Distiller’s Workbook exercise 15 of 15

Hopped Gin

Hops have one of the most seductive aromas known to mankind with a spectrum that is staggeringly broad so it is amazing that hops have never been widely explored in distillates. Unfortunately, a notorious louching problem is presented by hops which this exercise will explore. The recipe is less explicit than some of the previous exercises because hops vary so significantly. It is recommended to try the many proposed options and enjoy both your successes and cloudy failures in cocktails.

The inspiration for the hopped gin exercise came from the brilliant but seldom imported Japanese product Kiuchi No Shizuku which is produced by the Hitachino brewery. The famous Hitachino white ale is reportedly distilled once to a low proof, briefly mellowed in barrels, and then re-distilled with more hops, coriander, and orange peel. Other similar distillates might be the seldom imported beer schnapps of Bavaria.

Hopped spirits may not be common to the market because of how hops behave when distilled. A clear distillate is very challenging to achieve when working with hops and clarity is something consumers expect out of un-aged distillates. Unlike hopped distillates, most typical distillates become cloudy when certain compounds are included that are volatile only at high temperatures. These compounds can be avoided by making tales cuts below a certain temperature (which corresponds to a certain alcohol level). Whatever clouds hopped distillates, curiously, comes through at low temperatures and is therefore very difficult to avoid because these compounds overlap with (or even are) much of the hop defining aroma. The poorly soluble compound is likely a terpene and could possibly be separated through terpene separation instead of a heads cut where removal could separate other aroma compounds with it.

Hitachino mellows their distillate in barrels at a low proof before re-distilling which presents a clue. Wonderful research on limoncello, to which terpenes are important in defining flavor, state that if the alcohol content goes below 30%, terpenes are at risk of separating as either a louche or possibly an insoluble oil floating on the top. In the Hitachino production process, terpenes could be separated through mellowing at low proof before re-distillation. Stability tests could then be conducted to determine what percentage of terpenes could be reintroduced to the distillate while maintaining clarity at a range of proofs. A practical test for consumers would be making a chilled shot while maintaining crystal clarity.

Terpenes, which have a piney character, are often separated during the production of citrus essences and the process is described well by Joseph Merory in his text, Food Flavorings. The essential oils spend time in a conical separator where the terpenes accumulate on the surface as an insoluble oil that is easy to separate. Terpenes are also reportedly separated from commercial orange liqueurs due to concerns with either their solubility or possible concerns with their stability as an aroma. Conversely, as previously mentioned, terpenes are critically important to limoncellos where they contribute unique timbre and terroir, but also from the limoncello literature, terpenes reportedly can change detrimentally due to hydrolysis.

A concern about hopped distillates which can be explored (with self control not to drink it all!) is whether they change markedly over time which might be a reason they have never been common to the market. Hops are so magical an aroma that you would think every major gin distiller has explored them but perhaps taken a pass due to consumer notions of the stability of distillates. Certain hop distillates explored during development of this exercise have sat around longer than a year and some varietals seem to have lost aroma though age-ability trials were never set up systematically so no conclusions can be drawn for sure. There is also unexplored concerns whether the compound responsible for skunking beer is volatile and could effect a hop distillate stored in clear bottles. Supply chain management is much different than it used to be and with a more educated consumer base, there might now be room for a hopped distillate with a best by date.

The recipe tries to present an elegant starting point for hop aroma that works for nearly every varietal, but if the goal is to learn more about terpene management it may make sense to distill a concentrate, lower the proof, patiently separate the terpenes, re-distill, blend down with plain gin, then re-introduce the terpenes while doing stability tests.

RECIPE

500 mL dry gin (Seagram’s)

8 g hops (Cascade is a good place to start, but experiment with numerous types)

Mix and re-distill together on high reflux until the thermometer on the still reads 93.33°C. Going past 93.33°C may result in a cloudy distillate for other reasons.

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

Hops vary in the potency of their aroma. If the hop distillate is too aromatic it can always be diluted with more plain gin.

