This is a roundup of science and technology news in the cocktails and spirits world. As a lover of science, I'm always looking at science news stories relating to booze.
Please let me know if you're into this type of content as I'm considering doing a monthly report!
Detailed Story on Water in Distillation
Artisan Spirit Magazine has a story on water in spirits. I give talks on water in spirits and where the water source really matters (in fermenting the 'beer' to be distilled) and where it does not (when watering down high-proof spirit to bottle strength, as this is nearly always reverse osmosis purified water). This story backs those up.
There's really great information about different reasons why spirits can come out cloudy from water minerals, result of barrel aging, and a problem with certain bottles.
If your water source can be adjusted, aim for a calcium ion level between 40-70 ppm, which will provide the proper amount of nutrients for the yeast during fermentation. Distillers might use local untreated surface, well, or tap water, believing that the mineral content is of little significance, but sufficient levels of minerals are needed by yeast for a healthy and efficient fermentation.
And why use RO water for dilution?
"“A fellow from Brown Forman was the one that told me that as little as two ppm of calcium in the final product can cause precipitation,” continued Spedding. Magnesium ions are also among the usual suspects in haze precipitation, and any leftover iron will cause your whiskey to turn black and bitter."
Augmented Reality bottles of Johnnie Walker Game of Thrones Scotch Whiskies
The two limited-edition Johnnie Walker bottlings, A Song of Ice and Johnnie Walker A Song of Fire, now come with augmented reality features. After purchasing the bottles (or I assume you can do this in a store), visit www.got.johnniewalker.com on your phone and you'll see either a "steely-eyed direwolf or a fire-breathing dragon" when you point it at the bottle, depending on the bottle you have.
As for the whisky:
Johnnie Walker A Song of Ice features single malts from Clynelish, one of Scotland’s most northern distilleries, and exudes a crisp, clean taste like the unforgiving force of ice that shapes mountains and stops rivers. The new Scotch has an ABV of 40.2% and the bottle design evokes an icy setting with frosted blue and gray colors inspired by the North, known for its cold winters and frozen landscapes.
Johnnie Walker A Song of Fire is rich and spicy, boasting flavours of subtle smoke from the peated malts of the Caol Ila distillery with an ABV of 40.8%. Inspired by the dragons of House Targaryen, the bottle design evokes a fiery setting with deep-red colours.
Johnnie Walker A Song of Ice and Johnnie Walker A Song of Fire are successors to White Walker by Johnnie Walker, a limited edition that launched in 2018. These new whiskies are available now with an SRP of $36 per 750ml bottle.
Activated Charcoal in Starbucks Beverages
A story from back in October on Today.com covers a black frappucino from Starbucks and addresses the issue of safety of activated charcoal.
As we know from CocktailSafe.org, activated charcoal can deactivate medications if it comes into contact with them. This story was informative in that it puts some numbers to the levels of activated charcoal used in the drink and how much could be a danger:
If you are taking any other medicine, do not take it within two hours of the activated charcoal. Taking other medicines together with activated charcoal may prevent the other medicine from being absorbed by your body," according to the Mayo Clinic. Doses usually range from 10 grams (for babies) to 100 grams (for adults). Depending on the size, a Starbucks spokesperson told TODAY Food each Phantom Frappuccino has 0.8 to 1.6 grams of activated charcoal per drink and specified it's only enough to achieve black coloring.
New Synthetic Quinine
This will probably have no bearing on drinks whatsoever, but scientists have found a new way to synthesize quinine (or a version of it anyway). As we know, quinine is used to flavor tonic water and was used to prevent and cure malaria.
In a story called "Total synthesis of unnatural enantiomer renews interest in quinine" in ChemistryWorld.com, we learn:
Researchers in Japan have developed a practical method for synthesising a form of quinine that does not occur in nature.
Quinine is an historically important natural product. In the 1600s, Spanish missionaries observed indigenous people in South America using bark from the cinchona tree to treat malaria then introduced it to Europe. Since its isolation in the early 1800s, the compound has been of considerable scientific interest and its synthesis has an extensive history. Robert Burns Woodward and William von Eggers Doering reported the first formal synthesis of quinine in 19442 and in 2001, Gilbert Stork reported the first stereoselective total synthesis of the enantiomer that occurs in nature, (–)-quinine.
In an article that's quite a rant but that makes some interesting points, Food & Beverage Magazine has an unsigned article called "Spirits Lovers are Unsuspecting Losers in a Long-Contrived Marketing Meme" about how the tulip-shaped tasting glass is wrong for high-proof spirits.
Behind the decision not to explore other shapes could have been two popular but erroneous “axioms” of nosing spirits; (1) no one will ever separate aromas from ethanol, and (2) small rim openings are necessary to ensure that no aromas can escape detection. Both assumptions have been proven wrong within the last decade.
