Investigating Wired’s Investigation of Lost Spirits Accelerated Aging

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An interesting article appeared in Wired recently about the accelerated aging techniques being developed at the Lost Spirits distillery. It was flung around the web and possibly shared sixteen thousand times yet didn’t generate much critical comment except polarizing reactionary one liners. I was really disappointed that the spirits industry didn’t take the time to better frame or contextualize what was being done at Lost Spirits because interest in spirits is at an all time high and there are so many supposed experts out there. The claims of the article bring up some real weighty issues. What happens if in six days we can make spirits taste like they’re 20 years old? Can it really be done? How sophisticated were previous attempts? Does more age really make a product more extraordinary at the sensory level? And what would it mean for the industry?

The article made Lost Spirits seem like a sophisticated operation, but taking a look at previous works they’ve published on their investigations (part I, part II) shows a giant lack of involvement, poor research skills, hasty conclusions, gross reinventing of the wheel, and a general naivety. All those same descriptors have been used to describe my work as well so… After reading a lot about Lost Spirits, I hope they keep messing around and investigating things, but I also hope the rest of the industry and people that write about them are better able to frame and contextualize what they are doing. Standards right now in spirits journalism are very low. I really hope to taste the rum and would pay a premium price for a bottle in a heartbeat. Actually experiencing it would help make sure my ideas about aging can scale.

Some of the visceral reactions to the lost spirits article make me think that we haven’t really been able to articulate what aged spirits mean to us. Is it all in their sensory values or is it largely a symbolic thing? Lost Spirits is trying to duplicate the sensory values but they are going to lose all the symbolism and much of the ability to retrieve memories. Were the spirits in oak during the Clinton era? I remember those days. Was it in oak since my birth year? So many people buy pricey birth year products and don’t care if they taste good because it means so much more to them. Do we admire the producer’s patience? Most other businesses erode all foresight to the short run, but distilleries keep massive inventories, think so far out into the next generation and that inspires people whether they can articulate it or not. The spirits and wine industries are an exemplary and vital pillar of long run thought. They are a template we need to maintain if our governments are going to be able to plan for us and future generations. So much of a vineyardist’s career is making decisions whose fruit only the next generation will taste. When those who truly appreciate a wine contemplate it, they think of all it symbolizes and not just its sensory values. All that it can symbolize is actually a large part of the price even though most consumers can’t wrap their heads around it. We all practice very selective forms of aestheticism where we only focus on sensory values. Exclusivity of expensive bottles is a thing, and very cheap to write about, but don’t let its attention whore nature distract you from the symbolic beauty of artifacts of great foresight.

So if we could pull off the sensory values of very old spirits on the cheap, would it really shake up the industry? After spending enough time in the wine business I’d say no. There are manipulated wines of effort and very pure wines of terroir and the latter, though smaller, riskier and dauntingly hard to produce, have rabid fans and are economically very significant. Said another way, there are commodity wines and fine wines and each has a place in the market. Near anything goes in commodity wine production and the largest amount of science is applied to them. They are also typically abstracted to lowest common denominator tastes. Commodity wines don’t typically flirt with aging because aged wines are so often an acquired taste.

But aren’t people going to get rich and isn’t it going to shake everything up and give new producers a foot hold on the market? No, because if connoisseurship isn’t dead, the laws of perfect information will suppress the price and producers practicing accelerated aging won’t make significant amounts of extra money. Likely consumers will finally figure out what aging really means to them and there will be invigorated thought and education on the topic, thus moving the market. But hell, I do drink and pour handle upon handle of commodity spirits so bring it on if you can truly deliver on the sensory values. Have fun with your razor thin margins, you’re still in commodity spirit production hell.

Aren’t we making some assumptions that more aging is always better and the product will always be more enjoyable on a sensory level? Big assumptions that are bunk! In the wine world, wines gets too old all the time or a wine is old and very much alive, but just not extraordinary. Then there are adages like there are no great wines, but only great bottles. There is so much chaos in the systems that create wines, even during the aging process, that some hook left and some hook right. Maybe accelerated aging could be called controlled aging and it would eliminate the chaos and variability? If that is true, those products will alienate all the single barrel consumers who wanted to dip their nose into chaos whether they can articulate it or not. Do they say fuck your inevitability engine! with every drop they drink or are we all just taking most of our drams for granted?

I think on the technical end, Lost Spirits inspiration for pursuing fake aging came from their second investigation which I recently took a look at and wasn’t very impressed by. One line in the paper grabbed me as significant.

We learned that the VOC range aroma compounds (primarily fruity esters) mature concentration appears to be predetermined prior to barreling.

They kind of think of aging as a two part process (though it isn’t). You have the most volatile fraction which is pretty much the distillate you put into the barrel and then you have the semi volatile fraction which comes from the wood and the chemistry gets a little more complex and even maddening. Their idea hinges on the volatile fraction just ending up in one predetermined inevitable equilibrium place while the complicated part, which is the significance of their process, is getting the semi volatile fraction where it wants to be (choosing how many years). The whole system is oversimplified and cuts out the role of the angels share though they do acknowledge that.

Davis says that’s because the Model 1 does not allow for any substantial evaporation: Put in 100 liters of white dog and you get back about 98 liters of aged spirit. Without the “angel’s share”—equating to about 50 percent evaporation in a 33 year old rum—it just doesn’t seem possible to push a spirit any further.

So there are dramatic acknowledged limitations but that doesn’t void anything, though it does remind me of when you find a wine with interesting aroma and then you taste it, and its flabby because of not having enough acidity. Its just not a total package. It doesn’t beg you to drink more, but could it be a fraction for blending? One reason I use this flabby analogy is because of the lack of angels share, I bet these spirits are flabby with an incomparable amount of total acidity relative to the spirits they are aiming at.

Lets back track before we dive into some science. The best look at aging for the layman I’ve ever seen came from a 1954 State Board of Equalization correspondence which I highlighted in a post called Barrel Aging / Rhetoric / Information Design. I was so taken by how well and concisely the paper summed up the process for a court case. So much tax money was riding on the explanation that it was whittled into a masterpiece. Is the barrel just a manufacturing aid to hold spirits that should be taxed or is it a primary ingredient in spirits making that shouldn’t be taxed? The paper provides background and makes barrel aging seem less like voodoo. In Lost Spirits white papers, they had characterized spirits aging as something that little was known about and couldn’t produce a bibliography.

For one stop shopping, lets turn to the 1980 4th edition of Technology of Wine Making which has spectacular sections on the accelerated aging of wine and the accelerated aging of spirits. This is no lost esoterica, the text is pretty much the most widely read industrial compendium on wine making (and brandy production) and has been the bible of countless producers. The chapters are excellent reviews of the literature and all end with a bibliography written by Maynard Amerine who was known to be obsessed with collecting literature and compiling bibliographies.

The funny thing about bringing up the great UC Davis bible of wine making and distilling is the the Wired article had a UC Davis professor of engineering, Greg Miller, vouch for Bryan Davis of Lost Spirits as “the real deal”. It makes me wonder if Miller read any of the Lost Spirits papers or was aware of the seminal work on distilling done at UC Davis over the years.

The most interesting thing about the chapter on the accelerated aging of wine is the comments on how techniques, developed at the repeal of prohibition to jump start the industry and more rapidly bring products to market, have become adopted, not as tricks or gimmicks or even associated with aging at all, but as absolutely standard wine making procedure across both fine and commodity wines. Examples of such techniques are early clarification, tartrate stabilization, and malo-lactic fermentation. So there is plenty of room for new ideas to be adopted in spirits production.

Other techniques widely used in wine production now, that relate more to what Lost Spirits is doing, involve the controlled micro oxidation of wine to develop more mature aromas. The techniques aren’t one size fits all and the options get rather complex requiring deep involvement and lots of experimentation to be to cohesive and harmonic with a wine’s style. Other more severe techniques like baking in the presence of oxygen (this resembles how Madeira is made) are sometimes used. Baking is not applied to 100% of the final product but rather to create blending stocks. Amerine et al. provides strong words of caution that “rapid aging cannot be applied by rule of thumb, but must be used with intelligence, skill, and care, adapting the severity of the various treatments to the product at hand.”

To give a glimpse of what’s been tried for wine over the years, lets quote a passage:

Most of the older treatments for accelerated aging involve some induced oxidation: exposure to sunlight or ultraviolet light, aeration at low temperature to allow easier oxygen absorption followed by raising the temperature to induce oxidation, use of ozone, hydrogen peroxide, catalysts, etc. Many of the treated wines have a “faded” or “over-aged” character which is unpleasent.
Singleton (1962) has reviewed physical methods of accelerated aging. Claims of success have been variable; overtreatments are invariably bad. Working with a variety of types of wine, Singleton and Draper (1963) found ultrasonic treatment in combination with various gases (air, oxygen, nitrogen, carbon dioxide, and hydrogen) tended to give a “scorched” flavor and undesirable results. Similarly, using ionizing radiation (Singleton 1963; Paunovic 1963) at sterilizing dosage produced color bleaching and off-flavors. Such exotic treatments appear to have little future unless the new flavors are considered attractive in their own right or are so restrained as to be an unidentifiable contributor to complexity. More promise is held for “dissecting” traditional aging into its component reactions and managing each for optimum results.”

So these guys experimented widely and truly knew their options to manipulate different reactions related to aging. The interesting comment here is about the creation of new flavors. Do the products of the Lost Spirit’s accelerated aging produce any new aromas? And could they be features and not flaws? I’ve mused on the philosophy of flaws many times. Nothing can be a flaw until symbolic value is attached and it becomes a regret, a missed opportunity, or a what could have been. The wine industry is grappling with this issue. They’ve eradicated so many basic flaws that now critics have no experience with them and when they’re found, they are mistaken for terroir. So when we are mimicking traditional aging, new aromas are flaws, unless we start to value them in their own right which we should never discount as a possibility.

I vividly remembered the weirdness of the section on the rapid aging of spirits and it was fun to revisit. I first read Technology of Wine Making eight years ago and I distinctly remember thinking I want to taste that! All of that! I’d pay money! The ideas are captivating and I could just imagine being a student back then and tasting your way through all the cryptically labelled bottles of Vernon Singleton’s experiments. Andrew Quady of Vya Vermouth fame was a student back then and I bet he could tell us some cool stories. (One of Quady’s student projects (1973) under distilling great, James Guymon, was cited in Amerine’s bibliography at the end of chapter.)

