Back to Class with Maynard Amerine

Long ago I recovered a VHS of super star California oenologist Maynard Amerine giving a wine tasting lesson and had it digitized sight unseen so I could put it on youtube. The video turned out to be a 15 minute, horribly boring flop. It might have been the first of a series that was never continued.

Recently I checked up on that video and via a search for Maynard Amerine, it appears that UC Davis has uploaded a series of old 50 minute black & white lectures of Amerine’s from the early 1970’s.  These videos are an absolute treasure trove of insights into the history of modern wine making.

In the 15 minute video, Amerine, the world’s foremost wine scientist, is horribly dry and uninteresting but in his lectures he has the students laughing quite often although overall he is rather clinical. He tells short industry stories often and gives an intensely pragmatic vibe to what these days has become an often obnoxiously fetishized art.  What these days is presented as art, is not ancient, does not bypass new advancements in oenology, and is absolutely built on the backs of relatively recent government sponsored oenology research.

Amerine is simultaneously loved and loathed in the industry and two vermouth producing friends of the cocktail have presented me over the years with somewhat opposing views.  Andrew Quady of Vya fame was a student of Amerine’s and is I suspect an admirer while Carl Sutton of Sutton Cellars vermouth fame (and one of my favorite California dry wine producers), who is much younger than Quady, was always taught to be weary of Amerine.

The teachings of Amerine were a big force in homogenizing wine and allowing production to scale up to volumes where wine was made in silos.  Amerine’s lectures seem to continuously be emphasizing a low risk wine making style that many people today are thankfully rebelling against. It should be noted that Amerine lived in a different world where nearly every wine you tasted had common flaws.  Today by comparison, nearly all technical flaws have been eradicated and now when people find them, they mistake their low frequency of occurrence for a reflection of terroir. For shame!

When you spend time with the videos you can see why Amerine was risk averse.  Wine making across the world still had a foot in the dark ages in the 1970’s. He opens a reputable Borolo for the students and notes that it had a volatile acid (vinegar!) that was readily discernible. He also notes how many other wines stink of sulfur.  These days we have well proven guidelines for adding and maintaining sulfur and it is accurately measured and adjusted at numerous phases in the wine making process while back then if a winemaker had no lab skills, correct sulfur was probably only nailed by luck.

According to Amerine, Chianti in the 60’s and 70’s was still using the governo process of adding semi dried grapes to increase alcohol similar to Amarone.  This is something they abandoned and something few people are aware ever happened today.  Grape picking in much of the world was done not to brix / acid values, but to other strange cues like visible shriveling of the grapes.  Now we can have intellectual debates with Dennis Dubourdieu about oenological ripeness, but back then they were just scraping by and trying to fit picking in with their other chores.  Wine making was more ethanol centric and less flavor centric.  Origin controls were just starting to be implemented that would shape the European industry over the next three or four decades promoting a flavor centric approach.  Government sponsored research moved the industry forward in a way that it probably doesn’t get credit for.

To bring it back to Vermouth, long ago I had hypothesized that the reason people made vermouth and refined it into such a high art was that their tastes were often so far beyond their ability to produce stable & interesting tables wines. I don’t think anybody took the idea seriously because to understand it, you would have to under what table wine actually used to be like. Spending time with Amerine’s lectures readily supports my hypothesis (which I got from reading nearly all of Amerine’s books).

I could discuss countless of the little stories Amerine mentions but one of the most interesting is the use of new barrels in the industry which is a sort of chicken and egg scenario.  Extrapolating from Amerine, the reason the industry went on to fall in love with new barrels was because they were easier to take care of. This came before consumer demand which went on to exacerbate it.  Moldy barrels fouling the wine was a giant problem for the industry. If you weren’t good at taking care of your barrels, you simply bought new barrels every season, especially when you could command prices that supported the practice. In California, the love of new barrels may have started with risk aversion, lack of skill, and laziness.

Economists as well as Wall street types that love the adage: wine, women, and money, not necessarily in that order, might really benefit from studying the modern history of wine making, especially those that do not understand that there is a time and place for both public and private investment.  Government investment in a luxury product, wine, elevated the fortunes of large regions and again, so successfully you probably wouldn’t give the government any credit.  This advancement would have never been possible by private industry alone because multiple decades of foresight was necessary.  Margins were also low which is something that hinders private investment.  The studies also had to be coordinated over large, diverse areas and across simultaneously cooperating & competing countries to be successful which is something private investment likely could not negotiate.  When so many 1%ers try to recklessly slash government spending, it might be helpful to remember that something so near and dear to our hearts as wine would be nowhere with out it.

Italian Wines and Vermouth

Special and Flavored Wines

French Wines: Part One

French Wines: Part Two

Present State of Grape Growing and Winemaking

California Wines

California Wines and Red Wines

Lecture Review ** This lecture is more unique and interesting than the name implies. When he explains the Delle stabilization concept, I think he ends up hinting at the secret to Aperol’s low alcohol content relative to any other amaro or aromatized wine. The same goes for Cynar but less so. This is also a concept we can probably use for home vermouth making or even syrup making for special scenarios such as the consulting I do with Have Shaker Will Travel in the tropics. To push a 400 g/L syrup up to 80 Delle units, the alcohol content needs to be only 10.66% which is completely natural relative to additives like potassium sorbate and fairly affordable.  Delle stabilization can also change the way I’ve constructed alcohol preserved Maraschino cherries in the past.

Aperol has a specific gravity of 1.082 which puts its estimated sugar content not too far over 230 g/L. 230 g/L is about 20 brix so 20+(4.5*11) only puts Aperol at 69.5 Delle units so who knows what is going on with Aperol but there are more anecdotes by Amerine in this paper that show beverages being stable at far less than 80 DU.

Final Lecture

For Sale: Champagne Bottle Manifold ($100USD)

Also view the more advanced keg to bottle liquid transfer version here.

December 8th, 2012

PATENT PENDING

SAFETY DISCLAIMER: USE THIS HIGH PRESSURE PNEUMATICS PRODUCT AT YOUR OWN RISK. WE ARE NOT LIABLE FOR ANY INJURY INCURRED BY THE USE OF OUR PRODUCT. ALWAYS WEAR SAFETY GOGGLES WHEN USING THE MANIFOLD. USE ONLY BOTTLES RATED FOR THE PRESSURE YOUR REGULATOR IS SET AT. DO NOT SET YOUR REGULATOR HIGHER THAN 60 PSI OR RISK WILL ESCALATE. BEWARE OF OUR SEDUCTIVE DESIGN AND MARKETING, THIS PRODUCT IS DANGEROUS AND SHOULD ONLY BE USED BY THOSE THAT FULLY UNDERSTAND THE RISKS. DO YOUR DUE DILIGENCE BEFORE YOU OPERATE THIS PRODUCT.

Please re-read the above disclaimer if you missed it.

Bostonapothecary is proud to introduce the holy grail of carbonation equipment, the Champagne bottle manifold.




The manifold is a conduit for connecting a gas supply to a Champagne bottle. But why would you want to do that?

• The manifold allow wine lovers to add counter pressure to their sparkling wines which preserves the bubbles when stored over extended periods.

• Beer brewers can add precise weights of dissolved CO² to beers which is useful when bottling for competitions or exploring different carbonation levels to have every beer show at its best.

• High end beverage programs can carbonate their products in aesthetically pleasing Champagne bottles to dissolved CO² levels as high as 7 g/L.

• Sensory scientists or those involved in new product development will find the manifold indispensable for economically achieving precision levels of dissolved gas for tasting panels.

The manifold features a durable plastic collar that securely clips on to the neck of a Champagne bottle (375 mL, 750 mL, and most 1500 mL). A food safe seal which contains a check valve interacts with the mouth of the bottle. A threaded plug engages the collar and maintains a seal under working pressures as high as 65 PSI. The manifold features industry standard stainless steel Cornelius quick disconnects which are common standards to most home brewers and beverage programs that have adopted cocktail-on-tap equipment. Cornelius quick disconnects contain a seal designed to maintain pressure for extended periods of time. All parts on the manifold are durable but also replaceable to ensure a long life span for your investment.

To be walked through carbonation, counter pressure, and de-aeration please take a look at the manual.

Besides the manifold itself, what new concepts make working with carbonation easier?

Many people think of carbonation in terms of pressure & temperature, and even volumes but carbonation can also be thought of in simpler terms of grams per liter (g/L) of dissolved gas. When we consider the weight of the dissolved CO², we can measure carbonation with equipment as simple as a commercial kitchen scale.

Cold bottles are simply filled with cold liquid, the manifold is attached and initially connected to the gas supply to fill the head space then disconnected (the head space can often hold a few grams of compressed gas), we place the bottle on the kitchen scale and zero. After zeroing, any weight that is added will reflect what is dissolved in the liquid. The gas supply can then be re-attached and CO² will be absorbed by the liquid as the bottle is agitated. The bottle can be periodically detached then re-weighed to see how much CO² has been dissolved in the liquid. Agitating the bottle facilitates the dissolving of the gas; basically you shake the bottle while it is under pressure and connected to the gas supply.

When the gas in the head space is finally released by unscrewing the manifold, oxygen which was dissolved in the liquid is also purged via a phenomenon called reflux de-aeration which is governed by Dalton’s gas law.

To store the product with a desired carbonation level, head space has to be accounted for. Bottles either have to be over carbonated to account for the gas needed to fill the head space if a bottle cap is to be affixed or the bottles will need to be topped up with liquid.

If the task is simply to pressure open sparkling wines, counter pressure of up to 60 PSI, which is more than enough for 5°C chilled Champagne, can be applied near instantaneously. According to researcher Dr. Steve Smith, a lecturer on wine studies at Coventry University, the pressure within a Champagne bottle (filled with 12 g/L of dissolved CO²) can be calculated with the formula: P = T/4.5 + 1 where P is the pressure in atmospheres and T is the temperature in Celsius. At 5°C, the pressure in the bottle is 2.111 atmospheres which converts to approx. 31 PSI.

• Beer brewers work with dissolved CO² levels in and around 4-5.5 g/L which is easy to achieve.

• Soda makers and those producing carbonated cocktails can achieve highly carbonated beverages with dissolved CO² levels as high as 7 g/L in just a few minutes of work per bottle.

• New product developers can easily create a range of dissolve gas levels for usage in tasting panels and bench trials.

Once a bottle has taken on a desired measure of CO² it will have to rest for a while and “bond” with the bottle before the manifold can be removed and a 29 mm crown cap affixed or spring based Champagne stopper attached. Releasing the manifold too quickly can cause foaming and loss of carbonation. The more the dissolved CO², the longer the time needed to bond. For soda makers or those requiring very high levels of carbonation, we recommend using numerous manifolds in a series so that active time spent carbonating can be as continuous as possible.

What are the advantage over other systems? The Bostonapothecary Champagne Bottle Manifold has the two fold advantage over competitors in that it is both more effective and more economical than any other product on the market.

Competing direct bottle manifolds exist for plastic soda bottles but none in my research held a seal as well. Soda bottles also cannot compete with the aesthetics of glass Champagne bottles. Fitting a Champagne bottle gives the manifold versatility because it can both carbonate, de-aerate or simply apply counter pressure. Others systems rely on going from keg to bottle and besides the cost and large footprint of the equipment, they lack the precision, the upward range of CO² levels, and some require a significant amount of down time under high pressure operation for the bottle to bond with the gas. Many large volume, high pressure users of the legendary Melvico counter pressure bottler needed an array of the machines to minimize down time and keep active bottling as continuous as possible which greatly magnified the expense. The Bostonapothecary Manifold requires active time agitating the bottle to absorb gas, but saves significant time by a lack of intensive setup, break down, and cleaning that keg to bottle systems require.

