History of fruit distillery

and how the foundation for industrial alcohol production was established.

The distillation of wine and thus the “invention” of alcohol dates back to the 11th century. At first, brandy was considered a remedy and in the Middle Ages it could only be produced by monks and doctors. When mixed with herbs and roots, alcohol was used externally and internally as a medically effective aqua vitae (Latin = water of life). At the beginning of the 16th century, the philosopher and doctor Paracelsus von Hohenheim derived the term alcohol from Arabic, where the word al ko hul denotes something exceptionally pure. In time, the new term replaced Latin terms such as aqua vitae. However, the first records of the burning of fermented fruit raw materials were not found until the 17th century. In a revised edition of the herbal book by Hieronymus Tragus from 1630, the preparation of a cherry water and the distillation of crushed cherries with wine is reported (Wüstenfeld/Haeseler,1996). Already at the end of the 18th century a noticeable increase in the production of fruit brandies could be observed. At the same time, alcohol changed from a medicinal product to a luxury food, with the associated abuse, uncontrolled production, prohibitions and finally the introduction of a tax on spirits.

The Brandy Tax Act of 1909 contains a precise definition of fruit distilleries as companies exclusively processing fruit, berries or their residues. In Germany at that time, these businesses were found mainly in Baden-Württemberg, Alsace-Lorraine and Bavaria, i.e. in regions that are still known today for the production of high-quality distillates.

Even then, the majority of the fruit distilleries were tied to agricultural enterprises, which heated in a simple way with direct firing of a copper bubble and tried to produce a drinkable product by multiple distillation. The fermentation of the fruit raw materials often took place in simple cement pits, which were sealed with clay after fermentation was completed. “Not without significant influence on the quality of the distillate, as well as on the savings of work and time during the distillation itself, are the distillation apparatuses used”, already noted the Oenotechnician Antonio dal Piaz in 1894 in a small treatise on fruit and berry distillation, thus recognizing the need for improvement of the distillation devices for the production of high-quality fruit spirits. Only through constant technical improvements has it become possible today to produce a tasty distillate from a fermented fruit mash in one step.

The distillation devices of the early Middle Ages were simple apparatuses with which attempts were made to separate and amplify alcohol from wine with varying degrees of success. The decisive factor was the discovery of the physical relationships in distillation, namely that alcohol can be enriched by heating the wine in steam and can be obtained as a liquid rich in alcohol by cooling. For a long time there were only very simple distillation devices, which were called “rose hats” because of their similarity to the pointed headdresses of the ladies of that time. They consisted of a fireplace and a pot, which merged upwards into a high conical helmet. In the pot, the wine was heated, the vapors condensed on the cold surface of the helmet and the alcohol-rich liquid was finally collected in a gutter running at the bottom of the helmet and led outside in a short drain pipe. Later, the drain pipe was extended to the ghost pipe and led through a water barrel for cooling. High-proof alcohol could only be obtained with these apparatuses by repeated distillation of the obtained alcoholic liquid.

In 1815, Pistorius invented a distillation device in which the alcoholic vapors were directed and amplified via one or more reflux coolers. This apparatus made it possible for the first time to obtain high-proof alcohol directly from the mash, thus laying the foundation for industrial alcohol production.

About the author

Dr. Klaus Hagmann, Dipl.-Ing. Food Technology, has been internationally active in sales, consulting and engineering of distillation plants for more than 25 years. His area of responsibility includes the planning of distilleries, the development of recipes and the professional operation of all equipment in the distillery. His reference books “Schnappsbrennen”, “Technologie der Obstbrennerei”, “Blitz-Liköre morgens zubereiten, abends genießen” and “Essig selbstgemacht” are best-selling classics.

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply