Distilling 101: What Does it Mean to Distill Something?

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Distilling is the act of heating a liquid mixture to a boil and using evaporation and condensation to separate the components. There are many uses of this process, though one is more commonly understood.

What is the Process of Distillation?

If you saw a class labeled Distilling 101 what is the first thing you would think of?

For the majority the answer would be the process by which alcoholic drinks are created. Most would think that they were signing up for a “how to distill alcohol at home” seminar where they would learn that the distillation process creates a hard alcohol out of a low alcohol base by separating the alcohol from the water. This is done by heating the base and using evaporation and condensation. Alcohol has a lower boiling point than water and can be evaporated, its vapors collected and then forced back into liquid by running through colder temperatures.

Distillation is not only for alcohol. In fact, a Distilling 101 class is likely to lead you to a chemistry lab.

Any liquid that is made up of two components with different boiling points can be separated through the distillation process. Though distillation is most famous for creating alcoholic beverages the procedure has many applications. It is used in chemistry labs to purify compounds, in the refining industry, in water purification, and has a number of other practical uses.

Types of Distillation

There is more than one way to distill a liquid mixture.

  • Azeotropic distillation is used for mixtures that when combined have a higher or lower boiling point than either of their components alone. A solvent that will mix freely with one component but not another is added to the mixture before it can be separated by boiling, evaporating and collecting the condensation.

  • Fractional distillation is when the process of distillation has to be repeated a number of times because the components of the mixture have boiling points to close to one another. The process is repeated in cycles until the parts are separated.

  • Simple distillation is the simplest of the four. The liquid is heated, the vapor rises separating itself from the other component and is collected and forced back into a liquid.

  • Vacuum distillation is used when the boiling point of one or both of the components is dangerously high. By reducing the pressure, the boiling point of a liquid falls making the process safer to execute.

A Distillation Example

Distillation can be used for something as simple as separating salt from water. The water boils and evaporates leaving behind the salt. Distilled water is simply water that has gone through the distillation process to leave behind the minerals and impurities. The water vapor was collected and cooled into the final purified product.

What does it mean to distill something? The answer is simply to separate the components of a liquid mixture into its desired parts.

-Marnie Rae


Additional links on the topic!

How distilling works/ how alcohol is made

Distilling 101: how whiskey is actually made

What is distillation?

Types of distillation

Marnie ClarkComment