SAFETY DISCLAIMER: USE THIS HIGH PRESSURE PNEUMATICS PRODUCT AT YOUR OWN RISK. WE ARE NOT LIABLE FOR ANY INJURY INCURRED BY THE USE OF OUR PRODUCT. ALWAYS WEAR SAFETY GOGGLES WHEN USING THE MANIFOLD. USE ONLY BOTTLES RATED FOR THE PRESSURE YOUR REGULATOR IS SET AT. DO NOT SET YOUR REGULATOR HIGHER THAN 60 PSI OR RISK WILL ESCALATE. BEWARE OF OUR SEDUCTIVE DESIGN AND MARKETING, THIS PRODUCT IS DANGEROUS AND SHOULD ONLY BE USED BY THOSE THAT FULLY UNDERSTAND THE RISKS. DO YOUR DUE DILIGENCE BEFORE YOU OPERATE THIS PRODUCT.




Additional information on safety: I have repeatedly tested this product and never had a bottle failure. Champagne bottles are designed to withstand huge amounts of pressure. The best Champagnes have 12 g/L of dissolved gas and can be under 80 PSI of pressure at 20°C (68°F). I imagine many bottles are even shipped on hot days where the pressure must get well over 100 PSI, therefore operating at 60 PSI is less than half the maximum pressure (using Dr. Smith’s formula, if true Champagne is stored outside or in a delivery truck on a 100°F day the pressure in the bottle is 139 PSI). Champagne bottles are heavier than Prosecco or Cava bottles because Champagne contains more dissolved gas. In my research I could not find statistics on maximum pressure before bottle failure. All information on liability only mentions getting hit in the eye with a cork which is also a risk with the manifold so safety glasses should always be worn. Room temperature Champagne bottles have been known to fall to the floor at the hands of outdoor caterers on summer days in Phoenix Arizona (139 PSI!). Sometimes the bottles survive and to my knowledge the caterer always survives. It has even been explained to me by no official source that bottles are designed to fail at the punt. I encourage all opinions of the product’s safety to be expressed in the comments.

Barrel Aging / Rhetoric / Information Design

If this is your first foray into aging, why not do it from the perspective of an exotic tax scenario?

State Board of Equalization Office Correspondence, June 7, 1954

The above link is a correspondence related to a tax case from 1954 concerning barrel aging. The heart of the issue is whether barrels are a primary ingredient in the whiskey and should not be taxed or if as a vessel for storage they are just a manufacturing aid that rubs off a little and should be taxed. A lot of money was at stake and of late this is a timely topic due to a trend in barrel aged cocktails, a recent shortage or new barrels, and the very recent exorbitant value put on ultra aged American whiskeys by the nouveau riche finance crowd. These whiskeys are often criticized for their over extraction of compounds from the barrel–too much barrel as primary ingredient.

There are many accounts of the significance of the barrel on a spirit but I singled out this paper because of its audience of non scientist law makers and emphasis on organization to support its rhetoric.  This document is trying to be persuasive to a specific audience which is something I need better mastery of.  I need to think of myself as more of an information artist like Leonard Koren whose work I return to constantly.  The author explains to an audience of laymen, who back then had better understandings of chemistry than today, the basics then in last page, switches on his lawyer attack.  He has to bring his audience up to speed quickly and succinctly for them to catch and fall for the rhetoric of his last arguments.  Rarely does common spirits writing have such purpose.

The writer of the paper, John H. Murray, wants you to see barrel aging his way and at stake is millions of dollars of tax revenue.  My own accounts of science & art do not have so much resting on their shoulders and that lack of pressure probably hinders my ability to organization and persuade.

Just recently the idea of a barrel tax has come up again in Tennessee which targeted Jack Daniels.  At the time there was no tax on barrels, which implies there hasn’t been for a long time and probably all around the country, but the county desperately needed more revenue so they tried to impose a tax in a way that would target the Jack Daniels distillery specifically.  The county ended up losing to Daniels and unfortunately the case did not produce any great organized explanations of the barrel aging process. It did however value a reasonable tax on barrels at $10/barrel or $5 million a year for Daniels.  The Jack Daniels tax was not based on any philosophical point of view of the barrel relative to the final product, but rather just the right to impose an arbitrary fee to raise badly needed money.

Over the years, countless people have asked me varied questions regarding barrel aging and it has proven a hard topic to tackle unless you want to over simplify and dodge some science. I think this paper is a great, accessible, historic look at the topic and I hope people spend some time with the source document linked above.  I’m just going to do the usual and select some quotes so they are well indexed and then chime in with some extra background information.

“For this reason, taxpayer contends that the barrels are substantially consumed in the aging process, portion of the barrels become a component of the finished product, and therefore tax should not apply on the sale to them of the barrels.” So there is no tax on the corn but there is a tax on the vessels that the corn ferments in so are the barrels they age in like the corn or like the fermentation vessels?

They reference Changes in Whiskey While Maturing by A.J. Liebmann and Bernice Scherl and “a transcript from the conference of October 22, 1947, between representatives of Association of Maryland Distillers and representatives of the State of Maryland on the subject of ‘Tax on Whiskey Barrels’.” I cannot seem to find this transcript, but maybe some better positioned readers could help out?

“When once used these containers cannot be reused for the aging of straight whiskey. They may be used, however, for the storage of wine and other uses not connected with the aging of whiskey. Whiskey will not mature properly unless the charred oak barrel is new.” What I’ve been wondering about lately is how much fixed non-volatile acidity the whiskey soaks up on each filling.  The first filling no doubt can absorb a lot but does it diminish much during the second? pH is so much more important to aging than is commonly thought.

“The alcohol molecules, being larger, do not pass through the barrel at the same rate as the water molecules. For this reason, although there is some evaporation of water and alcohol during the aging process, the water evaporates more rapidly than the alcohol and the proof tends to increase.” This I think relates to humidity and some warehouses in other parts of world can actually lose more ethanol than water.

“Certain solids extracted from the barrel contain acids and are responsible for the reddish brown color of the matured whiskey.” These acids that get absorbed are also responsible for the equilibrium between esters and fatty acids that form. Acids might have been added to faux whiskeys back in the day to synthesize the acids that would have been accumulated during time in barrel.

“During the early stages of the maturing period there is a rapid increase in total acidity. This may be due, in large part, to the extraction of materials from the barrels. Fixed acids, that is acids in the solids, increase rapidly during the first 12 months of the aging period. Liebmann and Scherl state that the entire fixed acidity normally is due to the extractions from the barrels.” Another thing I’ve been wondering after drinking quite a few bottles of the Renegade rums, which were well aged then finished in wine barrels like Madeira, is whether finishing barrels can significantly bump up the acidity of a spirit. I was lucky enough to spend a lot of time with the whole Renegade series and each had an acidic tang like no spirit I’ve ever encountered.

“The acid content is responsible for the ‘tang’ of aged whiskey.” I don’t believe many people think of aged whiskeys like Bourbon being tangy because the word sweet gets thrown around so often instead.  Imbibers these days articulate and differentiate between relative sweetness but not relative tang. What is strange on a sensory level is that the tang is an authentic gustatory sensation while the sweetness is often an illusion due to sensory convergence with olfaction where prior co-experience allows you to categorize olfaction in terms of gustation and link the separate modalities so strongly it feels like genuine synaesthesia.

“During the aging process there is a fairly steady increase in the ester content. This would indicate that the esters are probably formed chemically during that process.”  Esterification continues to happen as the pH drops because acidity is a catalyst in the reaction between free fatty acids and alcohols. Supposedly pH drops rapidly at first then levels out and continues to decrease proportional to the angel’s share changing the volume.

“During the first 3 years there is an increase in aldehydes, but after that the rate of increase levels off. That is, aldehydes are probably produced by chemical reactions during the aging process.” Aldehydes, at the moment, are a large hole in my knowledge of congeners.

“During the early months of the aging process there is a rapid increase in furfural. Newly made whiskey does not contain this substance and apparently it is extracted from the barrel since furfural is formed in the process of charring wood.” This is not the whole furfural story. Furfural is also a product of direct fire heated pot stills due to the degradation of pentoses.  Furfural ends up in the tales of the distilling run and is mostly cut away.  Esters and aldehydes and higher alcohols are commonly subdivided in analysis but furfural is something that I do not know much about its sub divisions. Is the furfural accumulated in the barrel much different than furfural accumulated in the pot still?

