Alembic stills: traditional, beautiful, but potentially dangerous!
The copper alembic still is the oldest and probably most recognisable of all still designs, dating back centuries. People have been making spirits, essential oils and other distillates on these stills for household or industrial purposes over many years.
The traditional alembic has an onion shape. It is made of three parts – alembic pot, swan neck and condensing unit. Copper is the ideal material because of its durability, natural resistance to rust, antibacterial and uniform heat conducting properties. It’s also beautiful to look at! These days, many alembic stills are made in Portugal. They come in a variety of sizes ranging from as little as 1 litre.
Dangers of using an alembic still
However, while alembics offer functionality, style and a sense of nostalgia, there are several downsides. The greatest risk is that of fire. The flammable liquid, ethanol, is very close to the heat source. Also any obstruction in the tubing can cause a build-up of pressure which risks bursting the still. Vapours need a safe and easy way to exit and the real risk of liquid boiling over needs monitoring. Otherwise, operators risk burning themselves. So, many safety precautions are required to reduce these risks.
Modern pot still
The modern-day pot still is really a direct descendant of the alembic still. However, it has various improvements for minimising danger, as well as retaining greater flavour and a richer, smoother texture in the distillate.
Ryebeck supplies new and used handmade copper pot stills of different sizes and specifications. These top quality stills are suitable for all modern spirit distillation needs. The expert team is always at hand to advise on which type of still suits each customer best.
Managing Director, Tim Prime, has had recent experience of customers looking to replace their alembics because of personal injuries. “I was contacted by someone who was on the way to the burns clinic. The alembic had left burns all the way down the side of her arms and face! That was the second time I’d been contacted about something like this in the past twelve months. The second time, I was called to quote for a still. The owner was severely burnt, because the top of the alembic still had blown off. The spirt caught fire which went up the side of the building. There are a lot of people using these stills and they don’t realise how dangerous they are.”
If you’re looking to replace your alembic still and want to discuss options with a leading UK supplier, then do contact Ryebeck. You can call them on +44 (0) 800 689 3216 or get in touch via their online form.
Author: Robin Goldsmith of The Write Taste.