Neuroscientist Richard E. Cytowic’s book on synesthesia, The Man Who Tasted Shapes, describes a synesthete with permanent haptic linkages to his flavor perception. Quinine to Cytowic’s subject, “felt like polished wood because it was so smooth.” Angostura Bitters was “an organic sphere”, “with tendrils”, “the shape feels like a living thing, see, which is why I say ‘organic’. It’s round but irregular, like a ball of dough.”
Chew on that synaesthetic description for a moment. Angostura bitters has fascinated people since its inception and though we have countless 21rst century minds from diverse backgrounds working on bitters, none have even come close to rivaling it. This case study aims to develop appreciation for Angostura bitters as well as prove the universality of birectifier analysis for product development and rapidly gaining insights.
Deconstruction by volatility helps reveal what our attention was competing for. Largely overshadowed features still contribute nuance and act upon us subliminally. Facets can also get promoted to the foreground depending on how they are mixed such as a Manhattan versus a Pegu Club. Angostura bitters may have an internal aesthetic order as carefully thought out as Chartreuse. If you want to understand creative linkage better, I recommend reading: Nature vs. Nurture vs. Cocktail: Holistic vs. Salient Creative Linkage.
Keep in mind, regarding the insights revealed by the birectifier, we are are deviating a bit from the usual case studies and examining what is largely an infusion via distillation. This will have different implications than examining a distillate via distillation. The louching terpenes in fraction 1 could actually be tied to botanicals who make their presence known in fractions 3 and 4. It would be wise to also examine the stillage, but I haven’t done so yet (I have in the past).
A framework is also emerging that the most noble distillates play the high value congener game (HVC) and this language I’m co-opting comes from the $15,000/Kilo high value terpene (HVT) game. In its own way, Angostura bitters participates and that is part of how it contributes to cocktails. The fullness of every fraction, and the pleasure I note in fraction 5, is a flavor bump of HVCs for anything it touches.
It may be instructive to take apart a modest bourbon with the birectifier, then do it again with the same modest whiskey plus angostura bitters so each fraction can be compared across the series. Then do it yet again with a noble whiskey. Note the patterns of pleasure… Angostura would fill out the fractions.
The non-volatile contributions of Angostura should probably not be overlooked. Tannins and other haptic sensations have been known to change contrast detection functioning as a flavor enhancer. Tannins are also a hallmark of a barrel aged spirit. Angostura may easily make a spirit seem grander and more mature. It is powerful at so many levels and anyone seeking to compete in the bitters game, would be wise to study it closely.
Fraction 1: It went from clear to amazingly cloudy upon dilution. There is an intense aroma that is easy to describe as grapefruit but with other sensory details that could probably only be described with shapes. I would not be surprised if there was no grapefruit peel in Angostura but the object comparison arises as an illusory percept. The shape in your mind is almost like the surface of rough grapefruit rind.
Fraction 2: Contains some of the aromas from fraction 1, but is otherwise very light and has no unique character.
Fraction 3: There is a faint brightness of orange or possibly coriander. Overall it is fairly low intensity.
Fraction 4: Bizarrely, something else like grapefruit appears here and there possibly the presence of the fusel oil wraith. Whatever is expressed here is a little sinister seeming. You can breath it in just like you do the other fractions, but you can feel it going a little further inside—wraith.
Fraction 5: The intensity is wild and very recognizably Angostura. A very sublime clove meets all spice overtone is present. I do remember smelling right out the condensor and the beginning of this fraction being different than the end. In the future it may make sense to create a 5a and a 5b. This runs with the pleasure of many fraction 5’s from role model fermented-distilled spirits. Acrid and inharmonious on the palate. As this was coming across the condenser an emulsion was forming that was a little bit different than the usual. This emulsion seemed to contain a essential oil that was more dense than water and it sort of sagged in the middle. The next day it had mostly been absorbed, but something still sagged in the middle of the spirit. This could easily either be from clove or allspice essential oil which both have densities higher than water (1.04 g/mL).
Fraction 6: The aroma turns to a very unique shade of cinnamon and there is only slightly less intensity than fraction 5. This is an unusual fraction 6 and I’ve never seen another case study that has held so much aroma at this point. I am immediately curious about Benedictine. No acridness on the palate. Trace amounts of crystal appeared in this fraction which could possibly be safrole? I’m performed Clevenger steam distillation of botanicals to measure essential oil content and ended up with crystals before.
I collected the very beginning of fraction 7, but then ran into a problem. This small amount did contain aroma, but was not as concentrated as fraction 6.
The problem was that I used no boiling chips and as the volume in the boiler as well as ethanol was depleted glycerine (density 1.26 g/mL) sank to the bottom, super heated, then created pressure. This led to a weirdly lagged cycling of bumping that adding energy to the boiler did not correct. [Scientific explanation for what happened courtesy John Jeffrey at the Bently Heritage Distillery.]
[I’ve found that bumping is more significant than you’d think across many spirits. The best bumping chips are pumice stones.]