Specific Gravity and You

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After my last “high flying” post on why American whiskey is so problematic, I thought I’d bring things back to earth and teach some foundational concepts. This lesson was part of my consultancy, but my time is a little pressed so I’m not exactly out marketing it anymore. What is specific gravity and how far can we stretch measuring techniques to harness it?

I’ve long preached to distilleries that they should make a bunch of very small scale secondary products. Most all these business school types turned distillers think it is a terrible idea. It will dilute their core product, not strengthen it like I propose. It will confuse their sales efforts. It will confuse their investors. What no one seems to admit is that they have near no clue what the hell they are doing on a technical level and they need to practice on stuff. They also need to enrich their retail businesses plus benefit from new products having PR synergies with their core products (this last point is more powerful than anyone realizes). Many operations also need new retail scale products to help them retain top talent. I do not work in a distillery because no one has figured out how to properly pay me.

Before we get into it, a whole category of products simply does not exist (in practice) because firstly there are no dreams and secondly most new distillers have not figured out how to accurately vat complex multi component blends. I’ve seen distillers so frustrated by proofing that they bought bench top Anton Paar densitometers for startling money while their labs had near no other analysis equipment. Most new liqueurs are nothing but mono, no doubt both because of a lack of dreams and technique. Our understanding of vatting has not advanced an inch despite 10,000 bitters producers working in the territory. Whats up with that?

Specific gravity is the density of a substance compared to another which in most all cases is luckily just water. It doesn’t have to be water, but another reference might only be used in petro chemical industries and may be a yesteryear concept now that analysis procedures are different.

Specific gravity is basically density which is mass/volume. g/L

If you know the density, the mass can tell you the volume and vice versa. Distilleries typically use this with quite large scales weighing entire barrels to gauge them. This also becomes conversely very useful on the small scale or anywhere in between when the containers become tricky. There are techniques to measure the density of mere drops of essential oils.

A hydrometer is the distiller’s go to specific gravity tool, but it is often the least appropriate option. Cheap, fast and good, pick two. Hydrometers are cheap and you can own a ton for a fraction of the price of great scales. You can stick one in a fermenter and get a quick reading without making a mess of glassware. You can stick a hydrometer in a still parrot and get inline continuous measurements that can become actionable such as starting or stopping a run. Hydrometers typically, however, will never give a lot of significant digits.

Refractometers are a tool we should quickly get out of the way. They convert refractive index measures to either density or related measures. They are not exactly cheap, but they are fast and can work in challenging circumstances. They can also take a single drop and give you actionable advice such as when to harvest a crop. They do not provide many significant digits. I have low and high brix scale refractometers, but I use them far less than I used to. You cannot use them on alcoholic solutions.

The fine coffee scene has been loving digital refractometers lately, but it may not be their best option. Or actually it may, because of how companies like VST have made the advice so actionable (they even have an app!) Refractometers for coffee require filtration because particles obscure and haze the reading. Coffee is typically sucked through a syringe filter before it is put on the refractometer. Another method very useful to the distiller may actually serve the coffee scene well but so far it is not widely explored and we’ll get to that (I actually have a rare 1970’s text called The Coffee Hydrometer that I’ve been meaning to digitize).

The most accurate tool a distiller can use probably isn’t legal with the gaugers and that is why it is not practiced for tax work like proofing. The revenuers have long endorsed certified hydrometers and certified thermometers, but they are not exactly the most accurate.

The most accurate way to measure density may be with the specific gravity bottle (pycnometer) and a very good scale (and thermometer!) which is what many spirits researchers used in the old school. The bottles come in various sizes and are designed to hold very precise round number measurements (at 20°C). The bottle is filled to its neck and a special stopper forces excess liquid up a tube so at the top of a narrow aperture it hits 1.000 liters or some such number with confidence. Cheaper brands I’ve bought were never accurate (or my temp was wack?), but you can still calibrate them yourself though next time I’m going to spend money for quality. When your volume measure has significant digits your density measure is only limited by the quality of your scale. My favorite scale vendor is Old Will Knott. I’m glossing over temperature, but modern sous-vide immersion circulators make it much easier to control for. If you need all the significant digits, a liquid can be held at constant temp before it is put in the pycnometer and weighed.

I have done a ton with scales. Remember, I developed the idea that you can weigh carbonation for sparkling beverage production with a kitchen scale.

We can walk all those pycnometer concepts down into practicality. An outstanding distillery tool is the 5 mL automatic pipettor (5000µl). They are about $70 and can be paired with a $100 jewelers scale to get many significant digits. Their repeatability is excellent and can be tested. A portion of liquid can be put on a scale and the pipette tip primed then liquid zeroed (youtube is full of technique). A 5 mL amount can be removed twice to prove repeatability and get the measurement into base ten (10 mL) so density is easy to calculate.

Density should be recorded constantly in competitor analysis scenarios. Basically everything that comes through the shop. With the printed alcohol content, sugar content of liqueurs can be extrapolated or the slighter measure of obscuration investigated. This is important for vintage spirits where you want to get an idea of either sugar content or obscuration, but you don’t want to destroy a large sample. With a density measure and then a 5 mL sacrifice to dehydration lots of vintage spirits can be investigated for alcohol content in their current state and obscuration in their pre-ullage original state (Weigh the bottle before you open, weigh it again after you drink and empty it. Coupled with the specific gravity, you’ll know its volume in its present state and not mess with your good drinking. Never put that stuff in a graduated cylinder). So much vintage booze is being consumed where we would all benefit from rudimentary 5 mL sacrifice analysis projects.

The pipettor process will likely work for coffee quite well with no filtration. The 5mL pipettor can also be used to fill tasting room glasses for nosing and gratis scale samples. The pipettor with its digital scale can also be used to rapidly assemble different generation of vatted products in 100 mL or less batches. Precision at 100 mL means you can quickly assemble ten prospective generations of a recipe for assessment progressing a single variable at a time. You are left with no reason to not see ideas fully elaborated. I also create sketches, but more on that some other time.

The most profitable idea I’ll share is the rule of 1.587 which is the density of sucrose (or 1.59 if you don’t need that many significant digits). The density of sucrose can reveal how much volume a mass of it takes up and thus reveal other measures we need to hit certain targets.

If we are making an Amaro that we know we want to have 280 g/L of sugar and 24% alcohol, what do the parts look like? What volume will the sugar take up? 280 / 1.587 = 176.43 mL. So the sugar free rest of it has a volume of 823.57 mL. Now how much alcohol does that start with if it is going to be diluted by sugar to 24.00% on the revenuers nose.
(823.57 * X) + (176.43 * 0) = 1000 * 24.00.
(823.57 * X) = 24,000
X = 29.14

That 823.57 mL is going to be a vatted collection of individual concentrated components. As they take shape, they can be shifted, subdivided, even combined. Certain components may bring a sugar content that needs to be deducted from the 280 such as a fruit juice. Pretty soon you’ll have a spread sheet.

Some components may exist in such small quantities that a hydrometer just isn’t going to work, but you still should know the specific gravity of everything so the SG bottle or pipettor must be used.

Now you have to scale it up. Sometimes this is to roughly five gallons (tasting room) and maybe to 500 or so gallons (wholesale). You should have a plan for the order of operations in which you combine components that harnesses all your available scales to quickly get you to a target with confidence. Proprietary narrow range hydrometers could be used to quickly check your work (and check off sheets made in case the phone rings and you walk away, but SG knows all). Eventually a final check has to be made and a plan for correction. The final point of concern is percent alcohol to satisfy the revenuer so either water has to be added or concentrated ethanol. The added sugar should be very easy to hit accurately so the error is most likely with the alcoholic quotients. Any addition to average up or down the alcohol content will have to preserve the sugar content so sugar might need to be added to your bump.

These operations should be practiced at different scales and employees should be given sample puzzles to solve before they risk expensive ingredients. This is basically the premise of my distillers workbook exercises.

Elaborating a vatting procedure can keep you safely away from all in the pot cooking and push you firmly into the progressive process. Fragmentation of the product is literacy in the product. Ideas can move towards deeper involvement.

The amaro challenge can push beyond mere assembly for a distiller and into wielding special effects to create sensory differentials and tone refinement to push expressions from ordinary to extraordinary. Every distillery should have an Amaro and it should be a measure of their relationship with beauty and capacity for abstraction.

None of this is too complicated, but none was spelled out in educational books for distillers. Modern texts only teach the maintenance and continuation of large scale products, not the origination of small scale products. I have used this all to develop two notable products on the market that have done more than $300k per year in wholesale revenue. One is more than ten components while the other is merely three, but extrapolated all the way from a single cocktail to a nearly 250 gallon batch. I’ve developed countless others that exist only as one-offs or as proof of concepts in the event extraordinary source materials become available.

Good luck!

As far as data tables goes, for the specific gravity of sugar solutions, the data table I’ve used the most is C440. For ethanol solutions, it comes from a text because most do not have the full range at the lower ethanol contents which becomes important to certain types of work. Your vatted projects may never require charts, but you will definitely need them for competitor and role model analysis when you want to become hip to the common structures liqueurs and amaros take. If you use a great resource, please share it up.

