Spirits Review: Mezan XO Jamaica Rum

The Mezan XO Jamaica rum is likely the greatest deal in all of spirits at the moment, yet it has been slow to catch on. Even in this unprecedented era of spirits education buyers seem slow to discover anything. The product is a very smart blend likely assembled by E & A Sheer, who has unparalleled access to blending stocks. The product forgoes traditional coloring and subtle sugaring giving it a very sleek modern truth seeking quality.

Despite a righteous flavor and probable noble E & A Sheer heritage, the branding comes across as a vodka startup like veneer that may irk some. Don’t fall into that trap, the gates to MGP whiskey may be wide open, but access to the lost rums of the world is elusive and I recommend taking it any way you can get it.

This rum from Mezan has that je ne sais quoi, and that is appreciable quantities of rum oil, the most noble (if not divine!) of all the congeners. The new generation of spirits connoisseurs is slowly digesting the concept of esters, but the king congener class is the fairly high boiling point terpenes that are the product of glycoside hydrolysis (these are different from gin botanical terpenes). This is absolutely at the forefront of distillation research, being led by Cognac and also finds itself at the forefront of theoretical oenology where researchers are pointing to the same congener class as a significant layer of the terroir phenomenon.

You can fake esters, but you cannot fake rum oil. If you target esters in your production you will produce some rum oil, but if you target rum oil you maximize your potential and you get all the esters you want at the same time. This is easier said that done and was the dogged pursuit of the 1940’s rum researcher, Rafael Arroyo (it is pretty much what his 1945 book is all about). Production ends up requiring a virtuosic attention to detail or wild amount of divine chance. It is hard to say how the producers behind Mezan XO do it.

Two distilleries can start with the same substrate and thus the same amount of glycosides yet end up with wildly different amounts of rum oil. This aroma can be seen as silent or bound aroma that needs to be unlocked with care. Glycosides are typically split via enzymes produced by yeast. Alt, non-sacharomyces yeasts produce far more enzymes than typical sacharomyces (think budding bakers or brewers yeasts). This is where our hero from other posts, Schizosacharomyces Pombe, comes in (as well as a few others).

Catalysts, like acidity, also act to increase rum oil production as well as that expensive ingredient of time. Longer fermentations (and resting periods) yield more opportunity for glycoside hydrolysis, but at the risk of aroma-detrimental bacterial infections. Risk is worth money and that is why we should prize this congener class. Authenticity is also worth money, and unlike esters, this congener class is something that cannot be faked. There is no easy road to rum oil.

We are building up to the Mezan XO challenge, but first we need to go a little bit further.

Many spirits of great repute have lost this congener class as their production has been scaled upwards because no one really knew where it originated. The main loss comes from migration to low risk pure culture fermentations adopted by many formerly traditional distilleries because typical sacharomyces yeast produce less of the enzymes needed to split glycosides. Besides spirits, this has profound implications for wine. Pure culture fermentations forgo a lot of this aroma because they result in a much narrower microbial community. For spirits, tequila may have been the most negatively affected by yeast changes as production scaled up.

Devastating changes to a spirit often happen when a distillery changes physical buildings as result of increasing production because so much of the microbial community is held in the architecture. Hampden estates, with some production areas covered in aroma-beneficial molds, is the perfect nth degree case study while others like the cult beer producer Cantillion are also notable.

So little basic science has been done on architecture embedded microbial communities that we don’t even know how they start or get balanced forming a SCOBY (I have a collection of anecdotes!). Aroma-beneficial molds are often over looked in Jamaican rum production in favor of aroma-beneficial ester producing bacteria, but they likely have their origins in the long forgotten “rum canes”. When Jamaican rum wash bills used percentages of fresh sugar cane juice, it likely came from Rum Canes which were canes infected with molds. These could be analogous to the noble rot in wine grapes, but definitely different in the finer points. They might not even exist anymore having been eradicated by modern cultivation methods and pesticides and thus only available through the physical buildings we take for granted.

We’re getting closer to the Mezan XO challenge, but first we have to look at the end of rum science history in the 1990’s and how and why Cognac took over. Rum science seems to end in the 1990’s with a call to explore alt yeasts but never directly pointing the finger at aroma from glycosides as the most significant source of rum quality. Cognac picks up where rum leaves off for some really interesting reasons. This means that if we want to advance rum further we have to look to Cognac and some of the ideas at the forefront of oenology research.

Bon vivants will note that there is a lot of overlapping character between the finest rums and the finest Cognacs. Many rums historically were designed to mimic Cognac. Grapes used for Cognac production are also high in glycosides. Cognac production also has a few other properties overlapping with rum we could go into, but I’ll spare you.

Cognac oil as a congener class, just like rum oil, has been recognized for over a hundred years, but the big driving force behind why the torch was passed to Cognac is because they have their back up against a wall. Everyone else focuses on expansion instead of quality improvement, but Cognac is a small region and their product has been legendary for centuries. They have cultivated near all viable area. They cannot expand, they can only improve so that is where they spend their energies and do it so well.

We can only hope the new American distilleries end up similarly with their back up against a wall. Right now they are all trying to expand rapidly, forgoing quality. If new American distilleries balloon from 600 to 3000, the focus will likely go from expansion to quality improvement as a way of staying competitive.

Cognac researchers are also notably in tune with their heritage and they bring us from an era of traditional practices to guided traditional practices. Chaotic diversified microbial communities are the hallmark of traditional practices and science is starting to recognize the importance of minority community member’s role of producing the rarest most extraordinary aroma. Tradition alone, in this context, is associated with ignorance and ideology best exemplified in the sloppy natural wines flooding the market. While guided tradition recognizes the science behind the chaos, does not seek to master it so much as frame careful windows around it to reign in the risk. The resultant products are consistently extraordinary (In wine, I would single out Randall Grahm immediately, but so many deserve cognition).

Before the Mezan XO challenge I’d quickly like to note that certain Armagnacs are very high in aroma from glycosides and they can be very hard to tell apart from Jamaica rums. Certain tequilas are notably high, but fewer than there used to be. Older rums from cult producers had it and lost it. Use your nose and keep track (there are also a few amazing chemical tests taught by Arroyo*). If we highlight exemplary producers they will become stronger guided traditionalists and be mindful as they scale up to global demands.

(*The most basic test is to take a 2 oz. sample and add sulfuric acid which will destroy all the esters and aldehydes subtracting their aroma. If strong residual aroma remains, it can be attributed to the rum oil congener class. This sample is now undrinkable!)

Rum oil, Cognac oil, and aroma derived from glycosides may have pharmacological effects, that is what the challenge is about. If you drink spirits high in these congeners you may feel significantly less dehydrated by the ethanol. Your buzz may seem to hang broadly in a really lovely way. It is a different drunk with lots of anecdotal evidence to support it. Search your recollections, have you ever experienced something like it? Is rum oil the pattern behind mysterious lack of hangover after significant consumption? Are wines of terroir more gentle?

Most all congener classes have been widely studied and ruled out as specifically contributing to hangovers in broad populations. Rum oil has not been studied because of near no awareness and that it is appreciable in less than 1% of all spirits. It is the product of very specific microbial communities just like so many drugs, there is no scientific reason to immediately dismiss its unique potential power.

Remember, I am the guy perceptive enough to have identified all of the olfactory illusions in the wild categorized by Richard Stevenson. When wallowing through subjectivity, my track record of acuteness rivals a neurologist.

I encourage any devoted bon vivant to take the Mezan XO challenge and consume appreciable amounts of the spirit (safely) and note the effects. Do this especially if you are aging and your tolerance for alcohol is changing negatively hangover wise. Who can afford to crush eight ounces of Martel Cordon Bleu, but anyone can afford Mezan XO. Sacrifice your body for speculative science. Design controlled drinking experiments. Supply of truly fine spirits will not come without demand and here I am unraveling the chemical pattern. No hangover research has been focused enough to look at a mythic congener class that is barely acknowledged and not widely available on the market. Maybe we can inspire researchers to pursue it. What comes before the science? This.

Take the Mezan XO challenge and/or search your recollections then please leave a comment!

Ageing, Accelerated Ageing, & Élevage ==> Lies, Damn Lies & Statistics

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Aging, maturation, curing, whatever you want to call it, is a hot topic these days. Many labels across many spirit categories are dropping age statements because they cannot keep up with soaring demand and many new entrants to the market are considering fake ageing techniques associated with a bygone era. I thought it may be fun to take a look at Arroyo’s progressive musings on the topic as he attempted to reform the sprawling rum industry.

The chapter on curing in Studies on Rum is pretty spectacular. For this conversation, it makes sense to start at the end:

We shall now close this chapter on the maturing of raw rums by touching lightly on the matter of accelerated curing of the raw distillate. Not all, or rather few, of the rums in the market have passed through a curing process such as we have outlined above. Our era of acceleration and impatience in all affairs of human endeavor would not allow of an exemption in the case of rum making. On the other hand, the ever increasing demands of the trade, the lack of adequate working capital, the anxiety for immediate returns, immoderate and unfair competition, and many other influences of business, compel the manufacturers to place their products on the market in the shortest possible time. As a direct result of the above-mentioned conditions, accelerated or quick aging processes have been developed, and are being developed all the time. There exist practically as many “secret methods” of artificial curing of rum as rectifiers are engaged in the business. Judging from what has been accomplished thus far, and from the nature and quality of the “rums” thus produced, the writer’s opinion is that the results obtained are very mediocre and unsatisfying; leaving the problem of artificial rum curing an open question.

What was outlined in the chapter was pretty much ageing as we think we know it, but as claimed few practiced it as of 1945. Puerto Rico was not the typical rum producing island as pointed out by Peter Valaer in 1937 so the local products being sampled by Arroyo are no exhaustive survey of the state of all rum production. Other islands were exporting tons of product to be aged in Europe so what was left for domestic consumption was likely another story.

Processes for rapid curing may be divided into two general classes: (1) Those merely tending to accelerate the reactions and changes occurring during natural ageing, and in this way accomplishing maturity of the raw product in a short time; but without the addition to the raw of extraneous substances, the so-called carriers of taste, aroma, and body. (2) Those intended to accomplish the results mentioned under (1); but using besides these extraneous matters, imparters of taste, aroma, and body. The method used under (1) will fall into four main divisions: (a) moderate heat treatment or intense cold treatment; or alternate treatments of heat and cold; (b) treatment with compressed air; oxygen, hydrogen peroxide or ozone; (c) exposure to actinic rays; (d) electrolytic treatment and use of catalysis. Methods under (2) above, may include all of the methods under (1), besides the addition of flavoring and aromatic substances for development of taste and bouquet. Among these added substances we may mention; (a) various types of sweet wines, among which the various “Moscateles” and “Málagas” from Spain; and prune wines from Scotland are much in vogue; (b) infusions of herbs, leaves, barks of trees, roots, etc. etc.; (c) alcoholic and aged fruit extracts, among which peaches, prunes, figs and apricots are much used; (d) artificial  essences of rums or brandy; (e) various natural and synthetic essential oils, and flavoring extracts as cassia oil, oil of cloves, artificial or natural vanilla flavor, oil of bitter almonds (free of hydrocyanic acid); and various sugars, as sucrose, dextrose, sugar cane syrup, maple syrup, and bee honey.

In this guise, beverages are made that although more deserving of the name of cordials or liqueurs, are labelled with the name of rum. We believe that all of this is avoidable and unjustified, should more and better attention be bestowed on the different stages of rum manufacture, and especially on rum yeast selection. Governmental regulations and inspection of the rums produced and sold in the local and United States markets wold be a great help towards fostering the interests of the industry, and securing the genuine article for public consumption.

Well, there wasn’t anything too new there, but it is a great organization of the concepts in the midst of when it was all going down by a scientist with a privileged vantage point. An item of trivia that I didn’t know about was that the prune wines came from Scotland. The paragraphs just tell semi specifics on fake aging and I caught most all of them in my investigation of Wired’s look at the Lost Spirits fake aging reactor. Not much has changed.

Lets back track to the beginning of the chapter and see if Arroyo gives anything helpful to frame rum maturation:

Is the expression “Aged Rum” equivalent to that of a “Matured Rum”?