From the section on rapid aging:

Various mechanical, physical, and chemical procedures have been used to age brandy more rapidly. Mechanical vibration (even by long ocean transport), variable temperatures, ultrasonics, adsorption, ion exchangers, ultraviolet and infrared have been tried (Singleton 1962). Ozone, peroxide, permangranate, electrolysis and metallic and biological catalyzers have also been used.

So a lot of the same processes used for wine have also been used for spirits. We don’t exactly know what Lost Spirits is using but here are some options (though the section of the Wired articled on Prior Art casts aside a few). One thing to note is that I don’t remember any of the big modern distillation texts having any sort of similar sections on rapid aging.

No statistical data were given. The best that can be said is that some of the results have been encouraging. The economics of the treatment and unprejudiced sensory examination of the products have not always been adequately considered. Further work can profitably be done.

This is very UC Davis language. They were optimists but the were definitely rigorous scientists and didn’t fall in love with their ideas becoming biased. Some other distillation texts have no such language and sometimes you wonder if they truly every tried an idea or if it was just armchair speculation. Amerine et al. definitely sets a standard we should all aspire to.

The Soviet literature recommends using oak chips (treated with alkali or untreated) in the early aging of brandy. Oxidation of tannin substances during aging was responsible for the darkening of color. Ethanolysis of lignin and hydrolysis of hemicellulose also occurs. Ethanolysis of lignin results after oxidation in formation of aldehydes of the vanillin type.
This was considered the equivalent of 3 to 5 years’ aging in wood. Lashki (1963) found that lack of oxygen during storage slowed the rate of aging but that too much oxygen resulted in loss of bouquet and the harmonious relation between components.

The Soviet Union collapsed possibly because everybody was subjected to fake aged spirits. We see so many producers experimenting with oak chips but are they treating them to enhance the process? The part I omitted are the finer chemical parameters to use as a template. As widely used as oak chips are, I don’t think anyone in the new scene has deepened their involvement enough to treat them properly.

Heat treatment of young brandies of 20 days at 38°-40°C (100.5°-104°F) with or without oak chips (30 days) improved their sensory quality (higher volatile esters, aldehydes and furfural and less volatile higher alcohols) according to Abramov et al. (1976)

Here, heat changes the reaction kinetics and modern immersion circulators make this easy to perform on the small scale. Lately I’ve been exploring this simple enclosed heating to hasten post distillation esterification in my cocktail centric distillates. In the Wired article, it was mentioned that the Lost Spirit’s process could be used for “prototyping” but I have also developed a similar process where I simply sacrificed a portion of already aged spirit to a food dehydrator (low temp evaporation) to create a semi-volatile and non-volatile fraction of high fidelity. It works astoundingly well and is spectacularly affordable. It has already been worked into my Distiller’s Workbook.

Pro and Etienne (1959) have shown that distilled spirits produced before 1954 can be dated with reasonable accuracy from their tritium contents. After 1954 the tritium content of the atmosphere was affected by hydrogen bomb explosions. Further, it is not possible to determine accurately the age of spirits which have been diluted with post-bomb water.

Are they messing with us? We call so many hacks these days “mad scientists” and these guys were hip to tritium contents?

The most interesting ideas in Technology of Wine Making were not in the rapid aging section, but another section titled Changes During Aging. I think this is the best hint of what Lost Spirits is doing.

Dzhanpoladyan and Petrosyan (1957) believe the aging process begins with the extraction of phenolic compounds from the wood, followed by their oxidation by atmospheric oxygen to peroxides and participation of the peroxides in subsequent reactions. Lignin was shown to decrease during aging and it is considered to play an especially important role as vanillin is one of its oxidation products.

Petrosyan et al. (1976) found more free-radical products in aged brandies. Irradiation of wooden barrels with UV or γ-rays increased the oxidative reactions, enhanced maturation and gave higher free-radical products. Similar effects were found when the barrels were heated with oxygen for 12 days. Mndzhoyan et al. (1977) heat-treated the oak in an autoclave at 120°C(248°F) for 100 hours at 15 atm oxygen pressure. This reduced the cellulose and increased the lignin and aromatic aldehydes. Ethanol extracts of the treated wood were very high in aromatic aldehydes–comparable to 20 to 50-year-old brandy.

This last paragraph is my best bet of what is being done at Lost Spirits. Their reactor simply accelerates the breakdown wood into aroma compounds and an extract is prepared. The extract is married with the rest of the distillate and then esterification is taken to a new equilibrium perhaps by baking. Keep in mind these particular experiments were not conducted as a means of faking aging, but rather to study the various reactions by creating some sort of nth degree scenario that made them easier to look at. Maybe they weren’t considered for accelerated aging because expense made it nowhere near viable at the time.

I know I want to taste it, but would the results of a such a process really compare to a 20 year old rum? Could you spot the fake in a line up of real McCoys? Let’s back track to James Guymon’s classification of the changes occurring during aging:

1. Physical
a. Losses by evaporation or soaking
b. Changes due to concentration by evaporation or to dissolution of substances from the wood.
2. Chemical
a. Oxidation of original or extracted constituents.
b. Reaction between original and oxidation product or dissolved substances.

Well in the Lost Spirits process, we are already missing 1.a., the angels share, therefore critical ratios are out of wack. So there is the shell of an aged product, but none of the divine details. Van der Rohe said God is in the details. We have well intentioned stick figures, but no Vitruvian man. #GrapeDrink

When Chromatography and mass spectroscopy became more prevalent to the study of spirits, many of the papers started look at the correlation between objective counts of chemical compounds and their correlations to organoleptic assessments of sensory quality (because that is the final verdict). The researchers all threw up their hands in frustration. They are confident in their ability to count chemicals but they can’t find straight forward correlations between the compounds and quality. Phenomenology kicks their ass. Our percepts are so infiltrated by recollections and other complexities, and though we can demonstrate astounding sensitivities at times, at other times we can have terrible contrast detection abilities. There is also a nitty gritty of attention within perception where just accumulating too much acetaldehyde can start to overshadow other rare and extraordinary aromas rendering the experience flat. You’d think the ratios would be pretty easy to figure out but they’re not. They’re also subject to little understood fixative effects where one obscure ester bridges another creating a unique percept. Everything becomes wildly interdependent and modeling it eludes our current abilities. Nothing beats traditional time in the barrel and the only thing that beats that is the massive amount of experimentation and data analysis large distilleries have privately conducted to maximize traditional time in the barrel.

The only thing I couldn’t really figure out was the oak catalyzed esterification term that was thrown around in the article. I don’t think it is an accepted industry term, but rather something Lost Spirits came up with themselves, possibly because they are confused and denying oxidation as a process. I suspect it implies the oak extraction product’s ability to induce acid catalyzed esterification, which is a thing. There could also be some sort of heterogeneous catalyst like tin, but that easily gets beyond my knowledge and I don’t recall ever seeing anything like it in the beverage literature though this paper on producing perfume esters seems especially encouraging.

New-make distillate is distinguished by short-chain molecules called carboxylic esters and short-chain fatty acids. In a white dog or unaged whiskey, these have aromas that include overripe fruit and paint thinner and vinegar. Drinkable, but rarely worth savoring by the fire. Still, you need these chemicals to start with, because the interaction between these compounds and the wood in the barrel results in two processes: extraction and esterification.

Various parts of the Wired article, like the above quote, embrace over simplifications. Extraction produces no magical results without oxidation as we saw in the classification of aging changes from James Guymon. Aging is about tons of slow oxidation reactions and then further reactions from those products. The new make distillate is also not at equilibrium but rather rearranging from the time it leaves the still. The whole process isn’t a straight forward relay race you can simply run faster, its a dance with multiple partners trading partners all the time due to chaotic variables. Spirits aged differently during the Clinton administration than they did under Bush.

Lost Spirits doesn’t seem to acknowledge oxidation as a process. In the section of the Wired article titled Prior and Future Art, the work of a competitor, Terressentia, uses “ultrasound and oxygenation to purportedly induce the production of long-chain esters”, but “based on their patent, Terressentia is where we were five years ago,” says Bryan Davis. For some reason that is the only acknowledgement of oxidation in the entire article and it relates to the techniques of their competitor. Is Lost Spirits naive and not aware their process uses oxidation or are they being cagey and evasive until they can make some money off their process? Or could I be wrong in interpreting Amerine et al.’s explanations that oxidation is absolutely a paramount part of the aging process. They could also be the victim of a shoddy writer who said, “Bags of sugar are easier to come by”, regarding a distillery that makes a molasses based rum.

Did I even make any progress getting to the bottom of this?

Wired used 2,200 words, I’m guilty of using 3,900.

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Investigating Lost Spirits Investigations Part II

This is a look at the second research paper from Lost Spirits. Eventually I’ll take a look at the Wired article that describes their fake aging process. It is really short, barely a paper, and I don’t remember people sharing this one around the web, but lets take a look anyhow.

It seems that Lost Spirits got even more analysis equipment and is now exploring GC-MS so the paper is just a demo of their analysis rig up and running. They hope analysis can teach them more about the products out there on the market which they admire so they can attempt to produce similar products. I personally hope to get deeper into analysis but I’d go about it a little differently. They are sort of reinventing the wheel and ignoring a gigantic body of research out there that can be used as a guide. Apparently its easier to buy analysis equipment than to go to the library. This paper cites no references and their last paper only cited one paper from 1908.

The novel approach I’ve taken to learn more about distillation is to invent small scale concept recipes that illustrate hard to reach concepts in physics and chemistry. These recipes are featured in my distiller’s workbook. There is organoleptic analysis using our own organs, where we smell and taste, and then there is analysis like titration, spectroscopy, and chromatography that can objectively count up chemical compounds. My workbook exercises are all based on organoleptic analysis and are designed to sharpen tasting skills by seeing more abstracted nth degree examples. My exercises are also astoundingly more affordable and can teach so much without committing to time on a big rig where it can cost you hundreds per batch to run the still.

Let’s jump into Lost Spirit’s paper:

We learned that the VOC range aroma compounds (primarily fruity esters) mature concentration appears to be predetermined prior to barreling.

I think this idea here will be a big influence on their accelerated aging technology. The thought is that you can create an new equilibrium with products extracted by oak then use catalysts to bring the various reactions to the new equilibrium quickly (reaction kinetics). Unfortunately nothing is that simple and other variables come into place if you want a product to be its most extraordinary on a sensory level.

