Archive for the ‘The Basics’ Category

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When Craft is Crap

May 28, 2013

Gillian DiPietro, expanding on her role as Nobler Legal Counsel, passed along this troublesome piece of investigative journalism related to the surge in craft distillation. We all know the numbers by now, but they are worth repeating. According to this Atlantic piece, 81 new “craft” distilleries opened up last year bringing the U.S. total to 315. This is pretty insane considering where we were just a decade ago. But as the piece also suggests, with increased competition has come some increased funny business.

The root of the issue being the fairly flexible designation of the word “craft”. The brewing industry has run in to this issue as well, and for the most part has let the small batch beers battle it out over taste and value. But one can never forget, the power of some intelligent marketers. It seems, in one specific example in the article, a vodka being touted as a “craft” and “local” high-end product was actually pretty stock in character. Commodity neutral grain spirit, purchased through an industrial supplier, fed through some charcoal filters, bottled and labeled doesn’t exactly represent the historical spirit (see what I did there?) of distillation. And since those folks were charging a pretty penny for their product, it makes matters even worse.

But the good news is, that’s a pretty difficult scenario to pull off and maintain without getting “caught”. And it’s really only viable as a quick product solution for spirits like vodka. But I tend to agree with the writer and those he interviewed. As consumers, much of the ownership is on us. If we want to drink the best of the best (or even the cheapest of the cheapest) and have opinions on it all, we should probably do the research to know where and who is making the stuff. And I’ve got faith, because the “craft” drinkers of the world, tend to be quite interested in doing the dirty work. So bring on the “craft” spirits competition. The more the merrier.

Photo above from The Atlantic

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Whiskey Energy Plant Success!

April 25, 2013

Helius Energy awards contracts for 7.5 MW biomass plant

Investigative reporter for the Nobler, Joe Anzalone, sent me another amazing article last night proving that the world of alcohol and the world of science are linked in more ways than you might imagine.

This project has been years in the making, “being undertaken by Helius Corde, the joint venture of biomass energy development company Helius Energy and The Combination of Rothes Distillers.” As we have heard from a lot of the new up and coming distilleries, waste removal is a major challenge in the production of spirits. Whether it be corn, wheat, rye, or any other input, the leftover mash from the distillation process is pretty much useless when it comes to traditional notions of agriculture waste utilization. With all of the essentials gone, the waste is not ideal for fertilization, composting, animal feed, or any of the other typical options.

But biomass to power production has been an increasingly hot area of research and the efficiencies are finally reaching implementable levels. Cutting the ribbon on this Scottish Biomass Power Plant is a wonderful achievement in closing the loop for one of the most famous international production processes. Using the local distilleries waste to produce clean energy for 9,000 homes in the area is an amazing example of innovation and worthy of a glass raising from the Noblers!

 

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How to Live to 101

April 8, 2013

Dear Nancy Lamperti, You rule.

Now if I might make a few small suggestions. Switch from SoCo to bourbon, Budweiser to Cow Thieves, and promise to host the next Nobler Gathering!
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Aging, Lactones, and More Science

March 19, 2013
moonshine

Mason Jar Bourbon from the Night Cap

I’ve been writing a lot about the science of alcohol recently mainly as a means to distract you from the fact that I probably drink too much. But it must be resonating with a bunch of you because the response has been great!

For those who attended the Night Cap, you had the chance to hear some really interesting details around how bourbon is made. Why oak? Why charred? Why Vanilla? And if this sparked your interest, my good friend Joe found the Scientific American article that’s going to really get you going. This breakdown of the bourbon aging process is one of the best I’ve read and really gets into some fascinating details.

My favorite detail is related to the lactone levels in American Oak versus French Oak. Even if you don’t care to know what a lactone is or how it might impact your whiskey flavor, the point is, very recent analytical methods are now providing insight to tell stories of centuries old. And even more exciting, booze-loving nerds  are using that information to create even better products to enjoy. Can I get another high-five for science?

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Hangover Cures – The Trifecta

March 7, 2013

I’m so jacked up for the Night Cap this Friday. But with all the delicious drinks we’re serving, I’m just assuming and preparing for a nasty hangover on Saturday. So I thought I’d turn to Nobler Mark for some advice. Being that we tend to be a part of creating each other’s hangovers, it only seems fair that he’d part of the solution…

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Just as booze comes in countless nuanced varieties, so does the hangover.  Since this is all very scientific, I’ve separated the 3 major areas of affectedness and applied a few remedies accordingly.  Just a quick note before beginning: Every one of these treatments begins with Advil and Coffee.  Lots of coffee.  Like, all of the coffee.  This first step is necessary and can just be assumed hereafter.