It may also be rewarding to collect the product one ounce at a time in small canning jars then dilute them one at a time from the beginning into the first half of the hearts to reduce the proof by 50%. This will illustrate how the first fractions louche. The distillate can slowly be married from the back to the front exploring the sensory contribution of each re-introduced fraction.

COCKTAILS

I.P.A. → I.P.C. (Imperial Pegu Club)

1.5 oz. Cascade hopped gin

.75 oz. triple-sec

.75 oz. lime juice

dash Angostura bitters

 

hopped Negroni

1 oz. Pacific Jade hopped gin

1 oz. sweet vermouth

1 oz. Campari

expressed oil of grapefruit peel

 

hopped Gin Fizz

1.5 oz. Chinook hopped gin

.75 oz. lemon juice

.75 oz. simple syrup (1:1)

top with soda water

Hopped Distillate Construction

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I’m still trying to construct a gin like product. Many formulas are known but I am trying to break away from them to create something new with a lot of direction. I’m still intensely interested in hops, particularly the fruitier smelling varieties. Hitachino’s Kiuchi No Shizuku has a gorgeous aroma that seems to lean more on fruit from their hops than an herbaceous character. Apricot is easily perceived but the fruitiness may be exacerbated by their choice of orange peel. I thought that maybe I could split botanicals off into pairs to find good proportions like balancing coriander and orange peel. But now I see that hops may need to be paired with the orange peel to produce the seductive fruity character. So this seemingly simple trio becomes more interrelated than any other trio I can think off. Juniper seems like it could easily be split off from coriander & orange peel which is the case in many classic gin recipes where you see seriously variable amounts of juniper to the fairly constant ratios of coriander & orange peel.

For my latest five liter batch I used:
75g coriander
200g creole shrubb
200g pacific jade hops

These hops proved to be more herbaceous than the Palisades but they are still very enjoyable. Finding the right hop variety will be key to locking down a recipe. I split off the coriander and orange peel and distilled them from a liter of 80 proof spirits plus the small amount of the alcohol in the Shrubb out to 120 proof. I distilled the hops with 3.5 liters of 80 proof spirits out to about 150 proof. I did lose about a 100 mL or so at the end when the distillate turned cloudy very quickly on me. To bring things to about 5 liters at 80 proof I needed to add 500 mL of 80 proof spirits plus the 100 or so mL I lost when I tossed the really cloudy tails. Upon cutting everything down to proof with distilled water everything turned really cloudy on me which I’m afraid may be the nature of hops. Hitachino has a crystal clear product but I suspect when they distill the beer to 30 proof and let it sit in barrels with extra botanicals before re-distilling, it may have something to do with leaving behind what ever produces the cloudiness. My understanding is that only the middle run at 80-85% alcohol is saved for gin which is not what I’m practicing.

So I should state that I love the taste but I need a crystal clear product. I guess I could re-distill and risk loosing some aroma to try and gain clarity, but I should probably also read up on techniques for cutting down over proof spirits.

***update***

Part of the cloudiness has subsided and decent amount of separated oil has risen to the surface which indicates that I accepted far too much of the tails even though the taste and aroma was not objectionable. I’ve read that you can sometimes skim off the oils but it doesn’t totally solve the problem. I will probably still need to re-distill.

***update!***

I re-distilled everything to maybe 160 proof or so separating everything into five pints. I was then planning on diluting them one at a time to see at what point thing would be cloudy (if at all). Well things didn’t work out so well. The first jar become very cloudy which means that there is a problem with the heads and the second jar is cloudy but far less so. I was pretty sure the second jar would be far into the middle run and not leave any problems. Now I really don’t know what to do. The distillate is especially delicious by the way so I have a good motivator to move forward. I also did learn that the hop variety that Sierra Nevada used in their beer schnapps was Cascade. If anyone would come forth with any advice I’d be happy to take it.

So I may just have to dilute with 80 proof spirits instead of water. If gin must be clear there may be limits to its intensity. This is also relative to the final alcohol content. I’m probably just making my recipes too intense.

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Antiseptic Botanicals and the Human Condition

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Lets set some ideas down on paper.