We also learned that low rectification products (generally pot distilled) exhibited far more ester precursors and thus the ability to age longer and to a greater aroma and flavor density than the more common high rectification rums.

Its hard to say anything was really learned. They only looked at one sample. When they say “low rectification products” they mean stuff distilled at a low proof where the congeners are going to be more spread out across the spirits run and a heads cut isn’t going to remove as much. More highly rectified rums are typically done on a column still and the proof you distill at implies the congener level. So you’re going to make your heads cut governed chiefly by managing ethyl acetate and acetaldehyde then the question becomes: how much other stuff stays in the hearts when your busy focusing on the big two congeners?

In this follow up document, we looked at the semi-volatile organics (SVOCs) to see how they change during maturation. The SVOC range includes the majority of maturation compounds including phenolic aldehydes extracted from the oak, medium chained carboxylic esters, complex esters, phenylated esters, higher alcohols, furanic aldehydes, etc.

So this paper starts to recognize the contribution of other congener categories. All of these compounds are discussed in the abridged bibliography I laid out in Part I. In an article I wrote long ago, from free fatty acids to aromatic esters: esterification in the still make simple(r), I posited the idea that still operation decisions focuses on esters and the other congener classes just tag along. I’m not sure how true that is when you look at the most masterful products, but it might be true for the beginner before they deepen their involvement. In that post, which was widely read, there was so much to learn and research that it ended up being really long. Years later I didn’t have time to re-edit things so I just put new ideas and corrections in brackets. What I’m getting at is, as you learn this stuff and share your progress, there are going to be miss steps and you should cut people some slack, be constructive, and we should celebrate any effort because so few people give any. As we redistribute consolidated knowledge, we are all learning together. A high tide lifts all boats. Don’t be a hipster and not recognize how hard it is to get anywhere with this stuff.

While the majority of them were explored in the VOC paper (part 1), two additional esters, ethyl decanoate, and ethyl dodecanoate proved very important in the SVOC range.

There are lots of esters but these two named are relatively less volatile than others which is why they got labelled semi volatile.

Phenolic aldehydes like sinapaldehyde and vanillin are byproducts of the thermal decomposition of lignin in oak. They are responsible for a host of flavors in mature spirits ranging from smoky to vanilla pipe tobacco and wintergreen. As expected they played a major role in the maturation of spirits. While phenolic aldehydes were expected, the extreme importance of sinapaldehyde in particular was unexpected.

Its a stretch here to say extreme importance. Finding anything too in depth on aldehydes hasn’t been as easy as learning about esters. Probably the best paper explaining the aldehydes is Origins of Flavour in Whiskies and a Revised Flavour Wheel: a Review. A unique thing about the paper is the introduction where some of the neuroscience of perceiving these flavor compounds is explained as well as the limitations of just counting chemicals.

The above two SVOC chromatograms compare and contrast two heavy pot still rums. The sample on the left is freshly distilled heavy pot still rum (from Lost Spirits Distillery in California). The sample on the right is a Caribbean heavy pot still rum aged for 33 years in an oak barrel.

This is just a crazy apples to oranges comparison. There are just so many variables that could differ in the starting distillate.

The mature rum exhibited a significant increase in the esters ethyl decanoate and ethyl dodecanoate. Both of these esters were present in the freshly distilled rum but in much lower concentrations than those found in mature rum. The mature rum also exhibited a high concentration of sinapaldehyde and acetal which appear to be oak derived.

The acetals are a unique congener category and are highly aromatic. The origins of flavor in whiskies paper does spend some time explaining them. I think I remember some paper somewhere dealing specifically with ethyl decanoate and ethyl dodecanoate.

Perhaps most importantly the mature sample exhibited a large complex mass of “white noise” along the bottom of the chromatogram. This “white noise” represents hundreds of different compounds formed during aging or extracted from the oak. However, the concentrations of the compounds are low and the volatility values are so similar that they merge together into one large unidentifiable mass.

This is a big limitation of the analysis technique and the subject of a lot of papers is just overcoming noise with countless technique that are truly in PhD territory of sophistication. I had done some playing around with soxhlet extraction and clevenger distillation for botanical analysis for gin production, and though the methods are totally outdated for large products, we need to explore what exactly small producers can practically do with the limited resources they have. Small producers can’t yet use the analysis techniques of large producers. There is a gap and if we want to improve the quality of small production spirits, we need to explore it. The work of lost spirits is definitely a stepping stone, but its valuable to figure out what exactly they’ve done so we don’t get lost or derailed when other approaches might be more fruitful.

NOTE: The 33 year old sample appears to have been aged with added sugar in the rum. The large mass in the center is primarily sucrose (table sugar) which could not have been extracted from the barrel. Unfortunately, the sugar obscures some of the data.

I don’t quite understand this claim that the sugar was aged with the rum. Couldn’t it have been added after the rum was taken from the barrel? What if added sugar became illegal in years since it was barreled? It would be too risky to add the sugar while the spirits were in the barrel.

As a distillery seeking to produce high quality products, a semi-volatile fingerprint was needed to establish a gold standard for quality. Without it, it is not possible to objectively determine when a product has attained maturity or if it is developing the correct signature of a mature spirit in process.

A gold standard for quality would only come from organoleptic analysis. The only way to tell if a spirit has obtained maturity is to taste it. All objective analysis can tell you, with a lot of systematic experimentation, is how to nudge and sculpt a spirit into the extraordinary. This effort produced that. And we know this because of controlled experiments.

Unfortunately, the available chromatogram libraries did not contain semi-volatile fingerprints for aged rums. They only contained fingerprints for malt whisky

As I mentioned in part I, libraries and models are very important for untangling the readings into something meaningful. Ultimately for the spectroscopy, meaningful readings would help at so many parts of the distilling process but you probably can’t even download a model as a shortcut. From what I’ve read, many models for various purposes will be proprietary to a single production. I’m probably not explaining this the best and so much can be said about applying more advanced analysis to small scale distilleries.

This project identified the chemical signature of a mature heavy pot still rum providing the missing baseline data to assess maturity.

My maturity is not your maturity and we could learn a lot from the wine trade. I think most bourbons have spent too much time in oak and are over mature. Other disagree.

In the future this method could be used to compare and uncover counterfeits (immature spirits laced with coloring and flavoring additives) by comparing them to legitimately mature rum. It could also be used to compare subtle differences in products aged with different types of woods or to assess alternative methods and compare them against the signature of a legitimately mature spirit.

Absolutely, and this is what the industry has been doing for countless decades.

The addition of caramelized sucrose to the rum was disappointing. While it may be argued that it is part of the style of these rums, it would have been beneficial to see the chromatogram without the data obscured by the added sugar.

Strategic sample preparation, as opposed to direct sample analysis can overcome the bias and its done all the time in various papers.

While we can compare this chromatogram to whisky chromatograms, in order to gain an idea of what it would look like without the sugar, we cannot obtain a perfect image that way. We must continue to look for a mature rum that does not contain the added sugar in order to gain an perfect unobscured image of maturity. However, this example does provide the majority of the data needed, especially for the compounds with high peak values.

This just isn’t true. They need to read much more. There are analysis techniques out there that can handle everything they need. They are almost there.

Lost Spirits: Read more, go to the library, read the Bostonapothecary, you’re almost there!

Investigating Lost Spirits Investigations Part I

I aspire to eventually examine Lost Spirits new aging technique but I thought I should start by looking at their first white paper which I read a while ago. Here is a link to their paper: Trace Carboxylic Acid and Ester Origin in Mature Spirits.

This was my conclusion but I’ll move it to the beginning: I think this paper is really cool, but sort of naive. I’ve wanted to see new distilleries start doing investigations for a while now and I hope to do more myself. The sad thing here is that it isn’t that sophisticated yet made big rounds around the internet and that shows that the spirits community just hasn’t gotten very far. I saw no intelligent comments on the paper from industry peers. Lot of cheer leaders and then lots eye rolling, but nothing constructive.

The biggest disappointment in the paper is the bibliography. It kind of shows I haven’t achieved much. They cite one source when I’ve read & wrote in this territory for years and made countless papers available and annotated & commented on all of them. I’ve tried to create a culture of openness and constructive comment that I found in so many of the giants of distillation that I’ve read. It started with Amerine then it was Valaer, and Guymon, and Willkie and now Piggot. Openess and a high tide lifts all boats is the true culture of the industry and how all the research got lost and forgotten, I don’t know.

Oak matured distilled spirits are one of the least well-understood consumer products in the world.

I would say this statement is less true than people think. This blog hosts and uncovers unending mountains of scholarly research done by the industry. Its true that few in the industry, especially the new arm of the industry, are aware of the research body and I’ve talked to distillers that have been in the business thirty years and they’ve never had the benefit of any of the papers I dig up. They just don’t understand where I got them all from. The library? Inter library loan? I simply go to the library. And then I actually read the papers.

Oak maturation, by contrast, is not well understood. Much of the information printed on the topic also contains gross factual errors and flawed assumptions. Perhaps even less well understood is the potentially important interactions of chemicals formed during the fermentation with compounds extracted from the oak.

Oak maturation is far better understood than people realize. Big players in the industry right now even do tons of private research and use very sophisticated data analysis to learn more and more about oak aging. In the spirits industry, there is a tenuous relationship between tradition and innovation and much of the research that is done is down played and sort of hidden. There are some factual errors in the older literature and you will see some researchers point this out and update ideas as methods got betters. A lot of analysis methods used all over the field of chemistry were pioneered through studying alcohol and a lot of giants of spirits chemistry like Peter Valaer, Herman Willkie, Maynard Amerine, James Guymon, and now John Piggot have made massive contributions. Piggot is my absolute favorite. I love his writing style and he seems to have the best command of both chemistry and neuroscience while others are sort of lopsided.

The last comment, about chemical compounds produced during fermentation reacting with chemical compounds extracted from the oak, probably refers to esterification reactions the paper aspires to study. There is an equilibrium amount of esters a spirit can hold. To move towards the equilibrium esters are either forming or breaking apart (into fatty acids and alcohols). Compounds extracted from the oak change the equilibrium, increasing the amount of esters a spirit can hold.

The most comprehensive study on the topic was published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society in 1908 by C. A. Crampton and L. M. Tolman. Unfortunately Crampton and Tolman lacked modern tools such as gas chromatography and mass spectroscopy making their work very incomplete.

