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The Science Behind the Distillation Process

beer undergoing the distillation process at a brewery

If you’ve ever been curious about how scientists separate mixtures into their individual components, you’ll want to learn about distillation. This fascinating process is used to produce many things including alcoholic beverages, fuels, and essential oils. 

Defining Distillation 

Distillation is the process of purifying a liquid by turning it into a gas with heat and then converting it back into liquid form. In simple terms, it’s a way to isolate individual ingredients within a mixture based on their boiling points. 

Vaporization and Condensation

The distillation process involves two key steps: vaporization and condensation. During vaporization, the mixture is heated. This causes the component with the lowest boiling point to evaporate and change from a liquid to a vapor or gas state. Then the vapor is gathered and passed into a separate container. Any remaining liquid, which still contains the higher boiling point compounds, will be left behind.

The next step is condensation. At this point, the collected vapor is cooled, causing it to condense and return to a liquid state. This liquid is now rich in lower boiling point components. Repeating the process allows you to purify the mixture further while producing increasingly concentrated samples of the desired substance.

Fractional Distillation

Sometimes substances in a mixture may have similar boiling points making it challenging to separate them using a simple distillation. In cases such as these, the method of fractional distillation is used. This involves using a fractional column, which has several plates or trays. As the vapor rises through the column, it repeatedly condenses and vaporizes on the plate, allowing for more efficient separation. 


Distillation has many practical applications in numerous fields and industries. It’s vital in the production of alcoholic beverages, and by carefully controlling this process, distillers can separate alcohol from fermented mixtures, resulting in beverages with different alcohol concentrations.

Distillation is also an integral part of producing fuels, including gasoline and diesel. Crude oil, a mixture of hydrocarbons, is distilled to allow specific hydrocarbons to be extracted and used for fuel production.

Additionally, distillation is used when extracting essential oils from plants. Subjecting plant materials to steam distillation allows the plates’ aromatic compounds to be isolated and collected and then used to produce fragrances, flavors, and therapeutic oils.   


Distillation is an intriguing process that plays a vital role in separating mixtures into their individual components. Taking advantage of the differences in boiling points gives scientists and industry professionals purer substances to use in a wide range of applications. Whether it’s used for the production of fuel, essential oils, or alcoholic beverages, distillation is essential. So, the next time you fill up your gas tank or take a sip of your favorite beer, remember the science behind the distilling process is making it all possible. 

Learn more about distilling, brewers, and wine-making here.

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Tips For How To Start Building A Distillery

distilling equipment

Opening a Distillery: It Ain’t All Moonshine Anymore

What’s your hobby? Crocheting potholders? Whipping up enviable aspics? Creating paint-by-number masterpieces? Homebrewing beer? Congratulations if you chose that last one — that means you’re one of the few hobbyists who can reliably count on at least some people enjoying your wares. Well done!

So what happens if you love homebrewing beer so much you want to take it up a notch? How hard could it be, you say, to make small-batch bourbon or whiskey? Dreaming big is great, but a word to the wise: the difference between homebrewing beer and crafting spirits is night and day. So here’s a few things to think about before taking your hobby to the next level.

The One Thing You Absolutely Need To Know

If you’re intrigued by the idea of opening a distillery, it would be normal and natural to want to try your hand at distilling at home before going big. But don’t even think about it. Not an option. Unlike home brewing, home distilling is completely illegal… and that’s not likely to change anytime soon. Why? Not only does the process off-gas extremely volatile, explosive, high proof alcohol vapors inside a pressurized vessel (think ”bomb”), it’s possible to make straight-up poison if you don’t know what you’re doing. Seriously. You could kill yourself or someone else!

The Difference Between a Dream & a Goal Is a Plan

As expensive as opening a brewery would be, opening a distillery costs even more. Start by writing a business plan. How will you capitalize your distillery? Will you need investors? What equipment will you need? (BaneBio may be able to help with high quality, used brewery and distilling equipment.) Assuming you make a sellable product, will you have the means in-house to create a brand? Think of a name, design packaging and create a website? Also, who’s going to sell your products and to whom? These costs need to be part of your overall business plan to open a distillery– it all adds up.

Because spirits are of a higher proof than beer, everything will need to adhere to a higher standard of safety– and that means extra time and money. You’ll need to adhere to more codes, which means more inspections. Oh, and you’re going to be paying far higher taxes on spirits than you would for beer.

Getting Started

It’s important to answer two questions very early in the process: 1. What do you want to distill? 2. How much product do you want to make? These decisions, along with where you’re located and several other factors, are going to drive everything else. Regardless, there’s one thing you can count on: opening a distillery is going to cost more than you think. Estimates of $300,000 to $500,000 aren’t out of line.

As for equipment, the following is a bare-bones list. Keep in mind that distillery equipment is very specialized, but BaneBio may be able to help with some of the basics.


You can’t make alcohol of any kind without water, so regardless of what your answers were to Questions 1 and 2 above, you’re going to need a source of water. Yes, you can use garden-variety tap water, but some top shelf H20 isn’t a bad idea. Bourbon loyalists will tell you that there’s no good bourbon outside of Kentucky thanks to its unique, limestone-rich water, but absent that, just try for a good filtered water base.


You need something to bring your grain and water mixture up to a designated temperature for a certain amount of time. In a perfect world, you’d have a sophisticated way to send that mixture from the cooker to the fermenter, but a basic pump will work.


This is where the magic happens. Your fermenter is the large vessel where your grain, water, and yeast mixture hangs out for a few days—or long enough for the yeast to eat the sugar and create alcohol, which you can capture after a few days and distill it.


Now you basically have grain alcohol. If you want to make *drinkable* alcohol? Then you’re going to need a distillery, aka “still.” The process from here on out is an interesting blend of chemistry, physics, and old-fashioned luck. Select your vendors and suppliers carefully– be sure they are reputable, and that safety is their top priority. Distillation can be dangerous business. You honestly can’t be too careful…so plan accordingly.

Some people wonder if the market is already saturated with small-batch distilleries. Just look at craft beer breweries. New ones are popping up all over the place. We think the future of small-batch distilleries can be just as bright!