Several years ago, when I was working with Joe Heron, the owner and founder of Copper & Kings at the time, I was given an opportunity to speak with Hubert Germain-Robin by telephone. Germain-Robin is one of the founders of artisan distillation in America. He came over from France and settled on the west coast and started distilling brandy in Sanger California with his business partner Ansley Coale. 

Germain-Robin’s family had been making brandy in France for a couple of centuries and he brought that knowledge to America with him. This book is about distilling brandy, not whiskey, but if you want to know about the distillation process, this is a book you should own and read. Hubert Germain-Robin is the person that told me how the brandy makers in France use marbles to keep air out of the bottles of brandy.

Traditional Distillation: Art & Passion, Hubert Germain-Robin. White Mule Press, 2012. Forward, Contents, Appendices, Illustrations, 63pp.

Traditional Distillation: Art & Passion is not a large book. In fact, you can read the whole book in one sitting, while sipping on a glass of brandy. You will be glad that you did. The book is filled with information that every distiller should know, whether they are making brandy or whiskey. Germain-Robin is a true Master Distiller and this book is a way to pass on some of his knowledge. The Forward to the book is written by Daniel L. Farber of the Osocalis Distillery in Santa Cruz, California. Farber states that this book should not be taken as a “How To” book so much as it should be considered a book of insights and advice. 

The book is organized into chapters starting with a brief history of distillation and Germain-Robin’s family history as distillers. The chapters that follow are: The Elements of Distilled Spirits, Vinification, The Alembic Still, Distillation, Defects & Their Origin, General Advice, Cleaning the Still, Tasting, Conclusion and Appendices. None of the chapters are more than ten pages and they are illustrated with old Cognac advertisements and labels from the Jules Robin & Co., Illustrations of distilling equipment, diagrams explaining processes, and charts such as grape varieties. They are all well designed and executed. The Appendices include a glossary of terms and a metric conversion table. 

This book should be part of every distilling library. Germain-Robin’s advice is very good and applies to any type of distillation process. The illustrations and charts are useful and easy to understand. Whether you are making brandy or whiskey, you will be glad that you purchased this book and will find yourself reading parts of it again and again when you are trying to understand what is happening in your distillery.

Photos Courtesy of Rosemary Miller