Distiller’s Workbook exercise 16 of 15 Special effects!

I have been putting off the last exercise to the distiller’s workbook for a while now and its not exactly going to be completed right now. I thought I’d just show what I am thinking about. The reason I can’t complete it is I’m only dealing with stock infusions that were done so long ago that I no longer have articulate documentation of their specs.

For the last exercise I wanted to show people how to make either an amaro or a liqueur that used special effects which are abstracted relationships between olfaction and gustation created by a variety of techniques. This concept is not well known by producers or even the connoisseurs out there so when the ideas finally get out there, they will launch a thousand ships. Of course you’re going to get it here first.

Lets give a run down of what I had lying around:

Infusion of gentian in cognac (≈40% alc.)
Infusion of quinine in cognac (≈40% alc.)
Distillate of quinine infusion (80% alc.)
Distillate of cointreau (35% alc.)
Infusion of seville peels (≈40% alc.)

I began by picking a role model which was Campari & Cynar. The next step was to find a sugar content and scale it to my test volume which is 100 mL. I went with a 280 g/L sugar content which means that I only needed 28 grams for the test batches. The volume 28 grams of sugar displaces is 28 / 1.578 (density of sucrose) which is 17.74 mL. This means I have 82.26 mL to fill up.

The first test batch is just to gauge how much bitter infusion (concentrate) goes in the amaro. For a first attempt, I mixed together 28 grams of sugar, 10 mL of quinine infusion and 72.26 mL of water. But this just isn’t in the ball park.

I don’t try to fix this. I just start again. 28 grams of sugar and 25 mL of quinine infusion and then 57.26 mL of water. Its definitely getting where it needs to be as far as gustatory-bitterness goes.

The same methodology can be repeated for the gentian to figure out where its at. When creating the original infusion (I hadn’t though of this back then), different types of systematic blends can be made to explore the gustatory-bitterness of the botanical. You can even create an infusion then dehydrate it, then rehydrate it to isolate gustatory-bitterness and separate it from olfaction (dehydration blows off the aroma). The isolation can help evaluate partial infusions (where the extraction is not carried out to equilibrium). For vermouth and the amaros, infusions typically aren’t terminal and slow durations, various degrees of heat, percolation, or even cavitation are used to extract degrees of soluble material (aggressive filtration can even be employed as a technique). What you really need to do to learn what works for your context is to do it all and present it in one sitting for a panel to explore. Assembling a panel is expensive and whole books are even written about working with tasting panels, but don’t be intimidated, they can be used at different levels of involvement.

Now that a rough sketch of gustatory bitterness has been nailed down, we can start adding aroma. So far we only have the aroma of the sugar (I used an evaporated cane juice) and the aroma of the bitter infusions, but we have plenty of space to fill in.

The next interesting avenue to explore is the quinine distillate which creates the special effects. The topic of special effects in distillation was first explained by Giovanni Fenaroli in an early edition of his Handbook of Flavor Ingredients (its not in new editions). Special effects are differentials between olfaction and gustation created by distillation. For example, St. Germain is not simply an infusion of elder flowers, because they are so acidic you would get too much acid before you got the aroma intensity you want. Therefore they distill a percentage of the flowers, separating volatile aroma from the non-volatile acid and then infuse the remainder in that distillate. In terms of special effects, St. Germain may be seen as an elder flower ratio such as 3x olfaction, 2x gustation.

Special effects are most common in the amaros where an exaggerated ratio of olfactory-bitterness is attached to gustatory-bitterness. This is going to be gotten using the distillate of quinine which has the aroma of quinine but none of the gustatory-bitterness. Any quantity that is added increases the differential and pushes the experience further into territory that could be called a supernormal stimuli (where there is a response tendency, we are creating an exaggerated response tendency).

An amaro isn’t all just bitter stuff and the next most likely aroma is orange. In the style of the other workbook exercises, I work with a standardized aroma source which in this case is the Cointreau. These standardized sources won’t help out a commercial producer but they do help making learning on the small scale more accessible. Distilling the Cointreau separates it’s sugar which is non-volatile. Cointreau goes through a process of terpene removal which polishes the aroma and makes it rounder. A way to unround it and create a reversed degree of special effects is to add an infusion of seville oranges which have all their terpenes intact and definitely an aggressive extraordinary character.