From a sensory science view point it’s easy to see that the tulip shape forces every drinker to dumb down the aromas to ease the shock of the first whiff. But here is what actually happens.
* Over-abundant ethanol crowds out aromas at the rim
* Tall narrow glasses keep long-chain-high-mass aromas in the lower part of the glass
* Not being able to swirl effectively reduces evaporation of all aromas of larger mass then ethanol
* Nose hits the upper rim of the glass while drinking, exposing it to highly-concentrated evaporated ethanol rising from the liquid, and less actual character aromas
* Water shuts down all evaporation
* The tulip shape concentrates ethanol, while open rims dissipate ethanol
The point of the article is to tell the world they're all fools for using the tulip glass, but also to guide you to read this other article in the journal Beverages which was written by the creator of an alternative nosing glass, the Neat Glass.
So take it for what it's for, an interesting and also biased article on sensory evaluation and proper glassware.
The Arms Race to Cure Your Hangover
In Punch, Drew Lazor tackles the hangover cure industry.
They do share certain characteristics, like snazzy packaging; enough charts, graphs and buzzy lab-rat vernacular to make Bunsen Honeydew blush; a polished social media presence; and a common brand identity, born in the borderlands between wellness and debauchery, that’s limber enough to spin the act of overcoming self-inflicted damage as responsible—even aspirational.
The article covers some new brands and the science and ingredients that are the supposed cure for the morning curse.
Understanding Perceived Minerality in Wine
On SevenFifty Daily, Paul Adams writes about minerality in wine. The quotes below are from a few different sections, but the story tells us that we're probably not experiencing minerality directly, or at least we haven't discovered how that could be the case yet.
The common, plausible assumption is that a small amount of material from the soil is drawn up through a grapevine’s roots and deposited in the fruit and its juice, where it lingers throughout vinification. The popular notion is that these molecules of flint or chalk can be tasted when we drink these wines—a literal expression of place, carried through the wine straight to our taste buds.
Scientific research has established that this is not the case.
“By all reckoning, there does not appear to be a mechanism of outright mineral transfer from soil to grape. But I think there are still some occult mechanisms that we don’t understand.”
The wine writer Alice Feiring agrees. “I think most people who taste wine and identify a flavor or texture as ‘minerality’ are talking in a poetic sense,” she says. In her 2017 book, The Dirty Guide to Wine, she avoids the word almost entirely since she doesn’t find it useful and considers it, she says, “a straw man.” According to Feiring, wine science’s heated focus on the fact that there’s no literal uptake of tasteable minerals from the earth tends to overshadow the ways in which soil is still highly relevant to wine.
A Whisky Made to Show Terroir
Whisky.Buzz has a story on Waterford whiskey's project in which they'll make different whiskies with grains from different specific plots of land and then later compare them after aging. The story includes tasting notes on the ones currently produced.
CEO of Waterford, Mark Reynier, has a history with terroir from the previous distillery he owned. At Bruichladdich, the terroir project was just getting started. It wasn’t perfect. Barley grains got mixed up at various levels of whisky making. Mark Reynier realized that to prove terroir, he needed to document every step of the process. When he started Waterford Distillery, he built a system with a set of processes purpose built to demonstrate terroir.
Everything is meticulously documented. The team developed their own computer tracking system noting everything from the weather during the growing season, to the chemical make-up at every stage of the whisky making process. Each barrel of spirit already has a story at its first moments of maturation toward being a whisky (in three or more years).
Two Artificial Intelligence Experiments with Alcohol: Whisky Recommendations and AI Generated Gin Botanical Mix
Diageo has created a site to recommend whisky based on input from 11 questions. Seems hardly enough to bring a computer into things, but that's what they're saying via the press release:
Available via mobile or any internet-connected device, the What’s Your Whisky? digital experience asks users 11 questions to understand what flavours they like. Questions range from ‘how often do you eat bananas?’ to ‘how do you feel about chillies?’.
The programme then uses AI technology and machine learning technologies to assess the user’s enjoyment of a range of sweet, fruity, spicy and smoky flavours found in single malts whiskies.
The data is then used to create the consumer’s personal ‘flavour print’, allowing the technology to then recommend a single malt with a flavour profile that suits the consumer’s results.
It will be available in six languages and can be accessed online via whatsyourwhisky.com, or through QR codes that can be found on various points of sale materials in participating bars, restaurants and shops.
I took the quiz and these were my results:
In another instance, AI was used to come up with a gin botanical list - along with its name: Monker's Garkel. Ha!
