Wine is a fermented drink that’s been around for over 8000 years. It’s made by pressing grapes to get their juice and natural sugars, then fermenting it with either wild or cultivated yeast to turn these sugars into alcohol.
As distillers, we are fascinated by the magic that happens when you take something like wine and run it through a still. So what happens when you distill wine?
Distilled wine is most commonly referred to as ‘brandy’. The word Brandy derives from the Dutch word “Branntwein” which means ‘burnt’ or distilled wine. In this article we’ll explain the ins and outs of distilling wine and making brandy.
Can You Distill Wine?
Yes, one can distill wine to produce Brandy, Grappa in Italy or Pisco if you’re in a south America.
Erin confirms that “distillation is used to produce many types of spirits, but in the wine industry, distilled wine can be used to produce brandy and port. Although the base beverage determines the neutrality and flavor of the distilled spirit, distillation can also be used to remediate some wine defects.”
What is distilled wine called?
Distilled wine is most commonly referred to as ‘brandy’. The word Brandy derives from the Dutch word “Branntwein” which means ‘burnt’ or distilled wine. While Brandy is a ‘catch-all’ term for any grape derived spirit, we’ve listed some of the most common brandy varieties below:
Can you distill white wine?
Yes, almost all brandy that is produced is made from white wine. Why? Because typically white wine is prone to going off unlike red wine which gets better with age. This, at least historically, has meant there’s a lot more white wine that needs ‘getting rid of’ and therefore why not turn it into brandy!
Interestingly, Cognac, the most renowned style brandy is mandated by french law to only be made from white wine.
Can you distill red wine?
You can absoltuly distill red wine. Although less popular as explained in the section above, it’s perfectly acceptable to distill red wine.
The Italian spirit Grappa is well known to be often made from red wine varieties like pinot noir, cabernet franc, and merlot.
What happens when you distill wine?
Don highlights that brandy starts as wine then it is distilled, which raises the alcohol concentration to forty or fifty percent. This level enables the yeast to be depleted.
Don notes that the wine’s ratio is one part alcohol to five parts water. This enables the boiling point of the distillation temperature of the wine to be settled at 173 degrees Fahrenheit-39 degrees lower than the boiling point for water.
Therefore, to distill wine into brandy one needs to heat the wine over 173 degrees, this will be the right temperature-hot enough to boil the alcohol but not heated enough to boil the water.
To produce wine using the biological process is considered legal in the United States. However, to boil wine to remove the water from the wine to produce brandy is considered an illegal offense in the USA.
How To Distill Wine (Step-by-Step)
Get yourself the right distillation equipment-preferably get your alembic copper still.
Set your still into a pot. Ensure that your pot is big enough to accommodate your distill inside. If one has a Dutch pot, this is the best option for this process as it can contain two liters still.
Fill up the pot (Dutch pot) 3 quartes full. Do not fill up the pot fully with water, this will cause an overflow to the distillation mash.
Pour the wine 3 quartes full into the still. Do not pour wine into the pot ( Dutch pot). You can use the wine you purchased from the store during this distillation. Once you have mastered the art of distillation, then you can use homemade wine.
Install a tube that connects the pot with the condenser. Firstly, place a lid over the still-the condensor is the arm extracting from the lid’s top. The consendor has a sprout, that attaches the tube to. Place the other end of the tube in a separate bucket.
Fill the condenser with cold water. Do not fill the still with water but fill the bucket with water. The water needs to be cool, to chill the evaporated wine into liquid. The condenser tube should be inside the bucket, emerging out from a spout on the side. As long as the tube is snug in the spout, the bucket shouldn’t leak water.
- A tip to consider when something doesn’t fit tightly on the still, mix 1/2 of a cup of rye flour with 3 tablespoons of water. Place the paste around the loose area. When the still heats, the paste will form a seal.
Place an empty glass under the sprout. Also consider placing several glasses close by, to ensure rotation once other glasses are filled up by the final distillation product.