We have observed that a great majority of persons use these two expressions as synonymous but they are mistaken. When one term is used as equivalent of the other we are merely confusing the end with the means, for really, maturity in the rum is the end sought, and ageing is one of the means employed towards the obtention of this end. Now then, although usually an aged rum is also matured, this sequence does not follow necessarily, nor there exists a definite lapse of ageing time at which the condition of maturity may be said to have been reached in all cases. On the other hand, a given rum may be matured without necessarily being what is commonly called an old rum. If the quality of maturity depended only, and exclusively, on the amount of time the rum had been kept aging, then perhaps the two expressions could be used indistinctly, but it is not so; ageing being only an important factor in the process of maturing. There are other, for instance, the potential capacity and adaptability of the crude rum or raw distillate to acquire the state of maturity. In our opinion, this factor is as important, or more perhaps, than that of ageing.

Profound! We want it so simplified, but it is not so simple. I am personally really enjoying the collapse of the age statements because it is really a test of the market’s ability to truly appreciate spirits. And, as usual, Hemingway would be siding with me. Can the market actually notice and evaluate maturity? No! Has it borrowed anything useful from wine appreciation? No!

With wine, we make our own pronouncement of maturity and as the age statement grows, so too does skepticism that it will be intact. We also value multiple levels of maturity. Luckily the bottle is its own curing vessel and we can leave our other bottles where they lie if they need more time. Wine gets too mature often and the majority of collected wines actually die in the cellar. I just drank an expensive Martinique rhum the other day that I thought easily spend too much time in wood. It was way too obviously tannic and that feature was a distraction from the aroma.

Notions of maturity will always be deeply personal (your own stance) and based on the idea that flaws only form when we have enough education to attach the symbolic tags of regrets or missed opportunities to specific sensory details. Maturity relates to the unsexy concept I use all the time that is the frequency of occurrence of sensory features. Wines become mature as they migrate from ordinary to extraordinary with a decreasing frequency of occurrence of sensory details. After a peak, they return to the ordinary but with a growing sense of regret and missed opportunity. With wine, many of us hold the same stance on maturity and there is consensus on what is truly great, but with spirits at the moment, few attain a vantage point to make sound declarations. Life is short, the art is long!

It may not be impractical to start differentiating a curing stage from an ageing stage and wine can help anchor the concept. Curing could be the stage when a wine or a spirit goes from inharmonious to a commonly accepted harmony. Wines cannot be enjoyed immediately upon the completion of fermentation and have to go through a stage (with its associated techniques) called élevage. Some will even say it is not wine, but merely fermented grape juice until it goes through the process. Ageing would come later and a true connoisseur should be able to appreciate the wine at multiple places in its ageing journey.

Spirits, some others maybe more so than rum, also go through élevage. This may most closely pertain to the transformation of specific congeners like the reduction of ethyl acetate and acetaldehyde. Where lees contact or micro oxidation are techniques of wine élevage, charcoal filtration or as we just found out, specific watering regimens (if not also reflective fermentation adjustments) are among the techniques spirits employ. It is probably safe to categorize caramel and added sugar as a heavy handed élevage technique.

As an illustration, let us take up an imaginary case of two raw rums and called them “A” and “B” respectively. Both raw rums are set to age in the same kind, size, and quality of barrels, and under equal conditions of temperature and relative humidity. At the end of one year the two rums are examined by the usual tests for maturity and it is found that rum “A” has already acquired the quality and general conditions inherent to a matured rum; while rum “B” has not quite reached this conditions. Rum “A” is then bottled, and the ageing of the “B” is continued, till at the end of another six months we find that it also has reached the state of maturity previously observed in the case of “A”. Would it be fair to consider sample “B” as more matured than sample “A” for the mere reason that is has aged for a longer period? Could we be justified in acclaiming rum “B” as superior to rum “A” for the mere fact that it cost more time and money to impart the characteristics of maturity to it? Evidently not. If at all, we could say that “A” was superior to “B” in an economic sense since it acquired maturity in two thirds of the time required by sample “B”.

This might be the example that the average consumer (where they stand now) needs, but hopefully we can quickly grow a little past that. In Arroyo’s era, rums were naively being produced without knowledge of options while the aspirations of each rum were roughly the same. Wine went through this phase lasting decades after prohibition ended and Amerine, Tchelistcheff et al. filled the role of Arroyo and taught us our options.

Older practices, contrary to Arroyo’s, were not without merit, and that was only realized as the aspirations diverged to where there was a fine market alongside the commodity market. A big flag to be raised was whether anything was compromised by designing a rum to be matured quicker? And how does it compare to wine design? There is a wide spectrum between building a wine like a brick house that can age forever and building a wine like a FEMA trailer. Rum aspirations are finally solidly diverging and we can now reflect back on all the available options like the wine industry has done in the last leg of its renaissance. Some of Amerine’s teaching had staying power across all styles of wine while others were relegated to low risk, massive volume, jug wine production. Rum has gone through all the same phases, we just haven’t noticed. With enough scholarship, some day we will be able to get really specific.

This example has been presented so that the reader may clearly grasp the meaning of ripeness or maturity of product as distinguishable from that of age of product. It is not fair to use solely the time a rum has been in the curing barrel as a criterium of its goodness or of its pretended superiority over a similar rum that has been less time ageing in the curing barrel. Hence, any standard of rum quality based solely on the lapse of time the different products have been aged, would be not only unscientific and erroneous, but also decidedly unjust. It is not the age of the rum that is bought and paid for by the public, but the genuine characteristics of body, aroma and taste that on reaching maturity a rum acquires. The time required by different rums to reach this state of maturity during ageing will depend, other conditions being equal, on the type and the quality of the product as a raw distillate.

This is where we need to get to. We get stuck on age statements and then we get stuck on what type of still was used yet rarely delve deeper into the parameters of still operation. Sadly, we never get to fermentation parameters or yeast type. I was really surprised that when I started writing about Schizosaccharomyces Pombe as a rum yeast, not one enthusiast in my circle knew of it as an alternative to budding yeast.

But this is rum and it is so varied, does any of this apply to Bourbon which is not so varied but losing its age statements? I do not know the answers but these are things we can start to think about. Bourbon has privately if not secretly seen astonishing technological advancements in the last twenty years. From what I gather, all the advancement were about monitoring traditional practices in an effort to stay consistent as production grew to meet global demands and hit sustainability targets. There may be a new effort from all the data to sculpt next generation products. Bourbon producers may have finally gone through all the Olympic trials with prospective yeasts as well as mastering congener creation to hit maturation targets faster. Bourbon producers may have taken the hard road, the Arroyo road, through massive research efforts and arrived at the 21st century.

Our researches on the question have demonstrated that great variations and difference exist in the capacity and adaptability of different raw distillates to acquire maturity. There are some capable of reaching this desirable condition in from one to two years of ageing, while others may require twice, and even thrice this time.

It is really amazing the little importance that is generally conceded to the quality of the raw distillate in most rum distilleries. Instead of trying to produce a raw spirit that would need the least trouble in treatment during rectification before finally bottling the product, producers spend their energies and efforts in finding new, more complicated, and laborious methods of curing the defects of poorly fermented and worse distilled raw spirits.

This may still be the case, but that will change when we all go post-Kavalan! I promise to some day elaborate.

And yet, to our view, the future of the rum industry is dependent, in its technical aspects at least, on the production of better raw spirits, raw rums that on account of their well-balanced chemical composition and excellence of physical and organoleptic characteristics, will require but little ageing time to acquire maturity.

Towards that goal a great part of our efforts have been directed, and we have found that the obtention of maturity is not due to one single cause, as for instance ageing; but that this final result is obtained through a happy combination of many factors which begin operating with the choice of fermentation agents and raw materials and end with the bottling of the product for public consumption. Every one of the different stages through which the product must pass before reaching the bottle, shall impart to it favorable or unfavorable conditions and characteristics towards the obtention of maturity. Hence, the final success or failure will depend on the manufacturer’s ability to employ those methods and technic that better and more efficiently contribute to the rapid acquirement of maturity.

Of some such methods we have been treating in the past chapters, and in this one we shall consider the phase of rum manufacture that supposedly bears the greatest influence on the subject under discussion.

Having thus obtained the rum in the raw state through the process of distillation it becomes necessary to develop to the utmost the inherent characteristics of a good product. This is secured by the process known as curing or maturing. Here we wish to state emphatically that by this process we do not mean converting a bad product into a good, wholesome one. Not by any means. The rum which is bad in its raw state will continue to remain so, no matter which is done with it, or to it. Proper rum curing is not a process to change or transform, but to develop and further enhance the latent qualities already existing in the right kind of raw distillate. Of course, a poor raw rum may be made to improve, but it will never be converted into a first-class beverage with distinctive seal of excellence through the curing process, whether the natural or slow, or the artificial or rapid curing be employed.

We all know, not all wines are age worthy. I probably don’t need to say much more so it is probably safe to stop there.

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Originating a Gin

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To produce a gin from scratch,
first we must invent the universe.

Originating a Gin.

A giant hole in spirits production literature is the distillation of gin and the reason may be that it is seen as less of an agricultural activity than other spirits like the production of brandy, whiskey, or rum which attracts agricultural scientists. What limited amount of literature that does exist on gin does not exactly teach one how to develop a gin from scratch, but rather only to maintain and continue the production of an existing gin. Originating a gin is complicated and requires a lot of expensive trial and error, but hopefully by framing the process, a shorter path to success can be taken.

Gin is essentially spirit redistilled with various botanicals, most importantly juniper and coriander. The spirit is typically grain neutral spirit, but that isn’t always the case these days with other spirits as extreme as tequila successfully being used. There are different styles of gin like London dry, Genever, and Old Tom. The differences between the styles is not as clear as you’d think. It may be common knowledge that Genever is made from malt spirit while London dry is made from grain neutral spirit, but it isn’t common knowledge how the botanicals formulas differ in style. Between the different styles, there is definitely a blurring of the lines of some facets and that is part of gin’s charm. It would not prove helpful to define any of the categories so instead we will explore the shaping of the facets.

One of the first things to note about gin production is that just like distillation of spirits from fermentations, making cuts is also spectacularly important to gin. When distilling fermentations, the cuts are to remove and recycle congeners that are ordinary or objectionable while capturing congeners that are extraordinary, defining of the source material, and contributing to complexity at limited quantities. Gin follows a lot of the same objectives with regards to removing an excess of what is ordinary while capturing what is extraordinary, but the chemical compounds are mostly all different. Knowing them by name specifically is not always helpful, but understanding them in general will help craft extraordinary gins using only organoleptic analysis.

A lot of aroma is created or augmented during gin distillation, so just like spirits produced from fermentations, the sensory properties of a gin are also impacted by time under heat. Heat augments many of the extraordinary compounds in the flavoring material and renders them ordinary. These chemical compounds are mostly all in the terpene family. While full flavored spirits from fermentations are distilled slowly, gin is distilled swiftly, but at a pace in line with what the condenser can handle and the condensing temperature should ideally not exceed 20°C.

If a spirit is condensed above 20°C, it is far more likely to contain copper salts that are considered objectionable and possibly toxic at extremely high levels. Many countries monitor the copper content of distillates and sometimes use the metric as a trade barrier to prevent crude and cheaply produced distillates from entering the country. Many new stills are being built with stainless steel condensors to limit copper contamination.

To reduce time under heat, some gins are distilled at either partial vacuum or higher levels of vacuum. As degree of vacuum increases, so too does expense because more specialized equipment is required. Vacuum distilling is seductive, but not always worth the effort until other options and methodologies have been fully explored. Many of the greatest gins in the world are produced at atmospheric pressure without any degree of vacuum to lower the temperature.

Many gins are developed on small scale pilot plant equipment and then migrate to larger scale stills, but not many people are aware of the ways still size effects the product. The main difference is that still size impacts time under heat. A still of larger capacity takes longer to heat up and longer for the spirits run. If the botanicals are boiled in spirits, they will encounter heat for both the duration of the pre-heating and the duration of the spirits run, therefore time under heat can multiply quickly when still capacity increases.

One way to reduce time under heat is to use a gin basket. When the botanicals are held in a container suspended above the pre-heating liquid, they are not subjected to heat until vapor starts evaporating which marks the beginning of the spirits run. A gin basket can therefore significantly cut down on time under heat. On a small still, to gain time under heat, to approximate a larger still, botanicals can be heated in spirits while held in sealed jars sous-vide.

Even if the sous-vide technique is not used for pilot plant production, it can be used to explore the properties of botanicals. Nth degree scenarios can be created to teach sensory assessment where exaggerated amounts of time under heat are created for a botanical which can be compared to lesser degrees to get a first hand, abstracted, organoleptic, look at differences.

