Already Aristotle (384-322 B.C.), however, was unsuccessfully concerned with "liberating the spirit of wine from wine". It is not certain when this was first achieved, but there are descriptions from the 2nd century BC. The Roman author Pliny the Elder (23-79) assumed that there must be something combustible in wine. The Aztecs in ancient Mexico mastered this art and made intoxicating drinks from agaves (see under Pulque). Tartars in the Gobi desert produced the alcoholic drink "Kumyss" from mare's milk and distilled it into "Karakumyss" (milk spirit). When the Moors (Arabs) conquered Spain in the 8th century, they brought with them the art of distillation. This was mainly used in the pharmaceutical industry and for the production of scented waters. A document from 1150 describes the art of making "Aqua ardens" (burning water) from wine. At this time the name "Aqua vitae" (water of life) was common.
At the beginning of the 13th century it was already possible to produce up to 90% alcohol by repeated distillation (ten times or more). The scholar Albertus Magnus (1193-1280) further developed the distillation apparatus. The Spanish doctor and scholar Arnaldus de Villanova (1240-1311) used his experience to invent the wine now known as Vin doux naturel. From the beginning of the 14th century onwards, the term "spiritus vini" (spirit of wine), first used by the naturalist and physician Theophrastus Bombastus Paracelsus (1493-1541), became generally accepted for distillates and was later equated with the term alcohol. The term "spirits" for the end products from a wide variety of starting materials is also derived from this.
Distillation is the physical process of heating, vaporizing and subsequent condensation (lat. destillare = dripping) of a liquid in order to separate liquids with different boiling points (water and alcohol). No sulphur may be contained in the starting products, as a viscous, unpleasantly smelling substance would be produced during distillation. For this reason, desulphurisation may have to be carried out. Due to the high temperatures and the high alcohol content in the end product, there is no need for sulphur in the wine production process to protect against oxidation. The alcohol type ethanol (potable alcohol) has a boiling point of 78 °C. This significantly lower value compared to water and other types of alcohol makes distillation possible.
At the beginning of the distillation process, larger quantities of the alcohol type methanol, which is toxic to the organism above a certain limit, can also be produced, therefore this part is separated. This is relatively easy to do because at 65 °Celsius it has an even lower boiling point than ethanol. Special care must be taken to avoid the formation of the highly toxic ethyl carbamate, which can be formed by the influence of light on the distillate or by reactive processes during storage. In the classic process, fortified wine or mash from different fruits is used for the first distillation and, depending on the product, is distilled two or more times. Differently for each product there is a downflow limit, a maximum permissible alcohol content.
In the course of time, various distillation methods have developed. The traditional one is called periodic (fractional) distillation. This involves two or more independent distillation processes, in which the distillate is collected in a container. During the first distillation the raw distillate is produced with an alcohol content of about 30 to 40% vol. If this is subjected to a new distillation (Pot Still), the fine distillate is produced with about 70% vol. In the pot still process, only the "heart" (French: coeur = heart) from the middle reaches is used for further processing into brandy. Pre-run and post-run are inferior distillates; they are separated and treated separately. If necessary, a third distillation takes place. This is used for the French brandies Calvados (apple) and Cognac (wine).
The second process is continuous distillation (Patent still distilling, Continuous distilling, Column still distilling or Coffey still distilling). The distillation plant consists of two connected columns. The distillate is not collected in between, but is produced in one operation. The cold mash is let in through pipes, heated in the second column and transported to the first column, where the mash is heated with steam. This is common, for example, in the French Armagnac or in the production of distilled water. With this process, it is possible to achieve an alcohol content of up to 97.2% vol
The end products are usually aged in oak barrels for up to five years or more - special bottlings of Armagnac and Cognac 20 years and more. They are then reduced to a drinking strength of at least 38% vol. alcohol by means of distilled water. Depending on the source product and the production process, the designation is regulated by EU spirits regulations. There are also protected designations such as Armagnac, Brandy de Jerez, Cognac, Grappa, Lourinhã, Metaxa, Orujo, Ouzo, Pálinka, Pisco, Singani, Tequila, Tsipouro and Zivania. Brandy, gin, rum, brandy, whisky and vodka are not protected of origin
In the case of commercial distillation, the quantities must be collected in respect of the fiscal charges. In the distillation law, a distinction is made in this respect between compensatory distillation and cap distillation. Complete lists of the numerous vinification measures and cellar techniques, as well as the types of wine, sparkling wine and distillate regulated by wine law are included under the heading "vinification". Comprehensive information on wine law can be found under the keyword wine law.