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Mar 20, 2013 11:01 PM

New Base Spirit

A question occurred to me while reflecting upon my love of gin and, after seeing EvergreenDan's comment on board malaise, I thought I'd poll the Chow Spiritsers about what they would like the future of liquor to hold: Specifically, what a future base spirit might look like.

Each major category (gin, rum, tequila, brandy, whisk(e)y, [vodka?]) has some unifying thread that makes it unquestionably X spirit, yet each permits variation (e.g. Beefeater vs. Hendrick's vs. Death's Door).

So what would your spirit's dominant flavor be? Apple? Rice? Tea? What about characteristics? Floral? Spicy? Woody? Citrusy? Keep in mind these flavors should be generally accessible and approachable. Art in the Ages' new Sage is a good source of inspiration.

Finally, some points to consider:
Distillation vs. maceration
Source of alcohol (neutral spirit, malted or unmalted grains, fruit eau de vie)
Ageing (if aged, even more considerations: Time, new vs used barrels, etc.)

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  1. Pisco will gain ground in the next few years. There are 7 or 8 different grapes that can be made into pisco, each with their own character. Most are blends of 2-3 grapes, others are single grape varietals. Not to mention the Peruvian and Chilean styles (pot vs. column stills).

    American apple brandy is on the rise. Once it was just Laird's mostly making grain neutral diluted applejack (with a 3 more noble products which are their smaller sellers), but now more and more craft distillers are getting in on the action.

    8 Replies
    1. re: yarm

      Good calls, Fred.

      My wife brought back a bottle of aged Pisco from Chile. Very nice stuff, and quite different from the clear stuff that I've found at the local liquor store. It make a lovely Pisco Sour, but I'm thinking that treating it more like a brown spirit might be in order.

      Has anyone every seen and tried Mozart Dry Chocolate Spirit? It sounds pretty interesting, especially if it retains the bitter aspect of unsweetened chococlate.

      I think that there is potential in cask-aged eau-de-vie. There are so many interesting options, but many of them taste more-or-less like fruity firewater. What would Kirsch be like after being aged in wood for 5-10 years? Or Slivovitz?

      And why hasn't anyone make tonic spirit (not liqueur)? Add to gin, simple syrup, lime and seltzer for a custom-make gin and tonic. Or add the quinine and botanicals right to the gin (just add simple and seltzer and lime)?

      It's fun and easy spending someone else's money....
      -- | Craft + Collect + Concoct + Categorize + Community

      1. re: EvergreenDan

        How much difference in flavor is there between Grappa and Pisco? I finally broke down and bought a bottle of Moletto Grappa di Barbera. and though the jury is still out on whether I actually like it, there is no denying it is unique and interesting. I find the dominant taste to be hard to define, the best descriptor I come up with is "musty" (but not in an unpleasant way, if that's possible).

        1. re: ncyankee101

          Very, very different. Grappa is generally made from the left overs of a wine pressing. So it has been sitting with skins and stems (sometimes for weeks) and has had most of the juice pressed out. That is fermented and then distilled, so it can be harsh and fiery. When it is done well, it's not that harsh but it is unique. It is an afterthought product.

          Pisco can be funky, earthy, floral, etc. depending on what grapes are used, but it isn't usually harsh or rough noted since it is made from the first press of the grapes and doesn't sit around with the skins and stems at all.

        2. re: EvergreenDan

          Dan, there already is cask-aged eau-de-vie. It's called brandy. I've had barrel aged kirsch/cherry brandy, pear brandy (I've also made and aged my own as a prototype in a distillery several years ago) plum/slivovitz, akavit, and more.

          There are some old world bitter liqueurs and spirits that are kind of what you mean by tonic spirit. Bittermen's, as in Bittermens bitters, make several.

          A place just five minutes away makes a fig and aniseed spirit.

          1. re: JMF

            Yeah, I try to avoid the term cherry brandy, apricot brandy, etc because of the ambiguity with liqueur. Same problem with schnapps.

            I try to rewrite recipes in Kindred Cocktails as either "Dry <fruit> brandy" to mean an aged spirit or "<fruit> liqueur".

            And sometimes with older recipes its really hard to tell which was intended. Is this old recipe sickeningly sweet or painfully dry?

            Alas none of the Bittermen's "Sprits" are spirts, to my knowedge. All are liqueurs. I goal would be to control my own sugar.

   | Craft + Collect + Concoct + Categorize + Community

            1. re: EvergreenDan

              Instead of "dry" (which is a good term, actually very descriptive) I sometimes use "aged" or "barrel aged' to define brandies. I hate that the terms brandy and schnapps are both used for liqueurs. Not in their original definitions. But then, I'm a picky person at times when it comes to using terms correctly.

          2. re: EvergreenDan

            I like the sound of a tonic spirit. A lot.

          3. re: yarm

            Late to respond to this, but I second Dan. Very insightful calls. I like the thought of apple brandy especially because it already has an established history in cocktails. It would be easy for bartenders to begin creating riffs on the classics if it began to really catch on.

            Do you know see any apple brandies other than Laird's behind the bars?

          4. Hey AN, since the new spirit would save to be distilled from a starchy or sugar raw product that has to here for not been used, the options are limited but here is a try.

            1. Taro based, neutral based or aged in wood

            This could be commercially viable bc it is a relatively cheep starch and it grows in mutie counties. Flavor would probably run the Rum gambit plus neutral grain sprint heat.

            2. Plantain based, white or wood aged

            3. Bamboo? It takes a lot for a panda to eat it and get its nutrients but maybe if a moonshiner could get a boot load it could work.

