Charentaise distillation methodDISTILLATION
The Charentaise distillation method
1/The Charentais distillation process must be performed following the traditional method, meaning that Cognac is double-distilled in copper stills.
2/ The still is made up of three essential parts :
The Charentais copper still comprises a characteristically shaped boiler set over direct heat; a still head shaped like a turban (the traditional “tête de maure” form), an olive, or an onion; and a swan’s neck tube that continues to become a coil, passing through a cooling tank referred to as the “pipe.”
3/ The Pre-heater : is an optional element. It is generally used to preheat the wine waiting for the distillation process to begin, thereby saving energy and idle time between distillations.
The Charentais still is often equipped with an energy-saving wine preheater. This accessory preheats the next batch of wine using the heat from the vapours that pass through it.
5/ The wine is brought to its boiling point.
6/ Alcohol vapors are freed and accumulate on the still-head, while the most volatile pass through the swan’s neck.
7/ Finally to arrive at the condensing coil.
8/ When they meet the cold water, they condense and form a cloudy liquid known as “brouillis”.
9/ This liquid, which contains an alcohol content of 28 to 32% is then returned to the boiler for a second distillation.
For this second heating, the boiler capacity must not exceed 30 hl and the load volume is limited to 25 hl (with a tolerance of 5%).
10 /The first litres of distillate obtained from the second distillation or ‘Bonne Chauffe’ are referred to as the ‘heads’. They have a high alcohol content (between 82% and 78% abv) and are separated from the rest.
The distiller carries out the delicate operation known as “cutting” (“la coupe”). The ‘heads’ represent 1-2% of the volume.
11/ Gradually, the alcohol content in the distillate reduces. After the ‘heads’, the distiller obtains the ‘heart’, a bright, clear liquid that will produce Cognac.
The distiller gathers the “secondes”—when the alcohol meter registers 60% abv.—and finally, the “tails” at the end of distillation. The “heads” and “secondes” are redistilled with the next batch of wine or brouillis.
The success of the distilling cycle, which lasts about 24 hours, lies in constant monitoring, close attention and extensive experience on the part of the distiller, who may also intervene in the distillation techniques (proportion of fine lees, recycling of “secondes” in batches of wine or brouillis, temperature curves, etc.), thus stamping his or her personality on the Cognac.