Who is Dante and Who is Virgil and the Value Proposition of Bourbon

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This really took a left turn as I worked on it and crammed in some other concerns I’ve been having. Its been dawning on me that the spirits industry has a tenuous relationship with beauty. When Arroyo used complex pH buffering on a rum wash, he was making his spirit more suave. When Bourbon producers adopted similar methods they were making a spirit that would merely mature faster to squeeze out value.

What path do you take when you’re a new distiller? And how can we mature the new scene so it compares to the better aspects of fine wine production culture? I think we need to put beauty at the center of things and build science around it. Things should flip so beauty is distiller driven and not merely reliant on drinkers.

The drinker with most distillers. Who is Dante and Who is Virgil is not what you’d think.

In my last few posts on American whiskey I described the reign of a generation of practical distillers who built their whiskeys like a brick house so the next generation of scientific distillers and their financiers would have a strong value proposition for buying them out. This was all supported by tax structure, production processes, and the fact that barely any producers even drank the stuff. We are certainly in a new era (that I’ve even named guided traditional processes), but the investigation did deflate a lot of my romanticism for American whiskey times of yore. I didn’t find a lot of concern for beauty.

Beauty is the composite of extraordinary sensoriality and exemplary human behavior. –Leonard Koren

Today I present two papers that support the value proposition theory and shed details on the stripping of Bourbon. Don’t let me seem too pessimistic, a lot of this could be improvement. Whiskeys of the practical era were not built to be their progressive best, instead they were practical. The passing of the torch saw a lot of improvement and we can only start to ask specific questions on what lines they crossed and where.

I don’t explain, I explore. -Marshal McLuhan.

The first paper is Whiskey Losses During Aging (1942) by the Seagram’s team of Milton Gallagher, Paul Kolachov, and Herman Willkie.

The second paper is Whiskey Aging: Effect of Barreling Proof on the Aging of American Whiskeys (1959) by the Hiram Walker team of C.S. Boruff and L.A. Rittschof. Remember, this is from many years later, but C.S. Boruff was the condescending scientist with horrible disdain for the practical distillers.

The beginning of the Seagram’s team paper even starts with the claimed savings of $750,000 over three years. Their main methodology of capturing the savings was to reduce the angel’s share and gravitational leakage. They did this by control for temperature in the warehouses and dropped it fairly significantly. They also controlled for humidity. Finally, what seems practical, but was overlooked in the old school by their claims, they increased scrutiny of barrel quality and were better about checking for leaks.

I just reread their paper and it is really enjoyable. Anything Willkie and Kolachov touched has been really good. When I’m down on American whiskey they inadvertently build it back up. They describe how foolhardy and extravagant it is to store your whiskey in such poor containers, yet we do. The excess and inefficiency of whiskey makes it basically art and probably most like a poem when you consider the similarities roundabout processes. It is a unique type of art, because its our art, that of the drinker. We are its patrons and it was commissioned by us. Who some think are the artists, are not. They are reluctant, often do not touch the stuff themselves and have a disdain for the poetic flourishes we want.

The paper moves on to describe the Carlisle Tables from the “80’s and 90’s”. These are tables of allowances for soakage and evaporative losses, but they are described as inaccurate and in need of updating. The system as it was made them pay taxes on nonexistent whiskey because the losses experienced were actually higher than what was provided for in the tables.

Therefore, the distilling industry must make the best of a bad situation. Every opportunity must be taken advantage of to reduce whisky losses during the warehousing period.

Flavor be damned! I myself am an artisan and I get commissions I often don’t agree with. I kick and scream as I execute them. My work (please share) is nothing profound. Recently a self designing home owner, the artist, gave me an 1890’s Corbin door set to strip and polish. Well, I’m in the Wabi Sabi camp. The century plus old patina was stunning. This artist and I were aesthetically opposed. The symbolism of impermanence plus the extraordinary sensoriality of patina are something more profound than the puritanical morality of ordinary polished brass (me versus them). They got charged ambitiously for violating all my life principles, just like y’all get charged ambitiously by whiskey makers that have a disdain for your wasteful decadent aesthetic.

We poets make Homeric offerings to our angels and let the oak also take a drink and they just don’t get it. The IRS has to step in to protect our speech from being squashed. All the sudden, we have new producers that actually like making whiskey and there is no kicking and screaming, and to be honest, for some reason, I’m just not into it. If you’re an artist that wants a stronger more straight forward bond with your artisan, drink rum (I actually say that idly, just to tease you).

The Seagram’s paper is great and even shows a little data on different tiers of whiskey stacked six high. Their modernization started in 1939.

The temperature of 55°F. was arrived at from two considerations. One was the fact that men in the warehouses do not work effectively or with any degree of comfort if the room temperature is much below 55°F. Another consideration was the possible decrease in the aging rate at the low temperature. The effect of temperature on rate of aging has always been the subject of discussion in the distilling industry. It seems logical to believe that aging proceeds faster at somewhat higher temperatures. Yet no controlled experiment has yielded conclusive data.

What is cool here is that even as man tries to dominate the terroir of whiskey storage with refrigeration, it cannot escape human terms. The crew must be literal blue collar comfortable. The industry hides this kind of detail from us, because they know that we as patron’s of the arts wouldn’t be happy. I’m glossing over some details. They actually let it get warmer than 55°F in the summer months. They do however go on to describe a 2500 barrel experiment in progress where the whiskey is kept at year round temperature of 50°F.

The impact of humidity worked very different from what I would have thought. Changes in humidity do not effect evaporation so much as tightness of the barrel joints. High humidity being not so terrible, but hard to maintain so it stresses the joints and creates leakage that way. High humidity was also tied to mold growth and sanitary conditions which probably has a bigger impact on the workers than it does on the whiskey.

A communication with the U.S. Forest Products Laboratory is acknowledged which is the government organization where I obtained the paper on Whiskey Aged in Plywood Barrels. This also brings us back to Public Foundation for Private Spirits Companies.