            3. Rice based spirit

            Don't know if sake counts but this seems to be the worlds great starch that is undeveloped in the spirit world.

            6 Replies
            1. re: DrinkinLife

              Rice based spirit = Shochu. (Effectively distilled sake as far as I know. I've only had it a couple of times; tastes pretty much like vodka. Fun drinking it, though, with some Japanese friends, shouting "kanpai" every time we downed a shot :-))

              I googled "taro liquor" and this came up:


              Seems to not be the same but I'm intrigued.

              Taro has a very interesting flavor but the starch would have to be converted to sugar in order to be fermentable. It could be done with artifical amylase enzyme but that seems like cheating.

              Plantain? Why not sweet banana? Same issue as the taro with plantain. Not so much with banana -- it should have a much higher sugar content and much lower starch content -- although I suspect that filtration would be a real pain.

              Anyway, thanks for the thought provoking post on a Friday night!

              1. re: davis_sq_pro

                Awamori is Okinawan Sochu - and this particular one is really good

                You can make sochu out of rice, sweet potato, sesame

                I really like a lot of the Sochu and Sake variatals,

                The way they make the brew, how much of the hull they polish, if they press it out or let it drip, there is a lot of care there, and the good stuff is pretty amazing, but I think Sake is more a long the wine route (except I prefer it more than wine generally)

                ZUISEN "HAKURYU" AWAMORI

                Prefecture: Okinawa
                Region: Kyushu, Okinawa


                1. re: davis_sq_pro

                  If you had shochu that tasted like vodka, it wasn't a nice and tasty shochu. Shochu can be made from any of apx. 30 ingredients. I had some excellent ones just a few days ago. Rice, sweet potato (my favorite), carrot, brown sugar, barley, and many more. Sometimes they are a blend of two ingredients. The best ones that were rice based were not from distilled sake, but distilled sake lees.

                  Shochu is usually bottled at low proof. 20-25% abv. is usual, although a few new ones are being bottled at 40% abv.

                  The process of distillation is unque. It is done in a low temp. partial vacuum still, and is so clean that it only needs one distillation.

                  You mention taro and enzymes. Many distilleries use enzymes to convert starches to sugars. The use of malted barley, and rarely malted rye, is just to get their enzymes for conversion of the mash.

                  Why would filtering be an issue with taro/plantain, banana? You would need a still with an agitator, which most modern ones have, but what comes out of the still is clear alcohol. Nothing to filter.

                  1. re: JMF

                    Sorry, should have said "strain" (or sparge), not "filter." I was thinking of the mash. Is that not a concern when making spirits? Or do you just ferment everything together -- solids and all -- and then throw the entire thing into the still? I was thinking about the difficulty of separating liquid from solid when making beer with various odd ingredients.

                    1. re: davis_sq_pro

                      American whiskey like bourbon and rye is a whole mash. Everything goes in the still. Scotch whisky is a wash, like beer, liquids only in to the still.

                2. re: DrinkinLife

                  Keep in mind it wouldn't necessarily have to be a novel source of fermentation. Rye isn't anything special compared to bourbon (Excepting pure ryes). Ratios may differ, but they both come from rye, corn, and malt. Yet rye had been a dormant category until recently. It's well within reason to take something that hasn't been well-marketed or well-produced and tweak a few things to have a product that will gain traction.

                  Still, good choices. I forgot to revisit this thread after creating it and unintentionally abandoned my child. Thanks for resurrecting it.

                  I'm not familiar with taro. What is it?

                3. Has anyone ever tried toddy?

                  When I lived in rural India, there were these little thatched huts everywhere and I was eventually told they were "toddy bars". It was described as palm alcohol.

                  I never tried it b/c it is considered insanely "bad" (as in immoral) to go to these places. It would have been like just popping into the local crack den for a bit of cultural exchange. As a single woman I was expected to be inside my house after dinner, not even walking around the village in the evening, let alone checking out toddy bars. Plus they have issues with the toddy being contaminated and tampered with and people dying so....

                  Anyway, maybe something from palm could be new and different in most markets? Perhaps with some botanicals local to the distilling area?

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: tokyopix

                    Toddy is palm wine, sometimes it is distilled as well, but that's usually in Africa, not as much in India. Although there is some distillation there. You can get versions of the wine in sweet with no or very low alcohol, and sour which is when it ferments longer. It isn't very strong stuff, more like beer than wine in strength. It ferments on it's own and in just a few hours gets to 4% abv. about like beer. If it ferments longer is when it gets a little stronger, maybe about 4-5% abv. but starts to have a lactic fermentation as well. It gets more and more sour and after it hits a peak of alcohol, then the alcohol turns into vinegar.

                    1. re: JMF

                      Interesting. I really thought it was distilled. The myths around it in rural India (at least where I lived) were dark and scary, so I figured it had to be very strong.

                  2. I was just talking to a distiller the other day. He is petitioning the TTB to set up a new category of base spirit that he has made and will have on the market as soon as it is approved. He swore me to secrecy, but what's weird is, I forgot what it was made from. (There were a lot of spirits to be had that day.)

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: JMF

                      Thinking about spiciness recently, I realized that I'm only aware of a handful of sources for it: Rye, falernum, allspice dram, ginger liqueur, ginger things in general. I'd appreciate a spirit much spicier than rye, but I don't know what base would provide such spice. Maceration could always do the trick, but I'd want something fairly austere that wouldn't follow in spiced rum's footsteps. Probably aged, because barrel flavors and spices go pretty well together. Thoughts?