Bostonapothecary; A Retrospective

I’ve written quite a lot of posts over the years so I thought it might be time to make a top ten list of the coolest things that have happened at the bostonapothecary. If you look back at older posts the evolution of my ideas is quite apparent. I’ve kept the old posts up to show where I’ve been.

The content is definitely getting more neuroscience-y and more linguistic in nature. Some of the older posts focus on analytic techniques like hydrometry & refractometry, and distillation. I never really posted a lot of cocktail recipes here because this blog was just a counterpart to participating in egullet.

It might help first to show what people were most interested in (ranked by hits):

1. Dry rum & dry gin I like mine wet. This post started as a look at the acidity of spirits which I was never able to revisit. Countless people were referred to the post by search terms such as “pH of gin” or “acidity of gin”. I think people find the aroma of juniper to converge with gustatory-acidity and therefore wonder if there is non-volatile acid in the gin. These constant queries support my idea of categorizing aromas in terms of gustation. With this method juniper would be olfactory-acid.

2. Ice wine grenadine. This post really blew up after Dave Viola linked to it in the first comment of Jeffrey Morganthaler’s recipe for Grenadine. Morganthaler must get an astounding amount of hits if I get so many from him. It is a great recipe and you can do pretty astounding things with the technique. As widely read as the recipe was, I’ve never heard of a bar program actually using it. Slackers. It is bonkers ridiculous.

3. Vermouth: Its Production & Future. This is good stuff. When I started collecting all the sources in Maynard Amerine’s Annotated Bibliography of Vermouth many of the sources were from mid century wine & vines and unfortunately not yet indexed by google. I inter-library loaned them all, re-typed them, and made them more easily available. My bar program back at Dante was the first to make its own aromatized wines and now there are several hundred around the country. I re-typed several other articles from Wine & Vines such as Developing the Vermouth Formula, The Importance of Vermouth, Revolution in Vermouth, Vermouth… Some Practical Hints, and Gold Medal Sweet Vermouth. All of the study of vermouth helped me get into practical wine analysis such as using refractometers and hydrometers which really took my bar prep to a new level.

4. Deconstructing Campari. An astounding amount of people wonder if Campari has sugar. In many cases I suspect it is for the sake of calorie counting, but I also think many searchers have some sort of sensory curiosity. I was making versions of Campari where I dehydrated it and reconstituted the non-volatile fraction with another spirit to the same alcohol content. What I found is that volatile-olfactory-bitterness (lost when you dehydrate!) is astoundingly important to defining the character of Campari. My reconstituted versions lacked this aroma-of-bitterness until I redistilled those spirits with wormwood. I also went so far as to grow rock candy in bottles of Campari but they picked up no bitterness. What I have left to do now is cut Campari in half with a vacuum still and then precipitate the sugar out of Campari (such as how the rock candy grew) then rejoin the two halves. I can then reshape campari into lower sugar, higher alcohol styles of amaro like fernet, malort, or gammel dansk. I could even re-add the volume of subtracted sugar with a source of my choice such as a strawberry tree honey.

5. Deconstructing Sweet Vermouth. People wondered over to this post with a curiosity for how much sugar sweet vermouth had. My methods for revealing sugar content grew over the years making this post obsolete. Now I favor hydrometry and have found specific gravity tables to reach low enough alcohol contents to measure the aromatized wines. Unfortunately I suspect my margin of error is 30 g/L.

6. Chamberyzette. When curiosity for aromatized wines grew, curiosity for what the hell Chamberyzette is also grew. It is hard to believe that it is not imported. I was told once that their production is in a sad state and had degenerated into artificial flavors. I made replicas for a while by manipulating bianco vermouths but eventually M&R rose vermouth became imported and I fell in love with it.

7. Fenaroli’s Handbook of Flavor Ingredients. This guy is pretty wild. The book is a two volume tome on artificial flavors but has an extraordinary chapter on constructing amaros which shows that many of these super-consultant flavor chemists were interested and involved in the amaro trade. Fenaroli describes “special effects” and techniques of creating differentials of expectation and anticipation in amaros such as distilling a bitter principle then re-infusing that distillate with more of the bitter principle to end up with something like 2x olfactory-bitterness 1x gustatory-bitterness.