The care which barreled goods receive during warehousing was intensified. The practice in the distilling industry is to inspect every barrel of whisky periodically throughout the storage period. This inspection period was shortened so that each barrel is inspected every ten calendar days. Inspectors on these ten-day cycles repair minor leaks, patch cracked staves, and generally perform preventive maintenance. In cases where the leak is too large to repair in passing or a head is badly buckled or a cracked stave shows probability of leaking, these barrels are removed from the racks and the defective parts are replaced with sound staves or heads. In addition, newly filled barrels are inspected for leaks daily until they have been stored for two months. From then on they are cared for in the ten-day inspection cycle.

This could be looked upon as more Puritanical neuroticism, but it is hard to argue with. This type of spillage is not an offering. A buckled barrel is not a happy barrel. This also makes me wonder what new distilleries are doing. They obviously encounter these same challenges, but do they have any minor coopering skills?

To get an idea of the monetary saving represented by this decrease in excess loss, a calculation was made to show what the excess taxes should have been if the rate of excess loss had remained at 0.70 proof gallon per barrel. During this three year period 729,536 barrels were tax paid. If these had each been 0.70 proof gallon excessive, the quantity of nonexistent whisky subject to tax would have been 510,675 proof gallons. Over this period the rate of tax varied from $2.25 to $4.00 per proof gallon. Thus, the tax collected on nonexistent whisky would have been $1,425,256. From actual figures during this period the excess loss was only 272,917 proof gallons. Figured at the same rate of tax, this quantity of loss was taxed $725,328. Thus the saving of excess tax was $699,928. In addition, the actual whisky saved was 237,757 proof gallons. Figured conservatively at $0.30 per proof gallon, this saving was worth $71,327. Thus, it can be said that the value of the change amounted to $771,255, roughly three quarters of a million dollars, over the past three years.

The value proposition now has numbers and they’re big. You tell this to your finance guys and it all the sudden makes sense to buy up a bunch more distilleries and squeeze them. What did we gain and what did we lose?

The next paper is from 1959, but represents work that started eight years prior. It immediately raises some I don’t know how I feel about this.

Three whiskey distillates were barreled for aging at 1 10 (control) and distillation proof. Experimental barreling proofs were 118, 127, and 154. During 8-year aging in new charred oak barrels the percentage losses of whiskeys barreled at proofs above 110 were slightly lower than the controls; the tendency was not statistically significant because of the relatively small number of experimental barrels. Chemical characteristics developed during aging of whiskeys barreled at 118 and 127 proofs fell within normal limits, but at 154 proof were lower than normal. Flavor after aging 8 years was normal in the whiskey barreled at 118 proof, slightly less mature at 127 proof and different at 154 proof because of a spicy green oak taste. An industry-wide experiment is now under way.

Uh, industry-wide? I cannot opt out? I have to wait for Wild Turkey to start up to find an artisan I trust to commission my whiskey art? Are any of you even familiar with Tom Marioni’s The Act of Drinking Beer With Friends Is The Highest Form of Art. There is a rigorous conceptual foundation for all of my beauty and who is the artist arguments. I actually called up Tom on the phone many years ago to talk about conceptual art and cocktails. Many renowned painters and sculptors use studio assistants who end up doing a lot of the actual painting and the sculpting.

Liquor turns out to be no different. I drink both heavily and very discriminately thus commissioning a lot of works. These Bostonapothecary writings also pull a lot of puppet strings and so many distillers reading these writings inadvertently become my studio assistants. If we stretch it conceptually, so many are underneath my benevolent educational wing (muhahaha). I’m even going to commission more works when I teach a new skill set coming up that I’ve been holding out on people.

The grasping point here is that I’m both empowering you and liberating you. Drink consciously and become the artist. It is open to anyone. And watch your studio assistants. They can be a bunch of penny pinching dorks. They have no vision, they need the artist. If left to their own devices they come up with marshmallow vodka and cherry bourbon.

Well, back to the second paper, this C.S. Boruff, I just don’t trust the guy. He would sell you that stretched cocaine at the regular price. Don’t bring him into my studio. Read it for yourself to see what I’m talking about. Look what happened to the Hiram Walker liqueurs before the cocktail renaissance and still largely now. All the artists were gone. With no drinker driven vision to keep them honest, the Hiram team was left to their own devices and of course they ran it into the ground. When I keep saying guided traditional processes, who is Virgil?

This Cocktail Kills Fascists (and Culture Consolidation)

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This is my one draft synthesis of the situation reported on in Kevin Alexander’s Thrillist article. The article is by no means bad, but I think it misses a lot.

I was just on a motorcycle road trip from Boston out to Indianapolis via NYC, and Pittsburgh then back through Buffalo. I stopped to grab lunch and gas outside of Columbus Ohio in something like a multi stranded mega strip mall. In this bustling area there was not a single independent business. Not a pizza shop nor an ethnic restaurant. I was witnessing the massive consolidation of American culture. This is what the cocktail revolution has really been about. It has been an effort to dispel complacency and de-consolidate American culture. It may have started or grew wings with a bunch of list checking elitists catering to other elitists, but it has done a lot that goes beyond cheap thrills.

A lot of the greatest ills of our country are from corporate consolidation into monopoly and people are only finally waking up to that. An ill that still isn’t noticed is the cultural consolidation phenomenon. Mega brews and dumb shit like Mike’s Hard Lemonade used to be drinking culture. We didn’t have many choices or options. David Brooks recently wrote something idiotic about a friend of his being afraid of Capicola on a sandwich, if not threatened by it. This is what happens after a generation long stretch of aggressive consolidation. At its best, the creative energy unleashed by cocktail movement turned this all on its head at a time when we really needed it.

We shouldn’t be focused on trivial things like how people in the middle of nowhere are finally serving drinks with massaged marjoram and interpreting it as jumping the shark. We should think of how many independent businesses we formed or strengthened because we created a demand for independent experiences. The cocktail movement should also realize that it was bested and absolutely dwarfed by craft beer, though they are both always standing on each others shoulders.

Near every major town in the country has its own brewery (tens of thousands!) which is a giant blow to one size fits all Applebees culture as well as the complacent white bread mom & pops. We are up to nearly a thousand new distilleries, though that sector actually needs the most help, and because it is unexplored, has the most potential to amuse us thus spreading culture.

The cocktail effect is harder to quantify. Who cares about sales figures for premium spirits. What we should be concerned about is independent job and culture creation. List checked experiences are not necessary culture. Something has to stick around and endure to be ingrained in our culture, and we need broader culture desperately.

The culinary movement is not well understood because it has moved so fast and few have slowed down to look at the tangential problems it has solved beyond simply feeding us. It is the vital arm of inclusion and positive nationalism as opposed to negative nationalism which comprises naive protectionism, nativeism, and white male supremacy. We are living in a vacuum created by climate change and the collapse of the globalism and the culinary movement has done nothing but positive things to fill dangerous voids. A lot more could be said about this, but the point is that below the surface the various culinary movements are epicly profound and need a little more thought than “maturing to statehood”. I do not live in a red state struggling with the concept of inclusion, but as an artist I can subversively export my culture therefore weakening dangerous negative nationalism.

Politicians have been slow as shit to figure out how to get educated young people, particularly entrepreneurs, to stick to cities like Pittsburgh and Cleveland. They so thoroughly don’t understand what they are doing and feel at the mercy of inevitability (a force at the root of globalism) that they let things like major airports disappear making it more expensive to get to their mid western city than Rome, Italy. On the other hand, many of us are like fuck it, I love my city (positive nationalism), I’m going to create a bar to amuse myself competing in the culinary game for culture points. Well, all the energy unleashed ended up creating glue (sticky places to belong), and more and more people started sticking to cities rebounding them. In Buffalo, I had drink related cultural experiences so significant I think I could live there happily.

Many are discovering, but maybe some don’t have a frame of reference, we are also in a new golden era of road tripping. You can visit second cities and have better culinary experiences than many premier cities for less expense and stop at wonderful breweries and distilleries in between (just not yet in central Ohio).

A reason the cocktail movement slowed down is that few could articulate its significance and the writers mostly suck and squander opportunities. The way they write about creativity blunts what it can actually achieve. They also cannot participate in this narrative I’m giving because they are so quick to let corporations dictate their narrative. The movement degenerates from a spontaneous economic engine, away from articulate positive nationalism, into ten thousand monkey arriving at Shakespeare and good things happening merely as byproducts of elitists trying to amuse each other.

The point is the movement can still keep moving along if we figure out how it helped make our country more livable. The movement didn’t start with contrived articles about a new product sponsored by a brand. It will also end if people don’t learn about and celebrate the concept of involvement. We haven’t even scratched the surface aesthetically if you want to explore that route. If you want to get specific, there are still rums in Cape Verde that haven’t been discovered. Portugal is full of amazing spirits and liqueurs yet to be recognized. New distilleries have not yet realized what they are finally legally allowed to do. Hell, no press has ever even covered my Champagne bottle manifold which is used in some of the best bars in the world.

A unique cultural force that helped coalesce American culture in the beginning has been re-coalescing America after a generation long stretch of dangerous cultural consolidation. The new beverage scene is only going to die if no one figures out what it achieved in the first place.

2016 Retrospective

Being December, it is time for the year end retrospective. Like usual, I felt like I didn’t accomplish much, but I did write about 20 posts with some containing distilled spirits’ most significant historic discoveries for the year (examining Arroyo) and others containing distilled spirits’ most progressive ideas (congeners derived from glycosides).

I have put a lot of beverage work on hold to become a design world darling and start the Houghton Street Foundry (IG: @houghtonstfoundry) which makes exquisite door hardware and offers architectural machining services. I have ghost written a few products for small distilleries with one being the hottest off premise specialty product in New England, though I actually think I designed it last calendar year. My beverage pace has slowed down, but I’m still holding significant technique and history secrets from the industry (to punish you all!).

The year started with Rum Comparatively: Understanding Anything Goes and explains how production compares to other spirits categories and why rum is the most progressive spirit with unique production templates that other categories do not use.

Aggressive collecting led me to Excise Anecdotes from Arrack Country which tells some of the most breath taking (and heart breaking) distilling stories ever recorded. It also ends with a beautiful discovery and meditation on terroir.

There is a ton of WTF? in Rum, Mitogenic Radiation & The Bio-photon. Brilliant Science writer, Adam Rogers, was cool enough to spend time weighing in so I had a lot of fun with the post. It does show that Rafael Arroyo was a far out thinker with an ear to the ground and yet again reinforces the idea of rum as the most progressive spirit. Nearly a century of science later not much is clarified.

This was particularly important to me because I’ve long been a champion of the rums of Cape Verde. In Cape Verde and Sugar Cane Juice Rum Categories I apply explanations from Arroyo to my favorite distilling tradition and explain the origins of their distinct aromas. There are so many supposed rum experts and they are still avoiding Cape Verde and the island of Madeira. Berry’s or Plantations rums, where you at? I’ll connect you to Cape Verde’s most brilliant distillery.

Here I describe my plan for discovering a new generation of champion rum yeasts: Team Pombe and the Yeast Olympiad. So far I haven’t been able to get it off the ground because of a lack of interest from the small distilleries in my circle (and the very expensive process). I will likely finance and execute the ideas by myself and I’m not afraid if it takes quick a few years. No one else seems to be too interested in this territory.

Rum, Osmotolerance and the Lash was so much more than a cute title and looks at forces that shape microbial communities, especially when trying to cultivate a dominant Pombe fermentation.

I had heard murmers of these ideas so long ago from Ed Hamilton so I decided to tackle them in Aroma Breakage and Rum Design. Arroyo as usual was on top of everything. Some new producers like Maggie Campbell of Privateer are known to be very much hip to this and weave the ideas in production.

Ageing, Accelerated Ageing, & Élevage ==> Lies, Damn Lies & Statistics This was my look at Arroyo’s progressive musing on the aging topic. I think this was before I read UC Davis great, Vernon Singleton’s, legendary paper which I probably should have given its own post (2017!)