A recurrent neural network named “Ginette” generated a range of roughly 20 recipe options with anywhere from six to nine botanicals — fair numbers given typical gin distilling recipes. Circumstance’s human distillers narrowed the list down to four options, then two, expecting that they’d prefer a mix of juniper, damson plum, fig, burdock, carrot, and cinnamon. But while “good,” that recipe turned out to be “less interesting” in flavor profile than the winning mix of juniper, coriander, angelica root, prune, gooseberry, raspberry, clementine, orange, and marigold.
Ginette wasn’t only responsible for selecting botanicals. Using another dataset, the AI also came up with the Monker’s Garkel name, which sounds like something straight out of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, as well as multiple human-rejected alternatives: Digby Six, Pibbery, and Kinto City. Ginette is also credited, in combination with other ML tools, with generating the labels, the bottle’s text, and social media copy that appears on the Gginmaker Twitter account.
Read about the gin experiment on VentureBeat.
And in the process of looking up these links, I found a website of a company that has made AI Cocktails.
The Drinks Business has a story on a new brand of protein bars that reduces the body’s alcohol absorption rate by 50%.
The study, which was published in the Journal of Medicinal Food, compared the SOBAR’s ability to reduce alcohol absorption against two other foods in a group of 21 healthy adults, 10 men and 11 women.
Each person was tested four times, eating either no food, a 210 calorie SOBAR, 210 calories of a popular snack mix, or a 635 calorie full meal right before consuming 2 drinks.
The study showed that peak blood alcohol concentration measured over 90 minutes was reduced by 50% compared to those who ate no food, and by 25% compared with those who ate the popular snack mix.
The reduction was even greater (68%) after eating the full meal.
Of course the bar absorbs alcohol better than nothing (empty stomach), but I guess the trick is that it absorbs alcohol better than other foods. Actually that's part of it - it's also made to speed up liver processing of alcohol. The brand's website explains it better:
All foods slow and reduce alcohol absorption to varying extents, depending on a number of factors including the nature of the food, how much is eaten, and when it was consumed.
Foods do this by both delaying the stomach from releasing alcohol into the small intestine (where it is most rapidly absorbed) and by stimulating the liver's metabolic elimination of alcohol. However, not all foods are identical with respect to these effects. The SOBAR has been developed from the ground up to be optimized for these functions and the combination of ingredients responsible for this effect is called Alco-HOLD for which a patent is currently pending.
The ingredients listed on one of the bar's on the brand's website are, "Peanut Butter, Allulose Syrup, Milk Protein Hydrolysate, Tapioca IMO Syrup, Protein Crisps (Whey Protein, Rice Starch, Calcium Carbonate), Clover Honey, Insoluble Oat Fiber, Humectant (Concentrated Grape Juice, Rice Starch), Acacia Gum, Allulose, Sea Salt, Lime Powder."
The Neurons Rewarding Alcohol Consumption
ScienceDaily reports on a study about a discovery of a neural pathway for reward behavior (studied in animals) when consuming alcohol, which could potentially lead to better understanding alcohol use/abuse and maybe even pharmaceuticals that could prevent that from happening. (This is probably a long way off.)
Published in the Journal of Neuroscience, this research pinpoints a specific neural circuit that when altered caused animal models to drink less alcohol.
"The fact that these neurons promote reward-like behavior, that extremely low levels of alcohol consumption activate these cells, and that activation of these neurons drive alcohol drinking in animals without extensive prior drinking experience suggests that they may be important for early alcohol use and reward," said senior author Zoe McElligott, PhD, assistant professor of psychiatry and pharmacology.
"It's our hope that by understanding the function of this circuit, we can better predict what happens in the brains of people who transition from casual alcohol use to subsequent abuse of alcohol, and the development of alcohol use disorders."
Whisky Stains Are Like Snowflakes
Curiosity.com has a story about how particular bourbons leave different patterns when evaporated.
...at the University of Louisville in Kentucky, where a team of researchers evaporated bourbon droplets at varying levels of dilution and looked at the residues under a microscope.
They found that the unusual designs came from whiskey's composition of alcohol, water, and suspended compounds — likely from the barrel the whiskey was aged in.
Williams and his colleagues also tried the experiment with Canadian and Scotch whiskeys and couldn't replicate the weblike patterns created by American whiskey. Because American whiskey is distilled in new oak barrels, it's possible that a variety of compounds specific to those barrels leaches into the whiskey during the distillation process. The resulting webs could be used to test techniques to accelerate whiskey aging or to identify counterfeit spirits — almost like a whiskey fingerprint.
I'm not sure how reproducible this is - for example comparing one batch of whisky with another from the same brand, are they identical? Close? But this could potentially be a way to identify vintage whiskies as true or fake - a very big interest these days.