4.2 Traditional Distillers and Distillation Techniques
When discussing the origin of Chines spirits in Chapter I, we have simply talked about the primitive chinese stills (distillers). Chinese stills have distinctively national characteristics. Their main construction can be divided into four parts:
- Pot used to produce steam by heating water in it.
- Steamer in which fermented grains are placed at the bottom of screen. At the beginning of still's development, both pot and steamer probably were connected together, which was more suitable to liquid distillation.
- Condenser which was named "top pot" in ancient times and was placed on the top of the steamer and was filled with cold water, and spirit vapor reached to its wall at the bottom,then was condensed.
- Condensate collecter: it is usually inside the steamer,at the bottom of the cooler.When Cooler is concave shaped, the collecter is just under the opposite bottom of the top pot; if the bottom of the cooler is convex, the colleter is shaped like the internal annular of Cooler .
The distillers in both Ming and Qing Dynasties were similar with those of Jing and Yuan Dynasties. The main different feature was that distillers of Ming and Qing Dynasties were larger in volume, so were more suitable for distillation operation in solid state. Somedistillers in near modern history are listed as follows.
At the sixteenth century, Chinese people had understood that the quality of spirit was changing as the distillation operation was proceded.<<Bencao Gangmu>> written by Li Shizhen in Ming Dynasty recorded that: The spirit that had bubbles on its surface was fine in quality. At that time, the distilled spirits were collected separately, usuallyin three batches: foreshots, spirits in fine quality and feints.
Due to the difference of the concentration of ethanol or other ingredients in spirit, the surface tension of bubbles of spirit varied greatly. The quality of spirits could be judged according to the difference in ability of bubble forming, the shapes of the bubbles, and the duration time of bubbles.
The bubble features of the spirits could be used to decided the spirit's price. So the spirit's bubbles become the objective criterion to assess the alchol content and the quality of spirit.
<<Tiao Ding Ji>> published in Qing Dynasty, summarized, "spirit after shaking with small bubbles in the surface is the best one, and that with bigger and scatter bubbles comes second, and that without bubble after shaking is worse". In ancient, people knew nothing about alcohol content. During the period of Republic of China, alcoholometer might be used to test the alcohol content of spirit, but it was not widely adopted at that time. In order to standardize the examination of the quality of the spirits, Mr. Fang Xinfang, a microbiologists working in Wanhai Chemical Industry Research Institute, invented a method to test the alcohol content of the spirits. The new method linked the feature of spirit bubbles with the alcohol content.