Reflux – distilling the canyon

I went to the lab and met Dr. Tanacci this morning so I could learn how to safely set up the reflux tower for producing the essence of the sage brush from Red Rock Canyon. This was very simple, and I think it can be done in a small space without much trouble as long as there’s a nearby water supply and the right equipment. I need to look into the process for mineral work to get the oils from the stone. There will a much much smaller quantity of material to recover from it, I’m sure, perhaps as little as a few drops.

I returned to the lab later to observe how the macerate is boiling and re-condensing in the tube, just to get familiar with it. The alcohol evaporates about a third of the way up the tower, then drips back down into the flask.

1. I’m filling the flask half way up with the ground up sage-brush sticks.

2. John checks my work.

3. The apparatus. Reflux tower on top, attached to a flow of water that condenses the steam of the alcohol, which drips down into the flask to continue boiling. The round white thing on the bottom is a heater which makes no flame, so there’s no fire risk.

4. The alcohol soaked sage.

5. Boiling – you can see that the hot alcohol is already pulling out the reddish oils from inside the broken down material.

This is very elementary chemistry these days, I’m sure, but imagine being one of the alchemists who worked on developing the glassware that they needed to do their distillations, learning as they went and making extraordinary discoveries that would transform our lives.

For me, I’m very interested in the distillation of the essences of places as a means of capturing something of the place itself in a form different to the usual modality of snapshot-taking. I want to get deeper under the skin of a place, so to distill the essential oils of the plants, the earth, or the rock itself gives me a way to explore that, concentrating the smell, the sensual qualities of the location into an elixir.

About pearce

Michael Pearce is an artist, writer, and professor of art. He is the author of "Art in the Age of Emergence."
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