Some producers steep botanicals in spirits, typically at 60% alcohol, before distillation, often overnight. In many cases these botanicals endure significant time under heat after steeping and make very fine gins. Any combination of techniques can be used to control heat and its effect on aroma creation in the still.

Keep in mind, the 60% alcohol figure is not selected because it is the optimal proof to extract flavor, it is selected for other economies. If the figure were lower, it would take more energy to execute the distillation run because you would be heating water you do not intend to distill and this would also result in undue time under heat. If the figure was higher, less energy would be expended, but there would be a risk of boiling the pot dry and scorching botanical matter on the bottom of the pot or damaging a heating element. As the figure is optimized, these considerations should be taken into account.

The most important class of chemical compounds related to gins are terpenes which unfortunately can seem dauntingly complex. Fortunately, just like esters, some are ordinary and ubiquitous, having an analog to the very short chained ester, ethyl acetate, and others are extraordinary, more singular to each particular botanical, and defining of its most salient traits. Ordinary terpenes often act like olfactory shadows and they have unique perceptual effects above certain thresholds. Gins can be made to show higher contrast between botanicals by removing ordinary terpenes to reveal and promote extraordinary terpenes. Articulate manipulation of terpenes, often aided by sophisticated analysis techniques well beyond the means most startup distilleries, is the secret of the big gin brands.

Terpenes are hard to give a primer on because they are so diverse. Besides often varying in functional groups, they also vary significantly in their carbon skeletons. Countless chemical analysis studies exist that give very detailed breakdowns of the chemical composition of gins and other spirits, but these are typically for finished gins and not comparative looks at specific isolated fractions of gins. Knowing all of the chemicals by name does not prove especially helpful to the gin distiller until they can be attached to specific fractions in the distillation run or other specific distillation parameters, so they will not be covered here.

Contrast enhancement through ordinary terpene removal can seem counter intuitive because removing flavor ends up promoting flavor. Removing terpenes is the rule of thumb for essential oil production for perfumers and processed food flavor formulators, but the literature is short on complete explanations. It is often cited that the usage rate of an essential oil decreases after terpene removal which implies some sort of olfactory shadowing effect or change in threshold of perception of some compounds after others are removed. This knowledge reinforces the importance of making cuts for gin production.

Some gins are compounded from essential oils instead of distilled with botanicals and historically these have been very cheap gins. There have been significant advances in essential oil production since compounded gins gained their reputation, but originally they might have differed from distilled gins by the essential oils seeing significant time under heat when steam distilled and not benefiting from the fractional distillation allowed by distilling ethanol with water. Historically, essentially oils also saw significant amounts of adulteration. Terpenes can be separated from essential oils so fractionation can occur, but how it can compare to the results of a distilled gin has not been systematically explored. New methods of essential oil production, like super critical CO2 extraction, have been developed that may create new possibilities for compounded or partially compounded gins of extraordinary sensory quality, but they will likely face hurdles in a market that prizes traditional processes.

In regards to equipment, gin distillers have the option of using either pot stills or batch column stills, but column stills are often the preferred apparatus to distill at a consistent proof to more predictably stratify and sort terpenes when making cuts. By varying reflux, and thus relative equilibrium, a column still can easily achieve different distillation proofs during the spirits run from a multitude of input proofs. The only option for a pot still to control distillation proof is via the input proof of the spirits. If various practice runs are made to measure the distilling proof, a pot still can often gain the utility of a column still for gin production.

Sophisticated chemical analysis helps large distilleries sculpt their products and determine which distillation proofs and which cut volumes to use. When creating a gin from scratch without chemical analysis, not much can be done besides systematically and widely exploring all options. This can be expensive and time consuming, but as more investment is made to do it, the gin formula will move closer to its full potential.

Before significant investment is made to explore various still operation parameters, the options for standardizing botanicals should be learned. Large production gins rely on spectacular standardization of their botanical charges for oil yield and without it they would be working in the dark. Botanicals cannot simply be weighed because of significant variances in oil yield. Even within a given botanical’s essential oil, there can be significant variance of composition that should be taken into account whenever possible.

The simplest form of measuring oil yield is with Clevenger apparatus steam distillation. The essential oils are distilled with steam, and because they are not soluble in water, they separate so they can be collected, measured, and further analysis performed like the examination of refractive index which can imply properties of their sub composition. Much better results can be gotten from Soxhlet extraction with organic solvents, but the specialized glassware and accessories become more expensive. The largest scale distilleries use essential oil extraction with organic solvents. They then further analyze the essential oils with spectroscopy and chromatography to get complete looks at sub composition. Gins have to be produced at very large scales for many advanced forms of analysis to be economically viable at all.

One thing that sophisticated chemical analysis allows is the distilling of gin concentrates. The idea of creating concentrates which get diluted with more neutral spirit is seductive to small distilleries, but they are often not aware what exactly allows it to be done accurately. Congeners are being caught when they come out of the still and distilling a normal scale botanical charge is like catching an underhand lob while distilling a concentrate is like catching a fast ball. What you are really trying to catch is that exact point where you switch from collecting the heads fraction to collecting the hearts fraction. The difficulty of making the cut goes up dramatically when distilling a concentrate and it simply cannot be done without a well standardized botanical charge and further analysis of fractions from the distilling run.

Improper cutting of terpenes results in cloudiness and most all gins should be able to be made crystal clear by proper cutting. Terpenes are far less soluble in water than alcohol and as the proof drops, solubility decreases. This is best illustrated by diluting Absinthe with water and watching it quickly louche a milky white as terpenes come out of solution. In absinthe, louching is regarded as a feature, while in gin it is widely considered a flaw. Under some special circumstances that are not widely explored or documented, some large production gins contain food safe surfactants like glycerol to keep terpenes in solution. These should not be employed as a solution to fix faulty gins, but explored as a means to push boundaries with new gin types once production is widely explored.

When developing a gin formula, competitor analysis can be performed on commercial gins to aid the process. Commercial gins can be redistilled, ideally under vacuum, and separated into multiple fractions for organoleptic analysis along side other gins distilled under the same parameters to create equivalent fractions. The collected fractions can be cut to drinking proof and be nosed comparatively, either against complete gins or against single botanical distillates to reveal small details. The first fractions, which are concentrated with the most volatile terpenes, can be watered to test their ability to louche. Without sophisticated analysis, these simple tests can help control consistency and inform development decisions, such as increasing or decreasing the size of the heads fraction against the properties of industry leaders. It is highly recommended to own and explore the usage of small scale laboratory testing glassware before a gin is ever scaled up to production on a commercial size still.

A big secret of the the leading mass market gins is their spectacular sourcing. They are produced at such a scale where it is economically viable to visit the site of every source and know all their options. Large distilleries also develop quality control procedures and analysis techniques specific to every botanical they use. Large supplies of botanicals are properly stored to hedge against shortfalls and often introduced to the botanical charge by Solera method to increase consistency. This level of involvement is not always possible for the small scale distiller, but even when recognizing these facts it is possible to make extraordinary gins on the small scale.

Small scale distillers need to do their best to understand their options within their production scale. Botanicals are not all created equal and as an agricultural crop will often show significant inconsistencies that should be caught and accounted for. Spirits marketing homogenizes juniper to simplify an understanding for consumers, but on a sensory level not all juniper is created equal. The properties of juniper differs significantly by latitude and proximity to coast line. As juniper is grown further north and closer to the sea, it often becomes relatively more arid and drier in aroma. Extremes of character are classically seen as flaws, but within the new spirits market, where terroir is prized and there is more room for acquired tastes and individuality, there is room for former flaws to become marketed as features. Multiple species of juniper exist, but with only Juniperous Communis classically being seen as fit for gin production. Alternative juniper species present opportunities for new gin possibilities, whether used fractionally or in total, but it should always be remembered that they face an uphill battle in the market and their exploration should only come after production is sufficiently explored so the potential of their unique character can be isolated and not confused with other variables.

Very basic ideas in olfactory category theory can inform the creation of a gin botanical formula. Gins typically contain so many botanicals as to touch upon a broad array of olfactory categories. Gins are dominated by botanicals, particularly juniper, that are categorized as converging with acidity (the olfactory-acid). Other botanicals, like citrus peels, converge with sweetness while some converge with bitterness and others with the chemical senses like piquancy. Coriander may be requisite to a gin formula because it converges with multiple categories thus becoming a cornerstone.

Many botanicals, inhabiting the same category, like juniper and angelica, tonally modify each other to create an overtone that aspires to be extraordinary. On the other hand, anise can often be perceived as occupying the same category as citrus peel, but instead of producing an overtone, the combined botanicals produce an interval with a pleasurable expansive sense of space. Almond often produces a similar sense of space in relation to other olfactory-sweet botanicals. Too few botanicals could result in a boring gin, which truly isn’t often the case, and too many botanicals can create something blurred without enough contrast enhancement to draw any interest.

There are not many rules, but there are many pitfalls and seductive traps to avoid. Keep in mind, for every botanical that is added, there should be enough time to adequately perform analysis on that botanical and widely explore its relationship to the formula. Botanical formulas are not created at random or by savants. The creative linkage of every botanical in the formula can articulately be described using ideas in olfactory category theory to justify and strengthen all relationships. With a solid understanding of creative linkage, botanical formulas can be created that fill market voids, put to use opportune sourcing, or simply realize personal aesthetic dreams.

Gin production holds a lot of secrets, luckily they all can be unlocked with systematic exploration. Exploration starts with small scale laboratory glassware to perform single botanical experiments as well as competitor analysis. It migrates to the pilot plant where time under heat needs to be considered and eventually moves to a full scale commercial still. Sophisticated chemical analysis helps when developing a gin, but does not provide any short cuts, rather it only helps production scale dramatically upwards. Standardization of botanical charges is paramount for any gin to be taken seriously. There are many seductive ideas in gin production like distilling under vacuum or distilling concentrates, but they are considered advanced and should only be explored after other options have been sufficiently understood. The making of cuts is critically important to a gin, perhaps even more so than other spirits. Sensory science explaining terpene perception, in the context of essential oils, is not well understood and any lack of documentation is best overcome by creating systematic first hand organoleptic experiences. Cloudiness is the biggest pitfall of the new gin distiller and it must always be remembered that the industry leaders produce crystal clear gins.

Epilogue

By now many people have read this, but the only comment I received was from Tom Nichol the distiller of Tanqueray and creator of Tanqueray Ten. I mention both products because where some distillers only maintain gins they’ve inherited, Tom Nichol created an original gin with Tanqueray Ten which is widely seen as the most extraordinary new gin of the past numerous decades. He said via a tweet, “Great piece of reading, but sometimes we can make things sound more difficult than they really are.”

What I suspect Tom objected to was my very progressive ideas on olfactory category theory which I feel are important to creating botanical formulas under market conditions many of us face today. My ideas come from the perfume industry and are hardly thought of as progressive there. I think of those ideas as solving problems that the global gins do not have. Tom is in the heavy weight class and probably competes with less than ten gins in his class, each striving only to be more classic than the next. Small scale gins, for example only those from New England, endure much stiffer competition and compete against likely thirty plus other local options, all struggling to tell a great story. The small scale gin market, which is ever getting denser, more closely resembles the perfume market where there are countless perfumes. Any new option has to articulately carve out its niche in a very dense and saturated market. If you are going to throw money behind a product, especially when you barely have money, you can’t be shooting from the hip.

What I hoped was noticed was how my explanation contained useful considerations not found in the existing literature. The texts on the subject do not give explanations any more specific than because I said so. They do not help the new industry with the extremely varied conditions and the varied equipment it works with.

As I mentioned at the very beginning, gin is not seen as an agricultural product, so it has not had the benefit of great thinkers making their ideas public in the hopes to see a more distributed gin production of very high quality. At the same time, gin production has never been more important because it helps startup producers who are often definitely in agriculture, build a brand, generate much needed cash flow (as they diversity into other spirit categories), and drive rural tourism in areas that certainly need it. Hopefully I wrote something that will drive more constructive discussion and inspire others to share their knowledge.

Eventually I’m going to assemble a better annotated bibliography of gin production instead of having people rely on what is sporadically hosted all over this blog.

Rum—Distinction of Genuine and Artificial (1909)

[10/24/16] Yes, I found Micko’s original papers and they had a lot offer even though they were somewhat expanded upon by Arroyo. No, I will not share them yet because they hold all the secrets to the future of the new distilling scene.]