“Fusel oil (higher alcohols) constitutes an important component of whiskey as far as character and quality are concerned. Its content is dependent upon the method of distilling used. There is very little change in the fusel oil content during the aging period and apparently any increase is due to the increase in concentration by reason of the evaporation of water and alcohol. Some of the esters may be produced by an interaction of the various constituents of the whiskey and the fusel oil.” The majority of esters are from ethanol linking to fatty acids but esters can also be formed by higher alcohols linking to fatty acids. A few of these higher alcohol esters are considered flaws in large concentrations and are more likely to form in column stills because of the tendency for higher alcohols to accumulate in certain plates within the column which the fatty acids have to pass through. I think the banana aroma of goslings rum is due to a higher alcohol ester.

“The solids contained in whiskey are derived entirely by extraction as are the tannins. The solids apparently affect color, the tannins the acid content.” Tannin is acidic but I suspect there might also be more acids at play though I cannot name any off the top of my head.

The paper cites IRS chemist extraordinaire Peter Valaer from “the conference between the Maryland Distillers and the tax representatives of that State […]”

“During the aging process the percentages of substances other than ethyl alcohol and water increase by about five times.” Pretty high! Makes you wonder when the rhetoric starts and what side he is gong to be on! Tension building..

“The aging process, he indicates, consists of the extraction of some of the materials from the wood and the interaction of some of the acids on each other producing esters and at the same time alcohol is oxidized producing more acid. The aging process consists of a series of those changes. He is of the opinion that about one-half of the congenerics in the matured whiskey are produced by changes taking place in the barrel and the remainder are extracted from the barrel. The body of the whiskey is determined by the fusel oil content and without it the whiskey would have no character.” So here we have a summary of the opinion of the most privileged spirits chemist of the era. An astounding amount of samples from around the world came through Valaer’s IRS laboratory for analysis and he even pioneered numerous analysis techniques.  Valaer seems to paint a picture of the barrel as ingredient but then the fusel oil content, which is not a product of the barrel, contradicts it? So far it is still difficult to figure out the author’s stance.

“From the foregoing it would seem logical to draw the following conclusions:” From here I retyped the complete remainder of the paper which is more or less the last page.

“The maturing whiskey in charred oak barrels is one of the steps in the process of producing a marketable whiskey. The type of whiskey and much of its flavor is determined by the type of mash use, fermentation process, and method of distillation. Newly distilled whiskey is colorless and unpleasant in aroma and taste. The maturing process in the charred white oak barrels results in some of the higher alcohols and fatty acids being absorbed by the char eliminating some of the unpleasant characteristics that these substances would otherwise impart to the whiskey (Encyclopedia of Chemical Technology, Volume 1).” Here he paints a picture of the barrel as a filter which would be a manufacturing aid.

“The whiskey attracts from the barrel various solids and other matters which give it its characteristic reddish brown color and also extracts some furfural which may affect the body of the matured product.  The fusel oil which primarily determines the body of the whiskey is present in the whiskey from the time of distillation. Some acids are extracted from the barrel, other acids are formed in the barrel by oxidation of the alcohol and by interaction of the various substances upon each other esters are formed. These esters affect the odor of the whiskey and give it a distinct fruity odor. During the entire aging process the barrel acts as a semipermeable membrane allowing the evaporation of water and some alcohol and the introduction of oxygen into the material through its small pores. In this way the barrel and the charred interior act as a catalyst aiding in the various chemical changes which take place in the whiskey.” I feel here that he is breezing past and downplaying the importance of the compounds added by the barrel. And again fusel oil, which is not from the barrel, gets over emphasized. His stance is becoming apparent.

“It is readily apparent, therefore, that the barrel serves a distinct purpose as a manufacturing aid in the maturing of the whiskey. It acts as a container for storing whiskey during that period, its semipermeable natures makes possible the complicated series of chemical reactions which take place during the process, and the extractives from the barrel give the whiskey its characteristic color and impart to it some of its flavor. Thus, minute portions of the barrel become an important part of the finished product.” Readily apparent, what rhetoric! This again downplays the extracted compounds and their role. It also down plays their weight as a percentage of the congeners which a dissenting opinion might emphasize and requote Valaer.