Stephen Harrod Buhner does the greatest job I’ve ever encountered of explaining the relevance of antiseptic botanicals to our human experience in his book Sacred and Herbal Healing Beers. Maybe I will elaborate eventually but my immediate goal is to help people in the distilled spirits world get over their botanical myopia so that we can move forward into the 21st century. I need more from my antiseptic experience. Juniper always gives me the same bland fix while hops and their diversity thrills me. I got a taste of the potential of this from the brilliant people at Hitachino who nearly perfected the hopped distillate while no one was looking. You’d think I’d be satisfied but Hitachino’s Kiuchi No Shizuku is so hard to come by and I can’t afford to drink as much as I want. My solution is to figure out how to capture hops, coriander and orange peel for my self.

2 oz. of Palisade hops re-distilled in 1 liter of Appleton white Jamaica rum is a gorgeous olfactory experience but more intense than the standard gin and cutting it won’t be a problem. The half the weight of juniper equals coriander gin formula won’t work either. But I can keep adding more and re-distilling until I get it right or compound a tincture. and I can’t get small amounts of quality orange peel. But no problem, I don’t know how many grams are in a liter of Cointreau but it is about the best bitter orange tincture money can buy. Cointreau’s consistency will help me develop bottle sized batches. Eventually I will be drinking this stuff at $15 a liter.

We are up to 2 oz. Palisades hops in the first distillation which was quite good but probably would need to be diluted with neutral spirits to come down to comparable gin intensity.

Then we re-distilled with 14 g. of coriander merely boiled in the spirit as it heated to distill. The room does fill with hop aroma which shows that lots of our flavor unfortunately leaks during a re-distillation. I never really see botanicals described well by the spirits or cocktail world but beer brewers do an excellent job and the orange character of the coriander botanical they profess is no joke. I can see how a little natural orange can lend a degree of synonymous flavor depth but it should be far more minimal than you would think. My limited experience would say orange is a more noble botanical but here coriander really is the show. Perhaps more than the hops.

Now all I have left to add some Cointreau to taste before I re-distill yet again to achieve my rough draft. I wonder how much it will take.

***update***

I had no Cointreau after all so I used Clement’s Creole shrubb as my orange tincture but I was thinking of even giving Fee’s orange bitters a go as my standard for orange. My sample has volumetrically diminished after many tastings, so I’m down to about 600 ml therefore all of my ratio’s so far have become kind of meaningless. (I used 20 grams of shrubb for the 600ml) Maybe next time I need to make a 5x batch so that my sampling will be insignificant enough to not mess up the botanical ratios I’m trying to figure out.

One other thing to note is that I rediscovered how incredible real licorice is in a tea my boss shared with me. I need to figure out how to fit it into one of these simpler more muscled types of formulas.

Botanical aromatized distillates keep becoming more interesting to me from a consumer interest perspective. Consumers seem to accept vodka as an aesthetic goal of neutrality but gin has to contain juniper and be about juniper. If you use the “gin” name even slightly loosely for some reason you get stopped in your tracks with a “then its not gin” comment more often than any curiosity about a new idea. Vodka gets a lot of freedom. It can be made from grapes and not be brandy and made from sugar and not be rum. As long as it is neutral its vodka. Gin gets all the conservatism. People don’t even seem to give coriander any credit, even though its used in huge amounts relative to any other potential supporting botanical. To me, coriander seems less replaceable to the formula than juniper. To help any new products onto the market, gin needs to shift from something very literal to something of a more general aesthetic goal.

So in what direction do I need to move to lock down a solid recipe? Keep distilling everything together or compound fairly potent mono concentrates and spend some time playing with some carefully measured blends?

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A Simple Drink

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2 oz. aguardiente! (90 proof distilled i.p.a. with pomegranate seeds)
1 oz. chamberyzette (replica)
dash peychaud’s

The grain like character of the young spirit is really cool and the hop-strawberry contrast is divine. The spirit is uncut but I don’t seem to mind. I wanted to make sure I got all the aromas. I was always told a distilled heavily hopped beer would suck because the hops would be obnoxious but that doesn’t seem to be so. I think a big part of the hops are left behind (bitter) and all you get is a floral capacity. This supposedly has a large amount of pomegranate seeds but their distilled character is really subtle.

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