Maraschino (1915) BY J. G. RILEY AND A. L. SULLIVAN

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[This is pretty much the definitive paper on Maraschino. I found it when encountering a description of Maraschino I did not agree with that implied that the cherries were never fermented but rather infused into neutral spirits. As described here, the cherries are fermented but the fermentation is arrested and stabilized with additional alcohol before distillation. This does dilute the aroma and is not the same as my Distiller’s Workbook recipe that produces a maraschino liqueur from sugared kirschwasser blended with a sugared clear amaretto distillate. Something else unique to this paper is that the benzaldehyde aroma is not as significant to genuine Dalmatian maraschino as I thought, but other cultures did interpret things differently. Riley does invoke Joseph Konig who I’ve covered before and I feel like I’ve seen Riley’s name in other bibliographies. (This FDA document might interest Camper English). And if anyone really wants, from that chart I can extrapolate from the SG & %alc the sugar contents.

One of the other very interesting ideas here is that the leaves are very important to the flavor which is something I hadn’t read before. Joseph Merory has mentioned that aroma can be extracted from cherry bark, but he did not mention the leaves.

There is another great secret at the end of the article, and most of you will breeze by it, and I’m not going to tell you about it until I have time to play with it.]

BY J. G. RILEY AND A. L. SULLIVAN. (Bureau of Chemistry
Food and Drug Inspection Laboratory, Boston, Mass.)

The world-famed cordial, maraschino, was first manufactured commercially early in the eighteenth century in Zara, Dalmatia, from the marasca cherry, a small variety of the European wild cherry native to the Dalmatian mountains. The manufacture of this cordial has continued to the present day and large quantities of maraschino are still shipped from Dalmatia. The superior excellence of maraschino led to the manufacture of similar cordials in the countries of Italy, France, Holland, and America.

The purpose of this paper is to set forth analyses of ten samples of genuine maraschino, representing the products of six manufacturers, obtained through the courtesy of the American Consul at Trieste, Austria, and Mr. Nicolo Luxardo. Analyses of commercial samples of maraschino manufactured in Holland, France, and the United States are also tabulated.


In Dalmatia during the month of June, marasca cherries are gathered and shipped to Zara. For the manufacture of the best grade maraschino the cherries are pitted, crushed, and allowed to ferment for 4 or 5 days with a small quantity of leaves from the marasca cherry tree; from 10 to 15 per cent pure alcohol is then added to arrest fermentation and to prevent the development of wild yeasts and bacteria. One of the objects of adding alcohol to the fermented cherries is to enable the manufacturer to distill the product at his leisure throughout the year. If the fermented cherries are allowed to stand any length of time there is danger of serious deterioration in the flavor and aroma of the product, especially when alcohol has not been added. The fermented cherries do not yield sufficient alcohol for proper preservation of the mass.

Simple pot stills are used exclusively in the distillation of maraschino spirit and these in most cases are heated by direct fire, although at the present time the use of stills heated by steam coils is being introduced. The type of the still, however, remains practically the same as the original pot still. The first and last portions of the distillate are rejected for the best grades of maraschino, and a portion of a distillate coming over at about 140 proof collected. The strong alcoholic distillate is stored either in glass-lined barrels or cisterns, or in barrels which have been treated so that the spirit will not extract any color from them. The aim of the manufacturer is to age the distillate when possible for from two to three years. The maraschino cordial as found on the market is made by diluting a certain amount of the strong maraschino spirit with sirup. There is some question as to whether any flavoring materials other than the cherries and leaves are used. The best manufacturers claim to use no artificial flavor. Lower grades of maraschino liqueur are produced from cherries which are more or less unsound and in some cases the pits are not removed so that the distillate may show appreciable traces of hydrocyanic acid. It is claimed by the manufacturers of the genuine Dalmatian maraschino that the best product is made from the wild marasca cherry. If the cherry is transplanted to other localities and countries and cultivated it will not yield upon distillation a product having the flavor of the original fruit.

In France so-called maraschino is made by various methods, which may briefly be classified under three heads:
(1) The cherries are crushed and allowed to undergo alcoholic fermentation in the presence of a certain amount of the cherry leaves. After the fermentation the product is distilled and either a very strong spirit known as marasca spirit containing 40 to 50 per cent alcohol collected, or the fermented cherries are distilled in such a manner that a dilute spirit, 8 to 15 per cent alcohol strength, is obtained. This is called eau de marasque or marasca water.
(2) A mixture of black cherries, raspberries, or other fruit and cherry leaves, with a small amount of peach kernels and iris is fermented and distilled and a strong distillate obtained which is used for the manufacture of the cordial.
(3) Essences of peach kernels, orange flowers, jasmine, and vanilla are mixed with pure alcohol and an artificial spirit obtained which is later made into a cordial.

The method described under (1) is generally similar to that followed in Dalmatia. It is claimed that the cherries used are of the same variety as the original marasca cherries and that these cherries grow in Italy, Greece, and France as well as in Dalmatia. From information obtained from various sources it appears that it is well recognized in France that the marasca spirit or marasca water obtained from the native wild cherry is distinctly inferior in flavoring strength and quality to that produced in Dalmatia. Information from similar sources makes it evident that genuine marasca distillate from Dalmatia is often claimed to be used by French manufacturers.

In Holland so-called maraschino has been manufactured for many years; the following statements were made by a Dutch manufacturer:

“In the trade, the term ‘Maraschino’ means a liqueur produced by the distillation of the kernel of stone fruit, generically the Prunus acidus; it may be simply the cherry, or the May Cherry, the black cherry, Morello, or Marasque. It is said that this general variety of cherry originated in the eastern and southern countries of Europe where the Marasque kind has predominated.
“It is believed that in the beginning, over a century ago, the Marasque was the sole or chief variety of cherry from which Maraschino was made. But in course of time, it is related, to suit the public taste, this liqueur was distilled by producers all over Europe, from other varieties of the cherry as well as the Marasque—sometimes blending Marasque and other kinds, sometimes using no Marasque whatever. Sometimes, also, other substances were added, as flavoring, to please the consumer. All this time the liqueur was called Maraschino, and thus this became a generic term, without specific reference to the Marasque or Marasca cherry.
“At the present time, as appears from the best information obtainable, no maker of Maraschino in this country uses cherries brought from Dalmatia, but the makers do use local or other varieties as near like them as possible. For instance, the X firm inform me that they use cherries grown in this country from real Marasca sprouts which they import and plant here.
“The member of the firm of X says that the flavor of his Maraschino is reenforced by other substances * * * these substances are a trade secret which he could not divulge.”

The following table gives the analysis of ten samples of genuine Dalmatian maraschino, nine samples of the French product, four samples of the Dutch product, and three of the American; also a composite analysis of Kirschwasser taken from König, volume 1, page 1514.

Description of Samples Analyzed.

2216-K to 2221-K. Characteristic flavor and aroma of true maraschino. Slight suggestion of Kirsch.
2222-K. Weak flavored, no maraschino flavor; very little, if any, cherry distillate; test for hydrocyanic acid not regarded as conclusive.
2223-K. Cherry kernel flavor; benzaldehyde odor noticeable on diluted sample.
2227-K and S. F. 3249. Flavor very weak, possibly derived from wild cherries.
NY. 38512. Nearly all spirit, with a slight flavor of maraschino.
NY. 38513. Spirits flavored (rose and syringa suspected); consular report shows that in district where sample was made alcohol and artificial flavors are used with either Zara marasca water, or same from Grasse district, France.
NY. 38752. Weak flavored, may contain a small amount of maraschino.
NY. 39752. Does not have flavor of maraschino; may contain a cherry distillate; benzaldehyde suspected by odor and taste; manufacturer admitted later that sample was not prepared from marasca cherries.
2224-K and NY. 26099. Perfumed odor rose present.
2225-K and NY. 26047. Artificial flavor present; no maraschino flavor; see description of Dutch maraschino.
2226-K. No maraschino flavor; benzaldehyde suspected by odor and taste; made from cherries, pits, alcohol, etc.
3550-H. No flavor of maraschino.
1687-K. Has maraschino flavor; use of imported marasca distillate suspected.

The analysis of genuine Dalmatian maraschino shows it to be an alcoholic cordial containing from 30 to 44 per cent of alcohol, and 26 to 36 percent of solids (sugar). The analysis of the distillates show a comparatively small amount of congenerics. Judging from these analyses it is evident that either the maraschino spirit is very highly rectified or it contains added neutral spirit. This conclusion is strengthened by comparing the analyses of maraschino with Kirschwasser, which is a true cherry distillate. In the case of Kirschwasser the total congenerics average about 200, whereas in the case of maraschino they average 80. It is a well-known fact that pure alcohol is used in the manufacture of maraschino and the low amount of congenerics is explained by this fact. Under the circumstances there is no evidence of the use of rectifying columns in the process of distillation. The analyses show further that maraschino contains very small amounts of benzaldehyde, from traces up to five parts per hundred thousand per 100 proof. Hydrocyanic acid was found present in very small amounts in some of the genuine samples. There is nothing particularly characteristic about the chemical analysis of maraschino which would enable one to judge from the analysis alone whether a given sample is pure.

The most striking feature about the Dalmatian maraschino is the flavor, which can not be measured by a chemical analysis. The peculiar fragrance and delicacy of flavor of genuine maraschino is distinctly different from that of the French, Dutch, and other products. The analyst must draw his conclusions largely from the aroma and taste of the product. The presence of traces of benzaldehyde and hydrocyanic acid indicates a cherry distillate.