The next batch is starting to look something like:

17.74 mL sugar (28 grams) 0%
15 mL quinine infusion (≈40% alc.)
10 mL gentian infusion (≈40% alc.)
15 mL quinine distillate (80% alc.)
35 mL distilled Cointreau (35% alc.)
3 mL seville orange concentrate infusion (≈40% alc.)
4.26 mL water

To calculate the alcohol content we compute an average:
40(15) + 40(10) + 80(15) + 35(35) + 40(3) = x(100)
x = 35.45% alc.

The next blend can launch from here with boundless directions to go. Complexity can be added within categories that already exist or new categories can even be added. A category I’d love to add is the olfactory-piquant and I’d get it from distilling chilis along with either the Cointreau or the quinine distillate.

Vino Endoxa®: Three new categories and Pamela Vandyke Price

In Adrienne Lehrer’s Wine and Conversation I discovered the incredible writings of Pamela Vandyke Price and was inspired to pick up her book The Taste of Wine (1975). Not many people give older wine books a thought, but I’ve had a lot of fun reading the editions of Anthony Hogg’s Wine Mine of the same era so I gave it a chance.

Vandyke Price was one of the first women to break into the wine world and in quite a major way. The torch was pretty much passed to her from legendary wine merchants Allan Sichel and André Simon. In busting the chauvinistic barriers of the industry she imbued her ideas with an egalitarian anti-pretentious slant that opens up the world of wine to new drinkers. It is not too easy to recognize this from the great place we currently stand but when you look at other literature, both before and after, it becomes recognizable. Another big achievement of Vandyke Price that was picked up by Lehrer was the language that she used. PVP collected, created, and popularized a lot of the modern tasting language in place today. This might all have been due to her not fitting into the good ol’ boys club and needing to carve out her own niche, but it has endured.

As a person that has read a lot of wine books, I whole heartedly recommend The Taste of Wine and think it could be a valuable part of any education, especially within a restaurant program, and especially because used copies are virtually free on Amazon. If anyone really wants to tests the skills and articulation of PVP, flip immediately to her sublime writings on vermouth and the other fortified wine and you’ll immediately have complete confidence. Her writing is pretty much timeless.

Vandyke Price is a having a large influence on the Vino Endoxa project. Three major categories for wine language she proposes are language that explains what the wine is (dry, medium dry, sparkling, red, wine, etc.), language that details its attributes, and language that will tell you what the wine is like.

The first category is pretty straight forward and can resemble many things we read off a restaurant wine list or a label such as 2011 Sangiovese, Fattoria Colsanto “Ruris” (Umbria) $40 [restaurant list price]. The vintage and the region can possibly tell us many things to expect. Was it a hot or cool year in that region or not? Off hand most people don’t remember that information but it can be looked up and a centralized hub of wine information like Vino Endoxa can remember those details easily. Many other things are implied like the wine in question is dry and un-carbonated unlike other curve balls such as the Lambruscos of the world. Encountering that rare sparkling red can be implied at the last minute by the shape of the bottle or the enclosure.

Before I continue with the other categories, I should note the relationship of price to the categories which unfortunately is far from straight forward, but it an ideal world should work as follows. As you pay more, a wine should have more definition (a PVP word). This parallels the terroir concept and also relates to risk. Ideally the more expensive the wine, the more it says where it comes from and reflects the year and the site and the ownership. Risk taking and involvement reveals this. Definition and terroir also relate to the concept of the extraordinary and the ordinary. Also to flaws which are regrets and missed opportunities. Deep involvement in the wine making process systematically explores the options so that a wine can be its most extraordinary for its budget class. Flaws are systematically eradicated so that there are no missed opportunities and this has a strong partnership with science.

Where price does not become straight forward, is when stuff like new oak gets involved. The use of new oak is very expensive and has a propensity to overshadow singularity and extraordinary character in a wine, making it taste like it came from relatively anywhere. The wines become more ordinary (frequency of occurrence of sensory attributes) despite the rise in price due to both expense and a willingness of certain market segments to pay. I surmised in the past, after hearing the lecture of Maynard Amerine, that the chicken that came before the egg was that new barrels were so much easier to take care of as opposed to the skill and attention necessary for re-used barrels that this shortcut led to the new barrel fad which really grew wings when it aligned with consumer tastes. Multiple similar phenomenons obfuscate the relationship between price and definition in the wine world.

