The word brandy is derived from the Dutch term "brandewijn," which translates to "burnt wine." It described wine that had been "burnt" or boiled, in order to distill it. The boiling point of water is 212 degrees Fahrenheit , while that of alcohol is 176 degrees Fahrenheit. Therefore, if heat is applied to an alcohol containing liquid and the temperature is kept below 212 degrees, all of the alcohol may be separated from the original liquid. The process of distillation is simply the boiling off of the alcoholic vapors from wine or any fermented mash through intense heat, and collecting them as condensed liquid.
At Brandy Peak, our distilling process begins with the best available fresh fruits that we carefully select for fermentation. This process usually begins in the early Fall, when the pears and grape varietals are harvested. Fully ripened, the fruit is crushed and fermented. After fermentation, when the natural sugars have converted to alcohol, the fermented mash is put into one of our unique wood-fired pot stills for distilling. Using a mixture of different woods harvested off the property, the pot still is heated. When the still gets hot enough, the material will begin to boil. Since alcohol boils at a lower temperature than water, the boiling liquid will release the alcoholic vapors before the water boils. The vapors will go through the pipe to the condenser, where they are cooled to liquid form, then gathered in glass containers. This distillate, like all spirits when they first come off a still, is clear and colorless.
Brandy Peak Distillery's wood-fired pot stills
Brandy Peak Stills
There are two basic kinds of stills; pot stills and continuous stills.
Continuous or column stills utilize enclosed copper or stainless steel columns. They allow for a "continuous" feeding of fermented liquid to steam heat, producing a very consistent, if unexciting product. This method is very efficient, and can distill up to very high strength. But in this process, the congeners, or flavoring elements, are lost. The resultant product, however, is very smooth in texture and finish when reduced to bottling strength, and thus has definite commercial value. Most large scale producers use the continuous stills, many of them multi-storied in height.
Up until the development of the continuous still, distillation was always carried out in variations of the pot still method. This method of distillation allows for a careful crafting of the final product. However the use of pot stills were much more labor intensive, as the pot still had to be recharged after each individual operation.
Then, as now, the pot still is usually made of copper. This is because copper is a very "clean" metal, removes unwanted sulphides, is resistant to acid and is an excellent conductor of heat.
At Brandy Peak, we have two, unique wood-fired pot stills custom built for our operation. This "old world" style of distillation allows the careful crafting of each production run in order to produce our many award-winning fine brandies, grappas and eaux-de-vie.