Samples marked A, B and C under Dalmatian maraschino are interesting. They were made by the same concern. A is the cheapest product and C is the highest priced. The amount of congenerics in A is 30.3 and in C, 110.8. It is apparent from the analysis that C contains a greater proportion of true marasca distillate than A. Sample 2220-K and Sample B immediately under that number were made by the same concern. The first sample was obtained in 1911 and the second sample in 1912. Sample 2220-K apparently has more of the true marasca distillate than the latter sample.

Examination of French maraschino shows chemical results quite similar to those obtained on the Dalmatian product. Two of the samples, however, contained much larger amounts of benzaldehyde. None of the samples had the characteristic strength and delicacy of flavor of the genuine maraschino. While it is probable that several of them were made from cherry distillates they do not have the strength and delicate flavor of the Dalmatian product. If a distillate made from French cherries was used it is very evident that this product does not have the quality of the Dalmatian product. Another striking feature about the French samples as a whole is that they are weak flavored, which is probably due to the use of a large percentage of neutral alcohol.

Four samples of Dutch products were examined, representing two different manufacturers. They contain appreciable amounts of benzaldehyde, 16 to 18 parts per 100,000 proof. The flavor is entirely different from that of the Dalmatian product. The presence of benzaldehyde and hydrocyanic acid indicate that the products may have been prepared from cherries. The somewhat excessive amount of benzaldehyde may be accounted for by the use of almond kernels, cherry stones, or some other product yielding benzaldehyde. It is possible that the cherrystones were crushed in the manufacture of the cordials. The four samples undoubtedly were prepared from a fermented product.

The three samples of American manufacture were apparently prepared from cherries and two of them contain appreciable amounts of benzaldehyde, considerably more than is found in the Dalmatian product. Sample 1687-K seems to have the genuine flavor of maraschino, although no particularly strong.


Dalmatian maraschino as prepared from the marasca cherry has a delicate fragrance and aroma and a distinctive flavor which is different from products prepared from other varieties of cherries and fruits. Such maraschino may contain traces of benzaldehyde and hydrocyanic acid. The amount of congenerics, that is, the sum of acids, ether, aldehydes, furfural and fusel oil is low, indicating the use of alcohol in the manufacture of the product.

Dalmatian maraschino is not made solely from straight cherry distillate, but contains added spirit. The French, Dutch, and American products generally have an entirely different flavor from the Dalmatian product. In some cases artificial flavoring substances are present. In cases where the flavor has a resemblance to the genuine Dalmatian product the cordial is very weak flavored, that is, does not contain an appreciable amount of genuine maraschino distillate used in its manufacture.

The methods of analysis used were similar to the official methods for the analysis of distilled spirits. Owing to the high sugar content of maraschino it was necessary to dilute the same with water before distilling; 400 cc. was diluted with 200 cc. of water and 500 cc. of distillate was collected. This spirit was analyzed for acids, esters, etc. Benzaldehyde was determined by the Dennis and Dunbar method. Hydrocyanic acid was tested for by the guaiac copper and the sulphocyanate test, as described in Autenrieth.

Genuine maraschino when diluted with water and saturated with sodium bisulphite and extracted with ether imparts its original odor to the ether. If the ether is carefully evaporated at a low heat the aroma of the original product can be detected. This test is useful where the benzaldehyde flavor is strong, as the sodium bisulphite fixes the benzaldehyde and allows the removal of other flavors by the means of ether.

[Let’s finish with a reference to a 19th century text:
Maraschino is also made from the cherry, much in the same manner as kirschwasser. The kind of cherry preferred for this purpose is a small acid fruit, called marasca, which abounds in the north of Italy, at Trieste, and in Dalmatia. That of Zara, in Dalmatia, is considered the best. All the fruit employed in making the Dalmatian maraschino is cultivated within 20 miles of this city, at the foot of the mountain Clyssa, between Spalatro and Almissa, on the side of a hill planted with vines. The chief difference between the preparation of this liqueur and kirschwasser consists in mixing the mass of bruised cherries with honey; and honey or fine sugar is added to the spirit after it is distilled. The genuine maraschino is as difficult to be met with as genuine Tokay; the greater part of that which is sold as such, being nothing more than kirschwasser mixed with water and honey, or water and sugar. The marasca cherry has been cultivated in France with a view to the manufacture of this liqueur in that country; and it has been said that it may be made just as good from the common wild black cherry. It is also said, that, in Dalmatia, the leaves of the tree are made use of in order to give the peculiar aroma which is so much esteemed in the maraschino; and that this perfume may be increased to any extent desired, by mixing the leaves of Cerasus Mahaleb, the perfumed cherry, with the fruit of the marasca, or even the common gean, before distillation.]

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2014 Retrospective

Years ago I did a Bostonapothecary retrospective that a lot of people enjoyed because the blog is so large and poorly organized. This year I thought I’d attempt something similar. As I started to look back I didn’t feel that productive, especially as I watched my peers release new books, but then I looked through the posts and wow did I accomplish a lot.

The year started with the release of the Distiller’s Workbook which is the summation of massive amounts of reading and the start of a new school of cocktail-centric distillation that is gaining traction in England particularly with the amazing bar, Peg + Patriot. The book captured the interest of one publisher but was ultimately rejected for containing too much science. I’m currently re-working an introduction to the exercises.

Distiller’s Workbook exercise 1 of 15 Tabasco Aromatized Gin
Distiller’s Workbook exercise 2 of 15 De-constructing and Re-constructing Chartreuse
Distiller’s Workbook exercise 3 of 15 Mass Market Maraschino Mayhem
Distiller’s Workbook exercise 4 of 15 Joseph König’s 19th Century Curaçao
Distiller’s Workbook exercise 5 of 15 Hershey’s Chocolate Bourbon
Distiller’s Workbook exercise 6 of 15 Truly Stimulating Absinthe
Distiller’s Workbook exercise 7 of 15 Non-potable Pure Pot Still Purell; Wormwood Aromatized Hand Sanitizer
Distiller’s Workbook exercise 8 of 15 Chipotle Tequila
Distiller’s Workbook exercise 9 of 15 Double grain bill white dog
Distiller’s Workbook exercise 10 of 15 Rooibos & Rye a.k.a. African Rye Whiskey
Distiller’s Workbook exercise 11 of 15 Pisco Faux Mosto Verde #Fail
Distiller’s Workbook exercise 12 of 15 Marmite Aromatized Rye
Distiller’s Workbook exercise 13 of 15 Malta Goya Aromatized Gin (faux Genever)
Distiller’s Workbook exercise 14 of 15 Fernet Aromatized Maraschino Cherries
Distiller’s Workbook exercise 15 of 15 Hopped Gin

Then I covered Nature v.s Nurture vs. Cocktail: Holistic vs. Salient Creative Linkage and possibly came up with a solution to a conundrum posed by an article in the journal Nature. After spending time with a theory of acquired tastes this might be the coolest concept I’ve ever come up with.

Then I read a few massive contemporary texts on distillation and found a clear explanation of a phenonemon erroneously explained by Germain-Robin in his latest text on brandy making. This was one of the last major what-ifs of distillation I was trying to hunt down.

Through the same texts I covered the demisting concept which is very important to new distillers particularly those distilling multiple different products on the same still. The inquiries here are helping me to tighten up my comparative explanations of various cut making techniques.

Early in the year I was contacted by the executor of the estate of the most famous American vermouth company and he sent me some company documents that I shared up. Despite so many seminars and articles, many spirits professionals are still telling a pretty shoddy history of vermouth.

Later on I read countless historical interviews from figures in the California wine & distilling industry and even found an important lost paper in an appendix. These accounts are of staggering value and I’ve barely scratched the surface of what they can tell us.

The Tribuno Papers inspired me to take another look at the most current vermouth literature and I found a ton of stuff everyone else in the popular culinary scene had been missing. The torch was clearly passed from the University of California to researchers in India of all places.

My newest counter pressure bottler debuted in June and it has been a quantum leap in what is possible for applying carbonation to bar programs (and to bottling beer!). I had to develop some new molding & casting techniques to fabricate it that have been turning heads in the maker community.

For those interested in history I stumbled upon the collected writings of the agricultural experiment station in Jamaica in the early 20th century and found the best explanations of the Jamaican rum making process that contradict some of the finer points of popular explanations. I thought these ideas might really excite certain people but they haven’t really trickled down yet. The same did happen when I found chemical analysis from the IRS of pre-Castro Cuban rums with brand names that contradicted some explanations floating around.

My library skills keep getting more formidable and I finally found the lost IRS internal document detailing the aging of whiskey in plywood barrels. It was in the Forest Products Research Laboratory library! I thought this would turn some heads with whiskey fanaticism at its peak and a shortage of oak barrels but no one seemed to notice.

In the late summer I started exploring the standardization of gin botanicals for a product I’m trying to help a local distillery develop. I thought I’d promote my typical open culture of sharing ideas (a high tide lifts all boats!) and wrote some posts to hopefully save others both time and money. Right now I’m at the stage of tracking down rare pieces of glassware some times called a Clevenger Apparatus which differ from other steam distillation rigs.

Three newly found papers on whiskey confirm aspects of my fake aging technique that was developed way back when and gives hints on how to optimize it.

The year has pretty much ended with me sharing more rare material from texts on distillation. The shared orange liqueur recipe features complicated fraction recycling that needs more commentary and possibly an info graphic. I have just acquired a book scanner and am learning to use it and am using library connections to acquire a few remaining rare texts that I plan to digitize and share. Some of this material is out of copyright and some could be considered abandoned copyright. Hopefully the effort will launch some ships and if you have any ideas for texts please submit them in an email.

