Birectifier Analysis Of A Single Botanical (Bay Leaf)

This is part of an on going series using the birectifier to look at botanicals. The aim here is to perform quick and informative studies of single botanicals to understand where their aroma lies by volatility, what their relationship may be to other botanicals (singular or over lapping character) and how they can fit into a botanical formula.

Bay leaves in a 500 ml boiling flask for analysis.

I am starting to believe that the largest value proposition for the birectifier may actually lay with aromatized spirits like gin. Any distiller aiming for mastery would be served well by setting up this kind of organoleptic experience. It would even be valuable to further delegate this to apprentices and interns to get them thinking about volatility, congruency, and aroma overlap.

I have developed other methods for standardizing the essential oil yields of botanicals, borrowing from early Seagrams/Hiram Walker methods, but the birectifier and quantitative tasting methods (systematic dilution and simple tasting panels) may be just as valuable and easier to execute (no organic solvents, no other specialty glassware and heating apparatus). Scaling botanicals to essential oil yields will both aid consistency as well as open doors to create freedom. Less consistent locally grown botanicals can be rapidly integrated to production while minimizing risk.

From all the trials, ideas are starting to emerge about how much of this or how much of that should go into a botanical formula. The first thing to think about is the essential oil yield in fraction 5, followed by volatile top note character. Special character in odd locations is third because it is rare (bay had some!). In many cases those top notes are redundant because they are composed of the same fairly ordinary molecules and to some degree they will get cut away. They also often louche, jeopardizing spirit clarity. A botanical that is all top notes may actually be low quality and not worth using. Reducing top note overlap may also lead to contrast enhancement which is a form of feature extraction that can be a powerful effect.

Fraction 1 terpenes settling downward.

To elaborate our fraction 5 and influence timbre, we may think of using half the quantity of something and filling in the other half (roughly by essential oil yield) with something else that either produces an extraordinary overtone or introduces an interval. As we learned in the last botanical exploration, caraway may produce an overtone with cumin. Bay leaf may be said to add an interval. A reason to trade a percentage of caraway for cumin may be because cumin has less top notes than caraway and that portion of the blend was already getting out of hand (coriander has a ton). It also may render the result more extraordinary.

Fraction 5 emulsion which typically settles upwards.

Bay leaf may produces an interval when paired with many other aromas, but how many intervals do we need to create a pleasurable sense of space. Anise may be an additional interval, but what about cayenne or black pepper? Is their penetrating nature too similar to that of bay? One or the other? We can explore these questions and any answers will help justify a product in a highly saturated market.

We’ve been talking about the auxilary botanicals likely used in a gin, but we can use the same techniques to evaluate the ratios of juniper, coriander, and auxiliary botanicals. We can even compare our choices to role models. We should be able to articulate the relationships of every botanical and understand its place in the gin canon.

Dried bay leaves were coarsely chopped and 10 grams were added to 100 ml of absolute alcohol. Typically I use 25 grams the first time I run a botanical but 10 made sense and I suspect bay has a relatively high essential oil yield. I would push it to at least 15 grams next time.

Long ago I redistilled a bay rum aftershave to convert it to a hand sanitizer. I would love to revisit that concept and create an equatorial bay rum gin blended with grand arôme rum.

Fraction 1: The first fraction already shows signs of insoluble terpenes louching after only a few hours. There is a generic zestiness seen in other botanicals, but it is not overwhelmingly concentrated, likely due to the scaling used.

Fraction 2: A different very welcome character. This may actually be recognizable as bay even though its way up in fraction 2. I’m almost experiencing something faint like a sliver of black tea.

Fraction 3: More of that black tea character in a fraction that is typically very neutral. I’m wishing I scaled higher so I could experience more of this.

Fraction 4: Pepperiness is emerging, but somehow there is a hollowness. I tasted the undiluted high proof version and there was a ton of character. Almost a green ness and a trigeminal sensation that is nearly a direct replacement for biting into a dried leaf! There are almost sensations that parallel camphorous.**

Fraction 5: There is a lot of peppery persistent bay character. There is a subtle louche but no substantial oil droplets. The pepperiness has an acrid quality that no doubt contributes an aromatic interval to any blend.**

Fraction 6: Very faint. Unlike caraway, the bay aroma really drops off. Not much to see here.

2 thoughts on “Birectifier Analysis Of A Single Botanical (Bay Leaf)

  1. I would be very interested to see how grape skins as a “botanical” would turn out. Cognac and Armagnac are both fermented and distilled off the skins and the literature I can find all argues for this method – grape skins supposedly produce bad flavors. However, literature on apple and pear brandies points to the other direction, with distillates made with the skins of the fruit generally having a better flavor. What then makes grape skins different?

  2. Great to hear from you Alex. Skins are definitely interesting, but I suspect they have lots of bound aroma that needs to be enzymatically transformed rather than the readily apparent aroma of botanicals. In some grains like rye, the aroma is often apparent while in other grains like corn, the aroma is more likely bound and needs unlocked. Some skins also have the problem of being tied to pectin which increases methanol.

    There is a German 1936 paper on rum which hypothesized glycoside bound aroma and mentioned peach and apple leaves. This aroma can be unlocked by fermentation before it is distilled. Stuff like that we really haven’t scratched the surface of.

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