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Frequently Asked Questions about Alembic Distillers


Question: What is an Alembic?

Answer: An Alembic, is a distiller. The word "Alembic" comes from the ancient Greek word "Ambix" or "Amvix" which means "cup". Subsequently, the word became "Al ambiq" which is Arabic for "still" and eventually Latinized from Spanish Arabic to "Alembic"

Question: What is the Alembic used for?

Answer: The original design for the Alembic is credited to Maria the Jewess also known as Miriam the Prophetess. Maria was an Alchemist living in Alexandria, Egypt. Working with a group of Jewish Alchemists, Maria designed many pieces of equipment which were needed for the distillation and separation of various materials. Among Maria's inventions is the reflux condenser, the kerotakis and the tribikos which became necessary for condensation. Here name is immortalized in the name for the double boiler, another of Maria's creations, the "Bain Marie".

Early alchemists used this apparatus for distilling minerals and plants. The current design for the Alembic arrived in Europe along with the Arab invaders. It was then that a more mundane use for the Alembic was discovered, distilling alcohol from wine and fermented grapes.

The Alembic became the apparatus of choice for distilling Eau de Vie for brandy and later for distilling grains for whisky.

The Alembic distiller has been rediscovered by Herbalists and Aromatherapists. The Alembic is well suited for distilling Hydrosols and Essential Oils from various plants. The Alembic "pot still" can be used for the hydrodistillation of plants. Hydrodistillation is when the plant material is free floating in water inside the "pot". Water and steam distillation can be accomplished using a rotating column Alembic distiller. The column separates the plant material from the water below, allowing only steam to pass through the plant material.

Question: Is the Alembic distiller easy to use?
Answer: Yes, the Alembic distiller is very simple to operate. After one or two distillations, you are on your way to becoming an expert distiller.
Question: How are the distillers heated?
Answer: Our larger distiller, such as the 100 liter rotating column Alembic come complete with a propane burner and stand. Smaller distillers such as the 5 and 10 liter Alembics can be placed on a stove top burner, or electric hotplate. Our 40 liter Alembic sits well on top of a propane burner or hotplate.
Question: If there are no gaskets, how are the joints sealed?
Answer: The distillers are sealed in the traditional fashion with rye flour. Some distillers make a paste with rye flour and smear it over the joints. Others make a dough and roll it into a rope shape and press it into the joints. Our distillers are equipped with screw fittings(soldered unions) to attach the Bird's Beak to the condenser. Other distillers you may find are not so equipped. If any steam leaks are discovered during distillation, they are easily plugged with the rye dough. At the end of distillation, removing the rye dough is very easy. Other flour will not work. Rye retains moisture, while wheat flour will dry and crack with the heat of distillation.
Question: What makes your Alembics different than others I've seen on the internet?
Answer: The Essential Oil Company is a direct importer of quality distillation apparatus from Portugal. We represent a specific group of Artisan coppersmiths who have passed their tradition of making Alembics from father to son, for many generations. Unlike other distillers on the market ours are designed for durability. Heavier, thicker gauge copper is used for these distillers. Smaller distillers are equipped with thermometers. Some joints have welded fittings. The President of The Essential Oil Company, Robert Seidel, is constantly working with the Artisans for innovations into old technology for distilling essential oils and hydrosols. For smaller distillers (up to 40 liter) The Essential Oil Company has ready stock in the USA. We handle all Customs duties , import fees and taxes. Distillers are shipped from our warehouse in Portland, Oregon.
Please note: The price of copper continues to climb to new heights. All prices are subject to change without notice.
© The Essential Oil Company 1996 - 2013