One very big thing I’ve been withholding this year is my latest bottling device which can handle all forms of small bottles from 100 mL to 375 mL and at very high pressure levels. The design works staggeringly well but I haven’t figured out how to monetize it yet. It will become the counter pressure bottler design for the next thirty years.

I’m also withholding a really fantastic hydrometry technique that I’ve been teaching to select small distilleries as well as some very choice research papers that I’m trying to do some special stuff with.

For next year in the earliest spring I’m planning a cross country motorcycle trip to visit as many distilleries and library special collections as I can from Boston to UC Davis via the southern route. If you’re a distillery and want to hang out for an afternoon talking shop or a bar and can handle a night of guest bartending, drop me an email! Have shaker will travel!

Important Snippets from Joseph Merory’s Food Flavorings

Merory’s out of print texts have escalated in value and become increasingly hard to find so I thought I would type up a few important recipes to help someone out.

A few things about Merory to note. Firstly, I only have the first edition of the book and there were a few more editions years after so who knows if any liqueurs recipes were added or changed. Secondly, Merory sometimes engages in what I think is armchair speculation and sometimes wrote about ideas he pondered but never actually tried. So who knows if he actually tried these recipes. I’ve seen this behavior in other major texts about spirits especially in the context of chemical analysis procedures.

I typed up this first orange essence recipe because it was all in oil measures. I thought it would be useful as a starting point to give people an idea of the ratios of aromatic adjuncts like nutmeg and coriander as well as an idea of how much terpene is removed.

Orange-Curacao (Triple Sec) Essence MF 229

(a) Mix the following oils:
91.5000 gm. bitter orange
17.5000 gm. orange, cold pressed
04.2500 gm. lemon, cold pressed
00.1250 gm. nutmeg
00.0625 gm. neroli
00.0625 gm. coriander
113.5000 gm. or 4 fl. ozs.

Mixture of:
04.0 fl oz. mixture of (a)
12.0 fl oz. alcohol, 95 per cent
18.0 fl oz. water
34.0 fl. oz.
mix well, and let stand in a terpene separator (Fig. 14) for 24 hours for separation of terpenes;
-3.5 fl. oz. separated terpenes
30.5 fl. oz. taken from below; then add:
+1.5 fl. oz. alcohol, 95 per cent
32.0 fl. oz. finished curacao (triple sec) essence, filter if necessary.

Besides the very significant amount of aromatic adjuncts, notice how this Grand Marnier knockoff uses a combination of infusion and distillation to create the final product. This is a very different idea than the clear Grand M’s on the market now.

Grand “M” Type Flavor MF 257 (Continental Formula)

(a) Extract the following comminuted botanical ingredients:
4750 gm. orange peels, bitter
2500 gm. peppermint herb
2250 gm. orange peels, sweet
1750 gm. lemon peels
1500 gm. coriander seed
1500 gm. ginger
1500 gm. orange blossoms
0875 gm. cinnamon
1075 gm. cloves
0875 gm. angelica seed
0250 gm. cardamom
0100 gm. tonka beans
0110 gm. saffron
20525 gm.
with menstruum consisting of:
72 li. alcohol 95 per cent.
50 li. water
Extract for four days.
Then take off:
5 kg. extract
(b) Add to remaining botanical ingredients and menstruum:
50 li. water,
and distill slowly at atmospheric pressure to obtain:
90 li. flavor distillate
(c) Finished flavor mixture:
90 li. distillate (b)
5 kg. extract (a)
5 li. wine distillate
100 li. Grand “M” type flavor

Full Aromatic Liqueurs.–Full aromatic liqueurs are made entirely from flavor distillates. The procedure of the full aromatic flavor distillation yields a product with sufficient alcoholic content to make the addition of alcohol to the required proof strength for liqueur unnecessary. The alcoholic content of the finished liqueur is thus made up entirely from the alcohol contained in the flavor distillate. The full aromatic flavor distillation requires that the quantities of botanical ingredients, alcohol, and water be exactly determined to yield the quantity of alcoholic flavor distillate which is necessary both for flavor and alcohol content in the manufacture of the intended volume of liqueur.

The distillation procedure is performed at atmospheric pressure under the same conditions as described in the flavor distillation of botanical ingredients. Comprehensive knowledge of aromatic yield assists in determining the quantity of botanical ingredients from which to obtain the required flavor by distillation [emphasis mine!]. Experience in distillation and fractionation make it easy to calculate the necessary quantities of alcohol and water which are needed in the menstruum to yield a flavor distillate.

A liqueur made from the flavor distillate alone, containing sufficient alcohol content for its required strength, is a full aromatic product of unsurpassed quality. Formula MF 262 is the best example of full aromatic cordial production.

Full Aromatic Triple Sec Cordial Flavor MF 262 (Original French Recipe)
(Made from the peels of Curacao Oranges and sweet oranges)
First production:
(a) Put the following ingredients into a 200 gal. still with a perforated stainless steel plate above the edge of the steam jacket:
125.0 lbs coarsely ground peels of ripe sweet oranges
425.0 gm. orris root pulverized
170.0 gm. orange blossoms; add the menstruum of about 60 per cent alcohol content, consisting of:
249.0 lbs. or 30 gal. water
353.6 lbs. or 52 gal. alcohol 95 per cent.
(b) Procedure: After 24 hours extraction, distill at atmospheric pressure, slowly, without dephlegmation up to 78 per cent alcohol content of the condensate, then turn on dephlegmation to retain a high proof alcohol content of the distillate. The yield of the first fraction is:
40.0 gal. flavor distillate, of about 82 per cent alcohol content. It is used in (d)
(c) Procedure: The distillation of procedure (b) continues until all the alcohol is recovered. It yields a second fraction of approximately:
30.00 gal. distillate of about 45 per cent alcohol content. It is used in (f).
(d) Procedure: The 40 gal. flavor distillate first fraction of (b) is mixed with 40 gal. water. It is allowed to stand a few hours for separation of terpenes which are removed by decantation and the aqueous solution is then filtered. The terpene-free flavor is redistilled at atmospheric pressure, slowly, and in the same manner as in procedure (b), to obtain a first fraction:
20.00 gal. flavor distillate of about 80-84 per cetn alcohol content. It is then used in (m).
(e) The distillation of the terpene-free flavor of (d) continues unchanged, slowly, with dephlegmation, to recover all the alcohol and to yield a second fraction of approximately:
30.0 gal. distillate of about 50 per cent alcohol content. It is used in (f).
(f) Procedure: mixture and distillation of:
30. gal. second fraction distillate, 45 per cent alcohol content, of (c) and:
30. gal. second fraction distillate, 50 per cent alcohol content, of (e) and:
40. gal. water, to yield total of:
100.0 gal. mixture of about 28.5 per cent alcohol content. The mixture is left to stand a few hours for separation of terpenes. After the separation of terpenes it is filtered and then redistilled at atmospheric pressure, slowly, with dephlegmation applied to retain a high proof alcohol content in the distillate and yields approximately:
40.0 gal. distillate of about 64 per cent alcohol content. It is used in the second production batch and distillation of curacao peels of procedure (g) of second production.

Second Production:
(g) Put into 200 gal. still with perforated stainless steel plate above heat line, the following ingredients:
125.0 lbs. curacao peels, expulpated or coarsely ground
425.0 gm. mace, pulverized. Add to it a menstruum of 64 per cent alcohol content, consisting of:
141.1 lbs. or 17.0 gal. water, and
238.0 lbs. or 35.0 gal. alcohol, 95 per cent, and
40.0 gal. distillate, 64 per cent alcohol content, of (f).
(h) Procedure: After 24 hours extraction, distill at atmospheric pressure, slowly, without dephlegmation, up to 78 per cent alcohol content of the condensate, then turn on dephlegmation to retain a high proof alcohol content in the distillate. The yield of the first fraction is approximately:
60.0 gal. flavor distillate, of about 80 per cent alcohol content. It is used in (j)
(i) Procedure: The distillation of (h) continues until all the alcohol is recovered and yields a second fraction of approximately:
30.0 gal. distillate of about 30 percent alcohol content; it is used in (l).
(j) 60.0 gal. Flavor distillate of the first fraction of (h), of 80 per cent alcohol content, is mixed with:
60.0 gal. water, and left to stand a few hours for separation of terpenes. The terpene-free flavor is then filtered and redistilled at atmospheric pressure, slowly, and with dephlegmation turn on, to obtain a yield of approximately:
30 gal. flavor distillate (first fraction) of about 80-84 per cent alcohol content; it is then used in (m).
(k) The distillation of the flavor distillate of (j) procedure continues to recover all the alcohol and to yield a second fraction:
40.0 gal. distillate of about 50 per cent alcohol content. It is used in (l).
(l) Mix and distill
40.0 gal. distillate (second fraction), of 50 per cent alcohol content, of (k) procedure, and
30.0 gal. distillate (second fraction), of 30 per cent alcohol content, of (i) procedure, and
30.0 gal. water, to yield a total of:
100.0 gal. mixture of about 29 per cent alcohol content; the mixture is allowed to stand a few hours to separate terpenes. It is then filtered and redistilled at atmospheric pressure, slowly, and dephlegmation is applied to yield approximately:
40.0 gal. distillate of 64 per cent alcohol content. It is used in the next production batch of orange peels.
(m) finished flavor mixture consisting of:
20.0 gal. flavor distillate of 80-84 per cent of (d) procedure, first fraction, and
30.0 gal. flavor distillate of 80-84 per cent of (j) procedure, first fraction. Total:
50.0 gal. full aromatic flavor distillate, of about 80-84 per cent alcohol content.
Remarks:–If the entire quantity of the flavor mixture of (m) is used in the manufacture of 100 gal. Triple Sec cordial it yields a beverage of finest quality.