The sensory attributes category is the one that Vino Endoxa has be striving to advance the most. This is the realm of metaphor. The acidity is sharp, it has a particular acuteness. There is a roundness overall. The fruit expression exists in a space between rhubarb and raspberry. If aromas can be sweet (olfactory-sweetness due to sensory convergence and non-linguistic contrast detection), they can also be olfactory-bitter and olfactory-umami. Rare aromas in wine, without clear convergence, often described as barnyard, earthy or sensual, might best be described by effect rather than sensation which was touched upon in the last post. Sensual leads into the erogenous which is a common category in perfumology.

“A plane is a fragment of the architecture of space” (Hans Hoffman) and the language of sensory attributes is the nitty grittiest and probably has the most to gain from going post language by using hypertext controls. To differentiate experiences (and data mine that), we need a scale. Linguists recognize scaler adjectives, but for most sensory experiences common linguistic scales are not graduated well enough and have little consensus or endoxa. Will any of my hyper text endoxa ideas work and create a higher degree of useful consensus? Who knows at this point!

The last category of language used by PVP conveyed what a wine was like. It might be fair to say this is the realm of simile and possibly the realm of useful, artful, oversimplification. That Sangiovese from Umbria, described above, is a like a Bordeaux as opposed to like a Burgundy or like a Chianti. A lot of complex hard to articulate facets are summed up with single words. When you speak the same language this works really well and helps people explore beyond the beaten path. When you don’t, things get tricky.

In hip restaurants these days we don’t serve Sauvignon Blanc by the glass and simile helps make this somewhat possible. When I compare a Vermentino to a Sauvignon Blanc I have a generation of older drinkers that understand the simile and an emerging generation of servers who do not because life is short and the art is long and they’ve never had enough S. Blanc to develop a gestalt to exploit. In numerous texts for new wine drinkers, there is often advice to experience these definitive types.

Just like new oak messing with prices, the rise of a meaningful simile like Claret, Burgundy, or Chablis comes with its corruption. Jug wine producers are quick to swoop in and market a wine with a simile, such as the Peter Velha Chablis (not from Chablis) which undermines the comparison. This happens all over the wine map such as with Muscadet, or Lambrusco. There was a time where too many Americans though Riesling implied sweetness and the wine world spent considerable effort educating this public that it was also often dry and well worth knowing about.

These similes can also be strung to together to create something like a scale or rather just a set of options. The Chablis, Mersaults and Montrachets have definition and identity, but when we come across a Chardonnay being made in Italy or California where do we put it? Lageder, in Italy, can make numerous Chardonnays and one might be closest to Chablis because of the freshness while another could aspire to be more like a Mersault. California Chardonnays could develop enough consensus of style that they warrant their own use as a simile (often synonymous with butter and new oak) but then one could buck the trend and we’d be quickest to compare it to a French appellation.

For a wine recommendation engine, it is useful to consider similes, but how should they be handled?. For the type of drinker I am, I want to know if a California Chardonnay is like its prototypical type. If it is I want to avoid it, but if it isn’t I want to give it a go and be a patron of the region. Or the recommendation could just be straight forward. Maybe someone just likes prototypical California Chardonnays but they want to be a patron of another region and see if there are any wines of the same prototype out there in their price range that maybe they should try.

If there is a consensus of similes I can get a recommendation easily, but how do I test consensus? Does a user pass a test where they associate types with salient sensory values? Do they prove they’ve experienced these types? Are they a super user or one that has participated enough with the system? I suspect a game might be the best way to explore these language categories.

Should the Chablis type simile be handled carefully? I suspect yes. The world of wine faces homogenization and the loss of styles. The power of conveying meaning with the simile may prevent a vineyard from ripping up Vermentino and planting S. Blanc because its more marketable to Americans but on the other hand it risks suppressing the pursuit of individuality or the exploration of new techniques. Hopefully there use in Vino Endoxa will help drinkers get off the beaten path both via there use and there avoidance. If a wine fits no known type, you know I’d be itching to try it.

