Distilling On Demand: The American Distilling Institute's Books + A New Brandy How-To Book From One Of California's Top Distillers
Interested in learning Modern Moonshine Techniques, taking a nationwide tour of 99 Pot Stills, brushing up on a Short History of the Art of Distillation? You really should take a look at The American Distilling Institute's publications. One caveat: Unlike home brewing and winemaking, federal law prohibits home distillation for personal use. A minor issue, really, as the federal government prohibits all kinds of things.
Note that these are print-on-demand books, which allows the nonprofit to publish titles as they are ordered that otherwise would be beyond their budgetary reach.That also means some titles, like 99 Pot Stills, are more trade-oriented paperbacks. Translation: If you're a distilling geek, this is a fascinating photologue of craft pot still differences across the country, but it isn't a high dollar coffee table book. Others, like Traditional Distillation: Art & Passion are instructional hardcover titles. Pretty fantastic ones.
Get more on Traditional Distillation, a handy eau de vie how-to guidebook by Hubert Germain-Robin, after the jump.
Germain-Robin is not your everyday eau de vie maker. For starters, he has long history of White House supporters. He also happens to be one of the most respected brandy distillers in the world, with a great back story (he met the owner/founder of Germain-Robin, Ansley Coale, while hitchhiking through northern California looking for the best grape-growing location).
Historic Cognac Advertisements
And then there's the hazy street definition of eau de vie, a fruit spirit we often think of as light, un-aged and made with fruit other than grapes. What Germain-Robin makes is essentially the California version of aged Cognac, only he can't technically call it Cognac. He also makes his brandy from a wider variety of grapes than those used in Cognac. "When I came to California in 1981, I realized the unbelievable potential of the New World, with such diversity in grape varietals, microclimates, and less demanding restrictions than there are in France," he says in the Introduction.
A native of France, Germain-Robin hails from a long line of Cognac makers. Later, he studied Cognac flavor profiles under Master Taster Pierre-Alain Gardrat and the production side of the equation under Master Blender Pierre Frugier at Martell Cognac. Yeah, exactly the sort of guy we want to teach us everything we need to know about distilling grapes.
In the book, Germain-Robin begins by discussing grape varietals and their suitability to distillation, with some counter-intuitive nuggets for the novice brandy distiller. "Wines intended for distillation must be perfect, because a slight defect that is hardly detectable in wine may be detectable in the eau de vie. This is because of the intensity of concentration that occurs during double distillation." So much for stocking up on Two Buck Chuck for our first Just Off The 405 brandy vintage.
A chapter on "The Alambic Pot Still" explains the reason copper is preferable -- it's malleable, a good conductor of heat, resists corrosion, and in that same copper cooking pot vein, "it reacts with wine components such as sulfur and fatty acids" in a favorable flavor way. That sulfur reaction we suspect is the reason why Germain-Robin says in an earlier chapter (in screaming caps), that absolutely NO sulfur can be added to the wine during fermentation.
If you are nodding your head in agreement, then you probably are also eager to hear about the specifics of eau de vie distillation, learn how to clean your pot still efficiently, read that chapter on flavor "Defects and Their Origins," and learn how to properly conduct a flavor profile tasting of your brandy during the aging process. You really need the book.
Or, if sulfur quantities aren't yet a part of your daily dinner table conversation, we suggest you get straight the product tasting side with a few bottles of Germain-Robin's fantastic aged brandies.
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to Los Angeles dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.