Guest post by AZAR
Last summer Ellen, Michael, Brad and I took a field trip to Mesha Munyan's lavender farm near Sequim, WA USA. We spent the day with Mesha and David Falsberg cutting lavender flowers and helping (observing really) Mesha as she distilled lavender oil and hydrosol in her 60-plus liter still. We had a great time and learned just enough to catch the "distill it yourself" bug. (See this post).
The idea of creating our own custom distillations in our very own still was so appealing that in early January, 2014 we ordered a 35 liter hand made solid copper Al Ambiq alembic still from Destilarias Eau de Vie in Portugal. In a week or so the still arrived on my door step, in excellent condition, and was immediately placed on semi-permanent display on the kitchen island, gathering dust until we had the time and the good weather to get busy and get it cleaned. [The left half of the first photo shows it in its original, shiny condition and the right half shows it after its first run]
Constant heavy winter rains made it impossible to set up the propane burner out of doors. Finally, on Sunday, June 29th, Ellen, Brad and I were all free and the skies were clear. My son Andy set up the burner in the morning. When Ellen arrived just after noon we began sealing the joints and seams with rye paste - a kind of pasty glue made with rye flour and water [photo on right]. Rye is one of the most glutinous of all grains and, when made into a paste, makes an excellent sealant that prevents leaks of liquid and steam. When diluted with water to the consistency of a slurry [photo on left, breaking up lumps], rye flour serves to clean the still by adhering to the impurities, industrial oils and solvents left from the manufacturing process.
After adding the slurry (about 1 kilo of rye flour and 13 or so liters of water) to the still we attempted to light the burner. There was one tense moment when the gas leaked at a line connection, but that was quickly taken care of and soon the slurry was boiling and bubbling merrily, making its way up the curved pipe of the swan neck, through the condenser coil and out into the cleaning bucket, carrying the industrial residues with it. [Brad lights the gas, upper photo; the first liquid comes out, left half of the photo below, and starts collecting in the bucket, right half of the photo]
After the initial cleaning we discovered considerable scorch in the bottom of the pot. Ellen and I took turns scrubbing out the inside of the still, we then did a clear water distillation, rinsed and dried the still thoroughly and placed it once again on display, this time with a lovely new patina, ready, at last, for our first distillations of essential oils. The whole process was quite time consuming, taking at least five hours to complete! [Gail scrubs the inside of the still in the last photo]
At this point you might be wondering what we plan to give away. Sorry, we are not giving away the still, especially after all that work! The two winners will each receive samples of two different varieties of the completely legal dried herb that we plan to use for our first serious distillations. In addition to the mysterious herbs each winner will receive one 2ml spray decant of a favorite vintage fragrance that uses the scent of the herb(s) as a prominent top note. To be eligible just leave a comment about stills, distilling or about your favorite essential oils. We are sorry that we have to limit this drawing to US addresses only. The dried plant material might have trouble traveling internationally!
[The before and after photos of the still are Gail's, the rest are mine]