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The Fée Verte Absinthe Forum - The Oldest, Largest, Most Authoritative Absinthe Forum. > Absinthe & Absinthiana > Absinthe Brands Discussion
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Grim
I know numerous producers have made effort to, if not showcase, make distinctive mention of the type or quality of spirit from which their absinthe is derived or based on… yet we rarely obtain a definitive notion of the process or particulars behind [the production of] that spirit-base. Which is critical for those who take more than a passing glance at absinthes, or other spirits compounded from botanicals in an alcohol base.

So, for those distillers that contribute to the board - you know who you are - please share a bit more. Keep this forum the most informed around. Within your own proprietary limits, of course.
OCvertDe
What a grim thought.

By which I mean, that sounds like a terrific idea.
dakini_painter
I buy NS at 190 proof in 55 gallon drums. It's technically NGS, but because it's distilled to 190 proof or higher, TTB considers it neutral spirit and I can't say it comes from grain because it has no distinguishing characteristics. I consider it the best base, because as someone once posted "there's no where to hide".

I suspect my base is made in big continuous process column stills.

I want my base to be as clean as a fresh canvas, ready for paint and the inspiration of the artist.
Kirk
Not to mention the world of problems you open up by working with non neutral spirits.
Leopold
As many here know, I use rectified Pisco. Pisco is a Peruvian or Chilean brandy that is made from a few select grapes varieties such as Muscat. Depending on the distillery, the grapes are usually crushed and the skins are left in the juice for at least a portion of the fermentation. Methods of production vary.

What is pretty common is that the spirit is distilled in simple potstills with minimal rectification. Normally the spirit comes off the still at between 50 and 65 percent abv. This makes Pisco a very aromatic type of brandy. It is then either stored in inert tanks or lightly toasted barrels for not more than a few months.

The Pisco I use comes from Chile, and when it arrives I rectify the spirit in a 6 plate reflux still. At the top of the still I have a dephlegmator, which is similar in purpose to a lentil. Cold or warm water is pumped through a jacket with make the vapors which reach the top of the still condense and cascade down the six plates back into the pot for further rectification. When I am finished rectifying the Pisco, it is north of 80% abv, and many of the esters and other congeners are left behind in the pot, making a lighter distillate that doesn't overpower the herbs.

I use Pisco because I feel it adds depth to the aromas and flavors of my absinthe. It also, IMHO, contributes to the mouthfeel.
Leopold
IMHO, there's no such thing as a "neutral" tasting spirit. They all have different flavors. In fact, when I was in distilling school some boys who worked on a continuous still for one of the big vodka producers in North America brought in samples of spirit that came from the same exact multiple-column still, using the same procedures and same grain, but using two different yeast strains….and the two samples were quite different.

Now whether or not you could taste the differences after you add all the herbs in an Absinthe is a different story, obviously, but all GNS's aren't created equally, so to speak.

Just my opinion.
dakini_painter
I'd agree that not all GNS are the same. And I'm sure you can make great absinthe with a non-neutral base (think pre-Ban).
Absomphe
QUOTE(Leopold @ Jan 4 2009, 12:50 PM) *

I use Pisco because I feel it adds depth to the aromas and flavors of my absinthe. It also, IMHO, contributes to the mouthfeel.


Definitely, on both counts. It pleasantly surprised me how well that rum-like quality blended with your herbal selection.

Btw, as an aside, Pisco also makes a wonderful traditional Latin American sour, superior to whiskey, IMO.
Grim
Oh no, my friend…

Thanks to you who have already contributed. And to those who have yet to say anything, please ignore the "this thread is now tagged and dead" post by Absomphe… it was not in earnest.
Tibro
When is neutral neutral?
QUOTE(Leopold @ Jan 4 2009, 10:04 PM) *

IMHO, there's no such thing as a "neutral" tasting spirit. They all have different flavors.

That certainly makes sense to me, as you can never obtain pure alcohol and the small fraction that is not alcohol is going to lend something that somebody somewhere is going to detect.

Interestingly, wikipedia offers this:
QUOTE
Generally, any distilled spirit of 170 proof or higher that does not contain any added flavoring is considered to be neutral. [1]
1.^ Lichine, Alexis. Alexis Lichine’s New Encyclopedia of Wines & Spirits (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1987), 365.

Problem is, I don't think anyone here is going to buy that generality. Certainly not at that number.

High Plains Corporation reveals this at the top of a page which gives their parameters for GNS:
QUOTE
Alcohol Specifications

United States of America

Neutral Spirits

There are no national standards for neutral spirits, but each producer has their own specifications.