Narrative of the 1975 Rum Symposium

Say it with me:
Rum is the most progressive spirits category.
Rum has the most researched spirits production.
There is nothing finer than rum as we make it.

There is so much good stuff in the symposium.

I had never done a spirits review before and of course I did it on my own terms. This post, Spirits Review: Mezan XO Jamaica Rum, also ends up with a challenge of drinking 10 ounces in one sitting to test a theory many are anecdotally validating. I also drop one of the most progressive ideas in all distilling and introduce a new congener category. Its not my fault if people cannot keep up.

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Before I left to run a popup in Province Town this summer, I introduced For Sale: Large Bottle Bottler. This tool is particularly awesome but not for everyone and I don’t push it. Some bars are killing it with my bottlers and I am in some of the world’s top programs while other notable programs cannot assemble a team that can handle the tasks. A lot of a sales go to winemakers doing research projects for their own product development. I owe you all a new post on kegging to show you’ve all been doing it so so wrong.

In the frustration of the election and inspired by blog hero George Lakoff, I penned Public foundations for Private Spirits Companies. The post is a meditation on how private companies get built on a foundation of public research and how we are starting to forget that. A new generation of distilleries is popping up that often flounders with the technical aspects of product development because they do not seek out any of the amazing research that came before them. Most distillers are in disbelief the research exists when I introduce it to them. This rickety blog is the largest source of advanced educational material for the new American distilling industry which is approaching a billion dollars in revenue and quite a few hundred million in investment.

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Here I introduce the Alaska Ice Crusher and describe a stunning restored version produced by a new friend. I’ve used Alaskas for a quite a few years and lately have been seeing them popping up in finer bars. They have become a Boston bar scene thing and collectively we own quite a few.

In A Few Papers For The Industrious I take a break from foundry work to read from papers that Rex sent in which I’d been hoping to come across for a few years now. Having gotten in the mood, I also shared up some delicious snippets from the archives of rum arcana.

Patrick Neilson Tells of Rum (Like No Other), 1871 This was easily my favorite piece of the entire years with its companion article J.S. Tells of Rum, Jamaica 1871. These papers kick off the fine rum era and are full of the choicest opinions on things like skimmings that many of us have heard of but don’t quite understand.

This piece was short and fun and simply shows that even as far back as 1885, which is a few life times out from the birth of the term, people were into tracking down etymologies: Etymology of the Word Rum by Darnell Davis (1885).

This is only for nerds and if you’re short on time and need to triage your reading, skip this, Occurance of Lime-Incrustations in Rum Stills (1903), and the next post, Scientific Control of a Rum Distillery by F. I. Scard.

As I collect papers, a genre of writings is emerging and this is an enjoyable example from a seldom described island. W. M. Miller Tells of Rum in Guyana for Timehri (1890)

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We ended the year with the Return of the Champagne Bottle Manifold where I mastered single point threading on the manual engine lathe and started cutting the proprietary 19/32-18 threads myself to improve the design. My design over the years has evolved to be really spectacular, but they didn’t really catch on because programs didn’t want to pay for them and those that did had them frequently stolen. The most serious users ended up being Champagne sales reps.

Who knows what next year will bring. Sadly for the Bostonapothecary blog, my focus will be in the workshop. Ask questions or challenge me and I may sit down and post.

Cheers!

Etymology of the Word Rum by Darnell Davis (1885)

A fun snippet from the files is this 1885 look at the etymology of the word rum. Judging by titles of his other works, the author, the honorable Darnell Davis, was quite the character, but so far I haven’t figured out if he was any kind of colonialist racist or not. Google has no full view of his essays, but I’ve yet to consult other resources (too busy at the foundry).

Davis’ work comes a whole 200 years after the birth of the word, rum, at a time that was pretty much the birth of modern rum with any stylistic identity (beginning of chemical and then later biological control).

Most enthusiasts today believe there are few works on the subject, but rum it turns out, has the most well documented history of any spirit category. This blog has become sort of a monument to and repository of that technical history.

Categorizing rum is all the rage, and lately in discussions, I’ve been promoting the top most categories of fine rum and commodity rum (which we will eventually sub categorize). This backs away from cliches like sipping and mixing as well as industrial and artisan. It is no revolution in rum categorization, but the words are semantically powerful and have been very valuable to understanding wine. Wine, we will repeatedly see, is where we should look when figuring out how to categorize and market rum.

My big point is that fine rums exist, and they are certainly out there on the market, but the category does not yet exist. We cannot have fine rums sorted from all the commodity junk until the complete history of rum comes out. We just went from thinking Jamaican rum was shrouded in mystery to finding out it has the most documented history of any spirit complete with time stamps, intimate anecdotes, and first names galore.

Fine wines tell a story, and that is largely their whole point, but we cannot read it unless we clearly know how they were produced. Things we don’t quite understand like the contribution of cane varieties cannot be pulled apart until the other variable are isolated by disclosure. We still have no wide acknowledgement of Schizosaccharomyces Pombe as a rum yeast. Giant holes exist in rum knowledge that would change any categorization system so I think a lot of people are getting ahead of themselves.

Fine rums cannot tell their story until we know more about them starting with their technical history and evolution. This has nothing to do with banishing caramel coloring or the arbitrary numbers attached to a solera system. Dwelling there will just set rum back. The future of fine rum literature will probably resemble Andrew Jefford’s writing on wine, but it is nowhere near there at the moment.

Darnell Davis’ 1885 etymology of rum is another step in telling the history of rum that will get us closer to the category of fine rum. Pulling these papers out is less about helping to produce better rum (like some of my efforts for new distillers) and more about helping to read rum. We need a continuous story from the birth of the word to the bottles we are currently enjoying.

Spirits get shaped by countless influences from the cultural to the philosophical to the scientific. Wars shape spirits and so do unique government programs like the various experiment stations or the infamous Rum Pilot Plant. The fine category begins with chemical and biological control to sculpt a spirit into an ideal and then the philosophical is free to take over.

