The art of cold distillation; the (not so) secret behind our bright spirits.
It’s no surprise that the beginning of our distilling journey in 2017 brought with it a multitude of decisions; one of the most central questions being ‘how?’ How were we going to create and produce exceptional, premium, and sustainable spirits that could be influential in a teeming market?
We were initially inspired by innovative craft gins that used a modern cold distillation technique for botanical extraction. The taste was cleaner and notable, and the process was more environmentally friendly. Consequently, with concerns around sustainability affecting buyer behaviour and the increasing demand for more sophisticated, premium, spirits, it was an easy decision; there would be no compromise on this technique being a prerequisite for our brand.
Whilst the process of distillation as a purification and separation technique has been around for centuries, with historians evidencing a knowledge of distillation dating back to at least 800 BC, the equipment and engineering to distil have evolved and developed considerably.
The process was carried into the first century, but it wasn’t until the Middle Ages that equipment called the alembic pot still was designed, allowing for the distillation of alcohol. Initially, used only in alchemy and chemistry for extraction including essential oils, the spirit had no recreational value, and it wasn’t until the 16th century that the first alcoholic beverages were distilled.
Practice spread and techniques evolved to increase the efficiency of production. With the rise in demand, producing larger volumes became a priority and advancements in the early 19th century saw the column (continuous) still invented, making the distillation of neutral spirits practical. The search for improved efficiencies then led to a round-the-clock distillation method with no cleaning required between cycles. Despite being energy-intensive, spirits could be produced continuously, on a mass scale.
Fast forward to the introduction of cold (vacuum) distillation in the spirits industry. In contrast to the look and feel of traditional stills, this modern equipment originates from a chemistry lab but is equipping distillers with a contemporary extraction technique allowing for softer yet more complex spirits with increased creative potential. Using reduced atmospheric pressure allows the alcohol to boil at a lower temperature. Mixing modern science with the age-old art of traditional distilling negates the need for botanicals to be cooked and increases the range of enhanced flavour profiles that can be created, where each botanical can be treated individually opening countless opportunities for experimentation.
We use cold distillation here at Griffiths Brothers Distillery to capture “brighter and fresher flavours from the botanicals”, with Master Distiller Alex, one half of the Griffiths Brothers, wanting to create a “characteristically cleaner finish for our range of spirits, one which is bright, not stewed, producing a lighter more delicate spirit with the ability to fully control each botanical extract”. And, whilst taste can be subjective, you can distinguish the incredibly balanced flavour journey that cold distillation lends to spirits; delicate and fresh, yet robust enough to tolerate a mixer.
Our latest members' gin, ‘It’s Summer Somewhere’, perfectly showcases how using cold distillation plays a pivotal role and maximises our ability to extract precise bright botanical blends for our exclusive creations. For this unique gin, we’ve swapped out the more traditional bay with the fragrant makrut lime leaf. Their distinctive double leaves offer a beautiful bright citrus scent whilst adding a spicy but delicate lemony lime flavour with floral undertones. Coconut offers balance with sweet creaminess, whilst the cardamom delivers a hint of aromatic citrus and pepper.
Although cold distillation is a more complex method, crucially it is more environmentally friendly using under 10% of the energy needed to run a traditional copper still. The vacuum operates at about room temperature, uses less energy for heating and cooling, requires less water, and generates less water waste. With consumers becoming increasingly mindful of the businesses they interact with, seeing beyond their transactional interactions, we are proud to be producing not only exceptional spirits but ones that are considerate to the planet.