I boldened Merory’s remarks relating to oil yield analysis but nowhere in the text does he explain any methods for determining yield. It would also probably be really helpful to rewrite this recipe in the style of an infographic so the movements of the fraction recycling are much clearer.

Maraschino Cherry 101 (literally, there is a one credit course at U. Oregon)

Maraschino Cherry: A Laboratory-Lecture Unit (an un-locked paper from the Wiley online library.

Apparently since 1994 Oregon State University has offered a 1-credit class about the making of maraschino cherries. The cherry is used to illustrate food chemistry, the fragmentation of processing unit operations, microbiology, food safety, food law, sensory analysis, and product development. The course seems like it would benefit culinary professionals working on next generation, modernist recipes.

Consider as you read the little bits I’ve extracted, just how different are Luxardo cherries? They are also gloppy pectin filled horrors but maybe just with better aroma added back after the leaching?

The course covers a lot of nitty gritty chemistry stuff: sulphur, calcium chloride, acidulants like citric acid & hydrochloric acid, sodium chloride, all for the cherry “brine” formulations.

How do they bleach the cherries?

*Cherries get a sulfite based primary bleaching brine in which they sit for three weeks

*Cherries follow up with a chlorite based secondary bleaching brine but only after the primary brine is carefully leached out with boiled water to reduce the sulphur content. “bleaching of brown discolorants will take from 5 to 10 days”

*The secondary brine gets leached out and they can return to the primary brine until they are ready for processing

cherry flow chart

“Calcium plays a very important role in the brine formulation by giving the cherry a firmer texture. If the pH is greater than 4, calcium will precipitate from solution as CaSO3 and not be available. The divalent cation forms salt linkages between the galacturonic units of 2 adjacent pectin molecules.” …hardcore chemistry blah blah blah… “This cross-linking of cell-wall polysaccharides results in a firmer fruit texture that is not only more acceptable from a sensory standpoint but also facilitates mechanical pitting.” [#Pectin<3Calcium #Luxardo!]

“The brined cherries are yellow in color since the yellow carotenoids are not affected by bisulfite. It should be emphasized that the primary function of bisulfite is to prevent microbial growth, and that bleaching of the cherry is a secondary role.”

“With the advent of mechanical harvesting of cherries in the 1960’s, the number of cherries with defects from bruising increased substantially. Cellular damage permits the enzyme polyphenoloxidase to come in contact with fruit phenolics-forming quinones, which subsequently polymerize to form brown pigments. A secondary bleach process utilizing sodium chloride was developed by Oregon State Univ. researchers that bleaches the brown discoloration along with the carotenoids to produce a snowy white cherry.”

The brining process here is probably what I need to complete my project of embedding cocktails in fruit structures to illustrate how texture and haptic heft change thresholds of perception. I had previously been trying to wash the color out of golden raspberries by soaking them in vodka/sugar brines that I changed periodically. Brining plus reflux de-aeration will make this possible.

The cherries get sorted and supposedly only by size. When I make my alcoholic version, I sort cherries by density, but I guess when you can firm the texture with a calcium brine brix can more easily be augmented without swelling or shrinking so they can sort and just be concerned with size. They explain more of the leaching process and how it is an environmental problem because of BOD (biological oxygen demand).

“The optimum Brix of cherries for brining is from 12 to 15 degrees compared to 18 to 22 for fresh market or canning…”.

“Maraschino cherries commonly have a Brix of 40. The drained, brined cherries cannot be immediately introduced to the 40 Brix syrup or shriveling will occur as water rapidly diffuses from the fruit to the syrup. Therefore, the drained cherries are introduced to dilute sugar syrup, for example, 15 Brix and sufficient time, for example 12 h, is allowed for equilibrium. The sugar content is increased in 3 to 4 Brix increments to gradually introduce sugar without tissue damage.” [#bigtradesecret]

“Since SO2 levels have been markedly reduced, preservatives such as potassium sorbate and sodium benzoate are included in the syrup to prevent microbial growth.” [#sadbuttrue]

[…]”The pH during processing and final bottling is targeted for approximately 3.6 to 3.8. Citric acid has several functions

*It provides flavor, the Brix:acid ratio giving a good numerical index for the sweetness to sourness taste quality […]

*The effectiveness of sodium benzoate and potassium sorbate as antimicrobial agents is dependent on pH. Un-dissociated benzoic acid is the form with antimicrobial activity, optimium activity occurring in the pH range of 2.5 to 4. Sodium benzoate is most active against yeast and bacteria and least effective against molds. Sorbic acid and its sodium and potassium salts are particularly effective in preventing mold growth, the activity increasing with decreasing pH. [why you need both!]

*[…#botulism blah blah boring]

They explain the pearson square for working with sugar.

The section on coloring is sort of painful.

“Flavoring is added after the sugar concentration of the cherries reach 40 Brix. Most of the flavor volatiles originally present in the cherries are lost during the brining and leaching operation, leaving a product characterized principally by the sharp taste of residual SO2. Benzaldehyde is a naturally occurring compound that contributes significantly to the flavor of both sweet and sour cherries. Since almonds are an even richer source of benzaldehyde, almond extract was a logical choice for flavoring maraschino cherries. […] Artificial flavorings for maraschino cherries will have benzaldehyde as a principal ingredient. If the processor prefers to use natural flavorings, almond and/or cherry extracts will be commonly used.”

The finish by explaining some labeling laws.

One cool reference ends up in the bibliography that I’d love to track down:

Filz WF, Henney. 1951. Home preparation of maraschino cherries. Afr Exp Sta Bull Nr 497. Corvallis, Oreg: Oregon State College. p 1-11.

Searching for that book turns up a really interesting masters thesis on maraschino cherries.

An Amazing Mead based Shrub Cheater

One of my latest quests is to have amazing bar prep and to do it in a reasonable amount of time. I typically favor cold processes because it is really hard to get time on the stove when the kitchen is working hard. I’m also sick of coming early and leaving late. I meet so many women bar tending that I need a system that allows me to show up late and leave early.

Last August I discovered the great new mead offerings of Sap House Meadery in Ossipee New Hampshire. When I first got a hold of them I was only mixing their stuff with over proof rum in cocktails that look like this:

.75 oz. hopped blue berry maple mead

.75 oz. el dorado 151

.75 oz. lime juice

.5 oz. campari

4 g. non-aromatic white sugar

dash peychaud’s bitters

The mead on its own has a flabbiness (a characteristic inherent to mead) due to a lack of acidity but in a cocktail when you can add acidity in countless ways, my god, the aroma of the mead can be turbo charged beyond belief. So much pent up flavor is dying to be unblocked by a little calculated extra stimulation (g-spot!).

I’ve even started marrying the mead and overproof rum and mellowing them together in champagne bottles that have been de-aerated with the champagne bottle manifold. In equal proportions the alcohol content averages out to 45% and I have the hopes that the higher proof and change in various equilibriums will create conditions for favorable aroma change, namely via esterification of fatty acids [this turned out not to make a marked difference even after significant time elapse].

Recently I was challenged to make a carbonated shrub cocktail. I was also pressed for time so I reviewed my favorite aroma sources and immediately was seduced by the idea of using mead. The Sap House meads are readily available, their fruit sourcing is better than mine, and the product is already clarified. I quickly settled on a shrub base of:

1.5 oz. Sap House Meadery Hopped Blueberry Maple Mead

1 oz. honey vinegar (5% acetic)

10 g.  non-aromatic white sugar

The results are beautiful and a simple system is established where ingredients can be substituted for gentle variations.  The alcohol content averages out to 4% which when diluted more, such as in a lemon-aide recipe, becomes soft drink territory. Remember, for those scaling up and searching for more precision, we can estimate the dissolved volume of the white sugar by considering its density. White sugar is 1.57 times more dense then water so 10 grams displaces 6.37 ml.

I nailed something beautiful on the first try of a drink:

Pantry Cocktail

2.5 oz. Hopped Blueberry Maple Shrub Cheater

.5 oz. Campari

.5 oz. blanco tequila (I used the epic Arette)

Shake and double strain into a champagne 375ml then carbonate to 7 g/L of dissolved gas.

Really Wonderful. There is a unique meeting point of the vinegar acid and the bitterness of the Campari. Campari plus typical acids often construct grapefruit expressions but here, at the meeting of acetic acid and gustatory-bitterness, recollection knows not what to do.  If this cocktail cannot retrieve memories I bet it can cement them. Only drink such a rare experience when you want an evening to be unforgettable.

Other Sap House Mead based cocktails from the archives:

Look to the Sanru

1 oz. cascade mountain gin
1 oz. Sap House Meadery, hopped blueberry maple mead
1 oz. punt y mes
2 dashes peychaud’s bitters


Variation on a Brooklyn

1.5 oz. overproof overholt (55%)
1 oz. sap house meadery, hopped blueberry maple mead
.25 oz. cynar
.25 oz. maraschino liqueur


Passing the Torch

1 oz. pizoes aguardente de medronhos
1 oz. byrrh
1 oz. Sap House Meadery, hopped blueberry maple mead
float of del maguey mezcal “vida”

This new generation of meads are just so useful as a source of extraordinary aroma. I hope to develop even more techniques for them. For the lazy, or the aroma obsessed, or the meadophiles, this is good stuff.

