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Lavender grower Dan Zinsli on distilling lavender with his 40L alembic column


Choosing a still is the biggest decision we face when starting out in distilling. So how do you find the one that’s right for you?

The first consideration is always what (and how much) you want to produce, but just as important is finding the still that fits with your process, pace and work style.

Stills that are set up for steam distillation are usually the go-to for anyone distilling essential oil on a daily basis—like the alembic column or stainless steel Explorer. While some plants will yield EO from hydro distillation, steam distillation is often the best way to extract EO from most aromatic plants—especially lavender.

The final question is one of size. It takes a lot of plant material to produce even a few millilitres of EO, so bigger the better, right? Not necessarily.

Lavender grower Dan Zinsli has chosen to work with a 40L alembic column. He and his wife Kylie are the owners of Mountain Road Estate, a three-acre organic lifestyle block in South Taranaki.

The family grows hazelnuts, truffles, lavender and white sage, and they produce a variety of aromatic products from what they grow—mainly organic essential oils and hydrosol.

Dan could have gone with a much bigger set up, but chooses to work with his 40L alembic column, which is considered a medium-sized still (especially by essential oil-producing standards).


The benefits for him are that he can easily manage the 40L on his own—the pot when full of boiling water isn’t too heavy to lift, and packing the column doesn’t take an enormous amount of time, so he can do many successive distillations in a day. But Dan tells us that working this way also allows him to feel much more connection to the process. This continual distilling gives him a better feel for the plants—not only from season to season, but throughout the day—from morning to evening. All of this helps him troubleshoot and manage the quality of his products.

Dan’s currently working with ‘grosso’, a lavender variety that’s ‘massively high-yielding’ compared to his other varieties. And while he admits that he could squeeze more in terms of yield out of his lavender, he’s happy with his set up.

This is what a typical day distilling looks like for Dan and Kylie:

The day begins with picking the lavender together as a family, and they’ll pick throughout the day while the still is running successive distillations.

They pack 7kg of flowers into the 40L column, and run ‘three blocks’ of successive distillations over a 12 hour period—9 columns worth in total.

What are the yields like?

Dan tells us that their 12 hour day will yield:

  • 63 kg of flower
  • 18L hydrosol
  • 1395 ml of EO on average*

*Note that terroir and flowers stage/season will change yields dramatically though.

Compared to running a 100 kg stainless steel still, Dan says ‘the numbers are terrible!’ But he’s thinks that the quality of their products is worth it.

That’s how Dan and his family roll—it suits their aims and lifestyle.

–by Jess Culpan


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