8. Bombardino! Dante’s aunt Anna turned me on to this Italian specialty. She said as a child she was too poor to afford cream so she would put tempered egg yolks in her coffee. My recipe got a little bit of an update with fluid gels are our future but it should probably be updated again since I’ve learned a lot more about it.

9. Sweet Potato “fly”. This is just awesome and the idea has taken my ginger beer to a new level. The sweet potato ginger beer post needs a bit of an update now that I’ve developed a new carbonation technique. I think I also need to re-evaluate how much spice I get from the ginger skins. The best results might come by heating the skins in ginger juice or going the all cayenne route. I juice my ginger while others only macerate. After I juice I probably need to make a tea from the separated skins to capture their piquancy. Those that just macerate with cut up ginger may get the piquancy but lack a lot of aroma from the juice.

10. Hand Made Creole Shrubb. Creole Shrubb is awesome and it has been a pleasure to watch it become more accessible over the years. Unfortunately for the Clements, I loved Creole Shrubb so much I started making my own. I took an exploration of orange liqueurs pretty far and even ended up reconstructing Joseph Konig’s curacao from 1879 and learned the secret of its sugar content (maximum of solubility!). My technique of assembly became really good and I think I could quickly make all the orange liqueurs at a very high quality level for my next bar program. We used only house-made orange liqueur for my last year at Dante which probably only added up to 50 liters.

11. Amer Picon Replica. There is a lot of interest in Amer Picon but I kind of gave up on it. I fell in love with Cynar and it was enough for me. In the end I suspected what everyone was missing was a focus on tonality of orange aroma and Picon’s was likely modified from an aromatic sugar source like malt. If you think about it, Picon & beer could only be relevant so long as it was cheaper than the Chimay it set out of emulate. This Belgium ale role model also reveals the secret of its aromas. I’ve learned a lot more about the aroma of grains recently so maybe I’ll pick it back up again. My flaked rye aromatized bourbon might warp into a sexy flaked rye aromatized triple-sec.

12. Reward System Theories. An astounding amount of people are searching for these terms but I don’t really know why. The ideas are gigantic and the implications are far reaching. I hope to take it further. I wish some people would comment!

13. Sweet Rebellion: a short theory of acquired tastes and an unsavory explanation of harmony. A growing amount of people are interested in acquired tastes. Acquired tastes are under appreciated and a theory of them will contribute answers to 100 million dollar questions. If through spreading acquired tastes we can cut empty calories from the American diet the results might be worth hundreds of millions in health care savings.

14. A theory of wine-food interaction. This is awesome stuff and I’m glad a lot of people have read it. It did unfortunately generate no real dialogue. I updated some ideas here in contrast enhancement (in space and time) for wine & food interaction. All the explanations we need to understand pairings are contained (but he makes to direct connections!) in Gordon M. Shephard’s Neurogastronomy.

15. Hercules: A liqueur interpretation or replica. Hercules is pretty cool. I revisited some of the bottles from this post recently after they slept for almost four years and wow were they extraordinary. All the interest Erik Ellestad has generated in the Savoy has generated a lot of interest in Hercules. It is wildly avante-garde in concept but so elegant as it goes down. I need to make this again and see if I can find any other notes I took pertaining to its construction.

Now here is my top picks for what people should be checking out.

1. Advanced Aroma Theory Basics. This is my crowning achievement and is an excerpt from my book on distillation. I explain the history of many of our metaphors. I cover their chemistry as well as their neuroscience (though that could be beefed up) and I give ideas for how many of them could be usefully elaborated. The language learned dramatically increases flavor literacy. Wild things happen with literacy’s fragmentation. Patterns emerge that can guide our creativity. Marshall Macluhan describes the gift of literacy as being able to act with out reacting. Many writers like Barb Stuckey are now thinking flavor literacy is important to controlling food cravings (detachment!). This new set of language is also the basis for understanding wine pairings. Other cool exercises in language are the Attentional Features Primer or Advanced Oversimplification Basics; The Ordinary and the Extraordinary.

