An alambic (also spelled “alembic”) pot still is one of the oldest of the still designs for refining alcohol-laden liquids into spirits such as whisky, gin, and cognac.
An alambic pot still design consists simply of a boiler that heats the target liquid until the alcohol and other flavor compounds boil into a condenser apparatus. This design is in contrast to the “patent” continous still.
Here is a picture of an alembic pot still:
| condenser ======\
\ / \ \
| | .
O O .
steam--> o o o | . |
\ / |...|<--spirits
| boiler | |---|
^^ fire ^^
Alambic distillation is an ancient technique, which was used by the Chinese as early as 3000 B.C.E., the East Indians by 2500 B.C., the Greeks in 1000 B.C.E., and by the Romans around 200 B.C.E. In the beginning all of the aforementioned cultures produced their own distilled alcohols, but it was the Arabs that took their al-kuhul producing al-anbIq still designs with them when they invaded Europe in the 6th century A.D. that started the eventual world-wide spread of alambic distillation technology.
Today, the alambic pot still is used primarily to produce spirits that contain heavy flavors and need fine flavor control. The alambic stills destilling method is perfect for carrying heavy disolved or suspended flavors up into the condenser, maximizing the effects of the flavors other than the flavor of the alcohol. The alambic pot still is best known for producing the worlds finest Cognacs. Although alambic-style stills were and are used to produce gin, whiskey, and armagnac too.
In fact, alambic brandy and alambic cognac can only be called “alambic” if it is produced with an alambic still using what is known as the Cognac Distillation Method.
Because of the alambic pot still's simplicity, it is also the most common still used in making moonshine.