Crampton and Tolman is an interesting paper, but its far from the most comprehensive and so much has happened since it came out. One of the my favorite papers that will have gigantic impact on new distillers is: 1968 ANALYTICAL PROFILE OF CISTERN ROOM WHISKIES Schoeneman, Robert L. and Dyer, Randolph H. J. AOAC (1967), Vol. 51, No. 5, pp. 937-987. I keep procrastinating digitizing my copy (nag me and it will happen). At the end, the paper has a great reflection on the investigations of Crampton and Tolman and where the American whiskey industry has come since then.

Maybe I should whip up a brief & incomplete bibliography to give people ideas about what is out there:
Changes in Whiskey stored for Four years (Peter Valaer 1936)
A study of Whiskey stored for four years in Plywood Barrels (1950)
Changes in Whiskey while maturing (1943)
Comparison of Scotch malt whisky maturation in oak miniature casks and american standard barrels (Piggot 1995)
Effect of cask charring on scotch whisky maturation (Piggot 1993)
Flavor components of Whiskey I (2001)
Flavor components of Whiskey II
Flavor components of Whiskey III
Foreign & Domestic Rum (Valaer 1937)
Influence of distillation system, oak wood type, and aging on composition of cider brandy in phenolic and furanic compounds.
Origins of Flavour in Whiskies and a Revised Flavor Wheel: A review (Piggot 2001)
Role of Organic Acids in Maturation of Distilled Spirits in Oak Casks (1999)
Volatile Fatty Acids in Some Brands of Whisky, Cognac and Rum (1968)
Feed stocks, fermentation, and distillation for production of heavy and light rums
Production of Heavy Rums (Arroyo)
Robert Leuté’s 1989 James Guymon lecture

I could go on and on and I’d list some of the more modern complete grad school text books on making spirits which are really impressive. Then we could also list papers on accelerated aging and why they worked or didn’t and that would give us more clues into what we’re ultimately looking for. There is a cool section on accelerated aging in the Technology Winemaking.

So its safe to say there is a lot more than the work of Crampton and Tolman in 1908. One reason we know so much about aging from the IRS chemists such as Peter Valaer is that to detect fraud in spirits, they had to know what legitimate aging looked like to find the outlying fraudsters. If you say it was aged for X years, why doesn’t it have the chemical hallmarks of a X year product? We didn’t yet say anything was an ordinary, sub par, or extraordinary product, we just counted chemicals to test a claim that is symbolic as well as sensory.

Carboxylic esters are the compounds responsible for fruit flavors found in nature. They have long been observed to form during the oak maturation of distilled spirits and are thus of great interest to us as spirits makers. Carboxylic esters are formed when an alcohol chemically bonds to a carboxylic acid.

Keep in mind esters form as well as split apart. The equilibrium of what can be held together changes as the other variable change due to aging. Besides during aging, esters and their precursor caboxylic acids are inherited from the fruit with some fruit having more than others. Esters and carboxylic acids (also often referred to as fatty acids) are formed during fermentation. Esters also form in the still, especially a pot still because of the longer time under heat seen relative to the typical operation of a column still.

So you can track these aroma compounds and their precursors at every stage of the process and research has done that. And don’t forget, some are more noble than others. Some of the fatty acid ester precursors even get removed during chill filtration of superbly aged spirits so it isn’t all that simple. It would be great to learn more about what gets removed and why they didn’t form esters.

While it is well known that esters form during oak maturation, what is not known is the degree to which precursor carboxylic acids originate from the charring/toasting of the barrel vs from bacteria and yeast in the fermentation and which ones originate where.

This is known and has been the subject of a lot of investigation. This is asking, is there carboxylic acids in the wood? I would say not as significantly as the other steps of the process. Keep in mind, we use new oak, second use, and third use. And none is more superior, each has its purpose, especially the latter in rum aging. So by the third use, tannin is reduced, vanilla like compounds are reduced, and the barrel which can be re-charred is mostly a vessel to soak up congeners (in the char) as well as a vessel with special porosity to get just the right effects of the angels share and slow oxidative changes. Equilibrium has so many variables and you don’t want to change one too fast. The slowness of barrel aging means little reactions keep marching around in a circle and we can catch it at its most beautiful point before things run amok.

In order to study them in more detail 5 commercially available rum samples were subjected to direct inject mass spectroscopy and compared. The instrument also picked up peaks of some relevant aldehydes with similar volatility values.

The problem with direct inject mass spectroscopy is that the reading gives tons of biases. Lots of stuff overlaps and it takes serious computer modeling to be able to untangle a reading. When the industry uses inline monitoring of product with spectroscopy (which feeds them massive amount of data), they can only untangle the reading into something meaningful because have done tons of leg work with chromatography to create robust models to apply to the spectroscopy.

I’m not qualified to say much. I know how to read the results but not to operate the equipment and I know a significant amount of their limitations from reading so much. Using advanced analysis techniques for spirits differs from other fields like biology. Spirits often require exotic sample preparation techniques because all the ethanol or sugar biases the results. If spirits are 99% ethanol & water and 1% congeners, you need to extract that 1% to get a better look with any real fidelity. Often you use serious organic solvents like hexane and dichloromethane to pull the congeners out of the ethanol and then you separate those organic solvent with a vacuum still to isolate the congeners.

I have played with hexane a lot. I wanted to see if I could explore sample preparation in a beautiful context. I tried to suck the congeners out of gins and cognacs and was going to isolate them and then add them to fernet or make a double cognac, cramming twice as much aroma inside. Well it didn’t work like I thought and became wildly expensive. I was getting to a point where I needed to explore continuous liquid-liquid extraction which required expensive glassware (and then I pretty much ran out of money).

NOTE: Traditionally ethyl acetate has been the most extensively monitored carboxylic ester, as it is the easiest to detect due to concentration. It almost certainly originates in the oak, because it is known to increase with every year that a spirit ages without stopping. However, ethyl acetate has a very high aroma detection threshold and thus has less impact on flavor than other trace carboxylic esters we are interested in studying in this paper.

Even a hundred years ago they were aware of the differences in esters and their contributing qualities. Ethyl acetate is not exactly the most monitored, but because esters used to be counted with titration, which can count esters, but not differentiate them, the number of esters was expressed as ethyl acetate which is a chemistry counting convention. Ethyl acetate is the most common ester by far and the most basic in its building blocks. Sometimes carboxylic acids are referred to as long chain or short chain. Acetic acid is the shortest chain and most basic. When winemakers count total acids with titration, they do something similar, counting everything as tartaric even though other types of acids are present. Simplifying total acidity is enough to give them useful data to base decisions on. It is not fair to say that ethyl acetate has less impact on flavor because there is so much of it relative to other esters.

There might be ethyl acetate in the oak, but that is not as significant as the other sources. Robert Léauté’s 1989 James Guymon lecture (page 11) gives an easy to understand chart examining the esters found in cognac wines after fermentation. Ethyl acetate is the most common ester out numbering other esters by giant magnitudes except ethyl laurate. Léauté even gives the advice that fermentation temperatures are carried out at a specific temperature so that some of this ethyl acetate evaporates and then eventually much of it will be removed from the hearts fraction with the heads cut. Léauté’s lecture is the greatest concise primer on distillation ever written.

One reason ethyl acetate can form as spirits age is due to the oxidation of ethanol to form acetic acid and ultimately linking up with an ethanol to become ethyl acetate. There is even some acetaldehyde in there as an intermediate step of the oxidation process. This is all governed by shifting equilibriums. Distillation doesn’t produce something that comes out of the still at equilibrium. Its more like all shaken up and therefore rearranges pretty quickly. Besides the porous nature of oak, which facilitates oxidation, compounds extracted from oak which lower the pH can be a catalyst for reactions and influence the various equilibriums.

The fact that the aging and distillation of these two products was so similar appears to suggest that the key difference originates in the fermentation (likely yeast strain choice).

This quote refers to two chromatograms shown in the paper. Yeast strain choice is a thing, but there are also many other variables that define spirits.

It is possible that a variation in charing of the wood could have provided the difference, or perhaps a subtle difference in distillation protocol. The warehouse climates are assumed to be highly similar so that was likely not a factor. Also idiosyncratic barrels could be ruled out as both products are blends of hundreds of casks.

These ideas are just the tip of the iceberg of potential production differences.

The fact that the fermentation and distillation of these two products was so similar yet the sample on the left is nearly twice the age of the product on the right, and is nearly identical in VOC fingerprint appears to suggest that by the 7-8th year of oak aging all of the volatile range carboxylic ester formation is complete. This would strongly suggest that the carboxylic acid precursors for these pungent trace esters originate entirely in the fermentation and are not derived from the oak. If the precursor acids were derived from the oak we would expect to see far higher peaks in the 15 year rum.

This quote refers to another set of chromatograms. I would say based on every paper I’ve ever read, that desirable ester precursors for rum come from the fermentation. And remember, post distillation esterification is a thing, but esters are also born in the still and when you have the right stuff in your fermentation that is why you go to the expense of a pot still distillation with a long time under heat if you want to make a heavy product. And don’t forget, a column still can be operated to achieve a lot of the same objectives.

The fact that the fermentation and distillation of these two products was so similar yet the sample on the left is over 3x the age of the sample on the right appears to further confirm the suspicion that the carboxylic ester formation is complete by 7-8 years of aging. It also appears to soundly confirm that the trace carboxylic ester profile of a mature rum are essentially predetermined prior to aging. Though it may take as many as 7 years to complete the process – further aging cannot form additional trace carboxylic esters beyond the level of precursors available from in the white spirit.

So you can’t put a light rum in a barrel for 25 years and get a heavy rum.

Given the prior observations comparing and contrasting various column distilled rums a final comparison was made against a 33 year aged pot distilled rum. As was expected the pot distilled rum showed significantly higher peaks for every target ester owing to the fact that the pot still provides much less efficient separation and allows far more of the chemical composition of the fermentation to pass into the final spirit. This observation appears to confirm that the trace ester density is not only predetermined prior to the spirit entering the cask but that the distillation cuts and level of rectification has a massive effect on the final character of the aged spirit. Given the conventional wisdom that aging can “fix” certain off notes in spirits, this is not surprising as many off notes are in fact carboxylic acids that have not yet been esterified during the aging process.