Jamaica Rum—Distinction of Genuine and Artificial.—Real Jamaica rum contains certain aromatic bodies which do not occur in European potable spirits nor in fictitious rum. R. Micko finds that if 200 Cc. of the spirit and 30 Cc. of water are distilled into seven fractions, each of 25 Cc, the first two or three fractions will contain alcohol and the esters of formic and acetic acids. The fractions following will have a characteristic odor when the rum is artificial. With genuine Jamaica rum the typical aroma occurs in the fifth and sixth fractions. Not only can a trained sense of smell and taste differentiate between genuine and spurious rum by this test, but can even detect a mixture of one with the other.—Pharm. Journ., Feb. 13, 1909, 188; from Chem. Techn. Beport, J2 (1908), 675.

This little blurb proved popular back in the day and was published in many other places. R. Micko who the passage mentions was a well cited fermentation chemist working for the French islands.

I chose to highlight this small fragment of the rum history because it parallels some ideas that are in my Distiller’s Workbook. Basically, we can learn a lot about spirits by chopping them up. If we suspect a rum of containing significant amounts of sugar, we can simply dehydrate a few ounces of that rum and weigh the non-volatile fraction to see what’s left over. It can often be a $2 experiment. If we suspect there are non-sugar cane (or barrel) derived flavoring additives, simple distillation and separation into fractions could add weight to the argument. The sophistication of rums back then may not have been as complex as it is today, but if a rum was finished in a barrel that formerly held something like orange liqueur, the test might make that very apparent relative to the same test performed and compared fraction to fraction on genuine rums.

Cutting up and comparing spirits fraction by fraction should become standard practice in new distilleries. If we know where the congeners lie and how to manipulate their values we may be able to sculpt or blend spirits in ways people do not think possible without GCMS or being a savant.

Last year I looked at a set of papers, The Flavor Components of Whiskey, which used an off the shelf, but sort of complicated, fractional vacuum distillation technique to cut up a whiskey along various lines of its volatility (then they analyzed the fractions). This was an extremely high fidelity way to do it, but the above 1909 method employing simple atmospheric distillation in glass with no (specified) reflux column is likely to tell enough to the low involvement low budget explorer.

The Flavor Components of Whiskey confirmed my earlier hypothesis that the salient characteristics of barrel aging was the least volatile, if barely volatile, and could justify weird renderings like my DIY barrel proof Overholt or the infamous Fernet 151.

Aficionados have accused many rums on the market today, like the Pyrat rums, of fooling around and have requested stricter labels to create transparency. I’m against that. What I would love to see is some old school competitor analysis that raises flags and is published in popular forums. I feel such published questions of authenticity backed up by scholarly work are enough to be bound to that label and negate any need for overly strict legal transparencies. I see it as the connoisseurial way.

Drinking is safe enough and governments do an amazing job of protecting us from toxic congeners like lead, methanol, and ethyl carbamate. We don’t need governments to protect us from bad art and the many GRAS spirit additives that obfuscate any sense of place. We can do it ourselves. I’m completely for the pursuit of a sense of place and other ideas like authenticity, but I want to go on a journey, confer with others, sort experiences, and find it myself.

I could say more about the finer points of this technique and maybe give anecdotes of performing it brand for brand. Maybe I will in the not so distant future.

Search for the Real: Olfactory Hallucinations and Passive Learning

I see more and more people searching for olfactory illusions and I’ve written about them quite a bit, though I don’t think any of it has trickled into mainstream contemporary culinary conversation.

A few time I’ve highlighted the spectacular paper, Olfactory Illusions: Where are they?, by Richard Stevenson, but what I should mention is that there is a small academic controversy out there over the topic. Another academic, Clare Batty, has challenged Stevenson’s language in her paper, The Illusion Confusion, and claims what we are calling illusions are really hallucinations. I eventually intent to outline the difference because the repercussions are significant to my studies of wine over at my evolving Vino Endoxa project. The topic is also wildly important to creating gins, vermouths or any other complex and composed culinary artifact.

Currently to get a better grasp on the concepts (hallucination versus illusion), I’m reading Oliver Sacks’ book, Hallucinations. In Sacks’ various tales of hallucinations, one thing that comes up frequently is that many visual hallucinations get turned off when a person is doing other tasks like performing math. The ability to generate a hallucination might be related to mental activity which is no simple thing to sum up because of our ability to multitask.

This all made me think about various sensory scientist’s claims that we learn aromas better passively than actively. I played with this idea long ago when I created aromatized hand sanitizers to better learn aromas and my results were encouraging (repeated use of the sanitizer dramatically changed the threshold of perception of the odor).

True, or real (my terms) aroma perception duels constantly with recollection which we know is very powerful. I’ve said before that perception is the meeting point of incoming sensation and outgoing recollection. Sort of the like the doors of perception, there are different perceptual states with different distributions of the real and the remembered.

What I’m getting at is a hypothesis that when we are active (at another task), olfactory perception becomes more real (based on incoming sensation). When we are not distracted by other tasks, there are resources free that lets us slip into hallucinations and thus makes it harder to learn aromas.

The active and passive terminology I’ve inherited probably makes this confusing and we should just look at the distribution of resources. If we have a tendency towards olfactory hallucinations, having more mental resources free makes them morel likely to happen.

This is all just intense speculation in a hard to study subject, but why not just throw an idea out there and see what happens? Its not intended to be a justification for me drinking on the job (because when I’m busy I can learn and remember the whiskeys the best), or is it?

Playing God (or Carving Venus): Food Product Design

When writing my article on terpene removal a search for an author I quoted led me to this interesting 1998 article, The Sweet Taste of Success, published by Food Product Design. I have bunch of masters program text books on food science for food product designers and some of the ideas from industrial food scientists range from insightful & interesting to startling & creepy. They sometimes pen justifications for using artificial ingredients they call nature equivalent and rationalize them as more friendly to ecosystems than growing natural ingredients. They are known for not liking to waste anything so they take every fatty scrap and invent snacks for children (the road to hell is paved with good intentions).

But there is also great ideas to be found and I’m only high lighting this article because when I started collecting vermouth literature so many years ago, I was looking for unique language that flavor professionals used to discuss the very complex things they were constructing. Did they have language the flavor layman didn’t have and did that help them achieve so much? Sadly, I didn’t find anything too unique and I started creating my own language using ideas from aesthetics, sensory science, cognitive linguistics, metaphor theory, and category theory.

Here goes, lets highlight some passages.

Before becoming a food scientist, I couldn’t understand why my homemade yellow cake and freshly squeezed lemonade didn’t pack the full flavor of grocery-store products. It was only after touring my first flavor-manufacturing facility did I understand why my creations paled next to commercially prepared foods.

Oh god, what an introduction. What author Lisa Kobs is getting at is how commercial food manufacturers use every trick in the book to create a supernormal stimuli.

Flavor chemists have access to thousands of flavor compounds capable of accentuating the subtle nuances of sweet goods. The literature tends to focus more on the application of flavor to savory, rather than sweet, food products. But with a basic understanding of how to properly use flavoring ingredients, the food scientist can create the right flavor system for sweet applications.

This implies fragmenting something into a series of categories and manipulating them independently until you can create a seductive experience that exploits all of our reward mechanisms.

The four most common processing methods – Bourbon, Mexican, Tahitian and Java Indonesian – vary in the length of time beans are grown before picking; duration of drying; and the drying method used, which can include sun-roasting and fire-curing.

This differentiation of vanilla beans is new to me and very interesting. She describes vanilla as the chief way to enhance sweets but personally its a flavor I’ve rebelled against, often seeming too plebian and ordinary.

An aroma profile common to all vanillas is described as sharply acidic with slightly bitter back notes and a pronounced pungency.

In this statement note that she is describing olfaction in terms of gustation which is the first layer of my aroma categorization schema. I had also never seen vanilla referred to as acidic before.

However, vanillas have characteristic flavors and aromas based on their country of origin. Bourbon-processed vanilla beans, grown mostly in Madagascar and the Comoro Islands, produce a high-vanillin-content vanilla described as rich, smooth, rummy and full-bodied. Mexican vanilla beans have a lower vanillin content and the vanilla lacks the body associated with the bourbon beans. Its flavor profile has been described as sharp, slightly pungent, woody, resinous, sweet and spicy. Tahitian vanilla is distinctively sweet, very fragrant and perfume-like, with coumarinic flavor and heliotropine notes. Java vanilla beans, from Indonesia, produce a vanilla described as deep, full-bodied, harsh, smoky and phenolic.

Awesome descriptive language and differentiation here. She uses varying categories to describe each of the beans even using two iconic object comparisons for the Tahitian beans.

Ethyl vanillin is a chemically processed flavor made from the coal-tar derivative, guaiacol. It has an intense, vanilla-like odor, and has a more powerful flavor than vanillin. It can feature a harsh “chemical” character when used at too high a level. A number of other, less well-known components delivering a vanilla flavor include: veratraldehyde, which is herbaceous and warm; heliotropine, which is sweet, spicy and floral; anisyl acetate, which is powdery and floral; and vanitrope, which has a warm, spicy medicinal sweetness.

Coal-tar, who would have thought? I’m not afraid of that kind of thing but it is surprising. Here we see a “chemical” descriptor among many other categories. Powdery is a surprising one and the paper Understanding the Underlying Dimensions in Perfumers’ Odor Perception Space as a Basis for Developing Meaningful Odor Maps helps correlate such descriptors to others that are better known.

The category of sweet, brown flavors includes those flavors having the connotations of roasted, burnt or caramelized flavor systems, according to Carol Pollock, director, sweet and beverage flavor creations, Wild Flavors, Inc., Cincinnati. They can be extracted from botanicals and supplemented with other natural and artificial flavors, or they can be created by a reaction process. Flavors within this category include brown sugar, graham cracker, malt, honey, maple, molasses, caramel, butterscotch, coffee and chocolate.

Here she uses the term category which may seem insignificant but believe me its significant.

Flavor profiles for the base notes in many sweet brown flavors are similar. St. John’s bread, an extract of the carob plant, forms the base note for many brown flavors. Brown sugar gets its distinctive flavor from a thin coating of molasses on the granulated sucrose. Butterscotch flavor is made from heating butter, sugar, fat and salt. Lipase activity from the butter, caramelization from heated sugars, and Maillard reactions from the sugar and protein generate this flavor. Many of caramel’s flavor notes can be found in butterscotch, but with a twist. Botanical extracts that make up the sweet browns include black hawthorne, fenugreek, yerba mate and lovage. Brown flavors tend to contain more backnotes and mouthfeel rather than aromatics, and many of them have actual extracts of the ingredient in them, such as coffee or chocolate.

I love the idea in here of yerba mate. Flavor formulators love to surprise and here is an example of it in action. Yerba mate is a fragment or sub category of a larger category like sweet-brown so it fits because it fills its category role but it turns heads because its different and that is relatively more extraordinary. A pattern is found and put to use with a fun variation.

Honey. Honey is considered a sweetener, but one with a characteristic flavor. A complex flavor results from the sugars, acids, tannins, and volatile and nonvolatile components within it.

This is one reason why I specify non-aromatic when I use white sugar. It eludes to variations that could provide aromas such as using honey which is more than just aroma but rather flavor.

Using honey at high levels also can be quite expensive. The solution may be a honey flavor. The flavor chemist can engineer an excellent artificial honey flavor, and a blend of honey and other sweeteners boosted with a honey flavor would provide the desired flavor characteristics at a lower cost without the accompanying texture problems. Often a mixture of real honey and honey flavor can taste more like honey than actual honey does.

Lets quote that last sentance again:

Often a mixture of real honey and honey flavor can taste more like honey than actual honey does.

Text book supernormal stimuli: where there is a response tendency we create an exaggerated response tendency. Boom! Don’t let flimsy symbolic constraints like being natural get in your way…

Maple syrup. Maple syrup, the sap of black maple and sugar maple trees, is another sweetener containing a characterizing sweet brown flavor. The sap is concentrated through an evaporative process, which thickens it and intensifies the flavor. Syrup right out of the tree is mostly sucrose. Evaporation produces some glucose and fructose upon inversion at a low pH. One group of flavoring components comes from the ligneous materials from the sap, but a second group is formed by the caramelization of sugars.

A really interesting way to sum up maple. I didn’t know it started as sucrose.

Maple flavors have been developed by the extraction of botanicals, such as fenugreek and lovage, or chemical compounds, such as cyclotene and methyl cyclopentenone. It’s important to distinguish real maple flavor from maple syrup flavor. Processed, artificially flavored maple syrups have become almost a standard of maple flavor, while a true maple flavor has a completely different character.