The Head – For a general fuzziness in the dome, look no further than a hearty Brunch, replete with your favorite early cocktail.  The Pimm’s Cup is a dark horse favorite.  Fill up on nutrients and slip right back into a comfortable buzz and all will be well.  A pounding headache, however, is another story.  After the requisite Advil and Coffee I find the two biggest priorities are hydration and sugar.  Thankfully, some genius invented coconut water, which should at least get you started on the long path to recovery.  Also, sunglasses.

The Heart[burn] – What do you do when all that whiskey that was keeping you warm last night leaves you with a gut full of smoldering embers? Pickles. This probably seems counter-intuitive, and I don’t have an explanation, but that’s the answer. Pickles will settle your stomach enough to get you started on that tall Bloody Mary of salvation.  ”Vinegar and spice, everything’s nice.”  Remember that. That’s gonna be a thing now.

The Body – Hangover Legs!  I was introduced to this phenomenon by Nobler Sean back in college, but never experienced it until years later. It’s not too terribly unpleasant (for the uninitiated it kind of feels like lactic acid build-up from an intense workout) but it tends to stick around all day.  For this one I recommend copious stretching, followed by eating your weight in Chinese Food.  Any greasy-spoon comfort food will do the trick really, along with a refreshing beer or two. 

 

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The Science of Seltzer

March 4, 2013

800px-Carbonic-acid-3D-balls

I noticed the other day, that in almost all of my cocktail recipes, I mention a splash of seltzer but I’ve never really spent the time to give any rationale. You probably never questioned it, mainly because you have so much trust and respect for me, but I’m here to assure you, there really is a reason. And that reason is: bubbles = brightness.

Now there are exceptions to every rule, and in this case there are probably many exceptions, but overall I find most cocktails benefit from a splash of the sparkling. In the same way the bubbles in Prosecco bring the brightness to the forefront, seltzer in a mixed drink highlights flavor in a wonderful way. In fact, this method often allows for a more subtle use of flavors (simple syrups, liqueurs, etc.) without rendering your cocktail bland and boring.

But there is actually a much more accurate and interesting explanation for the brightness and flavor boost: Science. Carbonation (like in seltzer, champagne, or soda) is the process of dissolving CO2 in water. This dissolution reaction is responsible for producing carbonic acid (CO2 + H2O is in equilibrium with H2CO3 for those chemistry lovers out there: pictured above). And now we’re starting to get somewhere. How many times before have I mentioned the number of lemons and limes I go through? If I haven’t been explicit, the answer is many. And it’s because acidity balances sweetness. And sweetness comes in many cocktail forms. So when it comes to cocktail ingredients, the best way to think about seltzer is as mildly acidic bubbles. And mildly acidic bubbles are good.

Which brings me to my next suggestion. If you don’t already own one, buy a damn soda-stream. Part of me wishes they’d change their branding to “mildly acidic bubble – stream” but that’s just me. And all jokes aside, it’s one of the most used contraptions in my kitchen and it’s a game changer for cocktail creation. But if you aren’t up for the investment, I’ll leave you with one more small suggestion. As I am sure you have experienced before, the one issue with sparkling beverages is that they tend to go flat. It turns out, CO2 doesn’t prefer to be dissolved in water if it doesn’t have to be. This means that the bigger the bottle of seltzer you buy the more likely and more quickly it will go “flat”. So in this case, more is definitely less. Grab yourself a few of the 8 oz glass bottles and I guarantee it’s worth losing out on that volume discount. You know, the volume discount you pour down the drain once those magical bubbles have dissipated…

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Monkey See, Monkey Drink

February 26, 2013

Evolution?

I like science. I like alcohol. So when the two of them come together for a pretty interesting insight, I’m all ears. Which is why I found this brief ScienceNews article so fascinating. The basic premise: the ability to metabolize alcohol, allowing us all to imbibe and delight in modern day spirits, may have stemmed from an evolutionary shift in primate behavior and a concurrent enzyme activity optimization.

Essentially, as primates shifted towards spending the majority of their lives on the ground, fallen, damaged fruit having been exposed to natural yeast and having gone through some fermentation became a typical source for consumption. The evolutionary theory suggests that those primates that developed the ability to metabolize the ethanol present in those damaged fruits, would have had a “leg-up” on survival.

As the article suggests, these studies are only the beginning of understanding the origins of alcoholics alcohol metabolism but either way, I think it’s a pretty cool notion. Plus, I’ve been known to act like a “big dumb animal” when I’ve had a bit too much to drink, so maybe that can be used as another data point. I should probably email the Chemist in charge of this study…

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