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Thursday, September 3, 2020

General history of distillation process

The first distillation apparatus found in Mesopotamia (today´s Iraq) comes from the period 3500 BC. Distillation is a very old technique which was used by the Chinese 3000 years BC, the East Indians 2500 years BC, the Egyptians 2000 years BC, the Greeks 1000 years BC, and the Romans 200 years BC.

Aristotle (B.C. 384—322) in his Meteorology says, " sea water can be made drinkable by vaporization; other liquids behave in the same way." He also speaks of the formation of dew from the moisture in the air.

Nicander (183—135 BC), a Greek poet and physician, spoke of the extraction of perfumes from plants by what should now call as a process of distillation.

The earliest certain chemical distillations were by Greeks in Alexandria in the 1st century AD but these were not distillations of alcohol.

The earliest distillation of Attar (an essential oil derived from botanical sources) was mentioned in the Hindu Ayurvedic text Charaka Samhita. The Harshacharita, written in 7th century A.D. in Northern India mentions use of fragrant agar wood oil.

The medieval Arabs adopted the distillation technique of the Alexandrian Greeks, and written records in Arabic begin in the 9th century, but again these were not distillations of alcohol.

Al-Kindi (801-873), wrote in the 9th century a book on perfumes which he named ‘Book of the Chemistry of Perfume and Distillations’. It contained more than hundred recipes for fragrant oils, salves, aromatic waters and substitutes or imitations of costly drugs. The book also described one hundred and seven methods and recipes for perfume-making.

Geber or Abū Mūsā Jābir ibn Hayyān, about A.D. 800, and his followers described and practiced various methods of distillation, applied in the preparation of nitric acid, aqua regia, and many other substances. They distilled wine and obtained an alcoholic spirit which Rhases (AD 860—940) also prepared from malted wheat or wheat which had been made to germinate in the ground.

Although there are rare Arab references, towards the end of the first millennium, to the distillation of wine, it seems probable that for religious reasons they did not exploit it. Distillation of alcohol for drinking seems first to have developed in Europe in the twelfth century and thereafter.

In 1250, Arnaud de Villeneuve was the first to distill wines in France; he called the product which resulted from this process eau-de-vie or water of life. He attributed to it the virtue of prolonging life.

The derivations of the words ‘alcohol’ and alambic, from the Arabic word al-koh’l and al-anbiq, indicate that it was from the Islamic word that the practice of distillation first entered Europe. Until the end of the 15th century, distilled wine (aqua vitae) seems to have been used largely as a medicine.

But in 1493, a Nuremburg doctor noted everyone in the city had got into the habit of drinking. As a result, three years later the city authorities forbade the sale of alcohol on feast days. One of the first books on distillation written by J. French has been published in London in 1651.

The Dutch, French, Irish, Scottish, and others started producing distilled spirits around the 15th and the 16th century. They created gin (Holland), whiskey (Scotland and Ireland), Armagnac (France), and Cognac (France).
General history of distillation process


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