Antiseptic Botanicals and the Human Condition

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Lets set some ideas down on paper.

Stephen Harrod Buhner does the greatest job I’ve ever encountered of explaining the relevance of antiseptic botanicals to our human experience in his book Sacred and Herbal Healing Beers. Maybe I will elaborate eventually but my immediate goal is to help people in the distilled spirits world get over their botanical myopia so that we can move forward into the 21st century. I need more from my antiseptic experience. Juniper always gives me the same bland fix while hops and their diversity thrills me. I got a taste of the potential of this from the brilliant people at Hitachino who nearly perfected the hopped distillate while no one was looking. You’d think I’d be satisfied but Hitachino’s Kiuchi No Shizuku is so hard to come by and I can’t afford to drink as much as I want. My solution is to figure out how to capture hops, coriander and orange peel for my self.

2 oz. of Palisade hops re-distilled in 1 liter of Appleton white Jamaica rum is a gorgeous olfactory experience but more intense than the standard gin and cutting it won’t be a problem. The half the weight of juniper equals coriander gin formula won’t work either. But I can keep adding more and re-distilling until I get it right or compound a tincture. and I can’t get small amounts of quality orange peel. But no problem, I don’t know how many grams are in a liter of Cointreau but it is about the best bitter orange tincture money can buy. Cointreau’s consistency will help me develop bottle sized batches. Eventually I will be drinking this stuff at $15 a liter.

We are up to 2 oz. Palisades hops in the first distillation which was quite good but probably would need to be diluted with neutral spirits to come down to comparable gin intensity.

Then we re-distilled with 14 g. of coriander merely boiled in the spirit as it heated to distill. The room does fill with hop aroma which shows that lots of our flavor unfortunately leaks during a re-distillation. I never really see botanicals described well by the spirits or cocktail world but beer brewers do an excellent job and the orange character of the coriander botanical they profess is no joke. I can see how a little natural orange can lend a degree of synonymous flavor depth but it should be far more minimal than you would think. My limited experience would say orange is a more noble botanical but here coriander really is the show. Perhaps more than the hops.

Now all I have left to add some Cointreau to taste before I re-distill yet again to achieve my rough draft. I wonder how much it will take.


I had no Cointreau after all so I used Clement’s Creole shrubb as my orange tincture but I was thinking of even giving Fee’s orange bitters a go as my standard for orange. My sample has volumetrically diminished after many tastings, so I’m down to about 600 ml therefore all of my ratio’s so far have become kind of meaningless. (I used 20 grams of shrubb for the 600ml) Maybe next time I need to make a 5x batch so that my sampling will be insignificant enough to not mess up the botanical ratios I’m trying to figure out.

One other thing to note is that I rediscovered how incredible real licorice is in a tea my boss shared with me. I need to figure out how to fit it into one of these simpler more muscled types of formulas.

Botanical aromatized distillates keep becoming more interesting to me from a consumer interest perspective. Consumers seem to accept vodka as an aesthetic goal of neutrality but gin has to contain juniper and be about juniper. If you use the “gin” name even slightly loosely for some reason you get stopped in your tracks with a “then its not gin” comment more often than any curiosity about a new idea. Vodka gets a lot of freedom. It can be made from grapes and not be brandy and made from sugar and not be rum. As long as it is neutral its vodka. Gin gets all the conservatism. People don’t even seem to give coriander any credit, even though its used in huge amounts relative to any other potential supporting botanical. To me, coriander seems less replaceable to the formula than juniper. To help any new products onto the market, gin needs to shift from something very literal to something of a more general aesthetic goal.

So in what direction do I need to move to lock down a solid recipe? Keep distilling everything together or compound fairly potent mono concentrates and spend some time playing with some carefully measured blends?

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French Top Punch

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I just recently presented at a charity culinary event for Rett syndrome with chef. Liquor was not exactly part of the presentation but we decided it would be fun to put something together for the chefs and line cooks working the event as well as our attending friends among the many donors to the charity. In the past we have mixed these drinks a la minute or created small batches but I’ve slowly learned the wisdom of the flowing bowl. I actually just did a cocktail party for 40 or so people that really reinforced the wisdom. People only wanted to get drunk. Barely anyone noticed the drinks. And I spent too much time working because I didn’t batch anything. Now for parties I’m only using the flowing bowl format.

This event’s punch required fernet because it was mostly for chefs and line cooks a.k.a. the people who work the french top who are also addicted to the amaro. To make it less masochistic, I added some fruit flavor contrast via chambord (specifically over any other fruit based liqueurs) then something tart to balance (lemon juice) then something bubbly and slightly acidic (cava) to make it more punch like and elegant.

375 ml fernet branca
375 ml chambord
375 ml lemon juice
750-1500ml cava (segura viudas)

Combine all in a punch bowl with large chunks of ice. Change the ratio of cava for your desired alcohol and flavor intensity.

This was loved or feared like the best things in life. I personally felt like I could spend a solid evening drinking nothing but this punch. Those that didn’t like it are already known to be vodka-soda wusses. Some astute drinkers thought the punch brought into focus the aromatized elements of the chambord. If I changed this recipe in any way it would be to add a couple hundred milli liters of Batavia Arrak or Cape Verdean rum.

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This post is old and an updated version is in my Distiller’s Workbook exercise on Absinthe.

Yesterday I whipped up some “absinthe“. I have never liked the stuff and always found it over hyped so I tried to produce something that would keep my interest. My main complaint about absinthe (besides the prices!) is that anise is such a cloying dominant flavor. To get around this in my parody I thought I’d add a comparative element to the naked anise and see if I could stretch it out on the tongue. A long time ago I used this concept with strawberries but lately I’ve been enamored with the basque country Patxarian sloe berry-anise combo. I don’t have a hedge of sloes so I added sloe gin to my spirits and then got impatient and also added framboise brandy because I wanted more comparative flavor and a way to bring the alcohol content up into true absinthe territory. I used the Turkish Raki to capture the anise botanicals because I got it for free and it was 90 proof so it seemed like a good idea.

