Distilling wine was invented in northern Italy during the 11th century, although the Arabs and the Alexandrians had probably used distillation before that to produce infusions and concotions, perhaps even as early as in the 1st century AD. The early stills were simple pot stills with a collection pot. The apparatus was often made of clay and/or copper, sometimes partly of wood, even of leather. The shape of still was usually onion-like; wide bottom to enable efficient and fast heating and narrower head to enable condensation and collection. Some kind of worm was used from the beginning, but efficient water cooling was probably invented as late as in the 18th century. The knowledge of distillation spread through Europe and Russia during the 14th and 15th centuries and malt spirits were probably distilled in Britain and Ireland at least from the late 15th century. The design of the stills remained quite constant from the 11th to the 19th century, although there were numerous experiments with different shapes. The onion pot still however remained the still of choice until the early 19th century. Heating was provided by a naked flame, often by wood fire in southern Europe, but more often by peat in the north and after the 17th century by coal.
Water-jacketed still was invented in 1526 by Paracelsus (alias Theophrastus Philippus Aureolus Bombastus von Hohenheim the Swiss) and it became known as the Baine Marie or balneum Mariae among the alchemists. The water bath allowed the still to be indirectly heated, thus preventing the wash from burning on the bottom of the still and allowing the distillation of pomace and other thicker washes. The risk of cracking stills, especially made of clay, was also diminished by indirect heating. The fractionating system was invented as early as 1553 by German chemist Philip Ulstadius, but it did not possess any significant advantages for spirit distillers and was used primarily by (al)chemists.
The condenser was improved by a German chemist Christian Ehrenfried Weigel in 1771. He placed the worm into a tube, which was cooled by circulating cold water. The invention was named Liebig condenser. Later an englishman William Grimble invented the tube condenser 1825 and it was later improved and distirbuted widely by the Dutch still-manufacturer Armand Savalle.
|The Woulfe bottle|
|Nääsi distillery, late 19th century Finland.|
Pistorius still on the right, Savalle still at the back