Fine wine, we must remember, was born in the lab. The American winners of the Judgement of Paris were all lab technicians turned winemakers. This allowed them to follow the progressive process of incremental improvement for their wine. These producers, particularly Warren Winiarski, were deeply involved in the philosophical end of wine construction, but they also had the technical foundation to execute all their ideas.

Let’s quote Winiarski because it is wildly relevant:

That was also there. All of those things. We didn’t talk about the major ingredient, the accumulation of scientific information and things that people did at Davis. Maynard Amerine’s work with grapes and where they grow best –that bulletin of the Agriculture Experiment Station at the University of California that I used as a Bible, reading it in a devotional way. Every day you read a little bit of this, at night you read a little bit of that, getting intimately immersed in the contents. You read another chapter and tried to figure out what these must analyses could mean and what their significance was. The existence of such a rich body of knowledge was certainly another major ingredient. And I think the other thing was the people, among whom I count myself, whose taste and aspirations were formed elsewhere and who brought in the ability to actually accomplish the coming together of these several elements.

Maynard Amerine and the culture of that UC Davis era have always been a guide for the work at the Bostonapothecary. A Winiarski or a Grgich of the rum world will not come along until we assemble and digest all the literature. Also, notice that Winiarski et al. were studying texts meant for commodity wine production. These fine wine makers literally sat in (old school non degree sat in) the back of the class to learn anything that might help them produce fine wines. What are the differences between fine and commodity? Philosophy, scale, and compromise.

A big problem the new distilling movement has is a shoddy notion of philosophical ideals and absolutely zero chemical and biological control. With few exceptions, they have all pretty much only gotten as far as: “look mom, I made rum”. And of course it is not rum, which is a concept that pops up in the literature time and again, best reinforced by Arroyo. Not all things made from sugar cane products are rum and if they’re not rum, they are in the commodity category. The commodity category has things that aren’t fit to be called rum as well as things fit to be called rum, but not fit to be called fine. Right now we are seeing some of the most expensive commodity distillates ever produced hitting the market from the new distilling scene.

Skimmings communicate in a far greater degree than molasses the characteristic stamp to rum. A spirit made of pure molasses and water would scarcely be rum; and instances are familiar of molasses having been removed from one place and distilled at another, which, with different skimmings, have produced an entirely different rum. -J.S., 1871

Ideas evolved a bit and rum, according to Arroyo, starts with a rum yeast, and what is special about that yeast is that it takes advantage of precursors in the substrate to produce extraordinary congeners, of low frequency of occurrence, and of universal harmonic value, all the while limiting congeners like fusel oil which overshadow when in excess. Yet we’ve only learned all that recently by rediscovering literature that had been lost for decades.

Just like the chemical and biological aspects of rum production have a history, so too does the philosophical and that heritage goes back much further than anyone had recently thought. Just the other day, a paper turns up from 1871 with an author (J.S. also quoted above) describing the idea of forcing versus intercepting flavour. Though it is proto-philosophy, the concept sit parallel to the idea of wines of effort versus wines of terroir.

Only with recently revealed technical history could we read more of the story of the fine rums of Cape Verde because much of their unique character has to do with their sugar cane juice not being centrifuged and defecated like the rhums of Martinique.

Don’t forget that many of the fine rums of the last ten years from independent bottlers such as Plantation were not very conscientious nor produced with much enlightened philosophy. They were found art, accidentally over aged, and accidentally ending up extraordinary after missing their modest targets. Their architects weren’t part of contemporary culinary with their own twitter accounts, but were often government employees and at the most generous, many could be called outsider artists (brilliant and conscientious, but within a tiny bubble). The faceless nature and the way so many producers imploded is a big part of the intrigue for the sleeping relics they left behind. But on distilling day for the 1986 Barbados rum bottled by Plantation, if you said fine or asked about forcing or intercepting flavour, the Barbados boys would say: ‘the fuck you talk’n about?’ It was distilled like a brick house, but with commodity ambitions as the basis for some anonymous blend somewhere.

Anyhow, read Darnell Davis and marvel at his tracing the etymologies of rum and his tales of digging through the libraries of Europe to do it.

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!

Excise Anecdotes from Arrack Country

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These anecdotes have been taken from a wonderful 1983 document written by J.P. Rupasinghe presented at a 1981 symposium on palm sap products.

It starts with acknowledgement of a checkered history, there is a tale of fraud, later a gargantuan tragedy, and an ending with revelations of terroir. If this is the first tale from this vantage point I’ve ever found, are others likely to be equally so good?

Some Anecdotes

I would now wish to relate some anecdotes in my 30 years of experience as an excise officer in the checkered history of the excise department. As a young Superintendent of Excise on first appointment, working in Jaffna, living with another officer who now is Head of another department I have something interesting to say. My colleague was used to take a bottle of fresh toddy in the morning instead of his bed-tea as in his opinion it was more invigorating than the tea. Tasting palmyrah toddy especially during week ends was a passtime and was real fun. The best palmyrah toddy that we had encountered in the Jaffna District and its neighbouring Island was found in the villages of Keerimalai and Senthan Kulam in the Kankesanturai area. The sap from the male palmyrah tree in these areas far excelled any other toddy found in the Jaffna district. I feel the strain of the palmyrah trees found therein and the soil and climatic factors matter in bringing about this condition in toddy. When I came soon afterwards from Jaffna in charge of the State Distillery at Seeduwa there was an Asst. Government Analyst on loan to this department for brief period of 2 years at a time. However, the toddy supplies to the State Distilleries at Seeduwa were obtained from contractors who had their topes in the Chilaw area and they were paid on the pure toddy (alcohol) content of 7.5 % on the gallonage supplied depending on the strength of toddy supplied as indicated by the Ebulliometer test conducted by our officers located at the distillery. It was found that large quantities of toddy received had reached the final stage of fermentation and the toddy did not appear genuine. With the collaboration of the Govt. Analyst at the distillery a random test check was done on suspicion for the presence of starch as there was a rumour that boiled rice water was used in preparing this synthetic toddy. One application of this starch test the results were startling and positive. Starch being not a component of toddy the next obvious thing we had to do was to roll the barrels down the drain leading to Dandugan Oya near-by, to find most of the distillery employees were happily waiting at the far end of the drain away from our sight and having their fill. However this action of destroying such toddy had its desired effects and the problem of synthetic toddy was solved. [They probably used iodine to test for starch.]