[added 11/26/13]

chestnut shrub

1.5 oz. Die Hochland Imker chestnut flower & chestnut honey dew Mead

1 oz. honey vinegar (5% acetic)

10 g.  non-aromatic white sugar

first at bat

2.5 oz. chestnut “shrub”

.5 oz. campari

.5 oz. laphroaig 10 year cask strength

1.5 oz. water

carbonated to 7 g/L dissolved CO2

mezcal might be even more appropriate

2.5 oz. chestnut “shrub”

.5 oz. campari

.5 oz. 100 proof old forester

4 dashes peychaud’s bitters

1.5 oz. water

carbonated to 7 g/L dissolved CO2

(only missing the mostarda)

Olfactory Phantoms and Illustrations of the Dynamics of Perception

The other day I got an interesting incoming link. Something I wrote was selected to be part of a hypothetical college curriculum. It is on a curriculum sharing website but I don’t think anyone is actually using it yet. Students in a sensory science class get to learn about illusion in the various senses and because there is not a lot written about olfactory illusion I was selected probably by default (default! woohoo!). I covered another phenomenon years ago I called the maraschino blackberry illusion where texture (haptic heft) dramatically changed the threshold of perception of an aroma. I think some bar programs are finally getting around to using it. I did it again in a beautiful context with fernet (and kirschwasser) aromatized cherries and I’m doing it yet again using the reflux de-aeration technique (to preserve the lemon juice) to perfectly place a sidecar inside a golden raspberry. The aroma and color were leached out of the golden raspberry so I’m basically just using its perfect body of cells as a vehicle to harness the influence of haptic heft on aroma.

We are slowly getting to the punchline but we need to cover a few more strange phenomenons.

Whoever selected the paper for the curriculum was interested in the “illusion” where wormwood hand sanitizers I made were used to train someone (myself) on an aroma. I found with the unique training I experienced similar aromas in certain wines (I found two wines: Cos Cerasuolo and an Anjou blanc) that were bizarrely amplified; like 10X amplification. Sometimes the same phenomenon exists with the aroma of dead mice and those in the pest control business that inadvertently end up with unique olfactory training can notice the aroma in a room when no one else can.

Wine pairings are part illusory and reading Gordon M. Sheperd’s Neurogastronomy confirmed some of my suspicions about wine and food interaction that I covered in an incomplete post called: contrast enhancement (in space and time) for food & wine interaction. The idea didn’t exactly catch on but I am right so I guess I’ll just give people a few more years to adopt it (mach bands! & nutritional preference comparisons!).

Now for the punchline: I’m setting out to explore how many of the aromas we “perceive” under certain circumstances are to varying degrees actually phantoms.  They are induced by incoming sensory stimulus (or by words which are symbols) but they are ultimately just recollections.  This is different than just making loose comparisons of incoming stimlui to known things, in what I’m describing you eventually generate whatever percentage of the known thing that doesn’t exist in the incoming stimuli.

Maybe we can start with the simplest olfactory phantom I’ve been able to generate and then build some background around it. To make the champagne bottle manifold I started a small plastic foundry. To develop the skills I needed to make the manifold part I started making reproductions of 19th century door knobs; giant lion heads and rococo stuff.  Some I cast in a translucent red plastic to generate some Joris Karl Huysmans style artifice and decadence. Anyhow, I had to drill this red plastic. Well, every time I did, I started to smell cherries. After a while I knew I was going to and I still did. The black plastic smelled of licorice.

Compounds called phthalates in the plastic have an aroma that notoriously converges with gustatory-sweetness. This form of sweetness coupled with the color is enough to trigger a phantom aroma and illustrate some of the dynamics of perception.

Perception is a tricky thing because all sorts of facets seamlessly join together. In the past I’ve talked obsessively about the sensory and symbolic world being glued together by the theory of cognitive dissonance and becoming the mechanism by which we acquire acquired tastes.  Perception involves the meeting of sensory inputs with recollections.  Improperly using recollections to complete incoming experience is the basis of many optical illusions.  So perception is going to be (by varying degrees) divided by fresh incoming sensory experiences and a sort of filling in the blanks via recollection. Most of the time recollection will correctly fill in the missing pieces.  Incentives exist to use completion to save resources.  Apparently it is more efficient than processing everything from scratch. Olfaction being the sense most closely tied to memory and thought to be particularly resource intensive might be subject to more completion by recollection than any other sense, though I’m only speculating (this whole post is a giant speculation).

As the distribution of perception slides around we may be subject to more or less illusory completion.  I’ve seen sensory science researchers hint at this distribution by outlining different perception strategies such as an active or a passive strategy.  An active strategy may tip the scales to processing new sensory data while a passive strategy may tip the scales towards completion by recollection.

The distribution could then be subject to other influences such as reward mechanisms.  Certain degrees of salt in our food, such as on a tomato, lowers the threshold of perception of an aroma.  The co-experience of the aroma and and salt may etch themselves in our mind so we can use those aromas to predict the presence of salt in the future, salt being something we need.  Sugar under certain circumstances has a similar effect, often referred to as “flavor enhancement”, that can lower the threshold of perception of an aroma.  Our rewards systems might jostle the distribution of perception any which way.  The sweetness in the plastic did not make me pay attention to an actual incoming aroma sensation but rather created one based on the influence of the color.  In my red plastic example the cherry aroma was more or less 100% generated by recollection but in many other cases aroma fragments that are being sense are being added to.

Many spirits researchers talk about pattern recognition or gestalts being important to distillates.  The famous spirits consultant Dr. Jim Swan has mentioned that when coming up with a new scotch whiskey blend it needs to have enough elements to be recognizable as a scotch whiskey (a gestalt) but then enough to set it apart.  The other big time spirits guru John R. Piggot in his amazing paper “Origins of Flavour in Whiskies and a Revised Flavour Wheel: a Review” starts by saying “Improved congener analyses have not yielded greater understanding of whisky flavour: a dynamic interaction between individuals and flavour components.”  The dynamic interaction mentioned by Piggot is another way of acknowledging the distribution of perception.  He then goes on to mention holistic patterns and gestalts as part of perceiving flavor. In memory, the cherry is a gestalt of sweetness and color, and aroma.  When only two of the three are present recollection may complete the third.

Piggot’s paper gets very dense in the chemistry but his introduction is very accessible and pretty amazing. He demonstrates an astounding understanding of neuroscience to go along with his second to none understanding of every reaction that generates every congener in every step of the whisky making process.  Piggot notes the interaction of the sensory and symbolic world but doesn’t exactly use the words I’ve adopted so it is probably best to quote him. According to Piggot, “In consumers, causality interactions (slaving effects) exist between perceptual and sensation levels, dictated by cues (Fig. 1): the human mind influences the brain.”  There is something vague about saying “the human mind influences the brain” but I’d like to think it parallels my language.  I do not agree with the way he uses the term “perception” because I think you can stumble into “which taste do you mean” territory.  When he says “perception” I think it could be better named “recollection” and perception instead is the sliding summation of incoming sensation and recollection. Sensory scientists have needed to get away from the term “taste” for flavor perception and maybe the same needs to be done to deconstruct perception and consciousness.

Robert Léauté in his 1989 James Guymon lecture very vaguely mentions fatty acid esters being “fixitives” for other aroma compounds.  His idea of a fixative might relate to the building of overlapping incomplete gestalts that recollection might complete in beautiful ways but we’ll touch upon that in a bit.

I should probably mention that infamous incident were a group of wine experts were served room temp white wine dyed red and nearly all were fooled into thinking they were drinking a proper red wine.  They described the aromas of the wine using object comparisons attributed to red wines and not whites. Well they were drinking a red-wine and if a degree of the distinct things we think we smell are phantoms, they were perceiving everything exactly as they should.  Their advanced library of recollections may have even made them more vulnerable than an amateur taster.

Another known phenomenon in wine trickery is simply tasting a wine after being baited with an aroma suggestion.  The suggested aromas can appear vividly.  I do not think this is widely studied or acknowledged because no one wants to be the victim of it.  We feel as though it shouldn’t happen so we never submit to curiosity and explore experiencing it.  A aroma suggestion isn’t a sensory input like gustatory-acidity or tannin. It starts that way but becomes a symbol or stand in for a value that triggers recollection. Some symbols thrown around in wine-speak, like goose berry, are not good bait because for many people the word is not a stand in for any recollection. To this day I’ve still never eaten a goose berry.

Robert Parker, who is famous for his wild tasting notes, might perceive the world with some unique distribution abnormally skewed towards recollection almost like a form of mild autism.  The gestalts he encounters make him hallucinate wildly. Every wine Parker encounters, which remains incomplete to the rest of us, he can complete apparently with great pleasure.  This might be a bit of a stretch because the language used by wine critics has no real responsibility to describing the wine. They just have to use harmonic language and typically more extraordinary language for more extraordinary and rare sensory values.  If we accept the fact that wine makes Parker hallucinate, to be honest I’d like to join him and learn his technique because illusion or not, it seems like fun.

