A devil's idea for the angel's liquor.
The principle of distillation is based on the differences between various chemical components. In a distilled spirit only those lighter substances making up the main features of a bouquet stay.
The distillation process of the eaux-de-vie from the Charente enables us to concentrate the most delicate aromas and bouquet of the wine, keeping only the very best components and eliminating the mediocre.Immediately after the fermentation of the grape juice, the white wine is distilled into eau-de-vie. The main particularity of the technique of distillation for Cognac lies in its double distillation:
Only the heart of the second distillation, or middle portion also called the 'bonne chauffe' will be retained for the Cognac.
The heads, too high in alcohol, and the tails, lacking harmony, are carefully removed and distilled over again to perfection.
The Château de Beaulon distillery
A legend relates the story of the 'Brown Cross Chevalier' as the initiator of the double distillation process....There are a great many variations of this tale. They all have in common a dream, where the knight sees the devil and a big furnace.
The devil threatens the knight to 'boil his body twice in order to extract his soul'. The Chevalier wakes up with the idea to distill the eau-de-vie twice, in order to 'extract its soul'.
For its first distillation, the unfiltered wine is brought to boil in the copper pot. Since alcohol evaporates faster than water, alcoholic vapors may be collected in the onion dome shaped cowl and in the swan neck, which slows the rectification process of the flavors, before passing into the long serpentine condenser coil. Vapors condense to the contact of the cooler and turn into a liquid known as 'brouilli'.
This brouilli, with an alcoholic content of 27 to 30% vol., is distilled a second time in a process called the 'bonne chauffe'. The distiller's key task is then to choose the moment when to isolate the 'heart' of this second distillation, extracting the 'head' and the 'tail' in the process.This distillation process is a delicate and slow one. It lasts for approximately twenty four hours and requires the constant care of the distiller. It usually begins in November and is conducted day and night for several months. The rule binds it to stop at the latest at the end of March. Distillation is a key factor to confer the Cognac its distinctive character. Its secrets are handed over from generation to generation.
The Alambic or 'Pot-still'
Of Arabic origin, it is thought that the copper alembic, originally used to produce medicinal essences or perfumes, reached France at the time of the crusades; it has remained the same for the past three centuries. Copper is not only an efficient heat conductor but also plays a purifying role.