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The San Francisco Standard Covers Doctors and Distillers

I've Been Distilling Some Things

Wine was (probably) first distilled into eau de vie in the practice of trying to make medicines and perfumes like rosewater and wormwood water. Distilling these herbs would make a preserved medicine that would last beyond the herbs' seasons. Today we'd call them hydrosols and essential oils. 

These were water based distillations, and it was only when the technology became good enough that the wine could be separated into concentrated alcohol and water that alchemist physicians noticed distilled wine's wonderful properties. 

In preparing for my seminar for Tales of the Cocktail, Secrets of the Earliest Distillation Books, I decided to try to replicate early water-based distillates. I purchased a still online, one like this, though there are a lot of variations. (I bought one with a temperature gauge but don't think that was necessary.) 




Note that distilling alcohol is illegal at the federal level in the US, though I am unsure if it is allowed in some states, much like marijuana. In any case I have only been distilling infused waters in it. It has been very interesting! 

Below are notes I took. After the first few experiments, for green herbs I learned to boil the water first and only toss the herbs into the water in the still at that point. This was to try to have less wilted/boiled herb flavors. 

Distilling Experiments
  • 35 grams wet rose petals in 250ml water in home distiller - earthy green aroma, intense, somewhat rose-y but more distilled green plants
  • star anise - so much that next distillation was still tons of oil
  • lemon blossoms
    • green, like almond shells note along with the floral that's not in the aroma of the steam but in the liquid
    • settling down in flavor as it cools?
    • took cuts - very sweet and floral high notes (how lavender shocks) first segment, then more green notes not so great, then at end more floral petals like rosewater but flat rather than high notes - you could see taking cuts and recombining
  • Juniper - old dried herbs, then rosemary spice and dusty woodiness
    • then crushed some and added to still - all of the evergreen forest floor notes came out, greenness and pine needles
  • Crushed black pepper
    • tastes just like black pepper, not a lot of new flavors, not spicy i don't think
  • dehydrated cranberries
    • not much flavor at all, and black pepper of prevoius batch in the way
  • dried mint. - tasted stewed with mintiness, stewed aspect gross
  • Dried ginger- not spicy but nice and perfume, ginger flavor but not ginger spice and bite
  • dried basil - swampy!
  • sesame seeds - a little farty, but then peanut butter
  • horseradish  - tangy, maybe it was the vinegar or cream of tartar, with some nice green notes but sublte- great
  • freeze dried wasabi - earthy but super mild, no spice
  • aniseed smelled as expected
  • licorice seed smelled as expected, great
  • Strawberries- smell amazing,  tastes ambrosial,  subtle though, great next day - like Strawberry Starburst
  • Lime juice only - weird, perfumy, I would guess artificial if I didn't know, not that powdery pasteurized taste, but I would guess watered down preserved lime juice. And obviously if distilled lime juice were the answer someone would have done it.
  • Lime shells after squeezing, cut in half (so quarters now) - sweeter, more body, still perfumy, rounder flavor profile. nice finish. I think it's just oils combined with the flesh. at end of run started tasting cooked
  • Lime peels only - lime lime essential oil but a touch more cooked
  • parsely - soapy and green and intense and disgusting!
  • mint - stems - spearmint but quickly turned stewed
  • Rainier Cherries - good but not as flavorful as strawberries; not useful, the flavor didn't last in the fridge either, neutral
  • Canned fruit cocktail - tastes just like fruit cocktail! 
  • fennel seeds- wonderful and delicious like the seeds

Later, I carbonated the strawberry water in a Soda Stream (it has no particulates or sugar so it didn't fizz over) and it was fantastic! I also carbonated canned fruit cocktail hydrosol; it was also good. 





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We steam distill our herbs in a distillator with a stainless steel basket above the water.
This produces fabulous Hydrosols which retain the herbs therapeutic properties wonderfully well...
Writing to you from Chiangmai in Thailand's Highlands...

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