2. Advanced Wine & Food Interaction. Here I start to explain all the contrast enhancement that happens in wine and food interaction. My first set of ideas started here and many got refined and validated by Gordon M. Shephard’s Neurogastronomy. The future of this lies in wrapping articulate language around the mach bands that are formed in a pairing (a mach band being the “line” over which contrast enhancement changes). Neurogastronomy explains what happens in the mind but we cannot make any practical use of it until we have a more advanced set of metaphors to unravel the synaesthetic experience of perceiving flavor. If olfactory-sweetness converges with gustatory-sweetness, language creates the awareness to differentiate the two. We cannot find patterns without language! Almost seven years ago back at Dante I started to create a new language for categorizing wine pairings and explaining all the reactions that happen. My first post ever was describing Maccheroncelli Primavera with Falanghina. I even explored cheese and vermouth pairings. I think I stopped with this interesting one. My goal now is to revisit all the holy grail pairings from WTDWWYD with a few friends and describe all the reactions in terms of mach bands. Very expensive. I need some sort of grant money to take it where it needs to go.

3. Measure carbonation with a kitchen scale. This is very big because handling carbonation well has been so elusive for beverage programs. I’ve tried everything (one bar in Vegas adopted this bottle carbonation technique) and I’ve spent thousands. I even described the limitations of bottling under pressure. I’ve even gone so far as to build a plastic foundry to produce my own equipment. After much work I can report carbonation is solved. My new product is a Champagne bottle manifold with Cornelius quick disconnects. The dissolved gas added to the liquid is simply measured on a kitchen scale that can handle a tenth of a gram. The dissolved gas has a weight and that weight is easy to measure (7g/L for highly carbonated sodas). You can even estimate if you want. I just acquired an Ohaus kitchen scale that can do 4 kilos by a tenth of a gram ($200) so now I can precisely measure the gas I add to Champagne magnums! I can even apply gorgeous counter pressure to sparkling wines. I can even add extra gas to beers! My product will soon be on sale for $100 then all you will need is a gas tank, regulator, and a nice kitchen scale. Solved, done, boom, and you serve out of gorgeous Champange bottles! Once they absorb enough gas you take off the manifold and put on a bottle cap (size 29mm). This could cost a bar $500 to do it right (tank, regulator, a few manifolds, scale, bottle-capper) but if you are smart you can take your new skill set and switch over your ISI whippers in the kitchen to cheaper tank gas using these new high end quick disconnects. That $500 will melt away quickly in saved cartridges. Performance will also go up! This will all be covered in my next post. If your restaurant says they can’t afford it buy your own fucking equipment! When you prove its a good idea, maybe they’ll pay you back. More to come!

4. Sweet Rebellion: A Short Theory of Acquired Tastes and an Unsavory Explanation of Harmony. This was pretty cool. It is unfortunately an ignored field of study. It went a little further in Culinary Aestheticism: A Tale of Two Harmonies where I attempt to explain how the symbolic world manipulates the harmonic bounds of the sensory world and vice versa. This stuff is critical to taking the empty calories out of our diets and adding new food sources to our diets such as they’ve been doing at Noma in Copenhagen. If we as a society would do something with these ideas we might shave billions off our health care budget. An entire country of black coffee drinkers? I could slash diabetes by 20%. MacArthur foundation help a brother out? I need to somehow finance an experimental gastronomy programs to learn more about this stuff.

5. Using simple hydrometry to find the sugar content of commercial liqueurs. This took many false starts and a winding path. Hopefully I made amends for bad refractometer advice I gave Eric Seed years ago. My first method for accurately revealing sugar contents had me sacrificing large sample sizes which was really expensive. This technique can be a really useful tool for bars making their own nano scale products or commercial producers trying make locally sourced and produced clones of commercial products. The chart can also help find patterns and almost quantify acquired tastes into numbers and ratios. Every bar should own a hydrometer.

6. Advanced Superstimuli Basics. I thought it was particularly cool to compare cocktails to super normal stimuli. The two guys that discovered the concept won the nobel prize! Understanding them can help us make more therapeutic drinks. An understanding founded in the culinary arts can also help us recognize them in other aspects of our lives where they are often dangerous. Nature published a paper on Flavor Networks and Food Pairings which got tons of attention but they never made any connections to the superstimuli phenomenon that is the motive of all our creative linkage. I’d love to get a hold of their data and computational expertise. I suspect a better understanding of all these things will help us take on more food sources as the pressure for sustainability grows.

