Birectifier Analysis Of A Single Botanical (Licorice Root)

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[Some botanicals used in gin production have been called fixatives which is a term from perfumery that does not have a lot of agreement on meaning. I explored the fixative literature many years ago, but there isn’t a lot of conclusive evidence on how it applies to gin. Some gin botanicals could perform functions we associated with fixatives and I would sum up their role in this order; firstly, some botanicals may possess radiance (another perfume concept) thus valorizing other aroma and possibly lowering their usage rate. Secondly, some aromas may perceptually function as bridges between other aromas preventing them from feeling distant and dissonant. And lastly, the essential oil of some botanicals may contribute little understood antioxidant properties that prevent a gin from degrading. All of those are pretty incredible features, but what some of these compounds may not do for a gin is reduce the physical volatility of other aroma compounds which is the classic attribute attached to fixatives. Its possible, but not likely. We likely could use the birectifier to explore all of these concepts, but I don’t have the resources at the moment.]

Determinations were slightly challenging only because my guess is that my botanical sample sucks and lacks freshness. But that is a problem anyone working with botanicals will face and why analysis important. There is plenty to learn through failure. Licorice root was probably the least familiar to me botanicals that I’ve examined and I was excited about it. It is in many famous gins.

A lot of people believe licorice root has an anise flavor, but my understanding is that is confusion with the candy which is only named because its shape resembles the root. What it does have in common with anise is the olfactory space it occupies. While many aromas blend together to form overtones, it produces an interval.

This sample came from a beautiful spice shop, but they likely sell very little licorice root. It would be great to examine something very prime and ideal. Essential oil yields are known to vary significantly across botanical samples, especially as they age, and this is why producers should scale their botanical charges, not to grams/liter of botanicals, but to essential oil yield. For gin, botanical charge scaling was first introduced by Hiram Walker in the 1930’s.

There are many methods regarding botanical assay and I have explored a few. The first is with steam distillation with a clevenger type apparatus. The problem is that no one sells an effective model. I developed a modern one adapted from a Polish design, but it had the same cost as the birectifier because the glass was elaborate. Cheap clevengers are useless junk and I have explored a few.

The second method is careful soxhlet extraction with organic solvents. It can easily give the best results, but cost can quickly stretch from $3000 to $10,000 because you’ll need an analytic balance plus other tools to manage the organic solvent. There are even automated versions of this that I have seen for a little over $25,000 which I assume are what the biggest houses use.

The birectifier becomes the third method and the final results is understood, not through a g/L number, but by quantitative tasting and comparison to role models. The most important fraction, typically no. 5, can be compared to role models through systematic dilution to the point of exhaustion. At the same time, lots of other information can be learned such is what is volatile where and what the liabilities are in terms of the most and least volatile fractions.

As gin distillers and vermouth/amaro makers start getting off the beaten path with their sourcing, botanical assay will be necessary for product consistency. The birectifier is unique of the three options because it can also perform role model and competitor analysis to gain insights for product development.

100 ml absolute alcohol 25 grams cracked licorice root. Definitely needs anti foam.

What is unique about the above photo is that this is the water vapor phase starting at the beginning of the fifth fraction. All the ethanol has been exhausted. Typically what you see is globs of essential oil and other things that influence surface tension and change the way water clings to the glass. This was perfectly clear which is not the norm. What we can keep in mind for next time is if this is just the nature of licorice root or because the sample was of sub standard quality. The nature of the birectifier offers a lot of additional clues besides the liquid output itself.

Fraction 1: Fairly neutral with no distinct terpene character

Fraction 2: Fairly neutral, but with a very faint zesty character.

Fraction 3: Growing zesti/spicy character. There is some action on the palate relative to the previous fraction, but it is not easy to describe.

Fraction 4: A distinct bland character emerges.

Fraction 5: The aroma here finally becomes distinctly licorice. It feels lighter than fraction 4 and has a type of faint olfactory-sweetness. More of it is noticed on the palate. It seems slightly camphorous and cooling. You can see how it could contribute uniqueness to a botanical blend.

Fraction 6: There is still distinct licorice character here, but it faint as there is a return to blandness.

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