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[6/7/2015 This post just recently got a lot of traffic from a discussion at Reddit. The initial concern was simply the sugar content of Campari for a calorie counter, but the discussion quickly turned to the lack of consensus on the sensory values of Campari. Some people were not aware that Campari was sweet while others were sure of it. A few astute people thought that if Campari did not have sugar to suppress the bitterness it would be so bitter it would not be palatable. The talk eventually gravitated to measuring the sugar content. This post was one of my very first experiments with sugar measurement and since then I’ve advanced a lot. Now I would measure the density of the Campari, figure out ethanol’s influence on that density and then find the sugar content of that unobscured density in g/L instead of brix. I also estimate a 30g/L margin of error.]
I thought I knew a lot about all things alcoholic but I keep finding lots of holes in my knowledge. One to clear up is whether amaros like Campari are infused then re-distilled or not. Do they simply infuse and filter then color? Sounds more practical. Distilling has huge energy costs and sometimes it seems to over engineer the results. And, are any bitter principles volatile enough to come through in a distillate? Do the results either way have any implications for an understanding of absinthe containing wormwood which is the most bitter substance I’ve ever come across?
For the experiment I took 500ml of Campari and added 500ml of water then distilled out 500ml. Using a nice amount of reflux, Campari’s small amount of alcohol came out quickly then I was mainly distilling water to make up the volume.
Now I have two 500ml volumes. One is clear, has the 24% alcohol, and whatever aromatic principles came through. It smells just like Campari but is barely bitter or maybe just has the aroma that my brain associates with bitter things. Now the second volume is slightly darker red than the Campari (maybe because I caramelized the sugars?) and does not smell Campari-esque at all. It actually smells slightly like juniper but who knows if that is from residues in my still or from the containers I’m reusing. The second volume definitely has a lot of bitter to it but less than Campari. (or maybe not when I sit down and drink the real stuff.)
So the results here are really similar to my distilling of a quinine tincture. No bitter in the distillate. Now I have to try it with wormwood and see how the results come out. If the results are not bitter, Absinthes could have had lots of wormwood in them. My previous understanding was that you could never put so much wormwood in because no one would be able to palate the stuff.
One more thing that I can derive from the Campari experiment is how much sugar is in the product. Now that I have a volume with no alcohol I can use either a refractometer or more accurately a hydrometer to gauge how much sugar they add. (I just ordered some specialized hydrometers… can’t wait to try them out!)
So I finally tried out my specialized hydrometers. Campari lays just between the end of one and beginning of another so my very good estimate is there is 22 brix to campari. Now I could take this farther and see how much the alcohol obscures the measure of the Campari’s sugar content using the same hydrometer on the real stuff.