So many variables can come into play here, but one of the major ones again is time under heat. The cuts can be similar and you can distill with a column still at a very low proof but the time under heat in the boiler is going to be much shorter creating less time for acid catalyzed esterification in the still.

Trace carboxylic esters (excluding ethyl acetate) in mature distilled spirits are responsible for the fruit flavors often seen in desirable products. While it is true that the spirit must be aged in oak to increase ester density and convert off notes from carboxylic acids to desirable esters, it was found that their peak concentration is limited by precursor carboxylic acids generated in the fermentation.

One this this misses is the fixative role of ethyl acetate described by Robert Léauté. You want ethyl acetate as close to the recognition threshold as possible without going over. When you go over the recognition threshold, ethyl acetate will smell like nail polish remover, but when below (but well above the absolute threshold), ethyl acetate will be a bridge for the other aromas. Without ethyl acetate to bridge aromas, they will be perceived as disparate and possibly dissonant. The fixative term is used in many different ways but here it brings aromas together (spatially in the mind) to create unique and extraordinary percepts. A large part of distilling and blending is managing ethyl acetate.

It was further observed that pot stills are far better at capturing precursor acids from the fermentation than column stills. However, I would expect column stills designed for lower rectification as is common in Armagnac or Martinique produce to results more closely related to those shown for the pot still rum.

Not every distillery owns a pot still, but precursor potential is a big part of choosing to operate one or not and don’t forget about time under heat. One of the reasons California never had a lot of pot distilled brandy was that their wines were too low in acid to produce enough precursors to justify the added expensive of more time under heat that a pot still generates.

To achieve Lost Spirits’s goals of making the most heavy, robust, rich rum possible, it is apparent that a pot still is ideal. The observations also show that special attention must be paid to the bacteria and yeast strain choices in fermentation. Fermentations could be engineered to generate higher concentrations of favorable precursors. This optimized fermentation coupled with a pot distillation could then generate white spirits more suited to gain substantial flavor density through esterification during the aging process.

Awesome. One of my goals when I started exploring distillation was to explain all the nitty gritty operational differences of still operation which was sort of mystified so that producers could have enough clarity to start working backwards into deeper involvement with other aspects of production like fermentation and cultivation of raw materials. Still operation was just getting too much fetishization and I couldn’t find much intelligent written about it.

Attention will have to be paid to yeast of course, but don’t forget pH, fermentation temperature, the recycling of fractions, the use of dunder, and finally the quality of the molasses.

Of course esterification of trace carboxylic acids (excluding ethyl acetate) is only one component of the aging process. Oak extractives and phenolic compound reactions must be addressed with the same vigor to gain a full picture of the maturation process. The ethyl acetate formation must also be studied in the context of these observations as acetic acid extraction from the oak is likely influencing the equilibrium of the aging spirit (as a buffer solution) in an important way.

And luckily lots of papers address all these concerns. I think that acetic acid extraction from oak won’t be found like the authors think. It will come from other places like the ethanol itself or most definitely in the fermentation.

If you want to learn about any of these concept without having to run a large scale rum distillery, don’t forget to explore my distiller’s workbook. Some of the exercises like the cocoa bourbon or the marmite rye help to explain and explore acid catalyzed esterification in the still. I also did some other unpublished experiments like distilling walnut nut oil or a Sauternes that dramatically illustrate post distillation esterification and the march to equilibrium. After distillation, the nut oil distillate does not organoleptically resemble walnut, but then many months later, a dramatic change occurs and it does. Distilling the Sauternes reveals how much acetaldehyde and plain acetic acid it contains (hides!) and immediately upon distillation it smells horrific and undrinkable. Many months later the distillate mellows and comes to a new equilibrium. It does not end up delicious but it does end up different, illustrating relevant concepts.

Tap for Effervescing Liquids

Who didn’t love the mechanical milk/cocktail shaker? Or wasn’t captivated by Carbonating with an Agitating Head? I love a good archaic mechanical device.

I think I’m going to fabricate one of these:

Granted I suspect it was never made. You cannot put Champagne on tap because the pressure required to keep the gas dissolved is so high, even at fridge temp, that it would rocket the liquid through the tap creating a lot of turbulence and de-gassing it as it splattered into your glass.

But its wonderful to know what they were thinking about in 1881.


Extracted from Scientific American Supplement no. 275, April 9, 1881.

When a bottle of any liquor charged with carbonic acid under strong pressure, such as champagne, sparkling cider, seltzer water, etc., is uncorked, the contents often escape with considerable force, flow out, and are nearly all lost. Besides this, the noise made by the popping of the cork is not agreeable to most persons. To remedy these inconveniences there has been devised the simple apparatus which we represent in the accompanying cut, taken from La Nature. The device consists of a hollow, sharp-pointed tube, having one or two apertures in its upper extremity which are kept closed by a hollow piston fitting in the interior of the tube. This tube, or “tap,” as it may be called, is supported on a firm base to which is attached a draught tube, and a small lever for actuating the piston. After the tap has been thrust through the cork of the bottle of liquor the contents may be drawn in any quantity and as often as wanted by simply pressing down the lever with the finger; this operation raises the piston so that its apertures correspond with those in the sides of the top, and the liquid thus finds access to the draught tube through the interior of the piston. By removing the pressure the piston descends and thus closes the vents. By means of this apparatus, then, the contents of any bottle of effervescing liquids may be as easily drawn off as are those contained in the ordinary siphon bottles in use.

Master Index by Popularity

Someone recently was asking me how big is the Bostonapothecary blog? I didn’t really know, I’ve been at this stuff for years, so it made sense to throw together a giant index of all my writings and order them by popularity.

If you’ve enjoyed my out of the box style of spirits and cocktail writing, feel free to nominate me for Best Cocktail & Spirits writer at the 2015 Tales of the Cocktails. I (Stephen Shellenberger) can be nominated as a “person” and the email address shellenbergers [at] hotmail [dot] com can be used.

Dry Rum & Dry Gin? I like mine wet…
For Sale: Champagne Bottle Manifold ($100USD)
Ice Wine Grenadine
Deconstructing Campari
Vermouth: Its Production & Future
Hercules: a liqueur interpretation, replica or rendering
Deconstructing Sweet Vermouth
advanced limoncello basics
Deconstructing Popular Aromatic “Bitters”
Chamberyzette: An Elusive Eccentric Vermouth

Fenaroli’s Handbook of Flavor Ingredients
Instant Aging: Vacuum Reduction Yields Barrel “Bouillion” Cubes
From Free Fatty Acids to Aromatic Esters: Esterification in the Still Made Simple(r)
sweet potato fly
Reward System Theories
Advanced Kegging Basics
hand made creole shrubb
A Cheese and Vermouth Pairing
For Sale: Counter Pressure Keg-to-Champagne Bottler ($225USD)

Sweet Rebellion: a short theory of acquired tastes and an unsavory explanation of harmony
Juniper Report: A Blog-Quality Survey of Academic Gin Literature
Amer Picon replica
A Theory of Wine-food Interaction
“Muck Hole” Not “Dunder Pit”
Vermouth: An Annotated Bibliography
Gold Medal Sweet Vermouth
Fruit Brandy Distillate and Brandy Flavor Essence
Advanced Aroma Theory Basics
The Importance of Vermouth

Advanced Sugar Management Basics
Advanced Emotional Content Basics (liqueurs!)
Developing the Vermouth Formula
The Manhattan: Prior Convictions and Ulterior Motives
widely used but maybe also widely taken for granted, aroma fixatives are mysterious
Reflux de-aeration and what it can do for you.
preserved single varietal honey syrup
“basket pressed” pineapple juice
sweet potato ginger beer
Measure Carbonation with your Kitchen Scale!

Sabrage: Valuable Safety Lessons for Working with Re-purposed Champagne Bottles.
RTFM: Using Your Brand New Manifold/Carbonator
Fluid Gels Are Our Future; Fernet Bombardino
TKO in 9 rounds with Bostonapothecary
An Extinct Style Of Drink?
Maraschino Cherry 101 (literally, there is a one credit course at U. Oregon)
Putting the “extra” back in extra dry vermouth
Cocktails for 400, well more than 200 of 400…
High Pressure Liquid Transfer Bottler End All, Be All
1989 James F. Guymon Lecture: Distillation in Alambic by Robert Léauté

Advanced Soda Making Basics
Culinary Aestheticism – A Tale of Two Harmonies
Colonial Pissing Contests with the great Agricola, W.F. Whitehouse
Advanced Nut Milk Basics
High Pressure Small Bottle Filler (100 mL / 187 mL)
An Amazing Mead based Shrub Cheater
New Ways of Thinking About Carbonation
Olfactory Phantoms and Illustrations of the Dynamics of Perception
Green Apple Soda as De-aeration Color-Indicator-Test
Reconstructing Cointreau

Adventures in Aftermarket Maraschino
Elusive High Pressure Bottling
joseph konig’s orange curacao (1879)
Vermouth… Some Practical Hints
a cocktail and a note on seville orange juice
Noilly Prat
This Day In Rum History (1937)
Deconstructing Cointreau
more fun (or not) with seville orange juice
Culinary Deconstruction: defending a breakdown of the extraordinary

Distiller’s Workbook exercise 15 of 15
Which “taste” do you mean? sensory parsing versus cognitive dissonance
La Perique
Martini Time!
Some Like It Hot: Sous Vide Hot Drinks
Advanced Super Stimuli Basics
Mackinlay Scotch: The closest to invincible any whisky ever got
Working with one less tool; finding specific gravity with a kitchen scale
Contrast Enhancement (In Space and Time) For Food & Wine Interaction

Distiller’s Workbook exercise 2 of 15
The “Maraschino” Blackberry Illusion
Short Tales of Olfactory Illusions
For Sale: Small Bottle Bottler
Distiller’s Workbook exercise 1 of 15
High Pressure Batching! NYE Edition.
Advanced Sensory Convergence Basics
Advanced Culinary Communication Basics
Non-potable Pure Pot Still Purell; Wormwood Aromatized Hand Sanitizer
Philosophy of Involvement

Standardizing Botanicals: Me and My Soxhlet Extractor
Revolution in Vermouth
A round up of the most current Vermouth literature
Distiller’s Workbook exercise 14 of 15
DIY Barrel Proof Overholt
Newman’s own Creole Shrub
This Day in History: 1879
Daiquiri; An Analysis
strange olfactory phenomena: adventures in contrast detection
H.T. Davoren. 1955. The Effect of pH on Brandy Composition

