The Internal Alembic Still

A closer look at a primitive process.

Home distilling in Southeast Asia

Recall that the alembic still has three basic components: the retort, the condenser, and the receiver. The alchemists of old constructed finely crafted clay and glass instruments for their distillations. But their secret processes would inevitably become known, and attempts to duplicate them with household utensils would be many.

In Asian cooking, large pots and deep woks are common. As it happens, their size and shape make them ideal for constructing what is called an “internal alembic” still. In this configuration, the mash or wine is put into the large pot, which is heated and becomes the retort. For the receiver, a small wok is placed on a pedestal, centered inside the pot. A condenser is constructed from a wok large enough to span the top opening of the pot. Cold water is circulated through the condenser wok, and vapours from the heated wine or mash condense on its cold bottom surface. As this liquid accumulates, it drips off the surface and down into the receiving lower wok.

A look through many a modern kitchen, and some not so modern, will often find the basic materials for constructing a modest internal alembic. Soup pots of four to six liters make a retort. Stainless steel bowls of various sizes are commonly available at superstores. A tall stemmed glass makes a good pedestal. The trick is to assemble the parts, charge the still, heat on a stove, and with a few tweaks and techniques, harvest the liquor. The other trick being, of course, to make sure you live in a country where home distilling is legal!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.