A blog reader encouraged me to re-pursue my Distiller’s Workbook which is a collection of exercises for new distillers to perform to learn hard to reach concepts in chemistry, physics, and sensory science. I started writing it in back in 2013 and since have learned quite a bit. The Workbook has also launched a few ships and partly inspired a decent amount of the cocktail-centric distillation being found around the world (particularly London).
Exercise of 1 of 15 is the infamous Tabasco Aromatized Gin. There are lots of little concepts to learn, but the main chemical one is the salting out of acetic acid with baking soda so that it is not volatile. Salting out fatty acids and later releasing them (by making acids trade places) is a big component of high ester rum production.
To scale the original recipe down for the birectifier which, if you’re collecting fractions, traditionally gets 100 ml of absolute alcohol I used:
250 ml Gilbey’s Gin (40% ABV)
37.5 ml Tabasco
5.0 grams Baking soda
I went overboard with the baking soda from the original scaling with the idea that it would not hurt and ensure I had no acetic acid in my final product.
The question asked when re-performing this exercise is what aroma goes where when using a precision fractioning device like the birectifier? And how visible will the gin be underneath the Tabasco?
I was concerned there may be something gnarly in the most volatile first fractions so I decided to take 5 ml as a heads cut and make fraction 1 only 20 ml instead of the usual 25. I also decided that it likely wasn’t necessary to collection fraction 6-8 so I ended at fraction 5.
The first 5 ml taken as a heads cut was a surprise. Firstly, there was an objectionable fishy aroma no doubt from the Tabasco that I do not remember from back in the day. Secondly, because I was not able to evaluate it until days later and it was collected not in a volumetric flask with a stopper, but only an open top graduated cylinder, aroma had blown off to reveal a lot of zesty terpene aroma from the gin underneath. If I thought I was making a new product by re-cutting a perfectly cut gin, I was kidding my self. I was clearly breaking the gin by tossing a key part! Faithfully introducing a new ingredient like Tabasco would require co-distillation with the original botanicals where it was cut alongside everything else.
Not much from the original gin was clear in the other fractions and it may be insightful to perform birectifier distillation on the original gin to gain further insights. If we want to learn as much as possible about Tabasco itself, it may even be valuable to re-perform the lesson with a neutral spirit instead of gin. Hopefully, automation of the birectifier will make repeated trials, to learn as much as possible, a lot easier to perform.
Besides the fishiness, all positive salient aroma from the Tabasco was pushed to fraction 5. A concern was that it would be way too intense, but the scaling seems reasonable judging by experiences dissecting other spirits. If this was re-performed yet again, it may be valuable to split fraction 5 into A and B to see where the character is distributed.
The birectifier is not a normal still so we aren’t producing any kind of a true final product, but rather just learning about concepts in an nth degree scenario. We’re developing sensory skills, building intuition, and in the end we are enjoying a cocktail which will teach us about the final context many spirits get consumed in.
From each fraction I only sampled 5 ml (diluted in the usual German protocol [1-4 3X, 5-8 2X). This means I combined and diluted the remainder to about 175 ml to be slightly above 40% ABV.
My chosen cocktail was:
‘Since 1886’ (we’ve been adding Tabasco to everything…)
1.5 oz. Tabasco aromatized gin
.75 oz. triple-sec (vintage 1970’s Cointreau)
.75 oz. lime juice
dash Angostura bitters
This was no masterpiece, but wildly fun to drink and a satisfying wrap up to a few hours of experimentation. The chili aroma shines through, but it almost seems like it would be nice to have more intensity and a higher degree of contrast between another aroma. More juniper? Were we missing those zesty terpene aromas that were cut away?
Heads: At first this smelt overwhelmingly fishy then eventually a few days later that blew off to reveal a zesty freshness, no doubt from coriander. If this fraction, as small as it is (5 ml of 100 ml, so 5%) is discarded, the original gin’s identity is broken.
Fraction 1: Still a lingering fishiness and far less bright zestiness than the 5 ml heads fraction. Frontal olfactory character is inharmonious (the fishiness), but on the palate the fraction is much more approachable and botanical character can be detected.
Fraction 2: Subtle nondescript character but safe to say pretty neutral.
Fraction 3: Extremely faint oranginess, but also safe to say pretty neutral.
Fraction 4: A different heavier kind of nondescript character. Almost something like I may have expected in a fraction 6. Possible low levels of fusel oil?
Fraction 5: A burst of chili aroma. At different times it has alternated from having an olfactory-sweetness to an olfactory-piquancy and then being quite pleasant to being intense but sort of ordinary. The overall weight of the aroma is not too much like I feared. It seems inline with other fraction 5’s.
In no fraction was there a hint of acetic acid.