Carbonating With an Agitating Head (1917)
Hacking Gin
Turning the Sky Blue and Turning on Contrast Detection in Olfaction with Language
Advanced Hogo Basics with Victorian Rum Genius No. 2
Trehalose, fixatives, “rendering”, and the limits of re-distillation
No Thanks, I’m Sweet Enough
gambling on a gallon of wine…
Planet Underwined
Getting to know the NCBE
Barrel Aging / Rhetoric / Information Design

cup cakes shots? advanced reality construction basics
The WineMine Chronicles
Spirits Library
Redistributing Consolidated Knowledge
Nature vs. Nurture vs. Cocktail: Holistic vs. Salient Creative Linkage
Why we drink: A break from language
Advanced Oversimplification Basics; The Ordinary and Extraordinary
Hypothetically Speaking
1983 James F. Guymon Lecture: California Brandy — Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow by Elie C. Skofis
After Midnight Kind of Flavors

Distiller’s Workbook exercise 8 of 15
sloe gin two ways…
Distiller’s Workbook exercise 3 of 15
The plywood whiskey barrels that inspired the Eames recliner
In chemistry for budding food scientists, Peter Atkins is your Virgil.
The Two Thresholds Of Our Two Worlds
manzanilla a.k.a. chamomile acid…
S. H. Hastie and W. D. Dick on Furfural and some other distillation gems.
Distiller’s Workbook exercise 16 of 15 Special effects!
Scotch / Pond Water / Floaties / Ammonia / Misc.

Demisting & The Spirits Safe
Fun with La Cigarrera’s Manzanilla
Distiller’s Workbook exercise 10 of 15
Back to Class with Maynard Amerine
W.R. Jamieson. 1950. Factors Affecting the Composition of French Style Brandies
P. LeH. Tummel. 1948. Acidity Modifies Brandy Composition
Distiller’s Workbook exercise 6 of 15
The Tribuno Papers
The stepping stones of analysis and a cry for help (· · · – – – · · ·)
Fun With Flavor Contrast and Exceptional Aroma

Distiller’s Workbook exercise 13 of 15
Distiller’s Workbook exercise 4 of 15
A Still Operation Phenomenon Explained
The Influence of Distillation Methods on Brandy Composition (1939)
G. Ordinneau, On the nature of the Ethers of the Brandy and on the causes that influence it’s quantity
Distiller’s Workbook exercise 5 of 15
The Alcohol Library
literacy of the olfactory sense; acting without reacting
W.O. Graham. 1939. A comparison of the composition of successive fractions obtained during distillation and their relation to the composition of commercial brandies.
Distiller’s Workbook exercise 11 of 15

Maccheroncelli Primivera with Falanghina
Hastie, circa 1925, and the new era of pot distillation
R.T. Heath. 1941. The effect of certain distillation procedures on the brandy composition.
J.R. Walters. 1947. The effect of the tartaric acid content of wine on the composition of distillates
The Future Is Not What It Used To Be: The IRS’ Plywood Barrel Aged Whiskey
Important Snippets from Joseph Merory’s Food Flavorings
The Flavour Components of Whiskey in Three Acts
raw meat infused over proof guyana rum
french top punch
Distiller’s Workbook exercise 9 of 15

Distiller’s Workbook exercise 12 of 15
Hopped Distillate Construction
Well-placed Witnesses to Beverage History with Ruth Teiser
Interesting or Pathetic Circumstances
‘Tis The Season.
harnessing frames of mind: non-linguistic techniques for detecting contrast in olfaction
Charles River Punch cocktails
Cerises au Soleil
Charles River Punch
Antiseptic Botanicals and the Human Condition

Vino Endoxa: The Categories of Affect versus Sensation
Vino Endoxa
Distiller’s Workbook exercise 7 of 15
A Case For 21 And Other Small Insights
Revisiting the 2003 eGullet Symposium
High Fidelity Gin Distilling / Perceptual puzzles / Musings
fighting the good fight with cocktail acids…
a simple drink…
fava beans and bruleed pecorino toscano with aged balsamic
An Attentional Features Primer

Maximum Rhetoric, Problem Solving and Categories
Supplementary 19th century Rum History
“bolivar soy yo!” (if you drink enough of these…)
B. Hickin. 1975. A Modified Distillery Procedure
Vino Endoxa: Freedom & Confinement
And The World Watched Jamaica…
Early Accounts of Arrack Et Al.
Two Summery Dishes And Some Wine
capturing the big easy… (or not)
alma’s whisper…

Vino Endoxa®: Three new categories and Pamela Vandyke Price
Six New Distillation Papers From The IRS
Search for the Real: Olfactory Hallucinations and Passive Learning
Chas. W. Kelly. 1938. Suitable methods of testing commercial spirit and the results obtained in testing a representative group of commercial samples.
Playing God (or Carving Venus): Food Product Design

Search for the Real: Olfactory Hallucinations and Passive Learning

I see more and more people searching for olfactory illusions and I’ve written about them quite a bit, though I don’t think any of it has trickled into mainstream contemporary culinary conversation.

A few time I’ve highlighted the spectacular paper, Olfactory Illusions: Where are they?, by Richard Stevenson, but what I should mention is that there is a small academic controversy out there over the topic. Another academic, Clare Batty, has challenged Stevenson’s language in her paper, The Illusion Confusion, and claims what we are calling illusions are really hallucinations. I eventually intent to outline the difference because the repercussions are significant to my studies of wine over at my evolving Vino Endoxa project. The topic is also wildly important to creating gins, vermouths or any other complex and composed culinary artifact.

Currently to get a better grasp on the concepts (hallucination versus illusion), I’m reading Oliver Sacks’ book, Hallucinations. In Sacks’ various tales of hallucinations, one thing that comes up frequently is that many visual hallucinations get turned off when a person is doing other tasks like performing math. The ability to generate a hallucination might be related to mental activity which is no simple thing to sum up because of our ability to multitask.

This all made me think about various sensory scientist’s claims that we learn aromas better passively than actively. I played with this idea long ago when I created aromatized hand sanitizers to better learn aromas and my results were encouraging (repeated use of the sanitizer dramatically changed the threshold of perception of the odor).

True, or real (my terms) aroma perception duels constantly with recollection which we know is very powerful. I’ve said before that perception is the meeting point of incoming sensation and outgoing recollection. Sort of the like the doors of perception, there are different perceptual states with different distributions of the real and the remembered.

What I’m getting at is a hypothesis that when we are active (at another task), olfactory perception becomes more real (based on incoming sensation). When we are not distracted by other tasks, there are resources free that lets us slip into hallucinations and thus makes it harder to learn aromas.

The active and passive terminology I’ve inherited probably makes this confusing and we should just look at the distribution of resources. If we have a tendency towards olfactory hallucinations, having more mental resources free makes them morel likely to happen.

This is all just intense speculation in a hard to study subject, but why not just throw an idea out there and see what happens? Its not intended to be a justification for me drinking on the job (because when I’m busy I can learn and remember the whiskeys the best), or is it?

Playing God (or Carving Venus): Food Product Design

When writing my article on terpene removal a search for an author I quoted led me to this interesting 1998 article, The Sweet Taste of Success, published by Food Product Design. I have bunch of masters program text books on food science for food product designers and some of the ideas from industrial food scientists range from insightful & interesting to startling & creepy. They sometimes pen justifications for using artificial ingredients they call nature equivalent and rationalize them as more friendly to ecosystems than growing natural ingredients. They are known for not liking to waste anything so they take every fatty scrap and invent snacks for children (the road to hell is paved with good intentions).

But there is also great ideas to be found and I’m only high lighting this article because when I started collecting vermouth literature so many years ago, I was looking for unique language that flavor professionals used to discuss the very complex things they were constructing. Did they have language the flavor layman didn’t have and did that help them achieve so much? Sadly, I didn’t find anything too unique and I started creating my own language using ideas from aesthetics, sensory science, cognitive linguistics, metaphor theory, and category theory.

Here goes, lets highlight some passages.

Before becoming a food scientist, I couldn’t understand why my homemade yellow cake and freshly squeezed lemonade didn’t pack the full flavor of grocery-store products. It was only after touring my first flavor-manufacturing facility did I understand why my creations paled next to commercially prepared foods.

Oh god, what an introduction. What author Lisa Kobs is getting at is how commercial food manufacturers use every trick in the book to create a supernormal stimuli.

Flavor chemists have access to thousands of flavor compounds capable of accentuating the subtle nuances of sweet goods. The literature tends to focus more on the application of flavor to savory, rather than sweet, food products. But with a basic understanding of how to properly use flavoring ingredients, the food scientist can create the right flavor system for sweet applications.

This implies fragmenting something into a series of categories and manipulating them independently until you can create a seductive experience that exploits all of our reward mechanisms.

The four most common processing methods – Bourbon, Mexican, Tahitian and Java Indonesian – vary in the length of time beans are grown before picking; duration of drying; and the drying method used, which can include sun-roasting and fire-curing.

This differentiation of vanilla beans is new to me and very interesting. She describes vanilla as the chief way to enhance sweets but personally its a flavor I’ve rebelled against, often seeming too plebian and ordinary.

An aroma profile common to all vanillas is described as sharply acidic with slightly bitter back notes and a pronounced pungency.

In this statement note that she is describing olfaction in terms of gustation which is the first layer of my aroma categorization schema. I had also never seen vanilla referred to as acidic before.

However, vanillas have characteristic flavors and aromas based on their country of origin. Bourbon-processed vanilla beans, grown mostly in Madagascar and the Comoro Islands, produce a high-vanillin-content vanilla described as rich, smooth, rummy and full-bodied. Mexican vanilla beans have a lower vanillin content and the vanilla lacks the body associated with the bourbon beans. Its flavor profile has been described as sharp, slightly pungent, woody, resinous, sweet and spicy. Tahitian vanilla is distinctively sweet, very fragrant and perfume-like, with coumarinic flavor and heliotropine notes. Java vanilla beans, from Indonesia, produce a vanilla described as deep, full-bodied, harsh, smoky and phenolic.

Awesome descriptive language and differentiation here. She uses varying categories to describe each of the beans even using two iconic object comparisons for the Tahitian beans.

