A method for separating ethanol from fermented biomass is provided. Fermented biomass that is rich in ethanol is used directly as packing material in a distillation column, and a small amount of water at the bottom of the column is used to efficiently transfer heat to the biomass at the bottom of the column. The fermented biomass packing has a high ratio of surface area to volume, making an efficient packing material. As vapor condenses on the biomass, diffusion of ethanol/water vapor from the body of the biomass enriches the ethanol concentration at the surface of the biomass. Droplets containing lower concentrations of ethanol drip downwards from the biomass, and vapors containing higher concentrations of ethanol rise upwards from the biomass, resulting in a higher concentration of ethanol at the top of the column than was initially in the biomass.