I finally went for it and analyzed a spirit I deeply admire with the birectifier. Arroyo likely could not have imagined examining mezcal, but here we are and all the ideas surrounding the tool scale wonderfully. Del Maguey’s Vida mezcal turned out to contain a gorgeous fraction 5 with a definite presence of rum oil-like terpenes.
The big question returned, if a terpene fraction arises in other spirits, is it as hard won as in rum? or are other substrates easier? Mezcal is known for its practical distillers and likely none of them have read Studies on Rum and yet they are capable of a glorious product.
Not all spirits have a terpene fraction, but what I’m noticing is that the spirits I love the most, do. Many scientists throughout the 20th century chased rum oil, but many of us broad drinking spirit connoisseurs, who don’t get bogged down on one category, may have been chasing it as well. A terpene fraction is a pattern that runs through the greatest spirits. The lesson is that birectifier analysis can certainly help producers better produce a spirit, but it can also help consumers better appreciate a spirit.
Mezcal is a funny category and I feel that not all mezcals are great. Some just don’t have it. If we analyzed them all, would patterns emerge? I feel that some are too heady and I wonder how they differ in fraction 5. Another emerging questions is whether a terpene fractions allows a spirit to contain more of other basic congeners like ethyl acetate or fusel oil and still remain harmonious.
Would birectifier analysis help importers and distributors separate quality from non-quality before they put in costly effort to push something hard?
Would producers who are practical distillers benefit and enjoy working purely organoleptically to evaluate their production, troubleshoot, and chart a path for either progress or consistency?
The birectifier and its techniques are powerful. Basic technique gives the option to avoid a lot of science and work directly in the context of beauty. In ways that do not have much precedent, birectifier analysis also has a gentle way of informing the marketing of a spirit. When you have a terpene fraction, you can command a price and run with the big prized Jamaican rums.
Fraction 1: Quite concentrated to the point of non-culinary aromas and then there is also something else not exactly pleasant. This is possibly the most concentrated fraction 1 I’ve experienced in a role model and possibly establishes and upper bounds.
Fraction 2: Fruity but concentrated to the point of non-culinary aromas. A little confusing because I did not expect so much aroma.
Fraction 3: More aroma than I would have thought. Slight agave character. Slight aroma attributed to fractions 1 and 2.
Fraction 4: I’m tasting backwards from 5 and its wild how delineated the fractions are. A fruit character is present. It is absolutely like breathing in the evil fusel oil wraith. I would consider this a high level among spirit role models, but apparently it is exactly what is appropriate.
Fraction 5: You may think smoke, but really I think there is an aroma that has a similar shape. Only very late did a small terpene emulsion form. The character here is somewhere between rum oil from rum and the terpene fraction of the pear eau-de-vie. It is quite extraordinary and persistent. The intensity is wild. I’m afraid to drink it at first. The taste is acrid. The visual queue’s did not make me think this fraction 5 would be so powerful, but wow.
Fraction 6: Smoke aroma and something else pleasant and fruity. Definite gustatory acidity.
Fraction 7: Smoke aroma and something else very pleasant. Definite gustatory acidity.
Fraction 8: Smoke aroma and something else very pleasant. Definite gustatory acidity.
[(edited to add) Stillage: The birectifier stillage (which I should pay more attention to) has residual smoke aroma and incredible gustatory acidity. It was straight up tart. Unapolagetic volatile acidity could be a defining feature of mezcals and it would be great to know more about the bacteria responsible. It would also be great to compare it to other spirits such as Bourbon that famously claim “sour mashes”. Evidence we know this is likely not added after fermentation is because so much is volatile in the last three fractions at extremely high reflux. Because the spirit was originally distilled at extremely low proof, and likely slowly, there is tons of potential for volatile acids to volatilize.]
The acidity in these last three fractions is very surprising. It is no doubt from bacteria and a safe bet is lactic. It probably gives the spirit great structure to enjoy drinking neat. This was also the case with Fortaleza tequila. The acidity in the last three fractions of Fortaleza, however, was not so pronounced. Much of the acidity remained in the Fortaleza non-volatile fraction which had striking acidity. How the fatty acids could be so much more volatile in Vida mezcal is not clear.
One strange phenomenon that arose was a crystalized precipitate that formed in fraction 6. It seems to markedly change the surface tension of the liquid. I have only ever seen it happen in the 24 year Jamaican rum from Hampden. I have no idea what the substance may be.
Del Maguey’s Vida mezcal is clearly quite special. I wish I had the resources to analyze their single village expressions.