Making Essential Oils with the Alembic Pot Still
The Alembic Pot Still is the perfect set up to distil essential oils. You can purchase this set up here: Still Spirits Alchemist Series: Alembic Pot Condenser, Dome Top and Boiler
ESSENTIAL OILS DISTILLATION
- Attach the copper condenser arm to the copper dome by removing the nut and O-ring from the base of the condenser. Sit the condenser on the dome and screw the nut and O-ring back into the condenser (check the lid isn’t spinning anymore) to firmly attach the dome to the condenser.
- Insert the thermometer probe into the hole at the top of the column.
- Attach the tubing for the water cooling of the condenser. The thin tube is for the outlet water and connects near the top of the condenser arm and takes the water back to the sink. The thicker tube connects to the water inlet near the tip of the condenser arm, with the other end connecting to the tap.
- Briefly turn on the cooling water supply to ensure there are no leaks in the system. Check again that the water goes in at the end where the spirit comes out and that the water comes out closest to the top of the lyne arm (the end near the thermometer probe).
DISTILLATION METHOD ONE: BOILING THE PLANT MATERIAL
Plant material can be distilled in water or ethanol (alcohol) solution. Plant will release essential oils that will be carried by the water or the ethanol vapours into the distillate. If using water, essential oils will float at the surface of the hydrosol. If using ethanol, essential oil will be mixed in and the pure oil can not be collected, you will get a concentrated essential oils solution instead.
If you want to make your own pure spirit to use, here are the instructions to do this with the Turbo 500: Making a Pure Spirit with the Turbo 500
You will need:
- Clean plant material, and enough water to cover them. Each plant material will require different volumes of water, as an indication, for 1 kg (2.2 lb) of rosemary leaves, add 15 L (4 US Gal) of water. If using ethanol solution, use a 40% ABV solution max.
- 5 L (1.3 US Gal) glass carbuoy
- 6 x 500 ml (17 US fl oz) containers for collecting fractions
- Cooling water supply and a sink
Collect the distillate in fractions (eg 500 ml (17 fl oz) lots or smaller) so you can monitor quality of the output throughout. The quality will drop of at the end and may become more ‘cooked’. Stop collecting when the quality drops. Collect a maximum distillate of 80% of the volume put in the boiler to make sure it does not boil dry and cook the plant material.
DISTILLATION METHOD TWO: STEAMING THE PLANT MATERIAL
The Botanicals Basket can be used with the Alembic distillation system. Again, you can use a water or alcohol solution. The Alcohol Base will preserve the flavours for longer so there is a real benefit here doing it this way. The Water Base is easier to do but the choice is entirely your own.
Here are the step by step instructions:
Add the water or alcohol into the boiler and top up to 25 L (6.5 US Gal) with water.
Fill botanical basket with the desired plant or flower materials.
Attach the copper condenser arm to the copper dome. Instead of using the stainless steel nut, secure the condenser arm to the dome using the head of the Still Spirits Botanical Basket. Ensure that the basket is secured tightly. Insert thermometer into the hole at the top of the condenser. Attach tubing as per standard instructions.
Turn on unit. It will take approximately 1 hour to heat to boiling temperature. Once the temperature probe reaches 55°C (131°F) turn on the cooling water to a rate of 2.5 L (2.5 US qt) per min.
Collect all the solution into a 5L container. Stop collecting when the spirit reaches 20% ABV.
Leave to settle before extracting the essential oil
COLLECTING THE OILS
If using water, the distillate collected will be mainly hydrosol (water based plant extract) but there will be essential oil with it. The oil will separate out over time and will float on the surface (for nearly all oils, there are a few which are denser than water and will end up on the bottom).
The oil can then be separated off from the hydrosol by pipette. We recommend to leave the distillate settling into a narrow container, as the layer of oil will be thicker. The hydrosol can also often be used (rose water, lavender water etc). Yields of oil are low, a yield of 1-2% is considered good. If using ethanol, you won’t be able to separate the oil from the ethanol, and can use the distillate as is comes out.