I am starting to explore the most powerful tool in a distiller’s arsenal, the birectifer, which is now for sale [$2100 USD]
One of the major things the birectifier will do is shift attention backward for the distiller, away from actual still operation, to pursue fermentation and yeast selection with more involvement. We call them distillers, but they are really fermentation chemists. I showed some logistical ideas of how that will happen in the last post.
Everything, Arroyo points out, is about congener ratios, and the birectifier fractions do an incredible job of separating different congeners into predictable locations so the ratios can easily be grasped. There must be a divine coincidence to how well things align when you have 100 ml of pure ethanol (and a minimum of 150 ml water) and spread it evenly across eight 25 ml fractions every 15 minutes. It really must be experienced to be appreciated.
The other miracle of the birectifier is fraction number five which largely modulates the quality of the product. We found easily visible proof that rum oil, which is the most valuable congener class, can be isolated by the tool. The next step is to hunt for it in ferments solely using the birectifier and never touching our big stills. This would mean that we could create small scale model ferments that vary yeasts and/or their concentration, bacteria, pH, buffers, etc, etc, to search for prized characteristics. If we can effectively analyze small models, we can work cheaper, faster and be much more progressive.
[fraction 5 in the center above with rum oil emulsion settling out]
Using the birectifier, I could explore and create the makings of a legendary rum before I ever even raised investment capital and touched a big alembic. When I rounded up my investors, I’d show them all of the fractions and then introduce them to the yeasts, bacteria, Δ acidity, and all the variables I controlled for (also competitor analysis). When we scaled upwards, chaos would certainly ensue, but it would be framed by strong windows.
The next major tool to add is the analytical balance ($1500) which can weigh 0.0001 grams and I just got one. This will help us proof incredibly effectively without resorting to a wildly expensive densitometer. The TTB even has some videos to use as a guide which we can improve upon and present better background for. This is also going to help us make the leap to gin botanical assay. Analytical balances, until recently were untouchably expensive and slower to get measurements from.
A new task an analytical balance may help us with is measuring fixation in spirits. Fixation is best understood in perfumology and compounds that get called fixatives physically reduce the volatility of the perfume increasing its longevity. They also have strange perceptual effects and reduce the sharp alcoholic perception of the carrier. The most prized congeners in rum have fixative abilities which we can possibly even measure. When we isolate these fixative congeners with the birectifier we can also explore their perceptual effects to prove their value by making small scale abstracted blends.
To measure fixative power of spirits, or individual birectifier fractions we can possibly race spirits towards evaporation. The analytical balance is so sensitive it can show 1.0000 ml of spirit evaporating second by second as the tenths of a milligram (0.0001) count down. A fuller bodied spirit evaporates more slowly.
For my first test, I compared Mezan XO, proven to contain rum oil, to Bacardi. I put approx 1.0 ml (but precisely weighed) of each spirit in a nosing glass the kept reweighing them to four decimal places. Following my hypothesis, the Mezan XO evaporated slower. In the race the first half hours was 96.38% left for bacardi to 96.80% this widened slowly:
30 minutes (in % of sample remaining)
Mezan XO 96.80
Mezan XO 93.27
Mezan XO 89.63
took a break and had two beers at the corner pub
Mezan XO 78.81
slept 7 hours
Mezan XO 47.44
This is certainly not rigorous, but it may be worth investing in rigor. We could start by doing the samples in triplicate. We could probably use watch glasses instead of nosing glasses. We could put an Auber PID on an excaliber dehydrator to standardize the temperature at something like 80F or 90F. More ideal intervals could be found to measure at because there may be a difference between alcohol being present our not. We could verify what the proof of our samples is actually the same and possibly compare only ethanol of varying proofs against each other to see how proof variations effect the numbers.
Eventually, we may be able to look at the individual samples of the birectifier and see where fixative power lies. The first samples we would water down while the last samples we would pure ethanol up. The big questions is whether the first fraction, where 90%+ of all the esters and aldehydes lie, has any distinct fixative power and whether fusel oil fraction 4 does. It is predicted that fraction 5 will have the most fixative power.
In the olden days the IRS may have developed this test as a Bulletin to help producers. This would then be passed to ultra smart distillers like Harris Eastman Sawyer of Felton & Son’s, the renowned New England rum producer, who was a referee for analytical techniques. The referees would duplicate the work then comment on the methodologies. Arroyo et al. may have never developed this technique because though they could get a four decimal place number from their scales, the process was a lot slower and they didn’t want interns using the priceless equipment.
Nowadays, we have no public support, but we do have groups of super enthusiasts with lab experience and lab access who may become protocol designers and referees.
What you may notice is that we are finding protocols and ideas for encircling really hard to measure things without the use of chromatography or spectroscopy. I sometimes describe GCMS as the kiss of death. Fine wine has known it for years. We’ve had it for more than half a century, but it did not help spirits get much better (besides Scotch) and it likely will not contribute in the future. Not enough people know how to interpret the results and turn them actionable. The birectifier and its supporting techniques are likely the most pragmatic methods out there.
A distillery lab capable of progressive development will likely have:
automation kit for birectifier (under development!)
analytical balance (and a few other scales)
automatic titrator for acidity
soxhlet extractor (botanical assay)
drying oven (toaster with PID)
sulfuric acid desiccator
multi purpose PID
variac or solid state voltage regulator for precision heating
a mountain of volumetric flasks
a mountain of nosing glasses
a mountain of watch glasses
full range of pycnometers
range of automatic pippettes
small odds and ends
We are talking roughly $12,000 and this will all be owned and used before anyone ever makes a million dollar pitch to investors.