Really interesting ideas on how to elaborate maple. And then the ubiquitousness of the artificial version has superseded the natural version? Interesting.

Chocolate flavors typically contain actual chocolate, or extracts and distillates from the cocoa beans. Artificial chocolate is difficult to make without any real chocolate extractive components because of the complexity of the flavor, according to Gary Reineccius, professor in food science, department of food science and nutrition, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis. “It’s very difficult to make a totally natural chocolate flavor, because the chemicals comprising chocolate flavor aren’t available in natural form, and the flavorist won’t even get close to a mediocre natural chocolate flavor by putting together pure chemicals without adding chocolate products.”

Its amazing how chocolate can elude forgery. Is the word forgery appropriate?

Vanilla and vanillin are commonly added to enhance the flavor of chocolate. They also are the primary source of flavor in white chocolate, which is a blend of cocoa butter, sugar and milk. Another developer’s trick to increase the perception of chocolate flavor is to darken the food matrix. The deep brown color of a chocolate cake will send connotations of rich chocolate flavor to the consumer’s mind before it is ever tasted.

Perception is the meeting point of incoming sensation and outgoing recollection. He color primes your recollections before you even taste. #phenomenology.

Aside from the adjective “coffee-flavored,” it can be called acidic, full-bodied, mellow, mocha, soft, nutty, rich, smooth, acidic, spicy, smoky, winey, heavy, chocolate, bright and earthy.

She goes from one upper level object comparison to other lower level object comparisons, sensations, and grounded metaphors where one sense in described in terms of another. Separating sensations like acidic from grounded metaphors like heavy is not always easy. In another context without much cluing, acidic could also be a grounded metaphor.

Coffee flavors have been developed by profiling the extractives of the native beans for their flavor, and then analyzing these chemicals and their composition. Reineccius explains that a compound called furfurylmercaptan can help the developer create coffee flavor without using coffee. Since this flavor isn’t available naturally, it must be labeled as artificial. It’s impossible to make a natural coffee flavor without starting with some coffee, as there are no other naturally occurring substances that capture this flavor. “Making coffee flavors challenges the flavor chemist because different levels of oils exist in the beans themselves,” Pollock explains. “In addition, different amounts of oils can be extracted, and coffee contains many reactive ingredients. Coffee flavor is temperature-dependent; freshly brewed coffee loses its impact within a minute of brewing.”

Adding furfurylmercaptan to coffee to stretch it would fit the intention of creating a supernormal stimuli. Interestingly its not to be more seductive but to be more economical. Like chocolate, coffee might be very symbolically significant to our culture because it resists forgery. #mythologies

Caramel. Applying heat to sucrose above its melting point catalyzes the reaction of caramelization. Sugar breakdown products create a mixture of aldehydes and ketones and, most importantly, furanones. These can be characterized as caramel-like, sweet, fruity, butterscotch, nutty or burnt, and are the backbone of the caramel flavor. “The decomposition of sucrose by heat is a challenge in a plant situation because it is difficult to control the reaction,” Pollock says. “It’s much easier to simulate caramel flavors by using compounded flavors.” Maltol, ethyl maltol and cyclotene are components commonly found in caramel flavors. Caramel candy’s flavor comes from heating and concentrating sugar and milk, so simulated caramel flavorings often are enhanced by added dairy notes. Caramelization occurs in baking and cereal manufacturing, and the product base can be enhanced by adding caramel-type flavors.

Wow, the inputs seem so cheap, but because its difficult to control the reaction at the large scale formulators often go artificial.

Fresh-fruit flavor can be achieved by blending juice with aromatics recovered from the rest of the fruit. Natural and synthetic flavors can be added to juice to boost flavor and reduce expense.

Good advice, press and then distill. This is very important for liqueur manufacturing. And then synthetic flavors make it go turbonormal stimulating.

Concentration via vacuum distillation separates solid matter from the aromatic substances. These can be partially recovered and added to the concentrate, but the finished product still will be deficient in top notes. Freeze concentration uses no heat, so the finished product’s profile is closer to real fresh fruit.

I tried to turn freeze concentration into a trend yeas ago because it is so cheap and easy on the small scale but no one bit.

Citrus fruits are made into essential oils because much of the characteristic odor is found in the peel’s oil. Citrus oils have a high percentage of terpenoid hydrocarbons. These carry smaller levels of oxygenated compounds such as alcohol, aldehydes, ketones and esters. These are responsible for the characteristic odor and flavor. The terpenes contribute an odor/flavor of their own, and a citrus oil with the terpenes removed will be flatter-tasting and lack freshness. Terpenes are typically removed because they will oxidize, resulting in lower flavor quality.

This is why I found this document. Interesting sensory descriptors of terpenes.

To develop a fruit flavor, flavor chemists start with what nature starts with: amyl, butyl and ethyl esters, organic acids, aldehydes, alcohols, ketones and lactones. These build, characterize and enhance fruit flavor. Some chemicals instantly conjure the image of the fruit they are meant to depict, such as amyl butyrate with its banana-like scent. Others, such as ethyl acetate, will suggest an overall unidentifiable fruit note that will enhance and round out the flavor. Green, fresh, earthy, overripe, cooked and floral notes all can be added for complexity.

Playing God. What a great rationalization in the beginning.

Organic acids occur naturally in fruits, giving them their distinguishing flavor and bite. The same flavor will deliver differently depending on the acid used to enhance it. While citric and malic are very close to each other chemically, their profile and sharpness in the mouth vary considerably, and each individual acid will enhance fruit differently. Citric acid enhances cherry and strawberry flavors, Pollock explains, and malic works with apple and pear. Blends of malic with tartaric are great for raspberry as the tartaric has a slight metallic aftertaste that fits with the seediness of a berry. The goal is stimulating other areas on the tongue. A subliminal amount of acidity, not specifically tart, can work well to add a different dimension. Phosphoric acid at less than 100 ppm, or acetic acid used at a level at which the scent isn’t noticed, are other atypical ways of using acidity.

This is great stuff and the descriptors are spatial. One problem with spatial descriptors like sharpness is that they are hard to make scaler with any concensus on meaning. I proposed to overcome that by using hypertext controls.

Grape typically has been associated with the use of malic and tartaric acids, according to Jim Lewis, director, flavor applications, Bush Boake Allen, Montvale, NJ. Today, citric acid is often used to enhance grape flavor, and many people have become accustomed to the different flavor that results. Because of this, some will perceive an off-note to grape enhanced by tartaric or malic acids.

We have been so warped by the works of flavor formulators that the artificial has become the norm and the natural seems off. #JorisKarlHysman #AgainstNature

Another option is using a nut flavor. “True and characteristic nut flavors can be developed from synthetic ingredients that not only convey a nutty characteristic,” Pollock explains, “but can simulate the specific nut, such as a filbert, hazelnut, cashew or pecan.” Many nuts contain allergens, so a great need exists for flavors that aren’t nut-based. Using only natural flavors restricts the flavor chemist’s compound options. A nutty character can be developed, but it won’t possess the unique nuances of the individual variety that can be found in the artificial flavors. Since these natural flavors require the use of actual nut extractives, it’s not easy to develop an all-natural flavor that is allergen-free.

Giving us allergies by saving us from allergies. Here the main category nutty is broken down into sub categories which are object comparisons.

Lets requote this:

A nutty character can be developed, but it won’t possess the unique nuances of the individual variety that can be found in the artificial flavors.

This refers to using natural non nut ingredients to synthesize the character of nuts. Kobs claims only artificial ingredients can push natural non nut ingredients into believable nut territory. I personally like artistic constraint and don’t feel the need to have nut named stuff when no nuts are present. This is a semiology issue, they are forcing a symbol on a sensation.

Spices. What would pumpkin pie be without the spiciness of cinnamon, ginger and cloves? Spices are defined as natural vegetable products used for flavoring, seasoning and imparting aroma to foods. Small quantities of spices add dimension to a food product, and their connotations of naturalness appeal to the consumer. However, spices vary in strength and flavor profile; their flavor is often less evenly distributed within the food matrix; they can represent a microbiological hazard; and they lose flavor strength upon storage. Occasionally, a large spice volume can make the food matrix muddied or speckled and bitter-tasting.

Connotations of naturalness… so what something symbolizes is important. #semiology

Often, an essential oil or extracted oleoresin is preferred. Essential oils help control flavor strength and character. They are microbe- and enzyme-free, and are stable under good storage. One drawback of the essential oil is that it only represents a portion of the total available flavor in a spice. The volatile oil of ginger won’t provide any of the pungent qualities because these qualities come from non-volatile components. Oleoresins contain the volatile and nonvolatile compounds from the spices, so their flavor is more characteristic of the spice. Oleoresins are thick, viscous liquids, making them difficult to incorporate into the food matrix evenly. They also are very concentrated, so weighing errors are dramatic.

A very interesting differentiation between an essential oil (only the volatile part) and an oleoresin (volatile and involatile). This fragmentary thinking is so much more important than people think.

Spices also may be found in the form of essences, emulsions and encapsulates, and plated onto sugar. Often, a blend of forms represents the perfect solution. In a cinnamon roll application, cinnamon essential oil will provide the flavor strength, while a dusting of ground cinnamon will give a quality, homemade appearance.

Homemade appearance. We’ve jumped from sensations to what something symbolizes.

Maltol and ethyl maltol can improve overall flavor, potentiate sweetness, increase the sensation of creaminess, mask bitterness and suppress an acid bite or burn. Marketed under the name VeltolÆ by Cultor Food Science, Ardsley, NY, these ingredients have a mild flavor and sweet caramel-like odor. While both compounds must be labeled as artificial flavors, the product line also includes product enhancers that can be labeled as natural flavor.

Potentiate sweetness here might be what I call olfactory-sweetness.

Licorice extracts, derived from the roots of the licorice plant Glycyrrhiza glabra, also possess flavor-potentiating properties.

More potentiating. What I’d love to know is if its an industry term or the authors personal term.

Going beyond the obvious can lead the developer into flavor areas that might sound unlikely, but the results speak for themselves. There’s no reason why a grape flavor can’t be enhanced by a less recognizable flavor such as melon or plum, which provides roundness and depth. Fantasy flavors, or flavors with no real characterizing base flavor, can come from all sorts of unlikely blends and can be great fun to the creative flavorist.

This is really great and it elludes to the power of the grotesque to be attractive and extraordinary.

“What the developer is doing is adding interesting notes,” says Reineccius, “and even though the product is sweet, the flavors don’t necessarily have to be. Odd items can contribute interesting notes – there’s really no limit. Garlic oil works nice in butterscotch because it provides a warm feeling, and chocolate often has been enhanced with low levels of fermented soy-based flavors.” Using 300 ppm of monosodium glutamate in maple syrup will help open up taste buds, and make the flavor come alive through this very viscous product, Pollock says.

Collage creative linkage. A plane is a fragment of the architecture of space -Hans Hoffman.

When 20 new flavors come in, it’s tempting to open the bottle, take a sniff, and make a decision. But flavors shouldn’t be screened in their pure state, as many of the notes will appear unbalanced or even unpalatable. The best screening method is trying a flavor in its final application. With a cake, bake a plain batter containing the flavors and evaluate to determine how they interact with other ingredients and heat. With time lines as short as they often are, and 30 flavors staring at you from the shelf, this may be unfeasible. The next best thing is to dilute the flavors in water, comparing them for quality, character and impact. Just as a sprinkle of sugar will tone down the bitterness of a slice of cinnamon toast, sweeteners make flavors come alive. This phenomenon is apparent when screening flavors. Diluting an almond extract in plain water will produce a slightly bitter and unpleasant liquid that would appear to contribute very little to the finished product. Adding sugar will accentuate its rich and fruity notes and bring out flavor more realistically. Many of the components of sweet flavors don’t have a very pleasant flavor on their own, so it’s important to screen sweet flavors with sweetened water. It also takes a great deal of imagination to recognize the capacity within a flavor.

This parallels my idea of making a series of sketches to get familiar with flavor fragments when making products like amaros or aromatized wines.

The way sweeteners interact with flavors and deliver to the human olfactory system is quite complex and almost totally unpredictable. When flavoring based on sweetness concentration, mildly sweetened products require the use of less flavor as the flavor comes through more clearly. At very high levels, sweetness becomes intense and begins masking the overall flavor. As a result, higher flavor levels are required.

When sweetness masks the overall flavor, I’ve called this cloying. Sweetness can be a aroma enhance to a point then it is an aroma distractor. Enhancement could be defined as lowering the threshold of perception.

