The most famous and historically significant ancestor of the modern still is an alembic. The alchemists used it to create all sorts of distilled liquids for religious rituals or science in general - not really for drinking. The alembic consisted of three different elements. The first one was a still pot with a cap, not dissimilar to the ones used nowadays by the moonshiners.
*)Moonshine Inc, 3D models set up
The liquid in this pot was heated over a flame. The vapors would stop at the top of the pot and then liquify, going down a unique tube straight to a receiving vessel. The alembic was a straightforward apparatus, but it was based on the exact mechanisms that we use today.
*)Moonshine Inc, screenshot - Distillation
As it often turns out to be the case, not much has changed in the distilling technology from the 19th century and later. However, the Industrial Revolution and the modern ever-advancing technological progress do not omit such vital areas as distilling (and general booze-making). For example, an essential invention for distilling was a reflux column. To visualize it, one must imagine a column made out of many different pots (chambers), one stuck on another, with tiny holes. The way it works is similar to a simple pot still.
*)Moonshine Inc, screenshot - Crafting
First, the alcohol evaporates and then stops at the cap of the pot; but the lid has tiny holes, so it evaporates further, where it stops on another cap; and that one too has holes, and so on, until the vapor reaches the very last cap of the column, where it goes down a pipe into a container (same as in a normal, simple still). This process allows the given brewmaster to create a much stronger, multiply-distilled alcohol.
*)Moonshine Inc – T(a)esting moonshine!
So, we’ve come a long way from a simple alembic to an industrial reflux column. But, of course, that’s not it - there are as many stills as there are moonshiners! The tube where the alcohol liquifies can be a coil (called ‘worm’). A still may have a doubler/thump keg, a clever invention working similarly to the reflux column but being much more minor - basically yet another box next to a still pot, where the liquified alcohol goes only to be heated again. The stills can be made of copper. They can be made of steel. And every moonshiner can add something new! Like hanging a cotton bag with fruits inside the still so that the vapors combine with the fresh taste of the fruit. Or using wood chips to accelerate the aging of your whiskey! Or building a giant, so-called ‘submarine still’ and just really going for it...
*)Moonshine Inc, screenshot – Bottling!
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