“If the only purpose of maturing the whiskey in the charred oak barrel were to add to it the tannins, the furfural, the solids, and the color, the use of oak barrels would be an extremely expensive process to impart to whiskey certain chemical compounds. These compounds could undoubtedly be added mechanically much cheaper and easier. But the function of the barrel is much more important than merely imparting to the whiskey these compounds. It is used to store the whiskey and to aid in certain chemical reactions the end result of which produces a matured pleasant tasting beverage. This would seem to be the primary use of the barrels and accordingly the barrels are primarily manufacturing aids and are considered subject to tax.” Silver tongued devil!

“Perhaps we can draw an analogy to the iron balls used in the grinding of cement. During the grinding process a portion of the iron in the balls wears off and becomes a component of the cement. Iron is a necessary ingredient in the production of high quality cement. The iron balls thus contribute in two ways to the manufacture of cement (1) by grinding it to a powder and (2) by imparting to it at least a portion of the required iron content. Nevertheless, the iron balls are manufacturing aids and are considered subject to tax.” What an analogy! If I didn’t know better I’d almost be seduced myself.

“In 1948 A— D— Company sued the State Board of Equalization in Sacramento Country to recover some $X,000.000 tax on its purchases of charred oak barrels used to contain and mature its whiskey. The primary contention there made was that the barrels were sold with the matured whiskey and consequently were nonreturnable containers and exempt from tax. The court discussed the use of the charred oak barrels in the processing of the whiskey and indicated that the barrels were used for a purpose other than retention, demonstration or display and that such use was sufficient for the imposition of tax. The court did not pass on the question of whether the barrels by reason of the absorbtion by the whiskey of a portion of their content became a component part of the finished product and thus exempt from tax.” Here he discusses a related case where they try to categorize the barrels as non returnable packaging. This makes me wonder if part of being a manufacturing aid requires a higher degree of re-usability?

“Taxpayer presented a letter from the State of Maryland which indicated that the Maryland Controller had ruled that distillers could purchase new cooperage to be used for the aging and curing of bonded whiskey tax free. The basis of this ruling is not apparent from the letter.” Any legal scholars available to find more information on this Maryland case?

“It is recommended that the petition for redetermination be denied.”

If you wanted to argue it in the other direction what other evidence would you use and what other analogies would you present?

Why we drink: A break from language

Lately I’ve been listening to Radio Lab episodes concerning language. A beautiful episode called A World Without Words explores the experience of neurologist Jill Bolte Taylor who had a stroke then briefly and intermittently had the language processing part of her brain turned off. Curiously, she encountered a feeling of overwhelming bliss she called “la la land“, with the absence of all anxiety, where all she felt was sensation and the raw pleasure associated with it. So if Taylor could feel some sort of bliss during the absence of language, what does language do to us? Without having a stroke, can we ever take a break from it? I think we can take a break with food & drink and I’ll try and build a case for that.

In the past, I’ve looked at semiology which is the study of symbols in relation to sensations. The most popular text on the subject is still probably Roland Barthes, Mythologies, which I really did not enjoy and think is fraught with problems. Barthes take on semiology cannot account for acquired tastes and that is the business I’m in. Acquired tastes are also critically important to sustainability and probably our health in general.

Semiology explains that there are two worlds we live in, the world of sensation and the world of stand-in values or symbols (where language comes in), which are both glued together and hard to separate without effort invested into developing categories to put everything in. The two worlds pull on each other, rearrange our harmonic bounds (theory of cognitive dissonance), are a potential source of dangerous bias, and can even be seen as the rhetoric of art. I’ve always felt that cocktails with their acquired taste nature, as well as infinite sensory and symbolic inputs, are the best arena to teach, test and explore semiology.

Through her stroke, Taylor turned off the symbolic, language driven world and found repose. Language may open the door to anxiety and a constant chatter in the mind that is a source of stress. Anxiety is debilitating for so many people and for others, unless it flares up, they barely notice it despite its ever presence. Turn it off and anyone might have a eureka moment, repose! Taylor’s stroke is an nth degree example of how to turn off language while a daiquiri would be a lesser degree example.

