• James E Aarons DVM

Ancient Stills

“They used what they had, alcohol and herbs. Early European travelers to Africa observed Caesarean sections being performed on a regular basis in the 1800’s. The expectant mother was anesthetized with alcohol, and herbal mixtures were used to encourage healing. I don’t see why the same couldn’t be done in ancient times.

“What alcohol did they use?”

“Any, but usually beer or wine were used. Stronger alcohols are made by distillation, which requires more equipment.”

“Oh yeah, the good old still, where real alcohol comes from. And stills couldn’t be made until metal pipes were invented,” the Sheriff said.

“You’re wrong on the timing Sheriff. Stills in India have been used to distill liquor since antiquity.”

“I’m not sure about that. How could they do it without metal pipes?”

“Do you agree with me the ancients had clay pots, fired hard enough to boil water in, Sheriff?”

“Umm hmmm.”

“They would get a big kettle with a top on it, it looked like those old medicine jars where it came up in a tapered out flare, then shouldered off quickly into a spout.”

“Oh, like a perfume bottle?”

“Yes, but a lot larger. And, where the stopper would go, the jug flares out again at the very top. Does it make sense?”

“I think so.”

“Good, and the jug has four feet so a fire can be started under it. The mash is poured inside the jug up to a level two inches below its shoulders. When the mash boils, the fermented alcohol starts to bubble off, just as in every distillation, right?”

“Yep, but how is the alcohol, which is now evaporating, going to be collected without a distillation pipe to cool the distillate?”

“The evaporate is distilled in a metal cup set in the flared out top.”

“But how is the cup kept cool? Once the steam heats it up there will be no liquor condensation.”

“They keep the metal cup cold with running water. The cup is made with a spout for outflow, and water is continually dripping into it cooling it, so you need lots of cold water. In other words you probably need a stream, but it isn’t rocket science.”

At the museum in Taxila, Pakistan, there is a complete alembic still that could have been used to extract alcohol, and it has been estimated to be 2500 years old.

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Ancient Distillation, Chapter 6