I have been putting off the last exercise to the distiller’s workbook for a while now and its not exactly going to be completed right now. I thought I’d just show what I am thinking about. The reason I can’t complete it is I’m only dealing with stock infusions that were done so long ago that I no longer have articulate documentation of their specs.
Lets give a run down of what I had lying around:
Infusion of gentian in cognac (≈40% alc.)
Infusion of quinine in cognac (≈40% alc.)
Distillate of quinine infusion (80% alc.)
Distillate of cointreau (35% alc.)
Infusion of seville peels (≈40% alc.)
I began by picking a role model which was Campari & Cynar. The next step was to find a sugar content and scale it to my test volume which is 100 mL. I went with a 280 g/L sugar content which means that I only needed 28 grams for the test batches. The volume 28 grams of sugar displaces is 28 / 1.578 (density of sucrose) with is 17.74 mL. This means I have 82.26 mL to fill up.
The first test batch is just to gauge how much bitter infusion goes in. So I mix together 28 grams of sugar, 10 mL of quinine infusion and 72.26 mL of water. But this just isn’t in the ball park.
I don’t try to fix this. I just start again. 28 grams of sugar and 25 mL of quinine infusion and then 57.26 mL of water. Its definitely getting where it needs to be as far as gustatory-bitterness goes.
The same methodology can repeated for the gentian to figure out where its at. When creating the original infusion (I hadn’t though of this back then), different types of systematic blends can be made to explore the gustatory-bitterness of the botanical. You can even create an infusion then dehydrate it, then rehydrate it to isolate gustatory-bitterness and separate it from olfaction. The isolation can help evaluate partial infusions. For vermouth and the amaros, infusions typically aren’t terminal and slow durations and degrees of heat, percolation, or even cavitation are used to extract degrees of soluble material (aggressive filtration can even be employed as a technique). What you really need to do to learn what works for your context is to do it all and present it in one sitting for a panel to explore. Assembling a panel is expensive and whole books are even written about working with tasting panels, but don’t be intimidated, they can be used at different levels of involvement.
Now that a rough sketch of gustatory bitterness has been nailed down, we can start adding aroma. So far we only have the aroma of the sugar (I used an evaporated cane juice) and the aroma of the bitter infusions, but we have plenty of space to fill in.
The next interesting avenue to explore is the quinine distillate which creates the special effects. The topic of special effects in distillation was first explained by Giovanni Fenaroli in an early edition of his Handbook of Flavor Ingredients. Special effects are differentials between olfaction and gustation created by distillation. For example St. Germain is not simply an infusion of elder flowers, because they are so acidic you would get too much acid before you got the aroma intensity you want. Therefore they distill a percentage of the flowers, separating aroma from the non-volatile acid and then infuse the remainder in that distillate. In terms of special effects, St. Germain may be seen as an elder flower ratio such as 3x olfaction, 2x gustation.
Special effects are most common in the amaros where an exaggerated ratio of olfactory-bitterness is attached to gustatory-bitterness. This is going to be gotten using the distillate of quinine which has the aroma of quinine but none of the gustatory-bitterness. Any quantity that is added increases the differential and pushes the experience further into territory that could be called a supernormal stimuli (where there is a response tendency, we are creating an exaggerated response tendency).
An amaro isn’t all just bitter stuff and the next most likely aroma is orange. In the style of the other workbook exercises, I work with a standardized aroma source which in this case is the Cointreau. These standardized sources won’t help out a commercial producer but they do help making learnong on the small scale more accessible. Distilling the Cointreau separates it’s sugar which is non-volatile. Cointreau goes through a process of terpene removal which polishes the aroma and makes it rounder. A way to unround it and create a reversed degree of special effects is to add an infusion of seville oranges which have all their terpenes intact and definitely an aggressive extraordinary character.
The next batch is starting to look something like:
17.74 mL sugar (28 grams) 0%
15 mL quinine infusion (≈40% alc.)
10 mL gentian infusion (≈40% alc.)
15 mL quinine distillate (80% alc.)
35 mL distilled Cointreau (35% alc.)
3 mL seville orange concentrate infusion (≈40% alc.)
4.26 mL water
To calculate the alcohol content we compute an average:
40(15) + 40(10) + 80(15) + 35(35) + 40(3) = x(100)
x = 35.45% alc.
The next blend can launch from here with boundless directions to go. Complexity can be added within categories that already exist or new categories can even be added. A category I’d love to add is the olfactory-piquant and I’d get it from distilling chilis along with either the Cointreau or the quinine distillate.