Long ago I referenced Richard Cytowic’s book on synesthesia, The Man Who Tasted Shapes, where he 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.”
As I was moving, I found a quinine infusion that I had used back when I was prototyping amaros. The quinine was infused into Cognac and not neutral spirit, but though that may add a layer of confrusion, it seemed worth while to explore with the birectifier anyhow.
What I was curious about is what aroma goes where? How can we articulate the differences between other major bittering choices like gentian? Would any fractions specifically embody the description from Cytowic’s synaesthete? Could examining a distillate (as opposed to infusion) help us standardize partial extractions or changes in sourcing? And will these fractions help us explore Fenaroli’s hypothesized special effects?
What aroma goes where is revealed in my fraction descriptions. I feel the first three fractions represent the lacquered polish and the last fractions the deeper grain underneath. I was absolutely surprised how broadly volatile quinine’s aroma is. It was far more spread out than other botanicals which mostly appear in fraction 5. We see why it can be a botanical that anchors many products. Is gentian as noble? Could we fraction an amaro role model to more conclusively figure out if they used quinine or gentian and roughly how much? I think we could.
I have long called quinine the aroma of danger after playing with botanical aromatized hand sanitizers. There is something a little unnerving about it. We don’t necessarily categorize it as olfactory-bitter too easily, but significant amounts raise the spider-sense and become olfactory-danger right away. That unnerving sensation can be quite pleasurable. We can even blow it out with special effects.
Fractioning these infusions may prove valuable in standardizing batches. You can do cursory organoleptic analysis then cross reference that to a count of non-volatile solids which can imply effective bitterness. Non-volatile features are also regulated because quinine is dangerous at high concentrations. Keeping track of the the non-volatile fraction may help keep your product in compliance. Undistilled infusions are also harder to triangle test because gustatory-bitterness can overwhelm olfactory perception. So even if your product is only an infusion, a micro scale lab still is very useful.
Partial extraction strategies may progress to emphasize a specific part of quinine’s aroma. To me, the most volatile notes seem most valuable. Varying the ethanol content may help select for them as well as extraction time or an enhanced method such as ultrasonic infusion.
In creating a special effect, partial extraction may only get you so far and distillation may be used to create an abstracted relationship between volatile features and non-volatile features. This will also become a differential between expectation or anticipate and final experience.
Amaro producers currently don’t seem to be too comfortable with integrating distillation to their productions, but the birectifier may lend structure to experiments and make the process of sculpting a complex flavor easier. Consumers would likely enjoy being aware of a producer going to such lengths to delight them! 2x aroma, 1x bitterness. Does your amaro have special effects?
Any rigor your add to your process will help you scale up when sales materialize and will help you delegate processes to new employees as you grow. Many of the great Italian amaros were re-designed mid century by pharmaceutical flavor chemist to refine them and then help them scale to global demand.
The birectifier is a valuable tool for anyone that works with botanicals, be they a gin or amaro producer.
Fraction 1: Detectable ethyl acetate from the Cognac underneath the quinine. Thin veil of quinine character over top. On the palate, there is almost a creaminess. Fascinating.
Fraction 2: Less ethyl acetate and the same thin veil of quinine. Its hard to saw if their is more quinine character or less. You feel the danger. Creaminess is still there.
Fraction 3: The veil is there but the shape of the aroma changes, either because the fraction is different or because the ethyl acetate is gone. The weight of the quinine aroma seems to still be on the same level as fractions 1 & 2.
Fraction 4: Its hard to attribute anything here. Fusel oil is definitely present but challenging my judgement on what else is present even though there is something there. The previous fractions had a polished wood quality matching the synaesthetic description, but now a deeper grain is emerging and the expression isn’t so smooth.
Fraction 5: Quite intense and not exactly pleasant, but you know this fragment positively contributes to the whole. Alone, it kind of assaults you. The Cognac esters are underneath (Gaston Lagrange VS), but then there is a quinine wraith with a scattered grainy character. Imagine a flock of bats scattering in your face. On the palate, it is not acrid and strangely approachable.
Fraction 6: There is a quality here almost like black menthe. Something like a camphorous sensation, but black with no green. Somewhat, also in fraction 5, there is a brittle nuttiness, but like thin nut skins that were roasted. Its is not my favorite part of quinine, but adds to the spatial sense of texture.
Fraction 7: Similar character to fraction 6, but the aroma tapers off a bit.
Fraction 8: Did not collect.
For reference: Quinine Wisdom from Morris Boris Jacobs