When I was at Kalutara thereafter in charge of the large storage and bottling warehouses in the Island I happened to be on leave and the young Superintendent attending to my work had been informed that a large vat containing about 3,000 gallons of over proof arrack was leaking. Perhaps it may have been a simple job for a cooper to stop the leak but this young Superintendent had decided to transfer the arrack to another empty vat near by with the aid of a hand pump. Somehow the operation went on till dusk and the warehouse being newly constructed there were no lights. The hand pump had been used to hard work and suddenly the vat went up in flames, a porter who was on top of the vat hit the warehouse ceiling and fell into the burning vat and must have died instantaneously because what we recovered of him for burial was only his pelvic bone. All attempts to bring down fire was in vain and the balance vat containing overproof arrack, 48 in number, had started bursting like Chinese crackers and a good 100 thousand gallons of overproof arrack was lost in the process. This happened in or around 1957. [Friction from the pump built up intense heat and ignited the high proof spirits.]

Special Arrack

Apart from the severe loss suffered by the department at this stage we were faced with the problem of giving the renters arrack for the taverns they had tendered and a solution had to be found to bridge the gap. This was a time the Gal-Oya and Kantalai Distilleries had ample stocks of rectified, spirits which they were prepared to sell. Samples of rectified spirit and coconut arrack were taken by me to the Government Analyst Department in order to find out a suitable blend for issuing to the public as an alternative to coconut arrack. The Government Analyst Department reported that a blend of 2 of coconut arrack to 1 of rectified spirits would be a satisfactory solution. Thereupon the first such blend was prepared by me at Kalutara and the employees (always hard and inveterate drinkers) were asked to taste and express their opinions. They did so with glee, and that was the birth of what is presently known as Special Arrack or ‘Gal’ Arrack. These proportions are not said to be maintained now and what is put out to the market as special arrack is said to contain more rectified spirit than coconut arrack. The consequences or effects that the consumer of this arrack would have in the long run could be a matter for study. Perhaps the recent census showing a negligible increase in the population may be a result of this.

[When we would assume the special style was developed merely to cut costs, it was actually a response to a catastrophic loss due to a great tragedy. Its easy to miss so many of the stories a spirit can tell.]

Quick Maturation

The late Mr. Mervyn de Silva during his stint of service at the State Distillery experimented with the action of wood shavings on arrack in bottles and on his advice I got a miniature vat constructed, and having placed Halmilla wood shavings, roasted slightly, packed in cylindrical stainless steel wiremesh inserted inside the miniature vat we found that Arrack could be made to mature quickly. A usual 5 year maturation in a vat could be reduced to 2 years by this method. However after we went and took up positions elsewhere in the departments it was found that the few gallons of arrack left in the miniature vat was so good in bouquet and taste that it had an excuse for going fast ”evaporated.” Any how this method is still being used on a large scale at the distillery for quick maturation. [“evaporated” means they enjoyed it so much they drank it, but because they record everything for tax purposes, they wrote it off as evaporated.]

Flavours

In 1968, I went to France on a French Government Scholarship to study the distillery practices in that country, and I had the good fortune to visit many manufactories in that country. What struck me most was the strain of grapes used to distill Brandy in the Cognac district of France. These grapes unlike the more edible and sweeter grapes in the rest of the country were remarkably sour in taste, and year in year out the same grapes, farmed in that district, were used for the distillation of the more prestigeous Cognacs like ‘Hennessy’ or ‘Remmy Martin’, so much so that the saying goes that ‘a Cognac is a Brandy’ but ‘all Brandies are not Cognacs’. The Armanages, the Salyangnecs, the Polynagcs are all Brandies with distinct flavours produced in specified districts. However, in Sri Lanka we have been slaughter tapping the coconut tree in the tapping belt of Kalutara and allied areas for years. To feed the distilleries therein, the State Distillery has had its supply of toddy year in year out from specific areas. The coconut trees found in these tapping areas are presumably of different strains in as much as ‘Kurumba Water’ taste different from different coconut trees, the sap tapped from the spadices thereof must necessarily be different. I say this as a pointer to those who would like to study this aspect intensively because we are still to find the equivalent of the Cognac district and the particular strains of coconut trees to obtain our toddy to produce a better arrack.

[The strange spellings are all the author’s own. I think one might be a corruption of Salignac, the Cognac house. This passage is wildly profound and it makes you wonder how many people visited Cognac and came back similarly inspired in places we would never suspect. And this was 1981, has their market matured enough since to capture terroir? Can arrack make the jump from commodity to fine? I hope so.

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Quinine Wisdom from Morris Boris Jacobs

For a while now I’ve been searching for academic looks at tonic water and have come up dry. How could something so economically significant be so poorly written about? Finding something useful would help keep tonic water’s renaissance going. A newly acquired book, Carbonation (1959) by the flavor chemist Morris Boris Jacobs has some small notable factoids.

e. Quinine Water

A specialty-flavored beverage that has had considerable vogue in Great Britain and has had some popularity in the United States recently is quinine water. In the Soft Drinks Minimum Standard (Food Standards [Soft Drinks] Order, 1953, 1828) of Great Britain which came into effect on December 20, 1953, the standards that had been in force for “Indian and Quinine Tonic” were continued. These standards required that there is a minimum of 1 pound 2 ounces of sugar per 10 gallons, a maximum of 82 grains of sacharin per 10 gallons, and a minimum of 0.5 grain of quinine (calculated as quinine sulfate) per pint. These standards should prove of assistance in the formulation of a flavored sirup for the manufacture of this type of specialty-flavored beverage.