To get back to spirits, most whiskey’s are colored with caramel to converge with their aromas.  Accepting that it is important to the quality of our hallucinations we should probably thank and recognize producers that do a good job of it.  An award could be given at the San Francisco spirits festival like “best dye job”.  I used to scoff at coloring but now I’m warming up to it.

A realm I had fun exploring the influence of color was with amaretto.  Everyone knows the darkly colored Disaronno brand and other darkly colored generics but I was really taken by a Portuguese almond (benzaldehyde) liqueur where the color was interpreted as a much lighter raw almond shade.  I was so taken by it I re-distilled my own version and left it uncolored so the aroma would diverge from the crystal clarity.  The results were captivating.  There was a dramatic divergence from expectation.  The crystal clarity and the light it captured made the aroma glow but it was just the Portuguese version re-distilled, re-cut, and re-sugared.  Benzaldehyde based liqueurs are so easy to distill the real artistry probably comes in when coloring them.

In cocktails we may sometimes experience perception dominated by recollection.  Many cocktails that are simultaneously tart and bitter come across as distinctly grapefruity though there is no grapefruit in them.  True these drinks, which often feature citrus juice, have a few aroma compounds in common with grapefruit, but the loose gestalt is enough to trigger a very distinct association even when the chemicals and all there various ratios do not remotely line up.

Now to go back to Robert Léauté, the idea of partially illusory aromas might explain the importance of very generic aroma compounds like ethyl acetate and acetaldehyde in spirits.  In large quantities these compounds are considered flaws, but sub threshold Léauté describes them as his “fixatives”.  Because these compounds are so abundant in fruits they may be an integral part of gestalts. Ethyl acetate could function like the sweet smelling phthalates found in the plastic and when coupled with one other sensation like a color we would have enough to hallucinate marasca cherries like Robert Parker.

Léauté, who is a master cognac distiller, explains that ethyl acetate and acetaldehyde, should be kept under the threshold of perception but distillates should be cut to get as close to that line as possible.  It might make sense in this case to rename the “threshold of perception” to “threshold of attention”.  We seem to be able to perceive astoundingly small quantities of things.  Our own nose is more sensitive than any analytic tool we’ve been able to build.  According to Gordon M. Sheperd our nose can differentiate aroma compounds by one carbon atom.  So maybe something is not detectable to our attentional spotlight but it is somehow still detectable enough that it can interact with other components synergistically and influence pattern recognition.  D.W. Clutton’s paper from 1978, The Flavour Constituents of Gin finds all sorts of compounds in gin that are sub threshold yet they are somehow very important to defining the character of the product.  Thresholds of perception may work very differently than is commonly thought.

Recollection may have some strange bearing on wine pairings.  In some pairings when food and wine “match” an aroma from the food can be reflected back into focus.  I had thought previously that a change in contrast detection was experienced and likened the phenomenon to the black art theater of the magician Omar Pasha.  An alternate explanation could possibly be that with the next experience (which is the wine after the food) a similar pattern confuses the mind and triggers recollection of the food.  Many of these types of pairings happen when the perceived acidity of the food and the wine match.

I don’t want to leave people thinking that everything we smell is an illusion.  We obviously need intense libraries of recollection to generate phantoms from.  It is probably safe to say that we mostly always are actively smelling when we think we are, but where is the dividing line and small details are we adding in to what were are really smelling? And if alcoholic beverages like wine and spirits remind us of so many things as seen in so many tasting notes, could they be the hub of olfactory illusion?

Do some people not taste wine well because they have no language to fragment and parse the experience or because they have no library of recollections to generate the illusions?

Adventures in Aftermarket Maraschino

In my far from complete text on distillation I have a recipe for making maraschino liqueur which is a sweetened distillate of fermented sour cherries and a percentage of their pits which contribute the distinct aroma of bitter almonds. The really simple recipe is supposed to be a solution to a problem for people that live in areas that cannot access maraschino liqueur or in some cases cannot afford it. The recipe is constructed from hiram walker’s kirschwasser and a re-distilled amaretto. The alcoholic proof and sugar content are shaped to fit historically derived proportions. Because the recipe uses very small volumes, different ratios of cherry to stone pit aroma (benzaldehyde) are created using a gram scale to maintain accuracy when blending the two volumes to your own aesthetic. The recipe is simple and fun and makes a mean aviation. The distilled amaretto is astounding on its own. It is crystal clear and the divergence of the aroma from the color is relentlessly amusing. If any producer starts making a crystal clear amaretto, they will be met with instant success.

[I used this maraschino cheater in my nine round TKO and Ciroc vodka was directly inspired and has just released clear amaretto.]

The other day I just unearthed some more information about the role of benzaldehyde in maraschino liqueur in a paper titled: The Determination of Benzaldehyde in Maraschino Cherries and Maraschino Liqueur by A. G. Woodman and Lewis Davis. It was published in the Journal of Industrial and Engineering Chemistry, August 1912. I think the research was done right down the road at M.I.T. in Boston.

The paper applies new testing methods to maraschino that can determine the quantity of small amounts of benzaldehyde (5mg) as opposed to previous methods that could only handle comparatively large amounts (0.1g). Newly refined methods of this sort were constantly being applied to product analysis to protect consumers from adulteration and fraud. I’m in no position to put the chemistry to use (some day!) but these papers sometimes give us a great glimpse of what was on the market and what people were drinking.  Their method is easy enough to follow that someone very ambitious or a small scale commercial producer could easily apply it. Even more refined methods have likely been created over the years and it should be known that there is a correction to one of their reagent figures in another article.

Okay so here is the good stuff; brands with numbers:

brand                                   alcohol content     benzaldehyde (Mg/100cc.)

G. Luxardo                                 32.60               3.57

Richelieux                                  25.94               17.02

Marie Brizard & Roger               28.97               0.0

Cusenier (cherry liqueur)           32.63              12.01

Cusenier (maraschino)             19.00               0.0

Nuyens et Cie                            24.78              1.78

H. Shufeldt & Co., Peoria Ill.       30.60              41.3

According to the authors: “Genuine Maraschino, apparently, has a very low content of benzaldehyde.” The sugar and alcohol content I used for my faux rendering match luxardo’s from 1920, though I don’t think they have ever changed.

So what does this all mean? For starters I see these products as being all over the map, some have far more almond aroma than others and were all these brands really available in Boston in 1912? Without knowing exact numbers, I think the ratio of benzaldehyde to cherry I put in my faux maraschino was probably far higher than the genuine stuff and might have compared to the very last one in the list. I don’t really know which maraschinos in this list were premium brands at the time. I think at least luxardo and brizard but not cusenier because of their very low alcohol content.

If limited to small concentration but significant to the aroma of maraschino, I think it would be cool to have a known concentration of benzaldehyde so that renderings of “genuine maraschino” could accurately be assembled from great american kirschwassers like clear creek’s. To my knowledge they do not offer a maraschino. Who knows, if some bartenders create a market for a product that doesn’t really exist, maybe they will start making one and they will have a deep enough level of involvement that they can hit all the historically accurate numbers we now know exist.

Closing thoughts: You gotta earn that mustache and suspenders. Make your Ensslin era Aviations with historically accurate levels of benzaldehyde in your maraschino.

Advanced Limoncello Basics

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Recently on egullet I attempted to help a few people troubleshoot their limoncello. They were experiencing cloudiness and did not know what to attribute it to. I suspected pectin while others thought terpenes. The conversation turned to terpene removal which made me look for other research out there.

As it turns out, limoncello is economically significant enough that a few PhDs have looked at it in depth. Some of the studies try to characterize limoncello chemically so that consumers can be protected from fraud and adulteration. Though some aspects of the studies are intimidating, there is still great practical stuff that home producers can learn from these studies.

I found a few papers and I’ll give a bullet point run down of the good bits.

“Analysis of volatiles in Limoncello Liqueur and Aging Study wiht Sensory” by Neil C. Da Costa and Theodore J. Anastasiou

**”it certainly does not contain any lemon juice”

**”but must be transferred to the freezer before serving” These guys posit the idea that limoncello is fairly perishable. Homemade is best because it can be freshest. Their study wonders how limoncello changes as it ages.

**They keep it in the freezer to minimize reactions of the extracted oils with water and ethanol as well as with air and light.

**Due to shipping, warehousing, etc. “there is a higher likelihood of commercially available Limoncellos having less of a true flavor profile than their homemade counterparts”. This is their hypothesis anyhow which they will test by looking at how significantly limoncello changes as it ages.

**They present a very long list of compounds they were going to cover but one I was concerned about was pectin which I couldn’t find in their list.

**They prepare their own limoncello recipe by following a Washington Post article: Grisco, J. Limoncello Recipe. The Washington Post, December 7, 2009 (this link was missing for a while but provided by an awesome commenter. thanks KM!)

**”seventeen large store-bought organic lemons (approx. 175g. each, approx 3000 g total) were washed, dried, and carefully peeled as to minimize the amount of pith. the peels were submerged in 1500ml of grain alcohol (95% abv, 190 proof). This mixture was allowed to stand at room temperature for 14 days with brief stirring every other day. After 14 days the spent lemon peels were removed by filtration leaving a dark yellow solution. 1700g of a simple syrup solution consisting of equal parts (1350g) water and granulated sugar were then added to the extract, resulting in an opaque yellow emulsion. this emulsion was allowed to sit at room temperature for an additional 21 days, again stirring every other day. …. the approximate alcohol concentration was calculated to be 50% (100 proof).”

