(n.) A chemical process used to make high-alcohol spirits, distillation separates ethanol (drinking alcohol) from water. The basic steps: A mix of ethanol and water, usually derived from fermentation, is heated. Water and ethanol have different boiling points, so the alcohol evaporates into steam first, which can then be condensed and collected.
Archeological evidence of distillation dates to the ancient Greeks, who used the process in attempts at alchemy. Further refinements were made in the Middle East for perfumes or medicinal products during the Middle Ages. The first recorded examples of distillation of alcohol for drinking occur in the 12th century. Europeans began to make high-alcohol products flavored with herbs for medicinal purposes, which gradually were used recreationally.
In the production of high-alcohol spirits, there are two main types of stills, or instruments used in distilling. Pot stills, which are similar to what the Ancient Greeks and Arabs used, can distill one batch of alcohol at a time. The column still was patented in Ireland in 1822 and allowed distillers to essentially condense multiple distillations into one process, thereby achieving a higher-alcohol product.