So, really, when is neutral neutral? Or, alternatively, what is to be favored in a non-neutral base?
dakini_painter
As far as beverage alcohol is concerned, there certainly are standards in the US, and they're set by TTB as to what can and cannot be declared neutral spirits. The US Pharmacopeia has standards as well. And so too the FDA. And yes, there's very much ways to produce absolute alcohol (200 proof), as well as grades of alcohol used in the pharmaceutical industry that are guaranteed to be nothing more than ethyl alcohol and distilled water.
Absomphe
QUOTE(Grim @ Jan 4 2009, 10:19 PM) *

it was not in earnest.


Dead wrong.
Tibro
Dakini, I wasn't trying to implicate that you are somehow trying to mislead us by saying you prefer to use GNS. I just thought it curious that the first couple of things that I stumbled across in trying to ascertain what the standards for GNS are lead me away from any legal standards definition.

I don't trust wikipedia any farther than I can throw it, so I don't put a lot of stock in statements that I read there. But it did seem like an interesting springboard for more conversation on the topic. Also, I should never have couched my statement in terms of "never." That should go without saying. But for all practical purposes as a beverage consumer I'm never going to lay my hands on a bottle of 200 proof spirit.

As far as forum conversation goes one person can maintain that they can taste all sorts of nuances and flavors in vodka while others assert that vodkas should be neutral and the water used to bring it down to the bottling abv is going to add more flavor than the alcohol will. And that's not even specifically pointing to the grape based vodka out there that many maintain isn't vodka at all.

But I don't want to talk about vodka, let's keep this on topic with base alcohol for absinthe. Which in turn keeps the fraction that isn't alcohol down to a pretty small window.

So, according to the TTB, when is neutral neutral?
Leopold
According to the TTB:

“Neutral spirits” or “alcohol” are distilled spirits produced from any material at or above 190° proof, and, if bottled, bottled at not less than 80° proof.

You are right to mistrust wikipedia in this case. Lichine is full of it. A spirit that comes off a still at 85% abv is going to be loaded with congeners.

…..and I should add that a grape based spirit that's distilled north of 190 proof, and then diluted to 80 proof or higher before bottling is indeed vodka. It is no longer brandy, however. Brandy must be distilled at less than 190 proof.
brucer
Roughly speaking, what percentage of a 40% abv Malt Whisky, bottled and bought in the high-street, is water ?

Bruce
Leopold
Are you asking how much of the volume of a bottle of Malt Whiskey are congeners?
absinthist
QUOTE(Tibro @ Jan 5 2009, 07:36 AM) *

As far as forum conversation goes one person* can maintain that they can taste all sorts of nuances and flavors in vodka while others assert that vodkas should be neutral and the water used to bring it down to the bottling abv is going to add more flavor than the alcohol will. And that's not even specifically pointing to the grape based vodka out there that many maintain isn't vodka at all.

* harhar.gif

Though, even within the grain realm, the differences in taste of grain alcohol distilled from barley, oat, rye, wheat are discernible. The rectified spirit in Poland is usually 98% (196 proof) and in most of the cases it is rye-based. Back in 40's/50's, there was available potato variety which nowadays cannot be purchased that easily but still potato vodkas are on the shelves. Wheat is very rare, henceforth its popularity in the neighbouring countries and in the Scandinavia.

AFAIK, some of the absinthe makers were using alcool pur (like Cusenier or C.F. Berger, that means at 90), some were using even stronger varieties, in the range: 95-97.

And yes, grape-based spirit isn't vodka at all, even if diluted to the mere of 36-40 (following EU's regulations as presented in COUNCIL REGULATION (EEC) No 1576/89), it is brandy (vide: Maxime blanche if anyone recalls the brand) just like pomace brandy or fruit brandy that tend to be colourless, unaged and coming in the range of 40-45% (there are some exceptions, though).
Tibro
Thanks, Leopold. I had a feeling the attribution for that "fact" might pique someone's response who knew more about it than I. Footnotes are our friends.
Donnie Darko
I keep getting told by chemistry types you can only have 100% ethanol in an anhydrous setting. The same goes for 98%
Leopold
QUOTE(absinthist @ Jan 5 2009, 12:44 PM) *

And yes, grape-based spirit isn't vodka at all, even if diluted to the mere of 36-40 (following EU's regulations as presented in COUNCIL REGULATION (EEC) No 1576/89), it is brandy (vide: Maxime blanche if anyone recalls the brand) just like pomace brandy or fruit brandy that tend to be colourless, unaged and coming in the range of 40-45% (there are some exceptions, though).


Ah, right. If it wasn't clear, the above definitions are from the TTB here in the US. EU is a different sandwich altogether.
Leopold
QUOTE(Donnie Darko @ Jan 5 2009, 12:53 PM) *

I keep getting told by chemistry types you can only have 100% ethanol in an anhydrous setting.



Molecular sieves suck that last bit of water out, ala fuel ethanol producers. Can't get there with normal distillation.
absinthist
The definitions are pain in the ass indeed and the consensus between these of TTB and EU will never be achieved.