The amount of wormwood in g/L was extrapolated from other people’s large batch recipes. Yarrow and yerba-mate seemed like a good idea for wormwood comparative flavors to contrast the fruit and anise. Yarrow brings a meadowy aroma while yerba mate is slightly more foresty. I noticed many people’s formulas had coriander which is really important to London dry gins so I thought it may be a nice extra contrasting element. I probably should have added more.

All of my liquids added up to one liter but I only pulled out 750ml because I wanted to preserve the same amount of anise that was in the Raki. The additional alcohols bring the proof up to slightly less than 120.

Something that I noticed which probably adds a great layer of artisanship that most people miss is that you have to distill at only a certain reflux rate to get all the alcohol you want but not disturb the anise-alcohol-water solution. I started distilling at a really high reflux rate and took all of the alcohol off very quickly but when my temperature went up and I was trying to hit my 750 ml end volume mostly by distilling water it started to louche and my absinthe yellowed slightly. Next time I should probably do some math, look at some charts and work at a less intense reflux rate to keep my high alcohol and clarity of distillate.

750 ml turkish raki
100 ml sloe gin
150 ml framboise brandy
15 g wormwood
5 g yerba mate
5 g yarrow
2 g coriander
distilled to 750ml (115 proof or so)

Absinthe is still boring but I liked this compared to Kubler. As subtle as they are, the fruit aromatics really make it.


So I finally tasted the St. George absinthe verte and was really impressed though I was surprised by its coloring and intensely distinct aromatics relative to Kubler. I only had a taste from a really nice bartender and was not lucky enough to see it louche or not but I was surprised by the chartreuse like nature of its color. And its level of anise seemed to be lower than Kubler. The nose was pungent like a monastic liqueur and reminded me of biting into fresh basil but with more anise. The herbs make it really penetrating and antiseptic feeling but in a different way than juniper. I think I could understand the appeal of cocktails like the sazerac better if knew they were made with an absinthe that had more contrast to the anise. I think I should explore more fruit and working in a secondary infusion to my recipe. If we are thinking antiseptic, hops anyone?

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A Simple Drink

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2 oz. aguardiente! (90 proof distilled i.p.a. with pomegranate seeds)
1 oz. chamberyzette (replica)
dash peychaud’s

The grain like character of the young spirit is really cool and the hop-strawberry contrast is divine. The spirit is uncut but I don’t seem to mind. I wanted to make sure I got all the aromas. I was always told a distilled heavily hopped beer would suck because the hops would be obnoxious but that doesn’t seem to be so. I think a big part of the hops are left behind (bitter) and all you get is a floral capacity. This supposedly has a large amount of pomegranate seeds but their distilled character is really subtle.

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Deconstructing Campari

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[6/7/2015 This post just recently got a lot of traffic from a discussion at Reddit. The initial concern was simply the sugar content of Campari for a calorie counter, but the discussion quickly turned to the lack of consensus on the sensory values of Campari. Some people were not aware that Campari was sweet while others were sure of it. A few astute people thought that if Campari did not have sugar to suppress the bitterness it would be so bitter it would not be palatable. The talk eventually gravitated to measuring the sugar content. This post was one of my very first experiments with sugar measurement and since then I’ve advanced a lot. Now I would measure the density of the Campari, figure out ethanol’s influence on that density and then find the sugar content of that unobscured density in g/L instead of brix. I also estimate a 30g/L margin of error.]

I thought I knew a lot about all things alcoholic but I keep finding lots of holes in my knowledge. One to clear up is whether amaros like Campari are infused then re-distilled or not. Do they simply infuse and filter then color? Sounds more practical. Distilling has huge energy costs and sometimes it seems to over engineer the results. And, are any bitter principles volatile enough to come through in a distillate? Do the results either way have any implications for an understanding of absinthe containing wormwood which is the most bitter substance I’ve ever come across?

For the experiment I took 500ml of Campari and added 500ml of water then distilled out 500ml. Using a nice amount of reflux, Campari’s small amount of alcohol came out quickly then I was mainly distilling water to make up the volume.

Now I have two 500ml volumes. One is clear, has the 24% alcohol, and whatever aromatic principles came through. It smells just like Campari but is barely bitter or maybe just has the aroma that my brain associates with bitter things. Now the second volume is slightly darker red than the Campari (maybe because I caramelized the sugars?) and does not smell Campari-esque at all. It actually smells slightly like juniper but who knows if that is from residues in my still or from the containers I’m reusing. The second volume definitely has a lot of bitter to it but less than Campari. (or maybe not when I sit down and drink the real stuff.)

So the results here are really similar to my distilling of a quinine tincture. No bitter in the distillate. Now I have to try it with wormwood and see how the results come out. If the results are not bitter, Absinthes could have had lots of wormwood in them. My previous understanding was that you could never put so much wormwood in because no one would be able to palate the stuff.

One more thing that I can derive from the Campari experiment is how much sugar is in the product. Now that I have a volume with no alcohol I can use either a refractometer or more accurately a hydrometer to gauge how much sugar they add. (I just ordered some specialized hydrometers… can’t wait to try them out!)


So I finally tried out my specialized hydrometers. Campari lays just between the end of one and beginning of another so my very good estimate is there is 22 brix to campari. Now I could take this farther and see how much the alcohol obscures the measure of the Campari’s sugar content using the same hydrometer on the real stuff.

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