The recent pear brandy exploration encouraged me to fire up the birectifier again with a long time favorite, Trimbach’s Mirabelle, yellow plum brandy. Trimbach has an incredible series of brandies and they no doubt bring studied expertise to production which makes them a great role model producer.
Trimbach includes the language at the bottom of their label:
Plum is a finished product when it leaves the still and does not require mellowing in oak to perfect its quality. Therefore this Plum has not been aged.
This is important because their cutting decisions have no major trajectories to account for besides baseline movements towards equilibrium after a time in glass. All decisions are final and there is no opportunity for the most volatile of congeners to blow off through the pores of wood.
There probably is no easy way to maximize the potential of your cuts without performing analysis on your wine to know what you are dealing with. Is there a lot of a ethyl acetate to contend with? Is it possible to rely on intuition or can a fine product only be born from analysis?
The goal of the birectifier is to create new pragmatic methods of analysis that you will not want to work without. In many cases, all that is desired can be achieved only via organoleptic analysis of the classic 8 fraction system.
Fraction 1: Concentrated non-culinary aromas. The amount likely walks the line of what is acceptable on a sensory level without crossing it. No aromas here reveal the fruit or at least anything that could is obscured by the ethyl acetate.
Fraction 2: The concentration of congeners decline to the point where the generic outline of fruit emerges. No non-culinary aromas.
Fraction 3: Fairly neutral, but something faintly fruity resides. It is very hard to apply any precision to the description.
Fraction 4: A slight fruit aroma emerges over top of the fusel oil. The fusel oil becomes apparent on the palate but it is not as concentrated as I would have guessed.
Fraction 5: A cloudy terpene emulsion definitely formed. The aroma is glorious and quite concentrated. It is definitely not conventionally fruity, but contains all the rare irregular details that define an extraordinary fruit. Remarkable persistence.
Fraction 6: A sour fruit aroma presents itself. It is remarkable how different it is from fraction 5.
Fraction 7: Very little character and very faint. No discernible acidity on the palate.
Fraction 8: No perceivable difference from fraction 7.
I’m betting that we are headed for a golden era of fruit spirits. This will be enabled by agro tourism and the ability to sell direct to consumers capturing the full retail markup for a producer. This will allow challenging to produce spirits to be relatively more economically viable.
The birectifier will aid production so without a lot of experience, intuition can be built quickly by studying role models. The actual distillation of the spirits will become a paint by numbers process. The deepest involvement will shift to fermentation, the actual selection of heirloom cultivars, and the growing of fruits.
On a marketing level, it is starting to become common knowledge that we are not bringing to market the most aroma-centric and flavor-centric fruits possible. Isolation of rare character in seldom seen varietals via the birectifier will create a new market of fruit hunters. Fine alcohol production will become an introductory market for many new fruits. There are many small scale marketing stories to tell and we can bring back the favorite varieties of for example, Mark Twain, various presidents, etc, etc.
An entire unexplored spectrum of products exists from pure fruit brandies like the Trimbach above to products featuring flavorful brandy bases like pineau des charentes or pommeau to liqueurs based on neutral spirit bases. These are all re-oriented from look mom I made ethanol to the truth-seeking pursuit of sublime and divine character (many European producers are already there).
Many challenging trash fruits, so called because they are extremely high in pectin, can take advantage of pectin removal processes enabled by high ethanol concentrations. The most exemplary product on the market to feature the process is the beach plum gin from Green Hook Ginsmiths which is well worth studying.
I have never found a text worth a damn about fruit brandy production, but have no fear, let the birectifier and deconstruction of role models be your guide.
3 thoughts on “Deconstructing Yellow Plum Brandy With The Birectifier”
Having made fruit brandy at a commercial distillery for the last 6 years, unfortunately I don’t think we are anywhere near a ‘golden era’ of fruit spirits. For a farmer to plant out specialty or historical varieties they need to see a significant price premium over commodity varieties as they have a very limited path to market for those varietals, as well as typically lower yield, more disease issues, and no crop insurance. With a pure fruit edv requiring about 22-30 lb of fruit per bottle (or 40-60 lb for berries), even a minor $.10/lb premium (for apples or pears) adds 4-6$ to the bottle price. That might be acceptable for categories like high-end whiskey or mezcal, but there is almost total consumer indifference to fruit brandies and the consumer knowledge level is basically zero which means they will not pay a premium for ‘single-varietal’ spirits no matter how different or better they are. To work with fruits beyond apple, pear, and cherry is immensely challenging as the costs are extremely high and there is no market for the spirits. The small niche that exists is easily filled by the hundreds of fruit distilleries in Germany, Italy, and France (although most of those bottlings that are imported seem to gather a lot of dust on the shelves). I’d like for things to be different but don’t see fruit brandy expect apple or pear gaining any traction in the next decade.
Great to hear from you Andy.
The market will develop with an emphasis on agro tourism. Increasingly, products will be purchased on premise. It is my understanding that farmer distillers can also transfer products among each other within certain states. That means an inner city distillery tasting room can be selling a fruit eau-de-vie from a farmer distiller outside the city. This is symbiotic and enriches their retail experience. Bypassing middle men, this may allow for better returns to that farmer distiller than the current system and make things increasingly viable. Relationships like that need to blossom.
You definitely seem like you’re in the thick of it and know the hurdles to those investments and relationships. I would love to hear more if you’ve got the time.
The fine rum market has just exploded around the concept of high ester rums and now the concept of rum oil and archaic production practices. Fruit eau-de-vie is due for a bump with quality being tied to a terpene fraction. If you popularize the divine in that fraction, you give a lift to fruit eau-de-vies.
Hopefully, new tools like the birectifier, will reduce barriers to producing them at a fine level.
I’ve been selling fruit eau-de-vies and thrilling people with them for many years. They will never be a gold mine, but they will be by degrees increasingly viable.