The Essential Oil Company

Rotating Column Copper Alembics

Rotating column copper alembic distillerProduced in the traditional fashion, this hand hammered copper alembic is both functional and decorative. The tradition of manufacturing copper alembics dates back to the Arab invasion of the eighth century CE. The original alembics were designed by Maria the Prophetess, a Jewish woman living in Alexandria, Egypt, thought to be the Mother of Alchemy. Maria developed many and varied types of apparatus used for distillation and separation of plants and minerals. The "Bain Marie", a water bath system that protects material inside the pot from burning is named for Maria.

The Rotating Column Copper Alembics are perfect for distilling plants such as Lavender and Rosemary, Geranium, Thyme and Oregano. The design for the rotating column dates back over 100 years. Traditionally it has been used for distilling grapes, after they have been fermented to make red wine. After fermenting the wine with the crushed grapes in the liquid to give the wine its red color, the whole lot is poressed once again. This time to separate the fermented wine from the "raisins". The wine is set aside to age. The pressings are placed intto the rotating column to be distilled for making Eau de Vie, Grappa and Raki. There is alcohol trapped inside the "raisins" which is released by a gentle distillation.

Departing from the original intent for this equipment, we find that the unique features of this distiller are just right to enable an idividual to distill both essential oils and hydrosols; using either the hydro-distillatuion technique or steam and water technique.

components of the rotating column copper alembic distillerThe Rotating Column Copper Alembic is comprised of several different components.

The pot for holding water (for hydrosols, you can add water and plant material together here) The rotating column is where the plant material is packed for the water and steam distillation. The Swan Neck and Alembic lid. Plant material can also be packed into the Alembic lid to increase the distiller capacity. The Swan Neck attaches to the condenser, where the steam that is generated in the pot, after passing through the plant material is condensed back to its liquid state. Condensation pernits the separatiob of the essential oil and waters (hydrosols)..

The pot is the base of the Alembic distiller. This is where you add water. You will note that there is a drain valve in the bottom of the pot for cleaning out your distiller after you are finished distilling for the day.

Pot and column of the rotating column copper alembic distillerOnly water is added to the pot, if you're planning to do a water and steam distillation. Water and steam distillation, is when water is boiled below the plant material, without having any plant matter touching the water. The advantage of this type of distillation is that you get saturated wetted steam passing through your plant material without pressure, as opposed to steam which has been generated in a separate boiler and introduced into your retort. When steam is introduced into a retort, it is generally introduced under pressure. This Rotating Column Alembic operates on ambient pressure. Distillation in this type of apparatus yields a very high quality product, however, because there is no pressure, the distillation takes longer, but it's well worth the effort. You will have to experiment to discover the proper amount of time needed to distill your particular plant material.

Screen inside the copper alembic distillerAt the base of the rotating column, is a perforated copper screen. Water is boiled in the pot below while the perforations permit the steam produced to enter the rotating column. The perforated screen keeps your plant material from touching the water. Prior to distillation and the heating of the water, plant material is packed into the rotating column. It is recommended to pack as much plant matter into the column as possible. This will maximize the yield of essential oils you obtain. Another feature of the rotating column is that it allows you to dump the spent plant material after distillation, without having to dump the water in the pot. This allows you to re-use already heated water, thereby saving time and energy. .It is a simple task, as you get ready for the next distillation, to remove the distilled plant matter, add more water if need be, then pack the rotating column once again.

copper alembic distiller with the column in placeAfter the pot has been mostly filled with water, the column put in place and filled with plant material for distillation; it is time to put the Swan Neck Lid into place. Priot to placing the lid on top of the rotating column, it is adviseable, but not necessary to pack the lid with more plant material for distillation. A screen is provided to cover the hole in the top of the lid, to keep plant material from entering your condensing coils. Invert the lid, put the copper screen over the hole in the lid, and pack it with more plant matter. You can now invert the lid and put it into place on top of the rotating column.

the onion and bird's beak of the copper alembic distillerFor packing the lid, it is adviseable to first make certain that the Swan Neck is not screwed to the lid. The Swan Neck is easily screwed into place after the lid has been packed and placed on top of the rotating column.

Column in place atop the pot in the copper alembic distiilerThe pot has now been filled most of the way with water. The rotating column and lid have been packed with plant material for distillation. When assembled and fully packed, your Rotating Column Alembic distiller should look like this. You are now ready to screw the Swan Neck into the top of the lid

Please note, that it is important that the pot is placed on top of your heat source prior to filling and assembling. Your heat source can be either a propane (or other gas burner) burner or direct fire. The pot will not be damaged by placing it directly on top of fire.

Water is boiled in the pot. Steam passes through your plant material and out the hole in the top of the lid. The steam is a combination of essential oils and water vapor. The steam passes through the Swan Neck and enters your condenser.

the condenser for the copper alembic distillerThere is a coil inside your condensing bucket. Steam passes through the Swan Neck into the coil of the condenser.

The condenser is filled with water. Note: It is recommended that warm water be used to fill the condenser if possible. This will speed up the separation of essential oils from the waters (hydrosols). the water in the condenser should always be warm, not too hot, and not cold. The temperature of the distillate as it exits the condenser should be between 100 and 125 degrees F. There are different theories concerning the temperature of the distillate, this is where the artistic nature of the distiller comes into play. It is up to the distiller to decide what is the optimum temperature that he/she feels yields the best product. Some prefer the lower temperature for what they feel is a superior product. The downside of this is that there may be incomplete separation of the essential oil and water, becasue of close specific gravities between the two. If the temperature is cool, you may lose som product into the hydroslols. You can however redistill the hydrosols if you collect them. Thereby removing more of the essential oils from the waters. Higher temperature enables better separation, but may or may not affect the quality of the product.

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