Armagnac Guide

History of alambic

The still is not an Arabic invention, it is a Mesopotamian invention and was used in ancient times to distil perfume, herbs, fruit, and to make medicines. The oldest type of still that has reached us today dates from 3500 BC, and came from a Mesopotamian site in what today is Iraq.

The French word for a still “alembic” however does come from the Arabic al’ inbic, a word which came from the Greek, “ambix”, the vase. Following the Mesopotamians, the ancient Egyptians developed the technique of distillation, later adopted by the Greeks. The distillation process is described in a treatise by two Egyptian women chemists named Cleopatra and Marie which is referred to in the 3rd-century treatise by Zozime, kept at the Library of Saint Mark in Venice. In the Middle Ages, stills were fairly widespread in the Mediterranean area.

Stills were most probably very rustic devices which started improving in the 13th century, first in Italy, then in southern France in the 17th century. However it was in the late 18th and especially the early 19th centuries that major improvements occurred, made by Edouard Adam in Montpellier thanks to work by Laurent Solimani, a chemist from Nîmes, then by Isaac Bérard, who distilled spirits in Gallargues, near Nîmes. These developments led to filing several patents, including one in 1811 in the name of all three “inventers”, Adam, Solimani and Bérard.

The result of these improvements over time is the column still as it is used in Armagnac today and as it was purchased by Château de Lacquy in 1836. The plateaux part of the still was patented by Tuillère, the maker, in Auch in 1818.