In a view of Polish law, a spirit at not less than 88% (containing fusel alcohols, aldehydes, acetates, etc) is classified as raw spirit, together with that classification are connected so-called "noble distillates" (cognac, brandy, starka, whisky, rum, calvados and slivovitz) that should be in the range 55-75% (in reality, up to 80%, of course), the second type is rectified spirit in the range of 94-98% and finally anhydrous spirit in the range of 99.8-99.9%, barely drinkable even if diluted to 40%. Achieved thanks to the synthesis of ethylene. Denatured spirit, a type of its own (having the characteristic violet colour and nasty scent) is at 92%.
dakini_painter
QUOTE(brucer @ Jan 5 2009, 12:02 PM) *

Roughly speaking, what percentage of a 40% abv Malt Whisky, bottled and bought in the high-street, is water ?


63.42% as per Table 6, Respective Volumes of Alcohol and Water, US Gauging Manual, 1913.
dom_lochet
QUOTE(Donnie Darko @ Jan 5 2009, 07:53 PM) *

I keep getting told by chemistry types you can only have 100% ethanol in an anhydrous setting. The same goes for 98%


Indeed. Ethanol is a hydrophilic molecule, which means that unlike oil (which is hydrophobic) it mixes perfectly with water. Actually, they form an azeotrope, i.e. a mixture of liquids whose boiling point is lower (or higher) than that of its components. In this case, water boils at 100°C and ethanol at 78.4°C, while the mixture of 95.6% ethanol and 4.4% of water boils at 78.1°C. Which means you cannot get more than 95.6% of ethanol by classic distillation.

Pure ethanol is only useful in certain types of industry, and being hygroscopic, it must be kept sealed, as it absorbs water from the air.
absinthist
QUOTE(dom_lochet @ Jan 6 2009, 12:17 AM) *

Which means you cannot get more than 95.6% of ethanol by classic distillation.

Um, no. Savalle in St. Denis using his own apparatus (which later became a great inspiration for creating other stills used for distillation-rectification) achieved 97.0% in 1852. The apparatus was patented in June 23, 1868 gaining the patent no. 78, 260.

dom_lochet
Maybe I was a bit too bold on that one. The composition of the azeotrope depending on the pressure, I suppose that you could indeed play on that parameter to get a higher ethanol/water ratio (although never 100%).
Conte d'Ugenta
The base used for L'Italienne is 96,6° neutral grain alcohol, the best choice I found for my absinthe. I do like non-neutral bases tho, but IMHO it depends a lot on the recipe you are workin on.
absinthist
Good for you, Stefano. How's your head? Already sobered up? evill.gif
brucer
I don't quite understand how my 40%abv Malt Whisky (e.g. commercial Laphroaig) is 63% water bv.

Anyway, let us suppose it is 55% water.

Then, it is 95% water/alcohol and 5% flavourings.

This means that the differences between all the different brands of whisky lies entirely in falvourings contained in 5% of the volume.

If so, then I do not believe for a moment that different bases (85-95% abv) have no discernable effect on the final absinthe. Nor do I believe that an 85-95% abv base could ever be "neutral" to the palate.

By the way, Grey Goose, one of the best vodkas available and winner of many awards, is made in France from grapes.

Bruce
dakini_painter
Grey goose is made from wheat.

As dom_lochet said, alcohol is hydrophilic, so they are like perfect lovers. They like getting close to one another because they are so much in love.

Flavor congeners are measured in much smaller volumes than percentages. According to Berglund (Figure 19), Cognac has about congeners of 600 mg/100 mL spirit. US Bourbon whiskey has about the same number, but different ratios and amount of the various ones. That's why whiskey tastes like whiskey and cognac like cognac. Vodka is under 100 mg/100 mL spirit in congeners, while plum, calvados, cherry spirits tip above 1000 mg/100 mL, some of them well above.

Flavor and aroma chemicals are typically detected by the senses in the p.p.m (parts-per-million) range, and a few in the ppb (parts-per-billion) range.


So no, let's not say that just because you don't understand how ethyl alcohol and water do not mix on a volume/volume basis that you can simply dismiss scientific facts and change them to suit your knowledge. Otherwise, you are no different than the people who believe in "intelligent design".
Jaded Prole
Ha!
brucer
Dakini_painter,

What's your gripe ? Why do you assume I do not understand positive and negative deviations from Raoult's law ?

Please read my e-mails more carefully before firing off one.

OK, I was wrong about Grey Goose. My fault for believing my friendly wine merchant.