Ethyl vanillin is a chemically processed flavor made from the coal-tar derivative, guaiacol. It has an intense, vanilla-like odor, and has a more powerful flavor than vanillin. It can feature a harsh “chemical” character when used at too high a level. A number of other, less well-known components delivering a vanilla flavor include: veratraldehyde, which is herbaceous and warm; heliotropine, which is sweet, spicy and floral; anisyl acetate, which is powdery and floral; and vanitrope, which has a warm, spicy medicinal sweetness.

Coal-tar, who would have thought? I’m not afraid of that kind of thing but it is surprising. Here we see a “chemical” descriptor among many other categories. Powdery is a surprising one and the paper Understanding the Underlying Dimensions in Perfumers’ Odor Perception Space as a Basis for Developing Meaningful Odor Maps helps correlate such descriptors to others that are better known.

The category of sweet, brown flavors includes those flavors having the connotations of roasted, burnt or caramelized flavor systems, according to Carol Pollock, director, sweet and beverage flavor creations, Wild Flavors, Inc., Cincinnati. They can be extracted from botanicals and supplemented with other natural and artificial flavors, or they can be created by a reaction process. Flavors within this category include brown sugar, graham cracker, malt, honey, maple, molasses, caramel, butterscotch, coffee and chocolate.

Here she uses the term category which may seem insignificant but believe me its significant.

Flavor profiles for the base notes in many sweet brown flavors are similar. St. John’s bread, an extract of the carob plant, forms the base note for many brown flavors. Brown sugar gets its distinctive flavor from a thin coating of molasses on the granulated sucrose. Butterscotch flavor is made from heating butter, sugar, fat and salt. Lipase activity from the butter, caramelization from heated sugars, and Maillard reactions from the sugar and protein generate this flavor. Many of caramel’s flavor notes can be found in butterscotch, but with a twist. Botanical extracts that make up the sweet browns include black hawthorne, fenugreek, yerba mate and lovage. Brown flavors tend to contain more backnotes and mouthfeel rather than aromatics, and many of them have actual extracts of the ingredient in them, such as coffee or chocolate.

I love the idea in here of yerba mate. Flavor formulators love to surprise and here is an example of it in action. Yerba mate is a fragment or sub category of a larger category like sweet-brown so it fits because it fills its category role but it turns heads because its different and that is relatively more extraordinary. A pattern is found and put to use with a fun variation.

Honey. Honey is considered a sweetener, but one with a characteristic flavor. A complex flavor results from the sugars, acids, tannins, and volatile and nonvolatile components within it.

This is one reason why I specify non-aromatic when I use white sugar. It eludes to variations that could provide aromas such as using honey which is more than just aroma but rather flavor.

Using honey at high levels also can be quite expensive. The solution may be a honey flavor. The flavor chemist can engineer an excellent artificial honey flavor, and a blend of honey and other sweeteners boosted with a honey flavor would provide the desired flavor characteristics at a lower cost without the accompanying texture problems. Often a mixture of real honey and honey flavor can taste more like honey than actual honey does.

Lets quote that last sentance again:

Often a mixture of real honey and honey flavor can taste more like honey than actual honey does.

Text book supernormal stimuli: where there is a response tendency we create an exaggerated response tendency. Boom! Don’t let flimsy symbolic constraints like being natural get in your way…

Maple syrup. Maple syrup, the sap of black maple and sugar maple trees, is another sweetener containing a characterizing sweet brown flavor. The sap is concentrated through an evaporative process, which thickens it and intensifies the flavor. Syrup right out of the tree is mostly sucrose. Evaporation produces some glucose and fructose upon inversion at a low pH. One group of flavoring components comes from the ligneous materials from the sap, but a second group is formed by the caramelization of sugars.

A really interesting way to sum up maple. I didn’t know it started as sucrose.

Maple flavors have been developed by the extraction of botanicals, such as fenugreek and lovage, or chemical compounds, such as cyclotene and methyl cyclopentenone. It’s important to distinguish real maple flavor from maple syrup flavor. Processed, artificially flavored maple syrups have become almost a standard of maple flavor, while a true maple flavor has a completely different character.

Really interesting ideas on how to elaborate maple. And then the ubiquitousness of the artificial version has superseded the natural version? Interesting.

Chocolate flavors typically contain actual chocolate, or extracts and distillates from the cocoa beans. Artificial chocolate is difficult to make without any real chocolate extractive components because of the complexity of the flavor, according to Gary Reineccius, professor in food science, department of food science and nutrition, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis. “It’s very difficult to make a totally natural chocolate flavor, because the chemicals comprising chocolate flavor aren’t available in natural form, and the flavorist won’t even get close to a mediocre natural chocolate flavor by putting together pure chemicals without adding chocolate products.”

Its amazing how chocolate can elude forgery. Is the word forgery appropriate?

Vanilla and vanillin are commonly added to enhance the flavor of chocolate. They also are the primary source of flavor in white chocolate, which is a blend of cocoa butter, sugar and milk. Another developer’s trick to increase the perception of chocolate flavor is to darken the food matrix. The deep brown color of a chocolate cake will send connotations of rich chocolate flavor to the consumer’s mind before it is ever tasted.

Perception is the meeting point of incoming sensation and outgoing recollection. He color primes your recollections before you even taste. #phenomenology.

Aside from the adjective “coffee-flavored,” it can be called acidic, full-bodied, mellow, mocha, soft, nutty, rich, smooth, acidic, spicy, smoky, winey, heavy, chocolate, bright and earthy.

She goes from one upper level object comparison to other lower level object comparisons, sensations, and grounded metaphors where one sense in described in terms of another. Separating sensations like acidic from grounded metaphors like heavy is not always easy. In another context without much cluing, acidic could also be a grounded metaphor.

Coffee flavors have been developed by profiling the extractives of the native beans for their flavor, and then analyzing these chemicals and their composition. Reineccius explains that a compound called furfurylmercaptan can help the developer create coffee flavor without using coffee. Since this flavor isn’t available naturally, it must be labeled as artificial. It’s impossible to make a natural coffee flavor without starting with some coffee, as there are no other naturally occurring substances that capture this flavor. “Making coffee flavors challenges the flavor chemist because different levels of oils exist in the beans themselves,” Pollock explains. “In addition, different amounts of oils can be extracted, and coffee contains many reactive ingredients. Coffee flavor is temperature-dependent; freshly brewed coffee loses its impact within a minute of brewing.”

Adding furfurylmercaptan to coffee to stretch it would fit the intention of creating a supernormal stimuli. Interestingly its not to be more seductive but to be more economical. Like chocolate, coffee might be very symbolically significant to our culture because it resists forgery. #mythologies

Caramel. Applying heat to sucrose above its melting point catalyzes the reaction of caramelization. Sugar breakdown products create a mixture of aldehydes and ketones and, most importantly, furanones. These can be characterized as caramel-like, sweet, fruity, butterscotch, nutty or burnt, and are the backbone of the caramel flavor. “The decomposition of sucrose by heat is a challenge in a plant situation because it is difficult to control the reaction,” Pollock says. “It’s much easier to simulate caramel flavors by using compounded flavors.” Maltol, ethyl maltol and cyclotene are components commonly found in caramel flavors. Caramel candy’s flavor comes from heating and concentrating sugar and milk, so simulated caramel flavorings often are enhanced by added dairy notes. Caramelization occurs in baking and cereal manufacturing, and the product base can be enhanced by adding caramel-type flavors.

Wow, the inputs seem so cheap, but because its difficult to control the reaction at the large scale formulators often go artificial.

Fresh-fruit flavor can be achieved by blending juice with aromatics recovered from the rest of the fruit. Natural and synthetic flavors can be added to juice to boost flavor and reduce expense.

Good advice, press and then distill. This is very important for liqueur manufacturing. And then synthetic flavors make it go turbonormal stimulating.

Concentration via vacuum distillation separates solid matter from the aromatic substances. These can be partially recovered and added to the concentrate, but the finished product still will be deficient in top notes. Freeze concentration uses no heat, so the finished product’s profile is closer to real fresh fruit.

I tried to turn freeze concentration into a trend yeas ago because it is so cheap and easy on the small scale but no one bit.

Citrus fruits are made into essential oils because much of the characteristic odor is found in the peel’s oil. Citrus oils have a high percentage of terpenoid hydrocarbons. These carry smaller levels of oxygenated compounds such as alcohol, aldehydes, ketones and esters. These are responsible for the characteristic odor and flavor. The terpenes contribute an odor/flavor of their own, and a citrus oil with the terpenes removed will be flatter-tasting and lack freshness. Terpenes are typically removed because they will oxidize, resulting in lower flavor quality.

This is why I found this document. Interesting sensory descriptors of terpenes.

To develop a fruit flavor, flavor chemists start with what nature starts with: amyl, butyl and ethyl esters, organic acids, aldehydes, alcohols, ketones and lactones. These build, characterize and enhance fruit flavor. Some chemicals instantly conjure the image of the fruit they are meant to depict, such as amyl butyrate with its banana-like scent. Others, such as ethyl acetate, will suggest an overall unidentifiable fruit note that will enhance and round out the flavor. Green, fresh, earthy, overripe, cooked and floral notes all can be added for complexity.

Playing God. What a great rationalization in the beginning.

Organic acids occur naturally in fruits, giving them their distinguishing flavor and bite. The same flavor will deliver differently depending on the acid used to enhance it. While citric and malic are very close to each other chemically, their profile and sharpness in the mouth vary considerably, and each individual acid will enhance fruit differently. Citric acid enhances cherry and strawberry flavors, Pollock explains, and malic works with apple and pear. Blends of malic with tartaric are great for raspberry as the tartaric has a slight metallic aftertaste that fits with the seediness of a berry. The goal is stimulating other areas on the tongue. A subliminal amount of acidity, not specifically tart, can work well to add a different dimension. Phosphoric acid at less than 100 ppm, or acetic acid used at a level at which the scent isn’t noticed, are other atypical ways of using acidity.

This is great stuff and the descriptors are spatial. One problem with spatial descriptors like sharpness is that they are hard to make scaler with any concensus on meaning. I proposed to overcome that by using hypertext controls.

Grape typically has been associated with the use of malic and tartaric acids, according to Jim Lewis, director, flavor applications, Bush Boake Allen, Montvale, NJ. Today, citric acid is often used to enhance grape flavor, and many people have become accustomed to the different flavor that results. Because of this, some will perceive an off-note to grape enhanced by tartaric or malic acids.