**They didn’t use any terpene separation!

**One cool part of the technical stuff is the descriptors that accompany the analysis of “key volatile components”.

**After aging, some of the terpenes hydrolized/oxidized

**Aldedydes in such a high alcohol content formed acetals (which also happens to distillates when they age)

**There was ester formation (again this happens to distillates! and of course it is going to inspire another blog post!)

**”organoleptically, the fresh limoncello concentrated extract was described as strongly citral, fresh, lemon curd. the aged concentrate extract was more oxidized lemon, less fresh, heavy lemon, missing lower volatiles, lower citral. … the biggest difference detected was a reduction in the concentration of the highly volatile monoterpenes as they became oxidized, which gave rise to the loss of fresh citrusy notes. in addition the harsh gasoline, oxidized terpene note of p-cymene was increased, which had a negative impact on the aged sample.” … “the various ethyl ethers formed were not perceived as giving significantly negative notes to the aged sample.”

**They present two sensory “spider graphs” which are pretty cool and really intuitive. Hopefully I can paste the spider graphs in here because they are a tool we should probably see more of.

**They preferred the fresh but they didn’t find the aged stuff too terrible.

“Analysis of Some Italian Lemon Liqueurs (Limoncello)” by Versari Andrea, Natali Nadia, Russo Maria Teresa, and Antonelli Andrea

**For starters, those names sound like people that would know limoncello…

**”a total production of 15 million liters of Limoncello per year is estimated.” wow.

**When they detail the process they state that peels are infused in 95% ethanol for 2-7 days. Then it is diluted with syrup to an average alcohol content of 32%.

**”…Limoncello contains several volatile and nonvolatile minor compounds (ca. 2%), which are fundamental for its sensory characteristics. The former are terpenic compounds, which form the essential oil, and the latter include several classes of nonvolatile compounds with potential health-related properties, such as flavanoids, coumarins, and psoralens.”

**The presence of these nonvolatile constituents are sometimes used to tell whether an essential oil was cold pressed or steam distilled the latter being seen as inferior.

**They compare 12 samples by a variety of criteria

**The sugar contents were a surprise: 182, 186, 186, 185, 202, 277, 265, 223, 264, 199 g/L so there seems to be two different styles; a low and high sugar content.

**The samples also had notable citric acid contents that were all over the map: 2044, 438, 190, 209, 475, 152, 83, 1059, 172, 395, 846, 301 mg/L. I suspect the acid is added as a powder as opposed to being from fresh lemon juice. They are listed in the same order so the style that has a high sugar content in most cases also has a high acid content. Unlike the previous paper that sees limoncello as not being sour, quite a few commercial producers interpret it as a sour liqueur. I have no opinion personally.

**They also cover the ethanol content, acetaldehyde, ethyl acetate, methanol, propanol, and i-butanol content. For ethanol: 32, 31, 31, 31, 30, 30, 29, 40, 30, 27, 29, 28.

**A lower alcohol content than 31-32% might affect stability and lead to essential oil separation (those terpenes again!) while “higher values might not fit the consumer’s preference”. “in fact, Limoncello is considered a beverage, not a spirit.” On egullet someone mention 30% as being a key number for terpenes coming out of solution. This data makes me wonder if they are correct, and what would happen to the stability of the product that had 27%. Is that low number the producers intention or an accident?

**Speaking of accidents.. one sample had a declared ethanol content of 35% but 40% was found…

**”methanol showed values below the legal limit, whereas acetaldehyde content was above the regulatory limit for neutral ethanol which is set at 5 mg/L of anhydrous alcohol.”

**They find strange congener values that make them wonder if low quality grain alcohol was used or if the syrup in some cases had started to ferment. The occurrence of glycerol and high acetaldehyde level plus low methanol levels supports the hypothesis that high quality ethanol was used but some of the syrups likely started to ferment. Very weird. Kind of gross.  It sounds like some producers do not have control of their product.

**from their conclusion: “Citric acid content indicates the addition of lemon juice.” I do not think this is conclusive. Citric acid powder is easy enough to buy and the juice has all sort of oxygen sensitive compounds. Granted they have a lot of juice laying around…

**”Ethyl acetate, acetaldehyde, 2-methyl-1-propanol, and glycerol are most probably related to the occurence of microbiological activity in the sugar syrup used in the limoncello formulation” -Gross


Conclusion. Terpene separation is not a part of limoncello production. But the pectin issue wasn’t resolved. They might even be using a pectic enzyme, but in my understanding that might produce methanol that would make the authors note the phenomenon so maybe they are not? In the mean time just peel it thin! And please don’t let your syrup start to ferment.

The WineMine Chronicles

I’ve collected texts on wine and spirits for years and Peter Dominic’s WineMine quarterly form the 1960’s and 1970’s has become my new obsession. WineMine may have been some of the first advanced foodie writing. The culture that Dominic and others like Andre Simon created is likely responsible for our modern world of fine wines. They educated people on fine wine and developed a market for it. Prices of wines they highly regarded skyrocketed and eventually other producers raised their quality to participate in this new fine wine market. The world of wine eventually fell into it. Once great wines were finally recognized and competed for, the investment required to make more of them across the globe was put into place.

WineMine was more than just about wine. it is also about food and travel and humor. The articles are still wildly interested after so many decades. The writing also gives us an excellent look at spirits and liqueurs of the era especially in then far flung places like rural france.

I’ll start to point out the highlights in a haphazard way and maybe even re-type the good bits. Journalist James Cameron has written my favorite article so far in issue #24 winter of 1972.

The first article that needs attention is A La Votre by retired journalist Joe Hollander from issue #25 from 1973. Hollander retired to rural France and writes of Provencal drinks “both above and below the legal line”.

Above the legal line:

“As for aperitifs and digestifs, apart from intensely publicized products like Dubonnet, St. Raphael and Byrrh, and Benedictine and Chartreuse, the floridly labelled bottles of Banyuls, Grenache and Muscat, all naturally sweet wines, and of Verveine de Velay, Izzara, Mandarin, Ambassadeur and other imaginative designations, are seldom disturbed from their resting places behind the bar and their labels would appear to serve mainly a decorative purpose. I have never yet seen anyone order a Suze (based on Gentian bitters), or a Bonal, prepared with Peruvian quinquina bark.

Below the legal line:

“Throughout the Midi there’s a more or less universal, if not exactly legal, cottage production of spirituous beverages going on behind the shutters of village houses.”

“Like most country women, Madame Allegre has probably never bought a bottle of branded aperitif or liqueur over the counter in her life. Nor have I ever seen a Vin de Noix, a Vin de Marquis, or a Peach Leaf aperitif served in any auberge, bar, bistrot, brasserie, buvette, cafe, estaminet, guingette or tavern in France–to say nothing of a liqueur 44, made of oranges and 44 coffee beans!”

“Madame Allegre take two average-size oranges, chiseling their skins so that she can insert 22 coffee beans between the peel and pulp of each. She then steeps the larded oranges in one litre of Eau-de-Vie, together with 22 lumps of No 3 size sugar (the popular domino-shaped sucre de Marseille) and a stick of vanilla. She keeps this infusion going for 44 days (that magic number again!), shaking it from time to time until the sugar is completely dissolved. She then removes the orange, presses them and pours back the juice they yield into the liqueur mixture, which can then be bottled and stored in a cool place.”

“For her Vin de Noix, seven walnuts are first steeped in a litre of Eau-de-Vie to produce the basic cordial. A quarter litre of this extract, together with 15 to 20 lumps of sugar, are then mixed with one litre of good red wine to yield two pints of Walnut Wine. The heart-warming thought is that you still have enough basic cordial in reserve to make another eight bottles.”

“The Widow Audibert, Madame Allegre’s neighbor, specializes in making a Vin de Marquis, otherwise known as Vin d’Orange. There are multiple variations of the formula; some use only the orange peel, some use the whole orange, flesh, pips and juice, others add one or more lemons. The wine used can be a robust red, white, or rose; eau-de-vie or cognac in varying quantities is essential, so is sugar. By experimenting, I have found the recipe A la Veuve Audibert to be not only excellent but the most economical.

Five whole, and preferably bitter, oranges cut up into the smallest possible chunks, with a lemon given the same treatment, are popped into a large glass or earthenware receptacle (I use a 10-litre glass bonbonne which I can cork) to which is added a kilogram, say 2/1/4 lb, of ordinary white lump sugar (some specify granulated sugar; others advocate pure cane sugar), then five litres of good red wine and one litre of eau-de-vie. Final additives are a stick or two of vanilla and a baby’s fistful of quinquina or Peruvian bark, obtainable from a chemist or herbalist.

Shake the receptacle well and repeat this at least once a day for a fortnight–but a month is preferably better. Using a large wire kitchen strainer to collect the orange debris, I then decant into bottles and find that I then have over six litres, or eight pint bottles, of first-class aperitif or dessert wine for around 30 francs (about £2.50) which is good going in any currency.

An Antillaise, based on a recipe that the Widow Audibert’s son brought back from Guadaloupe, requires strips of the skins of two fresh tangerines and one orange to be placed in a small bottle, together with a stick of vanilla, split and cut into small pieces, all then being covered with a quantity of rum taken from a litre bottle. Let this mixture infuse for a fortnight, then add the resulting extract to the remaining rum and a syrup made by boiling 1/2 kilo of sugar in a slightly lesser volume of water for ten minutes.”