If you go on a tour of a distillery, you will normally be told at some point how the (beautifully polished) copper pot stills catalyse the esterification of ethanol and higher (fusel) alcohols, with acids from the fermentation process improves the flavor of the whiskey. (And how their still geometry creates a superior product)

Obviously the distillation process, removing water and most of the higher (fusel) alcohols contributes to this as well.

How effective is Copper in that scenario? A still would not have more than say 100 m2 of copper surface area and a batch load would be on the order of 5-50 thousand liters

How much more effective would using Sulphuric acid as a catalysis? (Obviously this would not be useful/food grade, but nice to know as a baseline)

Now (the much more interesting part) How effective would Acid Zeolite be as a catalysis? Either as a distillation column packing medium, or adding a 'handful' to a barrel before leaving it to sit in a ware house for a couple of years/decades?

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    $\begingroup$ Sulfuric acid would obviously be the best catalyst (when storing in barrels), mainly because it would be dissolved in the alcohol, while solid catalyst would require constant stirring/agitation. And a copper pot is a bad catalyst because of its low surface area. $\endgroup$ – vapid Aug 24 '16 at 10:28
  • $\begingroup$ @vapid Maybe, but it would not be very palatable :P & I would worry about what it might do to the barrel. Over the time scale of years I suspect (hope) normal Brownian mixing would be sufficient with Acid Zeolite. Good points though :D $\endgroup$ – DarcyThomas Aug 25 '16 at 2:25

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