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Vodka vs. Everclear infusions: the science of dilution

s
Selectra Sep 6, 2010 09:04 PM

I have been puzzling over the arguments between making infusions with vodka and with Everclear.
One argument is that alcohol is a better solvent for some flavours, so the higher concentration of alcohol in Everclear extracts more of these flavours. Another argument is based on the idea that flavours are carried along with water that is osmosing into the alcohol from whatever you are steeping (www.guntheranderson.com). I don't have the background to know which, if either, of these ideas is correct.

One aspect which I haven't seen anyone discuss yet is the impact of dilution. In order to make a liqueur of a given strength (say 20%), from an alcohol base that is 40%, you halve the concentration of both alcohol (good) and flavour (bad). If you make the same liqueur from an alcohol base that is 80% (for easy math) you quarter the concentration of the alcohol (good) and the flavour (even worse).

Are the infusions from Everclear really so much stronger that even after 2-2.5 times as much dilution they still have more flavour than a vodka infusion?

Sally

  1. yarm Sep 7, 2010 06:39 AM

    There are a few problems I have seen:

    1) some flavors are extracted better in higher proof.
    2) these flavors will sometimes crash out of solution (like an absinthe louches) when diluted. others will do fine.
    3) the higher the proof, the more bitter notes you'll pull out along with the flavors you will want. if you're making a liqueur, you'll have to balance it with more sugar and they will compete with the flavor aspects you were looking for (think: over-steeped tea or coffee).
    4) if you're worried about decreasing the flavor upon dilution, add more botanicals.

    http://cocktailvirgin.blogspot.com/

    6 Replies
    1. re: yarm
      JMF Sep 7, 2010 02:00 PM

      Yarm hit it on the nose. I have been experimenting with several hundred botanicals that I have infused into tinctures, and some are better at 95%abv, and some are better at 50% abv. I find fruits work better at lower strengths of 40-50% abv. Botanicals work better at 50% and up. The less bitter the botanical, the higher the strength you can use for extraction. Citrus zest works well at very high strengths, IF you make sure that no white pith gets used. But you need to watch how long you infuse for at the higher strengths. This winter, after my new distillery is built, I will be doing some hard research on what botanicals and fruits work best at what alcoholic strength, and infusion time. I just don't have the room anymore in my home lab with so many botanicals on hand. Here's what I had back in february, and it's almost doubled.
      http://drinkingtheworld.com/2010/02/0...

      1. re: JMF
        yarm Sep 7, 2010 02:02 PM

        JMF, did your research give any insight into what works better dried versus fresh?

        1. re: yarm
          JMF Sep 7, 2010 02:15 PM

          It really depends. You invariably get different flavor profiles between fresh and dried. Let's talk about galangal and ginger. Dried galangal and ginger has a less of a volatile depth to it. It is hotter/spicier, but has much less complexity than tinctures made with fresh roots.

          Then there are citrus zests, fresh is much brighter, but the dry zest can sometimes be more complex. I like using a mix of fresh and dried. Some dried zests have a short shelf life. I was given 50 lbs of granulated lime zest awhile ago. My friend had opened it to use in making gin, and it was around 8 months old. He said it had lost at least 50% of the lime oils. I have had it for several months, and it has lost even more of the oils. So freshness of the botanicals is key.

          But with juniper berries, you want ones that have been aged at least two years to get the best flavor.

          Now lets talk about black trumpet mushrooms. For both cooking and in tinctures the fresh mushrooms are disappointing. They are tasty, but when dried you get additional floral tones and the depth of flavor is much, much greater.

          One problem is that it is very hard to source many fresh ingredients, so you have to use dried. Especially when you are talking about large quantities.

          1. re: JMF
            StriperGuy Sep 9, 2010 06:24 AM

            The big companies that make flavors and fragrances for the food/spirit/perfume industries spend a LOT of time and money sourcing their botanicals:

            www.iff.com

            www.citrusandallied.com

            I am forgetting the other big ones. They might sell you raw ingredients, and I am SURE they would be of the highest quality. They will also provide samples of their oils and essences to businesses in the trade.

            1. re: StriperGuy
              JMF Sep 9, 2010 08:22 AM

              For my business I have sources for bulk ingredients where I know the provenence. I also have a team of foragers collecting wild botanicals for me, as well as planting many wild ones on the farm where we are building our new distillery. With over 400 acres you can do a lot. I am trying to grow as many botanicals as possible, and sourcing from as close as possible as well. For my NY class D farm distillery license I have to use primarily NY grown ingredients. I am trying to produce "single estate" whiskies, and eventually gin as well with all the ingredients grown on our farm. (I also will be under the class A-1 license which allows me to make products that aren't from primarily NY ingredients. Rum...)

              1. re: JMF
                j
                jeanmarieok Sep 9, 2010 08:25 AM

                That's really interesting. Best of luck to you, JMF.

    2. j
      jeanmarieok Sep 7, 2010 06:46 AM

      My personal experience involves making limoncello. When I used Everclear, it was a truly delicious and remarkable end product. Since I can't buy it in VA, I had to bring it back with me from NC or NY, and that was a pain, so I switched to hi test Smirnoff. And it's just not the same, to me or my friends who have been gifted over the years. So I am back to transporting grain alcohol over state lines, rather than trying to fiddle with the recipe.

      2 Replies
      1. re: jeanmarieok
        m
        morwen Sep 9, 2010 09:15 AM

        Think of it as preserving the heritage of bootlegging in our state! Maybe you could make some friends in Franklin and Floyd counties in order to source your grain alcohol. They've truly raised the distilling of fine grain beverages to an art form out here! ;-)

        1. re: jeanmarieok
          Delucacheesemonger Oct 21, 2010 02:24 PM

          Exactly my experience. Everclear gives a far stronger extraction.

        2. s
          Selectra Sep 8, 2010 09:26 PM

          Thank you all. It sounds like I have some research and experimentation ahead of me.

          Sally

          1. EvergreenDan Sep 9, 2010 06:12 AM

            Just a thought -- who says that you have to dilute with water? Maybe infuse in a spirit, then steep some of the ingredient in hot water (to get different flavors), then blend the infusion with the steeped liquid with (if needed) water.

            This way you can add two more variables so that it will be even harder to achieve a good reproducible result. ;)

            1. w
              wormwood Oct 21, 2010 06:44 AM

              any clue why when combining two or more clear infusions they turn cloudy? i'm wondering if it is from excessive air being incorporated as a result of pouring from too high a height? is there any way to de-cloud?

              2 Replies
              1. re: wormwood
                j
                Johnathan Jan 22, 2011 12:05 PM

                I think it's because some essential oils are much more soluble in alcohol than they are in water. This is why pastis turns cloudy when diluted. It depends on the botanical, but different oils will cloud when the solution drops below a certain percentage of alcohol.

                1. re: Johnathan
                  GraydonCarter Jan 23, 2011 05:40 AM

                  This ouzo effect is called louche. I was thinking of how they mix water into Absinthe. As water dilutes the alcohol, the herbal oils in the high proof alcohol come out of solution. This liberates the bouquet and produces the cloudiness in the drink.

              2. GraydonCarter Oct 21, 2010 02:07 PM

                I'm no chemist but it seems ever clear to me that there are some substances that would be better to extract their flavors with alcohol (oils?) and there are some that you want to extract flavors with water (juices?). We'd have to look at the world of extracts, say Vanilla, for evidence. Vanilla extract and Almond extract are around 36% ethyl alcohol, or 70 proof. Yet lemon and lime juice -- you'd want to deliver at the same ratio as does mother nature, neither concentrated nor diluted.

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