Meditation may be another method of turning off the chatter, and though I was formerly skeptical, descriptions of meditative experience make it seem like a language reducer (whiskey is a meditation aid like a mantra is). I had previously thought meditation would allow the voices to speak up, and they could only be displaced by jarring sensations or what I called dissonance therapy. Meditating is not exactly full of sensation like running or cycling or listening to the Velvet Underground. By limited degrees, meditation may move one closer to the nth degree which is the silence. (Keep in mind, there are multiple other avenues to lower stress & anxiety, and some involve lots of language such as writing poetry or song lyrics.)

This all relates to food & drink because flavor, particularly aroma, is a world dominated by non-language. Before the world of non-language is hyped, it should be noted that Taylor was lucky to have had a good experience because raw sensations are likely polarizing. Language may allow us to soften the peaks of pleasure or discomfort and stay functional. We all know how unpleasant certain foods can be. Dislike and disgust can be so severe that people cannot bring themselves to eat certain things and some may even have physical reactions like gagging. The softening effect of language is likely a layer of how the initial dissonance of fernet or whiskey can be overcome (expanding harmonic bounds is not simple and there are other layers).

Food may have a unique place in quieting the mind because it is so often above and beyond language. Isn’t it curious that so few people try to write cocktail tasting notes? Recently I had looked at non-linguistic contrast detection and eventually the origins of grounded metaphors. It was discovered on another Radio Lab that we cannot see the color blue until we have a word for it, but when it comes to wine or flavor in general, tons of contrast detection happens non-linguistically and even though people like to turn wine into words, we do not rely on language defined categories.

Consuming wine through a lens of aesthetic detachment may maximize the therapeutic experience. Aesthetic detachment is the cutting away of all or as many flimsy symbols as possible from raw sensation; it is painter Hans Hoffman’s Search for the Real. It was best described to me in the book, Homo Aestheticus, as if your friend who cannot swim falls out of your boat and instead of saving them because they are your friend, you merely pause to admire the bubbles as the friend sinks. The example is pushed to the nth degree to illustrate how much can be detached, such as friendship & responsibility (remember, not sensations), so lesser experiences, like consuming wine, will have something to detach but will never be so severe.

Culinary typically gets relegated to the decorative in art which is a realm that has been grossly downplayed by art history within my limited vantage point. Arabesques, egg & dart motifs, grotesques, all defy language and viewing them may help us slip away towards la la land. The grotesque is a very unique concept often characterized by betweeness. Being between known values, such as the fish & the woman of a mermaid or the aromas of apricot & orange, which are blended in the culinary arts, creates highly attentional, hard to name inbetween values that we often seek out and surround ourselves with unconsciously, perhaps for the sake of escaping language. If grotesque sensory experiences lead us to a dose of la la land, whether we can articulate the phenomenon or not, we will look for more, hence cocktail hour becomes a ritual. Hence so many people return to yoga every day because it allows them to slip into non-language by exercising and filling the mind with bodily kinaesthetic intelligence.

In the past, I had looked at cocktails as dissonance therapy and related acquired tastes to being highly attentional, more so than the linguistic chatter. I had thought overpowering language was enough to silence the chatter, but being beyond the grasp of language and our easy to reach language based categories might be a large layer of the puzzle. A cocktail example to ponder is the great therapeutic beverage, vermouth, which lies so far beyond language it is legally described circularly as a “beverage that resembles the characteristics of and tastes like vermouth”.

A pattern is starting to emerge that if we embrace aestheticism, otherwise said as the promotion of importance of sensory values over symbolic values, we will be rewarded with repose. The path to repose starts with identifying non-language, valuing it, and exercising it. Give up the highly constrained judgments good & bad which are the metaphors of the symbolic world and embrace ordinary & extraordinary, which pertain to frequency of occurrence of sensations. Among the only negative judgments relevant to aestheticism are missed opportunities and regrets (very important to judging wine!). Keep in mind the polarizing nature of sensation and be aware of language’s ability to help us overcome sensory dissonance.

Now I am thirsty.

[Something I probably missed is the relation of non-language to psychedelic experiences and polarizing good and bad trips. From what little I know of psychedelic experiences, they are characterized by fairly large degrees of non-language. Without language to level it out, overwhelming sensation can be a challenge. Something else I missed is relating art therapy to non-language]