The birth of distilled spirits has very ancient roots dating back to the people of Mesopotamia. The technique was already known and used by the Babylonians and the ancient Egyptians, who used it to produce some kind of elixir. It was the Greeks who mastered and improved the technique, but they mainly used it to prepare medicines and essential oils. From the Mediterranean basin, it was the Romans who developed and improved the technique during the Hellenistic period. However, like the Greeks, the Latins never used it to make spirits. The first historical evidence dates back to the first alchemists of the 10th century, who, following the teachings of Arabian physicians, used stills to distil wines.
Over the years, the technique was also applied to different types of fermented liquids depending on the raw materials available in the area. So where the temperature and location did not permit the growth and cultivation of vines, other products such as cereals were successfully used. Even when explorers discovered the new world, they used sugar cane as a base product to produce new types. In later centuries, the art of ageing in wooden barrels was also developed, which greatly improved the final quality.
Today, the world of spirits is vast and growing. Whether they are the bread of barmen, ingredients of mixology or great meditation classics, spirits are not only the result of man's creative and noble art, but also the spokesmen of a tradition that goes beyond time.
Although production may seem easy, in reality it is a very long and complex process, requiring long experience and great skill on the part of the master distiller.
The first fundamental step is the preparation of a must to undergo alcoholic fermentation. To produce a great product, it is important to select high quality raw materials. In the case of products rich in water and simple sugars (fructose and glucose), such as grapes, apples and other fruits, simply pressing or grinding is enough to obtain a very sweet juice. In the case of cereals and tubers, it is more complicated because the starch, a complex sugar, is difficult to dissolve and ferment. So we proceed to malting, i.e. the materials are immersed in water that stimulates vegetative activity and the action of enzymes, which break down the starch into simpler sugars (maltose). The next step is drying to stop sprouting (in the case of barley, the famous barley malt is obtained at this stage), followed by milling and ending with infusion in heated water.
The second step is alcoholic fermentation, i.e. the transformation of the sugars present in the must into ethyl alcohol and other secondary substances. The process is catalysed by yeasts, such as Saccharomyces Cerevisiae, and can last from 2-4 days to a month.
The next step is distillation, which involves separating the volatile components of the fermented beverage based on the boiling temperature and turning them into vapours and condensing them into fine liquids. Alembic stills are used, which can be either continuous distillation, without interruption, or discontinuous, performing one 'crush' at a time. It is important at this stage to select the best part of the product. The first vapours, called heads, are the lightest, least valuable compounds and will therefore be discarded. The intermediate part, called the heart, is the noblest and therefore absolutely necessary to keep. The final vapours, the tails, are the heaviest, rich in alcohols and of poor quality and must therefore be discarded. The master distiller must then cut the heads and tails from the heart.
The next process is stabilisation. At this stage, many spirits are directly bottled at full strength because they have an already balanced and pleasant aromatic heritage. Others have to undergo some final touches, such as reducing the alcohol content by adding deionised water, refrigerating for a few hours to condense the heavier parts and then filtering them, and finally adding sugar if necessary.
This is followed by ageing for months, years or decades in wooden barrels. This stage allows the final result to be enriched with softer, sweeter notes of spices, roasting, vanilla, dried fruit and honey. In the case of Whisky and Cognac, the regulations require a compulsory passage in wooden barrels, while for Grappa or other types it is a process chosen by the producer.
The last possible step, before the distillates are sold, is aromatisation, i.e. the addition of medicinal plants, fruit or aromatic substances to the final product. In reality, this process is not viewed well by purists and connoisseurs because it can mask a poor quality product.
The World of Distillates
A first subdivision can be made according to the raw materials used:
Pomace: from which grappa is obtained
Cereals: from which Whisky, Gin and Vodka are made
Wine: from which Cognac and Brandy are produced
Fruit: from which apples are made into calvados
Sugar cane: from which Rum is made
Agave: for Tequila il and Mezcal
The area of origin of the product is also very important: ranging from whiskies online, which express the taste and tradition of Ireland and Scotland, to Russian vodka, a famous distillate from Eastern Europe. Callmewine's selection also embraces typical products from the Caribbean and Mexico, as well as French spirits such as Bas Armagnac. The world-famous Italian Grappa is also a must, and it comes in a wide range of varieties: Morbida, barricata, young, white, mono-varietal and poly-varietal.
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