The best method for developing products with balanced flavor is learning to speak the language of the flavorist, and to have them involved at the conceptual get-go. Don’t be afraid to answer their questions truthfully. The flavorist isn’t trying to steal your concept. Instead, he needs this information to provide the best product possible for a given application. How many hours, dollars and pounds of ingredients have been lost because a flavor didn’t act as predicted? Granted, there’s no guarantee changes won’t occur, but at least you’ll rest easier knowing you did everything possible to prevent it.

Does the flavorist actually have a language like aesthetic sensory language? or is she talking about business language and logistics of developing a formula?

It’s important for every food scientist to learn the language of flavor, because within every flavor category, a subset of many characterizing flavor descriptors exists. A fruity strawberry can be very unripe and green, very ripe, seedy tasting, or cooked so as to resemble preserves. It’s not enough to say one is seeking a chocolate flavor, because the terms tobacco, barny, fruity, musty, milky, woody, oily, green, hay-like and floral all have been used to characterize chocolate flavor. Telling the flavorist one is looking for a vanilla that is creamy, custardy, spicy, smoky, floral, caramellic, baby-powdery or fatty will save time by reducing the number of samples that need to be submitted and screened, resulting in shortened development time. Discussion can be promoted and expectations clarified by using food-item terminology, such as fruit punch, cough syrup, vanilla wafers or even brand names like Captain CrunchÆ cereal and Juicy FruitÆ gum.

So they think the have a language…

Developers and flavorists must have this list of vocabulary words, and agree on what flavor is being perceived. If one person describes a flavor as “hay-like” and the other person describes the same flavor as “barny,” then there should be a common word agreed upon so everyone knows this particular flavor will be described as such. This is not as easy at it might appear, as each individual has his own sensory strengths and abilities to communicate their reactions.

Agreeance is what I called Endoxa in my analysis of wine descriptors.

Granted this article is from 1998 and a lot has happened since in the industry, but it seems like there is tons of room to advance. The skills and ideas of the industrial flavor formulator are relevant to the cocktail creator or the micro distiller formulating new non traditional products.

Vino Endoxa: Freedom & Confinement

[This post is tied to my earlier works where I’m developing next generation tasting notation ideas and a wine recommendation engine. You need to write this kind of junk to organize your thoughts so you can push forwards.]
Vino Endoxa
Vino Endoxa: The Categories of Affect versus Sensation
Vino Endoxa: Three New Categories and Pamela VanDyke Price

For my next generation wine tasting description system (and recommendation engine) I thought I should take the time to explore both the freedom the system affords and the possible confinement people might use to condemn it. I sort of see the system easily being adopted by amateurs eager to learn but likely receiving an uphill battle swaying professionals because of any totality they assume it comes with. The system is comprehensive and does push boundaries, especially in recognizing non language and aroma illusions, but there certainly is no totality.

The teaching aid that is the Wine Aroma Wheel has achieved wide acclaim and its success points to a warm reception from any attempted system that can teach someone to better detect contrast and keep track of experiences. Vino Endoxa is in effect an extension of the wheel. It investigates the deeper theories of why the Aroma Wheel is so successful and tries to build on them. The aroma wheel is definitely confining because its so finite, but it is also only a starting point. Vino Endoxa is also a starting point but one that can be taken further from amateur all the way to professional use where it can be used in the wine industry to better keep track of the world of wine (so many merchants juggle 20,000 skus).

To be liberating, relative to the confines of other ideas out there, Vino Endoxa intends to articulate and expand upon the way people already think, especially when using non language, which often ends up being private, so that others can learn and benefit from these powerful contrast detection mechanisms that do not make it into most tasting notes or courses on wine.

Olfactory illusions have become an increasingly popular search term (according to my blog analytics) and they will always put a limit on describing an experience. When we taste a wine and try to describe it, we are not only describing the wine but also in large part describing our own very personal recollections. This doesn’t mean we should throw our hands in the air and say everyone tastes differently then give up. We all do have unique realities, but patterns exist within the bounds of our subjectivity that can make tasting descriptions valuable, data mineable, and capable of providing recommendations.

From my vantage point in the industry, wine professionals are likely to resist massive amounts of change that might alter their role in the industry. Could Vino Endoxa change the role and productivity of the wine professional? Maybe, but hopefully for every professional that resists or dismisses the project there is another that sees an exciting new tool that can increase their productivity and ability to represent more wines. At the heart of Vino Endoxa is the same core goals of so many wine professionals and thus can be a large asset to them.

Through providing recommendations and recognizing acquired tastes in wine, Vino Endoxa can promote and preserve diversity in the wine world. Diversity has been considered at risk for years as evidence by discussions of the Parker Effect, the loss of many indigenous varietal plantings, and the proliferation of low risk manipulated wine styles. Wine marketing has not been able to handle the long tale economics of a diverse wine world or the polarized tastes of wine drinkers. Uniting the right wine with the right person has so far been elusive but that could change with new tools.

One very liberating thing data can do is provide a memory that can help capture the journey, growth, and development of a drinker’s palette. This journey is too easily forgotten and taken for granted but shepherding it to cultivate taste and create a market for diverse, authentic wine styles is at the heart of most all wine professional’s mission.

Applying heavy amounts of data where there wasn’t much reeks of attempts at totality, the inevitability engine, or stripping the romance out of wine but that isn’t the case here. We only reach endoxa by degrees. The recommendations never get guaranteed, they only get better by degrees and eventually improve to a point where there is enough satisfaction to continue seeking them out.

The mystery of wine never unravels. Rather, we only corral and encircle the mystery, rounding up more and more of it to be enchanted by. Not everyone recognizes the therapeutic mystery of wine. Too many people simply drink wine for inebriation or low level relaxation. Exposure to new styles by recommendation or exposure to recognizable styles, but from never before experienced locals, may seduce more and more people with the mystery & romance of wine.

A recommendation engine does not want to create predictability in wine. There is a subset of potential user that will say: “I like these wines and they are all similar, please recommend for me a wine from this country I will also like.” That type of query is looking for predictability but its not a bad type because we did get them to explore a new region and they found they can enjoy wines from all over the world. Or another subset will say: “I like outliers and I can handle a lot, please recommend a new adventure for me.” All that we are predicting is that the wine will be an outlier with uniqueness and singularity. But again, no forces acted to homogenize the world of wine. It could be said that the wines were liberated to be themselves and just matched to the right people at the right time in the cultivation of their tastes.

One big limiter of the world of wine as we know it is the language problem. Countries like Greece and Slovenia make comfortable wines and exciting singular wines, the entire spectrum, but they lose out in the American market because of the language on their labels. If wine makers pander, tradition and integrity is sacrificed, but systems like Vino Endoxa can help us conquer exploring wines across the language barrier. When exploring new territory, no one needs a high degree of predictability but enough to avoid a sweet wine when you want an dry wine or an unoaked wine when oak isn’t your thing.

Vino Endoxa needs a collection of minds to advance itself from masters of wine to cognitive linguists to data scientists. Hopefully I paint a picture of a comprehensive but liberating project attractive and useful to great thinkers that love wine. The financial rewards for such a project are also very great and I should probably leave it at that.

Vino Endoxa®: Three new categories and Pamela Vandyke Price

In Adrienne Lehrer’s Wine and Conversation I discovered the incredible writings of Pamela Vandyke Price and was inspired to pick up her book The Taste of Wine (1975). Not many people give older wine books a thought, but I’ve had a lot of fun reading the editions of Anthony Hogg’s Wine Mine of the same era so I gave it a chance.

Vandyke Price was one of the first women to break into the wine world and in quite a major way. The torch was pretty much passed to her from legendary wine merchants Allan Sichel and André Simon. In busting the chauvinistic barriers of the industry she imbued her ideas with an egalitarian anti-pretentious slant that opens up the world of wine to new drinkers. It is not too easy to recognize this from the great place we currently stand but when you look at other literature, both before and after, it becomes recognizable. Another big achievement of Vandyke Price that was picked up by Lehrer was the language that she used. PVP collected, created, and popularized a lot of the modern tasting language in place today. This might all have been due to her not fitting into the good ol’ boys club and needing to carve out her own niche, but it has endured.

As a person that has read a lot of wine books, I whole heartedly recommend The Taste of Wine and think it could be a valuable part of any education, especially within a restaurant program, and especially because used copies are virtually free on Amazon. If anyone really wants to tests the skills and articulation of PVP, flip immediately to her sublime writings on vermouth and the other fortified wine and you’ll immediately have complete confidence. Her writing is pretty much timeless.

Vandyke Price is a having a large influence on the Vino Endoxa project. Three major categories for wine language she proposes are language that explains what the wine is (dry, medium dry, sparkling, red, wine, etc.), language that details its attributes, and language that will tell you what the wine is like.

The first category is pretty straight forward and can resemble many things we read off a restaurant wine list or a label such as 2011 Sangiovese, Fattoria Colsanto “Ruris” (Umbria) $40 [restaurant list price]. The vintage and the region can possibly tell us many things to expect. Was it a hot or cool year in that region or not? Off hand most people don’t remember that information but it can be looked up and a centralized hub of wine information like Vino Endoxa can remember those details easily. Many other things are implied like the wine in question is dry and un-carbonated unlike other curve balls such as the Lambruscos of the world. Encountering that rare sparkling red can be implied at the last minute by the shape of the bottle or the enclosure.

Before I continue with the other categories, I should note the relationship of price to the categories which unfortunately is far from straight forward, but it an ideal world should work as follows. As you pay more, a wine should have more definition (a PVP word). This parallels the terroir concept and also relates to risk. Ideally the more expensive the wine, the more it says where it comes from and reflects the year and the site and the ownership. Risk taking and involvement reveals this. Definition and terroir also relate to the concept of the extraordinary and the ordinary. Also to flaws which are regrets and missed opportunities. Deep involvement in the wine making process systematically explores the options so that a wine can be its most extraordinary for its budget class. Flaws are systematically eradicated so that there are no missed opportunities and this has a strong partnership with science.

Where price does not become straight forward, is when stuff like new oak gets involved. The use of new oak is very expensive and has a propensity to overshadow singularity and extraordinary character in a wine, making it taste like it came from relatively anywhere. The wines become more ordinary (frequency of occurrence of sensory attributes) despite the rise in price due to both expense and a willingness of certain market segments to pay. I surmised in the past, after hearing the lecture of Maynard Amerine, that the chicken that came before the egg was that new barrels were so much easier to take care of as opposed to the skill and attention necessary for re-used barrels that this shortcut led to the new barrel fad which really grew wings when it aligned with consumer tastes. Multiple similar phenomenons obfuscate the relationship between price and definition in the wine world.

The sensory attributes category is the one that Vino Endoxa has be striving to advance the most. This is the realm of metaphor. The acidity is sharp, it has a particular acuteness. There is a roundness overall. The fruit expression exists in a space between rhubarb and raspberry. If aromas can be sweet (olfactory-sweetness due to sensory convergence and non-linguistic contrast detection), they can also be olfactory-bitter and olfactory-umami. Rare aromas in wine, without clear convergence, often described as barnyard, earthy or sensual, might best be described by effect rather than sensation which was touched upon in the last post. Sensual leads into the erogenous which is a common category in perfumology.

“A plane is a fragment of the architecture of space” (Hans Hoffman) and the language of sensory attributes is the nitty grittiest and probably has the most to gain from going post language by using hypertext controls. To differentiate experiences (and data mine that), we need a scale. Linguists recognize scaler adjectives, but for most sensory experiences common linguistic scales are not graduated well enough and have little consensus or endoxa. Will any of my hyper text endoxa ideas work and create a higher degree of useful consensus? Who knows at this point!

The last category of language used by PVP conveyed what a wine was like. It might be fair to say this is the realm of simile and possibly the realm of useful, artful, oversimplification. That Sangiovese from Umbria, described above, is a like a Bordeaux as opposed to like a Burgundy or like a Chianti. A lot of complex hard to articulate facets are summed up with single words. When you speak the same language this works really well and helps people explore beyond the beaten path. When you don’t, things get tricky.

In hip restaurants these days we don’t serve Sauvignon Blanc by the glass and simile helps make this somewhat possible. When I compare a Vermentino to a Sauvignon Blanc I have a generation of older drinkers that understand the simile and an emerging generation of servers who do not because life is short and the art is long and they’ve never had enough S. Blanc to develop a gestalt to exploit. In numerous texts for new wine drinkers, there is often advice to experience these definitive types.

