quantity in the remaining wash volume, but I think there must be a leak too. I'd appreciate your thoughts on this, if you have time.


    Going forward, I will be experimenting with a turbo sugar wash (to stop wasting vodka!) and once I think I have the hang of it I'll introduce botanicals and fruits.

    Antwort
    A leak you would notice immediately, you would see a trail of steam or a puddle below your still. So, the losses can only be explained by the empty space in the still: the bigger the empty space, the more steam will not condensate, the higher your observed losses. Therefore it’s only sensible to calculate such balances if the kettle of the still is almost completely full at the beginning and the empty space of the helmet is quite small in comparison to the size of the kettle.
    Second, diagrams like the T-X-Y are measured under laboratory conditions with special devices to reduce influences like air pressure, losses by empty space, reflux effects etc.
    Thus, you should use the T-X-Y not more than a kind of guideline. Under normal conditions and with a common shaped still it’s not really possible to repeat the indicated values. Not to forget the influence of solid parts in the mash. Such components are shifting the curve significantly.
  • Question 3

    Rosanne | atlanta, 09.12.2019 12:52:32
    While separating for 1- 2 months do you think refrigeration helps preserve the hydrosol/oil?
    Antwort

    No, just store the bottles at common room temperature, which is something about 17 - 23°C (63 - 73°F). If it’s too cold, many essential oils become solid and it’s annoying to get them fluid again. This is not so trivial as you might think...

  • Question 7

    Ben | U.K., 09.12.2019 12:07:51

    I was in Austria recently and visited a schnapps store. They had some schnapps that tasted a little sweet but they assured me no sugar was added. I believe he said they added some fruit to the distillate after distilling and that gave it a

    slight amber color and the the taste that I mistakenly thought was sugar. Does this sound correct?
    Antwort
    Yes, this could be possible, it depends on the kind of schnapps.
    For example fruit brandy, more specifically Bartlett pear brandy (German: Williamsbirne or Williams Christ Birne): The process is called “Fruchtauszug”, literally translated “fruit extraction”. Therefore one big pear is infused in about 1 liter of pear brandy.
    Traditionally empty glass bottles are tied to a pear tree in spring, so that one blossom grows INTO (!) the bottle, thus finally you have a ripe pear IN the bottle. The bottles are taken off during harvest time and filled with Bartlett pear brandy. Since this process is quite time-consuming and lots of pears start to rot in the bottle while they grow, nowadays most manufacturers use bottles with removable bottoms. The bottom is stuck on the bottle after putting the pear in the bottle, commonly the glued surface is not visible for customers.
    Of course you can also use any other fruit / brandy to do this. In fact the sugar of the fruit is dissolved in the brandy, so your first impression was true: the liquid contains sugar.
  • Question 2

    Susan | Guatemala, 24.10.2019 10:37:57

    When distilling does the water in the kettle need to be replenished and how often?

    Antwort

    No, refilling the water is not advisable. Because after one run the plant material doesn’t contain very much of volatile compounds any more. So, to receive the essential oil and the most intense hydrosol, fill water and the material into the still, distill and after that empty everything and start again with new plant material.

  • Question 6

    John | Texas, 24.10.2019 10:05:46

    I am looking for a small refrigerator so that I can follow your high grade mash recipe.  Our ambient temperature will not allow me to maintain the correct temperature for fermentation. 

    Antwort

    Take care, the temperature shouldn't be below approx. 16 °C (61 °F). Maybe it's better to use some kind of a small air condition, a maximum of 19 °C (66 °F), would be perfect.

  • Question 1

    bill | UK, 30.09.2019 14:19:46

    Is it possible to test the essential oil at home if it is fake or not?

    Antwort

    Quick ‘n easy test: one drop of essential oil applied on a paper towel will completely disappear after about 30 minutes to an hour, if the essential oil was no fake or diluted with fatty oil like jojoba oil.

  • Question 5

    Aram | Aremnia, 30.09.2019 13:37:58

    Recently I have been in Hungary and visit some distilleries who make Apricot Palinka by re-flux distillation. And I found that while their Apricot mash has flavor of Apricot but  distillate has Anise flavor. Even already diluted spirits with less alcohol volume were having this Anise flavor without any apricot flavor.
    As a Chemists in this field can you comment this matter? 

    Antwort

    Yes, the reason is quite simple: don’t use a reflux when distilling apricots. Most of the aromatic substances will not reach the condenser. Just read our book "The Artisan’s Guide to Crafting Distilled Spirits", ISBN: 978-1-943015-04-7 to learn how to get a rich flavoured and aromatic fruit brandy, or rather apricot brandy.

  • Question 4

    Zeb | USA, 27.07.2019 23:21:50

    In your book "The Artisans Guide to Crafting Distilled Spirits" copyright 2015 & sold here in the states, you mention the need to place thermometer measurement precisely at point of maximum steam temperature which you say correlates to the highest level reached by the steam. This you say is the "hot side" of the lower edge of the Lyne Arm wherre the steam flows over & into the Lyne Arm. I agree this makes perfect sense to me. However looking at your Classic & Delux Schmickle stills, the placement of the steam thermometer appears to be mounted into the still head at a much lower point than this however the "Vetro". model appears to have the steam thermometer mounted as you describe. I read your statement in the book saying "If the thermometer is attached lower down, you may encounter deviations of twenty degrees Fahrenheit (ten degrees Celsius) or more. Am I incorrect or wouldn't this placement cause issues with incorrect steam temperature readings? I am interested in purchase of your 7.8L deluxe model but this raises concerns with me.


    Antwort

    Yes, you're completely right, but the difference in height is only about 0.2 to 0.4 inch. This little difference is no problem regarding steam temperature. The other case, measuring about 0.2 to 0.4 inch too high would result in much too low temperatures. Since the head of the still is not under pressure, the steam flows to the line arm right after it has passed the lower edge, so just a bit higher than this height it's much colder than the actual steam temperature.

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