Another quinine water or tonic formulation contains 8 grains of quinine sulfate in a mixture of 4 pints of carbonated lemon soda and 4 pints of carbonated water, that is, 1 grain of quinine sulfate per pint of finished beverage.

1 grains = 0.06479891 grams
1 pint = 473.176 mL

So that recommendation of 1 grain per pint, metrically is 0.1369 grams of quinine sulfate per liter of soda.

0.137 g/L quinine sulfate.

Lets see how these numbers compare to numbers from Avery Glasser of Bittermans that were quoted here by Tess Posthumus.

The Numbers
Avery is known from Bittermens, a company making bitters, extracts, liqueurs and more. He works a lot with cinchona bark and discovered that cinchona bark consists 5% out of quinine. The American federal safety standard for the use of quinine is a maximum of 83 parts of quinine per million in a drink. The average commercial tonic water has 2.48 mg quinine per 30ml.

Avery’s numbers supposedly come from here. (But I guess I haven’t read enough about this topic if it took me so long to find that out). 2.48 mg per 30 ml is 0.083 g/L which is far less than the 0.137 g/L from Jacobs, but maybe people were tougher back then. Numbers from the old literature give the percent of quinine sulfate in Java Cinchona as 5-7% which is inline with Avery’s 5%, but who knows what it is these days after decades of improvements.

Glasser’s numbers and Jacobs numbers are very different. I’ve never really been interested in tonic water but it looks like I need to order some quinine sulfate and attach a sensory experience to the numbers.

[edited to add: A potential difference between Avery’s and Jacobs’ numbers could be the salt form of quinine sulfate used by Jacobs and the free base form of quinine sulfate which could be what Avery is quoting. A salt is when a particular acid and base are combined while the free base is when the base is separated from the acid. The free base number is the most specific while the salt number could vary significantly depending on what acid forms the salt. I bet if I did more reading I could get to the bottom of all this.]

Prize Essay on Cinchona Cultivaton

Notes on the Estimation of Quinine

Cinchona and quinine in Java (A wildly interesting history from 1901 with spectacular photos)
British Soda History (great photographs)

(Me, in the bostonapothecary laboratory assaying quinine)

What I suspect is that cinchona added to tonic water is and has always been in the form of purified quinine sulphate. People making tonic water from raw unpurified cinchona are just far from the mark. M.B. Jacobs gives us a best bet and that is 137 mg/L.

desert soda waterStandards of civilization were so high they brought soda water to the desert battle fields of WWI. “basic equipment”

There are more gems in the book, but I lent it out before I could digitize them. So more to come!

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.

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.

“Muck Hole” Not “Dunder Pit”

[If you enjoy this content, use it professionally, or simply want to support the blog, please share the artisan workshop of the bostonapothecary, the houghtonstfoundry.com. It will hopefully evolve from an architecture focused machine shop to also include a laboratory for distillery analysis and applied yeast work.]

[I’ve done a ton on this topic since and gathered upwards of twenty rare papers on the topic. I’ve been too busy to index anything, but if you search through the posts they can easily be found.]

The previous post contains an account of making Jamaican rum from a 1911 text on Cane Sugar from a renowned sugar technologist at the experiment station of the Hawaiian sugar planters association. The account very briefly explains the various cisterns used for preparing all parts of the sugar wash and uses the (new to me) term muck hole as opposed to the term dunder pit which many rum talkers like to throw around. True, Jamaican rums had dunder added [and this it turns out is ripened with bacterial fermentations], which just implied stillage, but they also had a quotient added called flavour, which is the legendary re-fermented portion. Not all of Jamaica made heavy, flavoured or German rums, they also made clean rums. Many people today are confused on what style of rum is represented by Wray & Nephews OP or Trelawny OP. They are unique relative to other clear rums, but probably do not see any of the flavouring technique.

“If common clean rum is being made, stick to common clean and never allow things to drift in the directions of making flavoured rum in the pious hopes that you may wake up some day to find that you have become famous by making flavoured rum where it was never made before. You are much more likely to find an enfuriated Busha awaiting to tell you that your services are no longer required on that estate.”

Searching google books for “muck hole”, many great explanations of Jamaican rum production come up as well as one particular old text that is basically the holy grail tell-all of Jamaican rum making at the beginning of the 20th century. I do not not believe this text is known to popular culinary or even the new distilling scene.

Report on the experimental work of the sugar experiment station (1905)

The text is pretty amazing and has staggering amounts of data on experiments conducted. The PDF was scanned poorly and is not searchable, but the content is so historically significant I might be tempted to re-type parts of it over so they are easier to use. Previously, I did not believe there were any works this scholarly being done at this time period concerning rum. It almost seems more advanced than works concerning whiskey or brandy and isn’t listed in any bibliographies that I know of. There is even an appendix of “Lectures on fermentation in relation to Jamaica rum as delivered at the Course for Distillers at the government laboratory in 1906 by Charles Allan, B.Sc.” (PDF p. 284). A likely reason for the advanced nature of the content relative to works of the same time by Scottish researcher S.H. Hastie is that Allan had carte blanche access to whatever he wanted with no legal restrictions unlike Hastie who was severely constrained by the rules of the excise officers.

The text is a compendium of three sections written over three years and at the end of each section rum production is discussed and the author’s handle on the subject gets better and better until finally he pretty much unlocks the secrets of muck hole bacterial fermentations.

Solids from the dunder go into the muck hole. These solids, which are pretty much completely composed of high acid spent lees, undergo a particular bacterial fermentation which produces increased amounts of fatty acids, notably butyric. The muck hole is essentially a pH sensitive bio reactor that is started and stopped constantly by the addition of alkaline lime marl. Besides stalling out with too low a pH, if the muck hole was neglected, the prized fatty acids would continue to break down into simpler molecules like ammonia, but when lime is added and the pH rises, fatty acids are also locked up as salts. Muck can be drawn off or more dunder solids added and the process restarted. Many rum talkers claim the content of the pits could be decades old but I suspect the break down of chemical compounds into undesirable forms like ammonia would not permit this and the contents rather were/are at most only from the previous season’s production.