7. Advanced Kegging Basics. This was the beginning of cocktails on tap and it turned into a phenomenon. I hear that almost every new bar in SF has a cocktail on tap program. Apparently the two or three people I influence are astoundingly influential. One of the first times it got put to the test was when I made cocktails for 400 with my crazy boss. Much of it started with a method of faking wine on tap to prove that there was a market and consumers wouldn’t be scared of it. Wine was simply taken out of bottles and put into kegs. Fake it till you make it! With the kegs you can also do stuff like pressure filtration. Worlds largest whip cream canister! I also suspect you can use kegs and some sort of cavitation technique to de-gas large volumes of liquids that other people have used centrifuges to do (you blast it with nitrogen to force the oxygen and CO2 out of solution. I think it works similarly to the process of pressure casting plastic or bronze). And all the equipment is really affordable!

8. Basket Pressed Pineapple Juice. This was wildly successful and yet again I don’t think any bar programs have picked up on it. I acquired a small (five gallon) home cider maker’s press and tried to see what besides apples could go in it. Pineapples were the most extraordinary because people have such a hard time juicing them. Strawberries were beautiful (either freeze/thaw them or soak them in hot water to loosen the pectin). The press will allow your prep to scale up dramatically. I started accumulating gallons of juice from the peak of various seasons in my freezer to unleash later on the thirsty hoards. The press was only about $400 compared to the $1000 of a large capacity centrifugal juicer that can’t even handle all the fruits as well (they also aerate the juice killing its lifespan).

9. Nano-distillation. In the end I wrote an entire yet to be published book about exploring beverage distillation on the smallest scale possible. A few of the first recipes such as the Absinthe and the Genever made from malta goya appeared on the blog before I stopped posting recipes for the sake of the book. The recipes have evolved over the years and the additional recipes from the book are wildly fun. I’m trying to have a friend look at the book before I send it to the publisher. I’m hoping it can become a classic and pulled together huge amounts of information about distillation that have never been seen under one roof.

10. Home made orange liqueur. A project to make a terroir driven orange liqueur for the bar years ago got really out of hand and wow did I learn a lot of things. Things started back here with Newman’s own Creole Shrubb but gradually got more sophisticated. There were various deconstructions of Cointreau and eventually I even re-created Joseph Konig’s curacao from 1879. These ideas are really useful to new distilleries and to bars. The recipes work astoundingly well and can be a solution to numerous problems.

11. Instant aging, Fernet 151, and DIY Barrel Proof Overholt. I almost forgot this technique. They were wildly fun. 69 Colbrook in London linked to the instant aging with vacuum reduction technique though I’m not sure if anyone actually used it. Later on I discovered you can use an Excalibur food dehydrator instead of a costly vacuum reduction setup. Everything is elaborated further in my distillation book so things got neglected on the blog. I saw tons of incoming links from egullet where the technique was discussed but no testimonial of people trying it. One of the favorite uses was on Kuchan’s peach brandy. Un-aged it tastes like bubble gum and is gross. Fake age it with some bourbon and it is move you to tears beautiful.

12. Advanced Nut Milk Basics. This was a cool one and I know there are quite a few centrifuges out there in operation, but I don’t think anyone else but Dave Arnold’s crew is taking nut milks too seriously. Over on egullet I posted a string of cocktails featuring nut milks, orgeats, and decadent nut milk heavy creams (concentrate the fat!)

Thanks for checking things out! don’t worry there is more to come.

5 thoughts on “Bostonapothecary; A Retrospective

  1. My favorite post was definitively “advanced aroma theory basics”.

    It felt like a ‘distillation’ of all of the content you had been learning over a good period of time, and I felt that i was able to learn a great deal of the important bits via you post. Thanks!

  2. 9. nano-distillation. in the end i wrote an entire yet to be published book about exploring beverage distillation on the smallest scale possible. a few of the first recipes such as the absinthe and the genever made from malta goya appeared on the blog before i stopped posting recipes for the sake of the book.

    Can you let me know what the book production schedule is?

  3. hi shawn.

    the book would be done by the fall at the earliest. i thought i got to the end but by the time i did i had learned so much more and collected such a large body of rare books and journal articles that everything needed to be reconsidered and re-synthesized.

    the text will teach distillation by having people follow a workbook of nano-scale recipes like the absinthe, malt gin, or hand sanitizer. no fermentation. no ethanol creation. only the manipulation of already tax paid spirits so people can get their feet wet.

    some of the work book recipes (like the cocoa aromatized whiskey), it turns out, can even illustrate how spirits mellow over time.

  4. Pingback: 2014 Retrospective | Boston Apothecary

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