Just like new oak messing with prices, the rise of a meaningful simile like Claret, Burgundy, or Chablis comes with its corruption. Jug wine producers are quick to swoop in and market a wine with a simile, such as the Peter Velha Chablis (not from Chablis) which undermines the comparison. This happens all over the wine map such as with Muscadet, or Lambrusco. There was a time where too many Americans though Riesling implied sweetness and the wine world spent considerable effort educating this public that it was also often dry and well worth knowing about.

These similes can also be strung to together to create something like a scale or rather just a set of options. The Chablis, Mersaults and Montrachets have definition and identity, but when we come across a Chardonnay being made in Italy or California where do we put it? Lageder, in Italy, can make numerous Chardonnays and one might be closest to Chablis because of the freshness while another could aspire to be more like a Mersault. California Chardonnays could develop enough consensus of style that they warrant their own use as a simile (often synonymous with butter and new oak) but then one could buck the trend and we’d be quickest to compare it to a French appellation.

For a wine recommendation engine, it is useful to consider similes, but how should they be handled?. For the type of drinker I am, I want to know if a California Chardonnay is like its prototypical type. If it is I want to avoid it, but if it isn’t I want to give it a go and be a patron of the region. Or the recommendation could just be straight forward. Maybe someone just likes prototypical California Chardonnays but they want to be a patron of another region and see if there are any wines of the same prototype out there in their price range that maybe they should try.

If there is a consensus of similes I can get a recommendation easily, but how do I test consensus? Does a user pass a test where they associate types with salient sensory values? Do they prove they’ve experienced these types? Are they a super user or one that has participated enough with the system? I suspect a game might be the best way to explore these language categories.

Should the Chablis type simile be handled carefully? I suspect yes. The world of wine faces homogenization and the loss of styles. The power of conveying meaning with the simile may prevent a vineyard from ripping up Vermentino and planting S. Blanc because its more marketable to Americans but on the other hand it risks suppressing the pursuit of individuality or the exploration of new techniques. Hopefully there use in Vino Endoxa will help drinkers get off the beaten path both via there use and there avoidance. If a wine fits no known type, you know I’d be itching to try it.

Revisiting the 2003 eGullet Symposium

Recently I came across a staggering body of work I previously wasn’t aware of, even after being a long time eGullet member. The Boston apothecary blog was born out of eGullet as a place for things that didn’t really fit and its even probably safe to say the entire modern bar tending scene is a product of eGullet.

I came across the Symposium Fridge while searching for the essay Wet Dogs and Gushing Oranges by Sean Shesgreen that was referenced in linguist Adrienne Lehrer’s beyond brilliant look at wine tasting language, Wine and Conversation. The essay was republished with the consent of the author who even provided some follow up commentary.

The body of work reminds me of Ruth Teiser’s interviews for the California Oral History Series which I have read a ton of and profiled briefly. Any one wanting to make a career in wine should definitely spend time with them.

Many of the ideas I’ve been grappling with I’ve been finding discussed by probably the most brilliant gathering of minds culinary has ever seen. Grant Achatz, of Alinea fame, even participates in a few of the discussions and of course there is the voice of my favorite thinker of the series, Steven Shaw aka Fat Guy, the creator of eGullet, who tragically recently passed (anyone young in the culinary arts should familiarize themselves with the contributions of Steven Shaw). The symposium shows other great thinkers, I had some familiarity with (Lord Michael Lewis, Janet A. Zimmerman), at their absolute best and I just wish it wasn’t well before my time and I could have participated.

Issues of language, acquired tastes, art theory, and rhetoric were up for discussion and received the brilliant debate that eGullet is famous for. Sadly, its eleven years later and so many of these discussions have been abandoned. There is a new generation interested in the culinary arts and they just aren’t producing thoughtful commentary anywhere as close to what is revealed in the 2003 symposium.

I thought it might be useful to highlight my favorite parts of the symposium and comment here since the forum is closed.

Mind Over Palate A Divergence of Opinions
This discussion covers what I’ve started calling stance and I touched upon in my last essay on rhetoric, problem solving and categories. The discussion starts to bring ideas from phenomenology into the culinary arts and looks at the polarized opinions on very high profile restaurants.

Secrets of the Incredible Shrinking Brigade
This discussion is really interesting and you hear the first murmurs of sous vide cooking. What they are talking about is the shrinking staffs in high end restaurant kitchens which I guess is a result of increases in labor productivity. People had mixed opinions on whether labor saving technologies like temperature controlled cooking methods were positive or negative.

On the bar I’ve done a ton to increase labor productivity in the face of the cocktail renaissance’s challenges. Pretty much all of modern batching is attributed to the bostonapothecary blog and batching represents the most significant trend in the bar world. In the past, some forms of batching were illegal and people had strange notions that liqueurs would separate in the bottle or ratios had to be changed as the batch scaled up. I disproved those ideas and then eventually created the craft cocktail on tap, reflux de-aeration, the champagne bottle carbonated cocktail, and now new ideas for hot drinks. I also have new equipment I’m keeping a secret for the time being.

To bring it back to kitchens, one of the coolest things I’ve been seeing in NYC is people cooking beyond the logistics of their kitchen. Basically, they are putting out the food of a kitchen with twice the square footage and twice the staff in a tiny retrofitted postage stamp. They do this using the best new ideas in organization and logistics and the results are spectacular. This is about to be pushed even further with new tools like the searzall.

A Hierarchy of the Senses or of the Arts?
This post examines the works of two horribly confused people from the fine arts world musing about food and thinking “food cannot express emotion”. The art world here is just so lost and really shows how incomplete their ideas are and how they do not scale. What I have to add is that all art is a form of problem and solving and the smallest problems a work of art can solve are anxiety, complacency, cementing memories, and retrieving memories. Food typically works on these small problems but they are no less important than other larger problems painters try to tackle.

Eleven years later, food is the new painting and people like me work on painterly problems relating to the nitty gritty of perception just like so many mid 20th century painters whose work is fetching big dollars these days. One of the problems is that food is so ephemeral and that once its eaten its gone and that is something touched upon in the discussion.

The best part of the discussion for me came in the beginning from Suvir Saran. Then ballast_regimes comments are a must read. Ultimately, Lord Michael Lewis crushes everything :

“Taking this further, it may be reasonable to claim that food, in the proposed hierarchy, is above Art being, as it is, so worthy of Art’s attention.”

Complexity or clutter in tasting menus
I loved this topic because it got into the territory I’ve been attracted to lately of cementing memories. Clutter and excess can destroy the memory of a meal. Some culinary experiences you can remember forever and others, though delicious, are somehow forgettable. Not much articulate and analytic attention seems to go into cementing memories and I see it as a big area culinary should be focusing on.

Delightful, Delicious, Disgusting
This discussion covers the journal article Delightful, Delicious, Disgusting by Carolyn Korsmeyer. It gets into the territory of acquired tastes but doesn’t get very far. Lord Michael Lewis opens with a question I’ve been tracking for quite some time : “why is there commonality amongst the items that provoke this reaction?” But then commentors start to compare adventurous eating to bungie jumping. LML even mentions hardwiring which today is being disproven by new ideas in neuroscience. The problem with the discussion is it looks at examples that are too nth degree like high meats and not less extreme scenarios like enjoying black coffee or dry wine. I could probably write a book about this.

Achieving balance in a menu
I was attracted to this discussion for the Thomas Keller quote:

For Thomas Keller, the answer is “five to ten small courses, each meant to satisfy your appetite and pique your curiosity. I want you to say, ‘God, I wish I had just one more bite of that. ‘The way to keep the experience fresh is not by adding flavors, but rather by focusing more on specific flavors, either by making them more intense than the foods from which they come, or by varying the preparation technique.”

The focusing of flavors Keller describes is the creation of a super normal stimuli. I have theorized before that all creative linkage in food & beverage is a means of creating a super normal stimuli and its something we can study in more depth and possible find more patterns in. I touched upon the patterns in recent post inspired by an amazing book, the Geography of Thought.

Are we likely to go the post-modernist way…
The thing about this discussion is it uses the word post-modern in the opposite way I do. I suspect I’m correct in my word choice, but many in the art world also do not see my logic. Basically, people incorrectly see post-modern as the state of the art, but really modern is at the forefront of creation and newness. Post-modern is when the imitators come around. They could not create the modern patterns themselves when immersed in the broader culture, but they could work with them later on after culture has absorbed the newness. That is why Adria is modern and his imitators are post-modern. The flow of money can also help us differentiate the two. When I used to stir a drink or make a Manhattan with vermouth I made myself, I used to get a $5 tip, but now I only get a dollar. The gesture used to be modern and extraordinary but now its ordinary and less worthy of $5. But stirred drinks are classic so how can they be modern? and some forms of art called modern resemble primitive forms, but yes, a renaissance can be modern and then go post-modern. It all has to do with the ideas relative to the broader culture and then with how they finally get absorbed. As time marches on what retains the desirable stamp of modern is the precedent. An artist’s subsequent works can become post-modern even though they hold the modern precedent. The artist is imitating himself, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but it just means the work of art won’t be worth as much money.

Point/counterpoint
This discussion interested me because I just read of the point/counter point musical metaphors at the end of Adrienne Lehrer’s Wine and Conversation. Here the context is different and best exemplified in Jonathan Day’s quote:

I was struck by how rarely menus are constructed around point and counterpoint – alternating warm and cold dishes, for example, or sweet and savoury, or rich and meagre. Why is it not possible to introduce a theme at the outset, then return to it later in the menu? Have members encountered contrapuntal menus? Are there chefs who think explicitly in this manner? Are point and counterpoint impossible in the medium of food?

I think one problem is that one comparison is in space (music) while the other comparison is in time (food) [at least in relation to tasting menu progressions]. My theory of food & wine interaction was called contrast enhancement in space and time which is borrowed from the work of neuroscientist Gordon Shepherd. That being said I don’t have much to add. Fat Guy had the best comment of the bunch. As far as hot & cold dishes go and throwing sweetness into the bunch, I think strong symbolism comes into play of hot and cold which makes it only appropriate in certain contexts. A cold dish is too often a flaw; a regret or missed opportunity. Sweetness also comes with strong nutritional reward phenomenons. Sweetness can change contrast markedly with experiences that come afterward and it might create some sort of palate fatigue where contrast detection abilities decline.

Comparing food, music and other arts
This is a follow up conversation to the previous discussion and relates to a metaphor project I’m working on now to improve wine language. Fat Guy has my favorite comment :

The point I was trying to make — and I was, perversely, trying to make the point metaphorically — was that metaphors don’t work unless we’re all referring to a common pool of experience and understanding. Otherwise we’re speaking different languages.

Some have been skeptical of my metaphor project because how could anything new not be more specialized like music jargon and therefore sacrificing common experience? Well common experience can be gained, especially when introducing a new word, by grounding the metaphors! Don’t let a term exist on its own, ground it in common understanding (through the magic of hypertext!).

Wet dogs and gushing oranges
This was the discussion that led me to the 2003 Symposium. The essay is a lot of fun to read and the comments are even better, particularly that of Fat Guy who refutes some of Sean Shesgreen’s conclusions. What is funny is I’ve never lived in the Gordon Gecko world that Fat Guy describes as contradicting Shesgreen. In my corner of Brookline Village where my clientele hails from the most expensive neighborhoods in the entire country, I’ve only seen it as Shesgreen describes it, but years later, under different presidencies, after recessions and therefore on a completely different time scale, but very much similar.

Developing my new wine language project has coincided with five years of intense conversations with a friend whom is a poetry professor, translator, and national book award winner of his own poetry. He doesn’t believe in wet dogs and gushing oranges. He thinks wine speak is silly. A poet, really? We are due for our next conversation but the last one ended with me liberating David, or so I told him. Aromas are often illusions, I told David. A wine never has enough chemical compounds in common with a cherry to objectively be cherry. Therefore wine speak is not descriptions of the wine, wine speak, I guess counter intuitively, is an exploration of our own recollections. Perception is the meeting point of incoming sensation and out going recollection and thats how the cherry gets there. But then can there be a point in sharing this with the goal of recommending wines? Yes, and finding commonality against the challenges of articulation and specifics of our own experiences is a way that wine brings us together.