A wash for a Jamaican rum is composed of sugar cane skimmings, dunder, acid, molasses, and flavour. Deconstructing all these terms is tricky and here is my best shot. Sugar cane skimmings could imply fresh sugar can juice [it is really the raft of coagulated proteins that float to the top with other stuff when you boil cane juice], which was known to be added to Jamaican rums. Dunder here is stillage from a previous distillation similar to backset used in the sour mash process and it often goes through bacterial fermentation as its held during the season. Acid, believe it or not, implies sugar cane vinegar and its role is a clever chemistry trick I’ll discuss next. Molasses is the molasses you’d expect, and flavour, finally, is the muck.

The muck is full of lime marl / fatty acid salts which are essentially locked up in a non-volatile form and needs the acid (again also said as sugar cane vinegar) to unlock. I learned about this concept intimately when creating the Tabasco aromatized gin recipe for my Distiller’s Workbook. The acetic acid in the Tabasco needs to be locked up as a non-volatile salt using baking soda so it does not carry over into the distillate. The chemistry concepts are also masterfully explained in Peter Atkins book Reactions. In the Jamaican rum context, the addition of acetic acid to the muck changes the bonds between the lime marl and a portion of the other fatty acids releasing them to participate in future reactions such as acid catalyzed esterification. So the most common shortest chain fatty acid, acetic, trades places with the longer more noble fatty acids created in the muck hole and become linked up as salts with the lime marl [I think over the years, acetic acid use went away and sulfuric acid became more popular].

The author gives the proportions of sample mashes but doesn’t explain how they are assembled. The muck and sugar cane vinegar could be thrown in with all the other components or left to react independently and then the newly formed lime marl / acetic acids salts separated and the more noble mixture added to the skimmings, molasses, and dunder. The latter option makes the most sense from a chemical perspective.

“Distillery work”, PDF page 471 is also worth a look.

Using google books, five more references were easily findable describing the muck hole and the use of lime. For some reason, none of the PDFs are searchable nor can text be copied and pasted from them. The two 1913 sources and the 1920 seem mostly plagiarized from each other.

The Chemical Age Volume XVIII July-December 1913

The School of mines quarterly A journal of applied science vol. XXXIV 1913

Food Products by Henry Clapp Sherman 1920

British and Foreign Spirits by Charles Tovey 1864

West Indian Bulletin Great Britain Imperial Dept. of Agriculture for the West Indies Vol. VI 1906 (this book looks especially cool!) The manufacture of Jamaican rum is discussed on PDF page 584 and is a summary of Charles Allan’s work in Jamaica which is quite good and fills in some pieces missing in the text from the experiment station. It gets interesting when he starts to paint a broader portrait and gives his opinions of the industry.

Once these imperialist chemists unlocked the secrets of the process, they also uncovered serious inefficiencies. Large amounts of sugar go wasted in each step and some processes were left to run away creating wastes. Spirits production was still very competitive back then and the authors discuss whether it was worth it to cut yields to make a higher ester product at the hopes of making a higher profit. It seems like changing distillery practices incurred more risk and often was just a break even proposition. Advances slowly moved forward over the years probably until we get to Raphael Arroyo’s work on heavy rums patented in 1945 where the techniques used today pretty much get settled.

To quote Arroyo:

It has now been found that heavy rums of excellent type and with high yields and fermentation efficiencies can be obtained by a procedure comprising:
1. The subjection of the raw material to a pre-treating operation which fits it for its intended use.
2. The selection of yeast and bacterial cultures adapted for symbiotic fermentation of heavy rum mashes.
3. The employment of optimum conditions for the production of alcohol and symbiotic fermentation for the production of aroma and flavor, wherewith to obtain high yields and fermentation efficiencies with a rapid fermentation, and a high quality of final product.
4. The employment of a proper distillation method for the resulting beers.

In the Arroyo technique, no dunder or muck hole is used but rather controlled inoculation of selected bacteria in the main ferment coupled with other tightly controlled fermentation variables. Looking at the balance between tradition and innovation it wouldn’t be surprising if for the sake of tradition Jamaica used a modified version of the Arroyo method where the bacterial fermentation was relegated to some sort of tightly controlled cistern / muck hole / dunder pit. One interesting thing to note in Arroyo’s technique is the way he uses alkaline lime during production.

“The addition of the milk of lime during the initial stage of the pre-treatment process has three main purposes:

1. It prepares the medium for the development during fermentation of the most important ingredient in the aroma of heavy rums, being the essential oil or mixture of essential oils known as “rum oil.”

2. It neutralizes the free fatty acids which are always present in molasses, thus eliminating the danger of their volatization during the heating operation which immediately follows, but permitting the reliberation of these fatty acids from their calcium salts upon the sulphuric acid addition to the already cooled thick mash in the second stage of the pretreatment, so that they are then available for the formation of valueable esters later during the fermentation period and under the catalytic action of the esterase produced by the yeast.

3. The disturbance produced in the medium through the alteration of pH value occasioned by the milk of lime causes a copious precipitation of organic bases, molasses gums, and mineral ash constituents of the molasses, and this precipitation is enhanced by the action of the heat applied.

The works of the sugar cane experiment station have been of immense value and it wouldn’t be surprising if other similar works exist for the other islands, particularly those colonized by the English. Maybe there is a text out there that explains the significance and ins & outs of wooden boilers as opposed to copper [I just found this in a Barbados document].

A completing scanning of Raphael Arroyo’s rare text Studies of Rum (spanish) can be found here.

More from the Journal of the Society of the Chemical Industry, volume 26, 1907 which features a very interesting comment section.

The first  named needs no special description. “Skimmings” consist of the scum which rises during the boiling of the cane juice. Before they are allowed to undergo acid fermentation, either alone or in presence of the crushed canes (or “trash”). “Dunder” is the spent wash from the stills.

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