Searching for solid gold and finding ”liquid gold"

If you take a slightly closer look at a still, there is little about the design that looks French. Rather there is something Arab about it. But then knowledge of distillation came from the Arabs too.

In fact it was the alchemists of ancient Egypt who, in their eternal quest to manufacture gold, ended up making something quite different (which we will call a happy accident). The Arab origins of the apparatus are confirmed by its name: alembic. Both the quality of the wine and the distillation process are crucial to the end product. The product of the second distillation is called ”la bonne chauffe” and has an alcohol content of around 70%. By definition the final cognac must contain at least 40% alcohol.
The apparatus used for distillation is called an «alambic Charentais». Cognac is distilled twice.

The wine is heated in a vessel made of copper, which by law must be heated over an open flame. The alcohol vapour rises to the top of the kettle and passes through a tube called the swan’s neck. It then enters a coil, which runs through a cooling chamber, where the alcohol vapour condenses into liquid. The result of the first distillation is called «brouillis». This liquid, which has an alcohol content of between 28 and 32% is then poured back into the vessel for the second distillation, which is called «la bonne chauffe» and produces 72% «eau de vie».

The first part of the distillate to be separated out, the «heads», has the highest alcohol content. Then comes a clear liquid, the «hearts», which is what will become cognac. The final residue, the «tails», is also separated out. The heads and tails then go back into the vessel with the wine or brouillis. The distilled product is stored in oak casks to become cognac. Distilling is done during the winter months, with the law requiring it to take place by 31 March of the year following the wine harvest.