We have been so warped by the works of flavor formulators that the artificial has become the norm and the natural seems off. #JorisKarlHysman #AgainstNature

Another option is using a nut flavor. “True and characteristic nut flavors can be developed from synthetic ingredients that not only convey a nutty characteristic,” Pollock explains, “but can simulate the specific nut, such as a filbert, hazelnut, cashew or pecan.” Many nuts contain allergens, so a great need exists for flavors that aren’t nut-based. Using only natural flavors restricts the flavor chemist’s compound options. A nutty character can be developed, but it won’t possess the unique nuances of the individual variety that can be found in the artificial flavors. Since these natural flavors require the use of actual nut extractives, it’s not easy to develop an all-natural flavor that is allergen-free.

Giving us allergies by saving us from allergies. Here the main category nutty is broken down into sub categories which are object comparisons.

Lets requote this:

A nutty character can be developed, but it won’t possess the unique nuances of the individual variety that can be found in the artificial flavors.

This refers to using natural non nut ingredients to synthesize the character of nuts. Kobs claims only artificial ingredients can push natural non nut ingredients into believable nut territory. I personally like artistic constraint and don’t feel the need to have nut named stuff when no nuts are present. This is a semiology issue, they are forcing a symbol on a sensation.

Spices. What would pumpkin pie be without the spiciness of cinnamon, ginger and cloves? Spices are defined as natural vegetable products used for flavoring, seasoning and imparting aroma to foods. Small quantities of spices add dimension to a food product, and their connotations of naturalness appeal to the consumer. However, spices vary in strength and flavor profile; their flavor is often less evenly distributed within the food matrix; they can represent a microbiological hazard; and they lose flavor strength upon storage. Occasionally, a large spice volume can make the food matrix muddied or speckled and bitter-tasting.

Connotations of naturalness… so what something symbolizes is important. #semiology

Often, an essential oil or extracted oleoresin is preferred. Essential oils help control flavor strength and character. They are microbe- and enzyme-free, and are stable under good storage. One drawback of the essential oil is that it only represents a portion of the total available flavor in a spice. The volatile oil of ginger won’t provide any of the pungent qualities because these qualities come from non-volatile components. Oleoresins contain the volatile and nonvolatile compounds from the spices, so their flavor is more characteristic of the spice. Oleoresins are thick, viscous liquids, making them difficult to incorporate into the food matrix evenly. They also are very concentrated, so weighing errors are dramatic.

A very interesting differentiation between an essential oil (only the volatile part) and an oleoresin (volatile and involatile). This fragmentary thinking is so much more important than people think.

Spices also may be found in the form of essences, emulsions and encapsulates, and plated onto sugar. Often, a blend of forms represents the perfect solution. In a cinnamon roll application, cinnamon essential oil will provide the flavor strength, while a dusting of ground cinnamon will give a quality, homemade appearance.

Homemade appearance. We’ve jumped from sensations to what something symbolizes.

Maltol and ethyl maltol can improve overall flavor, potentiate sweetness, increase the sensation of creaminess, mask bitterness and suppress an acid bite or burn. Marketed under the name VeltolÆ by Cultor Food Science, Ardsley, NY, these ingredients have a mild flavor and sweet caramel-like odor. While both compounds must be labeled as artificial flavors, the product line also includes product enhancers that can be labeled as natural flavor.

Potentiate sweetness here might be what I call olfactory-sweetness.

Licorice extracts, derived from the roots of the licorice plant Glycyrrhiza glabra, also possess flavor-potentiating properties.

More potentiating. What I’d love to know is if its an industry term or the authors personal term.

Going beyond the obvious can lead the developer into flavor areas that might sound unlikely, but the results speak for themselves. There’s no reason why a grape flavor can’t be enhanced by a less recognizable flavor such as melon or plum, which provides roundness and depth. Fantasy flavors, or flavors with no real characterizing base flavor, can come from all sorts of unlikely blends and can be great fun to the creative flavorist.

This is really great and it elludes to the power of the grotesque to be attractive and extraordinary.

“What the developer is doing is adding interesting notes,” says Reineccius, “and even though the product is sweet, the flavors don’t necessarily have to be. Odd items can contribute interesting notes – there’s really no limit. Garlic oil works nice in butterscotch because it provides a warm feeling, and chocolate often has been enhanced with low levels of fermented soy-based flavors.” Using 300 ppm of monosodium glutamate in maple syrup will help open up taste buds, and make the flavor come alive through this very viscous product, Pollock says.

Collage creative linkage. A plane is a fragment of the architecture of space -Hans Hoffman.

When 20 new flavors come in, it’s tempting to open the bottle, take a sniff, and make a decision. But flavors shouldn’t be screened in their pure state, as many of the notes will appear unbalanced or even unpalatable. The best screening method is trying a flavor in its final application. With a cake, bake a plain batter containing the flavors and evaluate to determine how they interact with other ingredients and heat. With time lines as short as they often are, and 30 flavors staring at you from the shelf, this may be unfeasible. The next best thing is to dilute the flavors in water, comparing them for quality, character and impact. Just as a sprinkle of sugar will tone down the bitterness of a slice of cinnamon toast, sweeteners make flavors come alive. This phenomenon is apparent when screening flavors. Diluting an almond extract in plain water will produce a slightly bitter and unpleasant liquid that would appear to contribute very little to the finished product. Adding sugar will accentuate its rich and fruity notes and bring out flavor more realistically. Many of the components of sweet flavors don’t have a very pleasant flavor on their own, so it’s important to screen sweet flavors with sweetened water. It also takes a great deal of imagination to recognize the capacity within a flavor.

This parallels my idea of making a series of sketches to get familiar with flavor fragments when making products like amaros or aromatized wines.

The way sweeteners interact with flavors and deliver to the human olfactory system is quite complex and almost totally unpredictable. When flavoring based on sweetness concentration, mildly sweetened products require the use of less flavor as the flavor comes through more clearly. At very high levels, sweetness becomes intense and begins masking the overall flavor. As a result, higher flavor levels are required.

When sweetness masks the overall flavor, I’ve called this cloying. Sweetness can be a aroma enhance to a point then it is an aroma distractor. Enhancement could be defined as lowering the threshold of perception.

The best method for developing products with balanced flavor is learning to speak the language of the flavorist, and to have them involved at the conceptual get-go. Don’t be afraid to answer their questions truthfully. The flavorist isn’t trying to steal your concept. Instead, he needs this information to provide the best product possible for a given application. How many hours, dollars and pounds of ingredients have been lost because a flavor didn’t act as predicted? Granted, there’s no guarantee changes won’t occur, but at least you’ll rest easier knowing you did everything possible to prevent it.

Does the flavorist actually have a language like aesthetic sensory language? or is she talking about business language and logistics of developing a formula?

It’s important for every food scientist to learn the language of flavor, because within every flavor category, a subset of many characterizing flavor descriptors exists. A fruity strawberry can be very unripe and green, very ripe, seedy tasting, or cooked so as to resemble preserves. It’s not enough to say one is seeking a chocolate flavor, because the terms tobacco, barny, fruity, musty, milky, woody, oily, green, hay-like and floral all have been used to characterize chocolate flavor. Telling the flavorist one is looking for a vanilla that is creamy, custardy, spicy, smoky, floral, caramellic, baby-powdery or fatty will save time by reducing the number of samples that need to be submitted and screened, resulting in shortened development time. Discussion can be promoted and expectations clarified by using food-item terminology, such as fruit punch, cough syrup, vanilla wafers or even brand names like Captain CrunchÆ cereal and Juicy FruitÆ gum.

So they think the have a language…

Developers and flavorists must have this list of vocabulary words, and agree on what flavor is being perceived. If one person describes a flavor as “hay-like” and the other person describes the same flavor as “barny,” then there should be a common word agreed upon so everyone knows this particular flavor will be described as such. This is not as easy at it might appear, as each individual has his own sensory strengths and abilities to communicate their reactions.

Agreeance is what I called Endoxa in my analysis of wine descriptors.

Granted this article is from 1998 and a lot has happened since in the industry, but it seems like there is tons of room to advance. The skills and ideas of the industrial flavor formulator are relevant to the cocktail creator or the micro distiller formulating new non traditional products.

nominating the Bostonapothecary

link to nominate

First you write to get noticed
then you keep writing to notice.

This definitely not the thing I normally pursue but if you’ve got the time and you’ve been a fan of the Bostonapothecary I encourage you to nominate me for Best Cocktail & Spirits writer at the 2015 Tales of the Cocktails.

Typically I just keep working and do not worry about this stuff but I’m trying to raise my profile a bit to tackle larger projects and I’ve been told recognition might help (I need to raise $300k to start a distillery). I’ve split my time between this blog and eGullet for the last eight+ years and have generated mountains of innovative & influential content. Many of the ideas I have shared like making your own vermouth have gone on to become national trends while other ideas like the kegging of craft cocktails has gone on to become international phenomenons.

Much of what I’ve done is still ahead of its time. Contemporary culinary still isn’t exploring neurogastronomy at any significant level but its been very important here for years. People are slowly becoming hip to non linguistic thought, olfactory illusions, and contrast enhancement in space & time. This fall I will even be teaching a course at the sMFA on Aesthetics Through the Lens of Beverage Artifacts which is based on much of my writings.

Besides a fountain of avant garde thought, the Bostonapothecary is pretty much the only independent food lab (complete with plastic foundry!). Other contemporary labs like that of Booker & Dax or 69 Colbrook Row enjoy enormous support and funding that I certainly don’t get. The lab has made big contributions to the spirits industry, particularly the new distilling scene and information found here and nowhere else has become the cornerstone of many new businesses.

But the award is about cocktail & spirits writing? Yes, the Bostonapothecary has published innovative works like the New Distiller’s Workbook series, countless writings at eGullet, deep meditations on cocktails like the Daiquiri, Martini, and Manhattan. and broken the case on histories like that of Jamaican rum distiller W.F. Whitehouse that evaded many other drinks historians. These writings become whole published books for other writers, but they are just the day to day around here.

The writings are diverse and to sum it up, I don’t write about spirits & cocktails as an end like other writers, I simply write about & explore thought through spirits & cocktails. There really is no other territory so fertile.


Stephen Shellenberger is the Bostonapothecary. He can be nominated as a “person” and the email address shellenbergers [at] hotmail [dot] com can be used.