Steps to heating the wine during distillation
- Step 1: Turn the temperature high enough to boil the alcohol. Ensure that you monitor the still. If the water gets too hot, it’ll boil and cause the distillation to drip into the glass faster. As soon as you see it begin to drip, you’ll need to adjust the temperature.
Remember when using a faster drip speed, less alcohol will be captured in each drip. You are welcome to adjust the temperature speed to suit your preference during distillation.
Always practice safety precaution measures when distilling indoors, therefore, it is wise to use an electric burner. Never use an open flame indoors, though you can use propane or a natural gas lighter outdoors.
- Step 2: Lower your temperature. You must aim for a water temperature of about 78 °C (172 °F). If you have a thermometer, you may be able to place it inside the condenser’s spout. Watch the drip speed to judge the temperature levels.
- Step 3: Test the quality of your distillate and change the bottles. When one changes the bottles, one prevents spills from occurring during the process and also improves the smell and taste of the brandy.
- Step 4: Pour out the foul-smelling distillate. The first 50 milliliters (1.7 fl oz) are undrinkable. It has a lot of acetone and wood alcohol, which is poisonous and smells rancid. This first batch liquid is referred to as the head or foreshot.
- Step 5: Save the fruity-smelling distillate, this is referred to as the heart. You can detect the heart from the head, by sniffing into the mash to pick up some fruit or herb smells that were produced in the wine. At this point, the still have heated up and may drip much faster, collecting the final product into glasses. Expect two liters or less of pure brandy.
- Step 6: Pour out the distilled liquid once it turns color into a milky concentration. This is referred to as the tail as the fruity aroma disappears and the brandy mixes with the water and unpleasant alcohol flavors.
Can You Distill Wine Into Vodka
Briana shares that at Grapeworks Distilling, founders and co-owners Sal Leone and Celeste Larenas-Leone distill wine into vodka. The resulting vodkas, most made from single varietals of grapes, are clean and pure, with a subtle fruity taste.
Therefore distillery masters have used potatoes and grains to produce vodka. However, now distillery crafters have introduced the use of fruity combinations such as grapes, apples, and milk to produce vodka. This was inspired by a big brand Ciroc, a vodka made from pure French grapes.
Leone also states that “when the craft distillers got into it, all of the sudden, vodkas started having more character.”
Hence the craft of distillers and the art of distillation of wine is a fascinating practice that keeps developing to produce a variety of fruitful liquids.
Frequently Asked Questions:
1. How long does it take to distill wine?
How long it takes to distill wine depends on how much wine you are distilling and the size and power of your still. Typically distilleries process wine in batches that can take anywhere from 6 to 14 hours, which leaves enough time in the day to get set up and pack down after the job is done.
2. Why is wine not distilled?
Wine is a fermented drink so by definition cannot be distilled. If you take wine and then distill it you’ll get brandy or pisco if you’re in a latin part of the world.
3. Does distilling remove the sulfites from wine?
Distilling is able to reduce the amount of sulfites in wine if done correctly.
Sulphur compounds include DMS, DMDS, DMTS, S-methyl thioacetate, MMFDS and many others. They are typically the result of fermentation, but can also be added to wine to improve flavor. DMTS or Di-methyl thiosulphate in particular is attributed with the sulphury scent of distilled spirits as it is highly perceptible to human smell.
Fortunately, these compounds are known to react with the copper in the distillation process which is why it’s industry best practice to include copper in your stills vapour path.
4. Can you extract alcohol from wine?
Of course, that’s what this website is all about!
Distillation is the art of separating alcohol from other liquids. In this case, we’d extract the alcohol from wine to make brandy, and leave behind a badly flavored grape juice with the alcohol removed.
5. Can you make vodka from wine?
Yes, you can. The main difference between brandy and vodka is that vodka is distilled to a higher purity. Brandy typically runs off the still at 60-70% ABV which means there’s 40-30% room for other flavors to come through with the alcohol. Vodka is made at 95% while leaves little room for other flavors to carry through.
To make vodka from brandy you’ll need a reflux column still. You can read about what makes a good vodka still in this article here.