Maximum Rhetoric, Problem Solving and Categories

“I don’t explain—I explore” -Marshal Mcluhan

I guess I must have been ahead of my time, but two papers I wrote back in the day seem to have resurfaced. The first paper from two years ago was the summary of my talk for a science club for girls fundraiser. I was assigned to speak about the Manhattan cocktail and of course I put my own high concept spin on it. The people whom asked me to speak pretty much didn’t know me and were cringing left and right about their wild card speaker. They would have been fine with rehashed & cliched ideas, but I presented something fairly new and the audience, to everyone’s surprise, absolutely loved it. The rediscovery even included a criticism/reflection piece by a well known wine writer which is definitely worth checking out.

The second piece that has been gaining traction, was written four years ago and recently just got a comment endorsement from someone at Atera in NYC, which is a place I deeply admire. It was written with the remnants of pressures from me leaving my last job at a fancy restaurant with an overly ambitious beverage program to work at a cash only, red sauce, neighborhood spot with more regulars than restaurants should have (and I’m still there after five years!). A lot has happened since I wrote those papers and its probably time for some idea updates or maybe just some quality wandering.

The two things I think we all should be chasing in the culinary arts these days could be called maximum rhetoric and improvements to contrast detection. To play in this fertile territory means we have to figure out a couple things. Firstly, for rhetoric, we have to grapple with what art does so we can make it do more and then even hit well articulated targets. This will keep us from being ten thousand monkeys banging randomly to come up with Shakespeare which is a very inefficient business.

Secondly, for contrast detection, which is telling what from what, we really have to grapple with our language/non-language. Contrast detection is far bigger territory than you’d think. It involves analytically deconstructing the multi sensory perception of flavor and putting its facets into categories. It also involves categorizing the symbols that get attached to sensory values so we can see how they exert pressure on each other (the source of our rhetoric!). If you want to work on contrast detection, places to start are the categorization of aromas (to find patterns!) or mapping the path by which we acquire acquired-tastes which it turns out are crucial to sustainability and personal health. For example, fully exploring the path by which some people start to enjoy black coffee could be worth hundreds of millions of dollars to the national health care budget if we could get more people to go black. If we better understood the nitty-gritty etymology of every possible tasting term we might be able to create a successful wine recommendation engine which can respect wine diversity and scale to very polarized tastes (this is what I’m working on using some new post-language hyper text ideas).

Rhetoric is all about persuasion, which in the culinary arts regards persuasion to follow the path to a problem’s solution. This isn’t readily apparent because, in culinary, we are typically dealing with the smallest problems a work of art can solve. I don’t think in the history of art criticism anyone has ever said: what are the smallest problems a work of art can solve? A lot of great art critics like Leo Steinberg or Dave Hickey have danced with the art equals problem solving idea, but their versions could never scale to the smallest problems and that weakened them. When you can categorize the small stuff, you can capture the decorative, indispensable works of art that confuse everybody. This all leads into one of my favorite ideas, that all art is a form of problem solving, and the smallest persistent problems a work of art can solve are anxiety, complacency, cementing memories, and retrieving memories.

The better we can articulate, contextualize, and categorize our own work, the more likely we will be able to pick a problem and work backwards from it to a solution like media theorist Marshal Mcluhan said would be possible in the future (with enough literacy or as Mcluhan would say, fragmentation). Its all about calling your shot as well as ennobling the smallest problems. The best (what an inarticulate term!) restaurant in a region might not be a hushed place where you have 30 courses of foraged sushi with sauce that you have trouble remembering, but rather a tightly packed red sauce joint where everybody manages to have a good time and remembers their meal forever. Remembering your life is particularly important so if as an artist you can cement a pretty large memory for somebody, that is pretty much as good as it gets. Fancy restaurants at the top of the dining food chain just don’t do it as well as they think. Maybe you’ve have heard that dreaded one word summation of a restaurant experience before? Forgettable.

We can call our shot and articulate all sorts of other small stuff as well. To illustrate with cocktails, I can make your daiquiri a little more tart and teach you how the highly attentional nature of it helps get the work day anxieties out of your head. You will stop reciting ways you are going to tell your boss off in your own head and start chatting with the stranger beside you. We can go back to the complacency problem, and I know daiquiris might be getting played out, but have you had one made from Cape Verdean rum? I can make you something like a daiquiri with Dominican Mamajuana, and you can tell me you’re surprised I know what it is because you haven’t seen it since you went on vacation there fifteen years ago. I get a lot of that last phenomenon, but only from the odd underdog products I make a market for and not the mass market stuff most bar tenders hock to win a contest or to get their kickback trips to TOTC.

We can change it up a bit and I can simply serve you a cocktail you can afford like a batched old fashioned made with an modest & affordable Bourbon or a cocktail on tap because I need that technique to keep the party moving since its so busy and I’m working by myself. Whats possible is, though you’re young and poor, with affordable drinks you’ll be able to go out more often and rub elbows, and because I can serve more people with my batchzilla techniques, you are more likely to meet your soul mate or your next business partner who you are more likely to be able to buy a round for. The average person cannot make the investment and buy a round of $13 cocktails, even if the gesture is the door to the best version of the rest of their life.

Its better to have a notch in your belt for introducing someone to their soul mate than for a nod in a PR about a forgettable new mass market premium product. These notches can probably be looked at with a different metaphor. I can work at a turn & burn where my small problem solutions amass in a large pile of pebbles or I can work at an upper echelon place and share some new details on measuring carbonation with a kitchen scale that only applies to a few people at the moment, which is just one single big rock. Many small solutions or one big one, but they can end up weighing the same. Unfortunately, these days it feels like you will only be called the best if you solve the big problem, but we need to refocus our pursuits and start glorifying those that constantly amass large fading piles of pebbles.

Another way to analyze the difference here is that one set of solutions is very much ephemeral (dust in the wind!) while the other is a big solid precedent, it even made it into a book (though unattributed!). The ephemeral arts are wild territory and not a lot of thought has been applied to them. Just think about it, people can line up in front of one painting and endless amounts can view the work at near negligible cost, but a culinary creation has to be recreated every time and at considerable costs, and in candle lit context after a long work day. Culinary players trying to get immortalized in books get swept up in the ephemeral wave all the time. Beware being ahead of your time.

I made the first house produced vermouths in an contemporary culinary bar program, and actually served them at the James Beard house before any other bars tried their hand, but sadly to a bunch of people that couldn’t contextualize what they were consuming nor even remember it now. My vermouths were also arguably more extraordinary than any of the hundred that came after. But, we drank them all, and nothing is left but some message board time stamps (you all missed my sforzato chinato). Ask around and most people will attribute the trend to someone else, no big deal because I got a lot of small notches in my belt. I got so many five dollars tips making Manhattans for mid western business men who finally met someone else that loved the drink as much as them. I boldly suspect, the ridiculous gratuities for a single drink were because my rhetoric was so powerful; five dollar solutions when the industry average is only a dollar.

That modern era of rediscovery and innovation is sadly over as evidenced by the fall in tips. You used to also get five dollars all the time simply for stirring a drink or stocking rye, now the gestures are post modern and you get pretty much no special notches. One of the deepest notches I ever got back in the day was when I served a ratafia of pomegranate seeds to some Louisiana oil men as a gratis. These guys weren’t particularly into culinary, just business guys anyone would write off as lame, but then 20 minutes later their ring leader released his Louisiana drawl on me and said: “What you’ve done here son, we call Lagniappe, and it’s terrific. Do you know what that means?” Me : “No, sir.” Him: “Something extra.”

One of the great restaurants, that I had eaten at a few times, that seemed really aware (most positive sense of the word) of all the subtle, wonderful things it was doing was the M. Wells Diner in Long Island City. All these subversive little things were happening. I was watching ordinary people think they’ve stumbled into a common diner and get blown away by some spectacular food at the normal prices these stumblers were expecting to find. No monkeys hoping for Shakespeare there, someone was calling their shot and hitting the mark. It was maximum rhetoric and quite memorable. Every time I see a French Picpoul, I immediately think of lunch at the M. Wells.

To see problems, especially the smallest ones, and then solutions is about fragmentation which is about categories, which in turn will require an obsession with language. That is where we go next. The monkeys that make up the culinary world have typed up some Shakespeare, but now the challenge is to contextualize it and wrap language around it. The next leg up in the culinary arts will require new language.

My writing on sensations over the years has included some new language where aromas are described possibly as olfactory-sweet or as olfactory-umami. Olfaction can be categorized in terms of gustation and the technique is justified through non-linguistic contrast detection (that some mistake for synaesthesia) which is induced by accumulated co-experience. Non-linguistic thought can be used to investigate the origins of tasting notes like angular, acrid, and provide new insights into minerality.

New language, which is essentially new categories, has helped see big successes like noticing, in the wild, near all the aroma illusions proposed by RJ Stevenson. They also helped pen probably the leading articulation of wine & food interaction which was heavily inspired by Gordon Shepherd’s Neurogastronomy. Language developed for creative linkage, helped identify all creative linkage in the culinary arts as a form of supernormal stimulus and possibly explained a network flavor pairing mystery published in Nature.

Scrutiny of language has led to an exploration of semiology where sensory values and symbols can be separated and their relationships explored. Each of these categories has its own harmony and disharmony and each influences the other which is a mechanism by which we acquire acquired tastes. Acquired tastes, which I mentioned earlier, are of staggering importance, but which few seem to realize.

Semiology even opens up into phenomenology and we each will have a stance on a dish or a drink. Stance is the baggage you bring to an experience, be it history, literacy, stress levels, or personal nutritional reward requirements and these all can be categorized so they can be targeted for manipulation. An understanding of stance can help us with the Other Criteria idea of judging experiences as well. We judge experiences differently when we are starving or stuffed or stressed or when our mom made the definitive version of it. We can call features flaws when our unique stance allows us to see them as regrets and missed opportunities, but remember, when you have no special stance, they are not yet flaws. Cocktails are certainly not one size fits all, and balance, a term I abhor, if it must be used, is only relative to stance.

Nutritional reward or nutritional preference as it can be called in relation to wine pairings is an interesting idea to explore and might even prove an explanation to the philosophical problem of the inverted spectrum. We think we can have no idea what goes on in the minds of others and our red is their blue and our sweet is their bitter, but sweet and bitter are sensations anchored with nutritional reward and that makes sure that we all have enough commonality of experience to sit at the table together. There certainly is subjectivity, and investigating aroma illusions that arise in the construction of reality when incoming sensations are completed by our personal catalog of recollections, is another way to explore the bounds.

Reward systems and nutritional preference might lead some people to think we are hardwired for certain aspects of flavor perception, but we likely are not as explored in Richard Nisbett’s Geography of Thought. Some of my previous ideas, like the order of operations of multi sensory flavor perception, to be universal, were dependent on hard wiring. Ideas I had used to create or explain aroma driven cocktails like, the simplified gustation model, where a path is flattened to perceiving aroma (best exemplified in port) might not be as universal as I thought, and as someone develops intense experience with flavor, they can warp their attentional spotlight to focusing on whatever they choose. There might prove to be a starting point to the order operations of perception that can be described, but then we are probably capable of diverging from it.

With experience, the acidity of very dry wines can be overlooked to get a better glimpse of the aroma. This idea should make people optimistic and hopefully they will invest in developing the skill, but it also means we have to be aware of this journey and the changing of our stance. Terroirists & wine adventure advocates too often downplay the acquired taste nature of interesting wines and forget all the baggage & skills needed to be fully seduced by those experiences. To be a true steward of wine, the concept of stance must be integrated into recommending wine and helping people on their wine appreciation/therapy journey.

To get back to rhetoric, one of the greatest things a steward of wine can hope for is to help someone select a wine that will deeply cement the memory of their evening. During an explosion of wine literature, this seems to have been somewhat forgotten after it was most articulately proposed by Dorothy Gaiter & John Brecher in the Wall Street Journal’s Guide to Wine. The flip side of cementing a memory is using wine to retrieve one which was also a big theme of Gaiter & Brecher’s writing. What wine should I bring home this evening? How about one that will remind me and my company about another time we spent together so many years ago. Nothing here is exactly novel, but it does seem to be out of the current discussion.

The somms out there, too often ten thousand monkeys, only seem to aim for your new memories, and too often leave you in the dust for retrieving anything with their wine. Instead of playing musical chairs with the wine list I have now, I try and emphasize that this is our 12th vintage of this wine for us. When I thought regulars were just being complacent by ordering the same bottle over the years, in many cases these astute diners might have been seeking to pick up where they left of with a cherished memory. Without categories or problem solving, I probably would have overlooked that my entire life.

So here is plenty of new ideas, plenty to complain about, and I’m sure plenty I must have left out.