Distiller’s Workbook exercise 12 of 15

Marmite Aromatized Rye

The idea for the Marmite aromatized rye came while reading about the use of yeast autolysis in beverage production. Yeast autolysis is the process of dead yeast cells breaking down and contributing aroma which in some beverages can be considered a flaw while in others considered a feature. The aroma of the dead yeast is one of the things that makes expensive vintage dated Champagnes so highly regarded. In Champagne, the term mousey is often used for the contribution of autolytic yeast to the aroma. Eau-de-vies of autolytic yeast have an obscure tradition of being made in some parts of France and are often used for confections.

In the exercise, a commercial bottling of rye whiskey is re-distilled with an extract of autolytic yeast. Both Marmite and Vegemite, which can be found at many super markets, are essentially yeast extracts. Salt is used to break down the yeast cells releasing aroma as well as preserving. If either product is distilled, aromas can be captured and separated from the non-volatile salt. These salt preserved yeast extracts might draw some comparisons to what many people call dunder which is used to increase the aroma of rums in Jamaica. Dunder is spent yeast whose acidic aromas are locked up with alkaline lime marl as they go through aroma producing secondary fermentations. Eventually added back to the acidic wash, dunder boosts aroma, principally esters (What latently has been called dunder might have really been called muck in the early 20th century and intimate details of its preparation and use have recently surfaced in the old journals of the agricultural experiment station in Jamaica).

Most all full flavored distillates from fermented material are distilled on the lees. It should be pointed out when contemplating this exercise that distilling on fairly fresh lees is different that distilling with autolytic lees or even dunder. In Cognac production, the lees are often separated to prevent the wine from inducing yeast autolysis while they await distillation together where they are reunited. Only percentages of the lees, which have a tendency to settle to the bottom of the pot, are used because large volumes can cause scorching and the release of unwanted aromas.

Fairly fresh lees have been shown to increase important generic esters and reduce unwanted aldehydes. Even fruit eau-de-vies of astounding freshness and purity are distilled on percentages of their lees. Great work was done by Roseworthy Agricultural College mid 20th century to explain the value of lees distillation and Robert Léauté contributes some of the most articulate contemporary explanations.

Many people have aversions to Marmite and Vegemite, but that is mainly due to the dissonant salinity. The aroma of autolytic yeast can be classified as olfactory-umami which likely can be traced back to esters that form from long chain fatty acids. The intensely memorable salinity of yeast extracts can quickly re-orientate learned associations and for some people the aroma can quickly become olfactory-salty.

Familiarizing oneself with the potential aromas of yeast through the exercise can be valuable to the new distiller but the aroma must be contemplated with certain considerations. Autolytic aroma, however fun, can be considered ordinary rather than extraordinary and possibly represents regrets and missed opportunities. The extraordinary aroma of dunder is differentiated from that of ordinary autolytic yeast by its unique secondary fermentations. Aroma from yeast can be seen as lacking a sense of place because it can so easily be found anywhere and often overshadows the unique and singular qualities of source material like fruit or grains which distillers typically want to elevate and tease out. All the while as the exercise proves, yeast aroma has a time and a place, and with the new cocktail contexts that so many spirits are enjoyed under, begs to be explored.

Yeast aroma almost seems like new oak in regards to wine. Small percentages of new oak can definitely pull a wine together, but after a certain point it definitely overshadows other less attentional nuances. As we explored the exercise and increased the yeast aroma in our experimental spirits with Marmite, we found that we also needed to increase other attentional features like wood tannin which we did via our novel faux aging technique. Post distillation, over a span of many months, the spirit did seem to develop in complexity.

The brandy distiller Hubert Germain-Robin makes some observations on the subject of distilling with lees in his short book: Traditional Distillation Art & Passion that may be relevant to the exercise. Germain-Robin claims that fatty acids in the lees can react with copper and the product will come over into the distillate at the heads point in the run, but unfortunately he does not elaborate much further. We were never able to duplicate any of the observations Germain-Robin made while using large doses of Marmite instead of lees, but Marmite is a processed product and therefore could be altered in a way that makes it behave substantially different than a normal lees distillation scenario.

When distilling with high percentages of lees, Germain-Robin claims to observe copper salts being produced that he filters with a screen constructed of unbleached white toilet paper which implies that the product of the reaction is insoluble. What ends up being caught by the toilet paper turns out to be copper corrosion from carbonic acid as all the CO2 in solution is quickly expelled as the boiler heats up and the phenomenon is explained in the text Whiskey: Technology, Production and Marketing. Not all distillers use the old school practice of filtering the corrosion because it is insoluble and ultimately removed in the second distillation of double distillation.

RECIPE

750 mL rye whiskey (we used Old Overholt)

100 g Marmite

7 g tartaric, malic, or citric acid (optional catalyst)

Mix and re-distill together slowly on low reflux until the thermometer on the still reads 98°C. Going past 98°C may result in a cloudy distillate. Marmite does not seem to produce unpleasant cooked aromas.

Optionally, to synthesize the pH and non-volatile characteristics of an aged spirit, de-hydrate a volume of aged Bourbon proportional to the amount you want to fake age then reconstitute the resulting barrel essence.

Using your hydrometer re-cut the distillate to your desired proof with distilled water (recommended 80-90).

COCKTAILS

When these drinks were served to Anthony Bourdain he exclaimed “that’s devilish!” & “you know, I’m a real Marmite slut“.

Marmite Rye Sazerac

2 oz. Marmite aromatized rye whiskey

4 g non aromatic white sugar (or .5 oz. 1:1 simple syrup)

4 dashes Peychaud’s bitters

rinse of Absinthe

expressed lemon peel

 

Marmite Rye Manhattan

2 oz. Marmite aromatized rye whiskey

1 oz. sweet vermouth

2 dashes Angostura bitters

 

French 75

1 oz. Marmite aromatized gin

.25 oz. lemon juice

.25 oz. simple syrup (1:1)

3.5 oz. sparkling wine

shake the gin, lemon juice, and simple syrup, then double strain and top with sparkling wine

expressed lemon peel

 

Aromatizing gin with Marmite for use in a French 75 contributes the mousey aromas of fine Champagne without the expense.

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