Vino Endoxa: The Categories of Affect versus Sensation

If I think I’m going to make any progress creating a next generation wine description system, it might help to take a look at the current work about aroma in other disciplines. One of the great required readings is Adam Jasper & Nadia Wagner’s Notes on Scent from Cabinet magazine in their winter 2008/09 issue. They weave a beautiful narrative through philosophy into different aroma classification systems and between delicious factoids about smells & smelling.

Secondly, for more heavy duty reading, The Impact of Expertise in Olfaction was really interesting. Papers like this are important to the distiller because the distiller is an expert due to their unique sensory experiences and this impacts countless decisions they make day to day. Expertness implies a unique reality because unique contrast detection skills and very personal thresholds of perception of aroma compounds because of repeated exposure (contrast enhancement phenomena). So in effect, expertness can even be a handicap to creating consumer products in certain cases.

Solo organoleptic evaluation isn’t always valuable because of the expert phenomenon so its useful to construct tasting panels and this great paper, Sensory Analysis in Quality Control: The Gin as an Example, is a wonderful primer. To my knowledge, most new distilleries are not correctly using tasting panels or maximizing what they could do with them. The new American distillery is a busy, overworked and on the go place. Staff pretty much need to set up little assignments for other staff members as quality control procedures so as many minds as possible can be brought into the process.

Lastly, the paper that is blowing my mind is Understanding the Underlying Dimensions in Perfumers’ Odor Perception Space as a Basis for Developing Meaningful Odor Maps which is fairly cutting edge being from 2009. The paper is sort of dense and takes a lot of concentration and repeat reading to get through. Odor perception space refers to the points of tension that exist in odor perception. The paper analyzes multiple databases constructed by researchers and perfumers then performs multi variate analysis to cross examine existing aroma categorization ideas and maps proposed by other researchers and professionals. This sort of analysis would be at the heart of the Vino Endoxa project and would be at the heart of more deeply understanding the botanical formulas that make up spirits categories like gin, absinthe, or vermouth. I pretty much should take the time to dissect the paper in its own post, but I’m pressed for time and I’m too interested in tracking down references in its bibliography and pursuing those.

The first major split in organizing flavor language or more specifically categorizing aromas is to differentiate descriptors that relate to affects and descriptors that relate to sensations. Refreshing pertains to affect and while acidic pertains to sensation, yet they both typically pertain to the same stimulus. I haven’t yet determined if the term balance pertains to affect or sensation but I’m leaning on affect.

The world of cocktails seems to be in love with affect and so does my earlier writing where I explored concepts like emotional content that I borrowed from abstract painting criticism. Emotional content, for me, was the spectrum spanning elation to repulsion and typically looked at the tension between multiple sensations like sweetness and acidity. It seems like as we juggle multiple sensations an overall effect is more salient that the individual, challenging to parse, sensations.

I remember reading a book long ago called Aphrodisiacs and Anti-aphrodisiacs that examined the affects of certain food sources. This book broke aphrodisiacs into more categories than just one, which would make you horny, but rather multiple which were typically grouped in trilogies to arrive at a horny conclusion. Camphorous mint or spicy chilies would flip your temperature getting you hot and bothered while coffee or chocolate got the heart racing and cinnamon or saffron got blood flowing to the genitals. Coffee and chocolate can both be categorized as bitter but they can both also be categorized as stimulating and that effect might be more salient and easy to articulate than the bitter sensation.

Cocktails have been promoted by effect since the beginning. They used to be mustache twisters, eye-openers, corpse revivers, or anti fogmatics. Affect makes better adcopy than describing the individual multi-variate sensations. When I developed the craft keg cocktail way back when, the proof of concepts were quickly coined as panty droppers and party killers. Besides the new keg format, I was also exploring freeze concentration methods to increase aromatic extract which lowered or perhaps overshadowed the perception of alcohol. So should I have been dispensing high extract sours or should I have been dispensing panty droppers? And what the hell should Vino Endoxa include?

Affect seems like it is less data-mineable than sensation, but then it might just be the best way to categorize sensations in wine that just can’t be grounded in other common sensations. When wines have that highly regarded stink, is it more helpful to call them olfactory-umami or to call them erogenous? I’m suspecting for aromas that have no strong co-experience, categories of affect might be the way to go.