Bruce
Donnie Darko
He's probably confusing it with Ciroc Vodka, which is french and made from Grapes.
Jaded Prole
Ciroc is just plain bad booze.
Chris
QUOTE(brucer @ Jan 6 2009, 04:22 AM) *

If so, then I do not believe for a moment that different bases (85-95% abv) have no discernable effect on the final absinthe. Nor do I believe that an 85-95% abv base could ever be "neutral" to the palate.


Don't forget that alcohol that comes out of the still at 85% is not the same as alcohol that is distilled upto 95%+ and watered down to 85%.
dakini_painter
My gripe?

QUOTE

I don't quite understand how my 40%abv Malt Whisky (e.g. commercial Laphroaig) is 63% water bv.

Anyway, let us suppose it is 55% water.


Incorrect assumption.

QUOTE

Then, it is 95% water/alcohol and 5% flavourings.


Incorrect since the foundation assumption is incorrect, you cannot make another assumption, and have it be valid, upon it.

QUOTE

This means that the differences between all the different brands of whisky lies entirely in falvourings contained in 5% of the volume.


Incorrect because the flavorings are much less than even 1%, plus now you have two false assumptions built upon the original incorrect one.

QUOTE

If so, then I do not believe for a moment that different bases (85-95% abv) have no discernable effect on the final absinthe. Nor do I believe that an 85-95% abv base could ever be "neutral" to the palate.


Incorrect as Chris pointed out above (but see below about what you want to believe).


QUOTE

By the way, Grey Goose, one of the best vodkas available…
… winner of many awards …
…is made in France …
…from grapes…


Buy what measure is it "best", according to their marketing department? The BTI (one of Grey Goose's awards) also gave an award to La Fee. Just getting an award doesn't mean much. Almost everything in your post in wrong, and then you just dismiss the answers.

There's nothing wrong with lacking knowledge, that's how we learn. But to dismiss the scientific facts of the matter and simply say "I don't believe that" doesn't work in this case. If you want to believe that Grey Goose is the best vodka, however you come to take conclusion, that's an opinion, and you're entitled to it. You're entitled to believe that there's no difference between 85% and 95% spirit (as you conflate them above), but you'd be wrong.
brucer
Dakini,

I think you misunderstand me.

My point was that the differences between all the malt whiskies resides in 5% or less of their volume. Therefore, saying that all 85-95% abv alcohols tast the same and are neutral is not believable.

You maintian that the differences reside in less than 1% of the volume. I do not disbelieve you. That only strengthens my argument.

I never said that 85% abv alcohol and 95% abv alcohol were the same.

Bruce
Donnie Darko
QUOTE(brucer @ Jan 7 2009, 06:01 AM) *

My point was that the differences between all the malt whiskies resides in 5% or less of their volume.


Well, that's still not correct. The water source for fermentation, distilling and dilution can introduce a lot of variation.

QUOTE
saying that all 85-95% abv alcohols tast the same and are neutral is not believable.


I don't think anyone actually said that. Ethanol always tastes the same and is neutral (in the same way that all laboratory grade DI water is the same), it's the little bits that come along with it which make it taste different. Of course ethanol itself still has a "flavor", even if what we're mistaking as flavor is actually just the burn it causes in our mouth and nostrils.

brucer
QUOTE
Well, that's still not correct. The water source for fermentation, distilling and dilution can introduce a lot of variation.


Yes, but that variation still resides in less than 5% of the finished product by volume, as 95% of the finished product by volume is ethanol and water.

Sugar.gif

What does 40% abv actually mean ?

Does it mean that 40% abv is ethanol ? Or, does it mean that 40% abv is ethanol and similar congeners that are legal and/or below legal limits ?

Bruce
Jaded Prole
Considering that whiskey is usually bottled at 40% abv, what do you think?
brucer
Well, I understand that it is the percentage of ethanol by volume.

But the real question is, how do Customs and Excise (or whatever they are now called) measure it ?

Or, to be more precise, how do manufacturers measure it when deciding how much distilled water to add to bottle at a labelled 40% abv and meet their legal commitments ?

Bruce
Leopold
QUOTE(Donnie Darko @ Jan 7 2009, 06:26 AM) *

….Well, that's still not correct. The water source for fermentation, distilling and dilution can introduce a lot of variation…..


We all dilute with the same water….r/o or deionized water. DI water is damn close to r/o water in terms of flavor. If you use anything other than r/o or deionized water, the salts will precipitate when mixed with alcohol, and look like snowflakes on the bottom of the bottle. Over time, oxygen will oxidize the flakes, turning them brown.

I don't know of a single distiller that uses anything other than r/o or deionzed water for dilution. Even if you have really, really soft water, you're asking for trouble if you don't treat you water.
Doctor Love
Based on my experience researching water softening systems, the traditional variety that swap sodium ions for the calcium and magnesium would be nothing you'd want to drink on a regular basis anyway without r/o treatment, which is why softeners and r/o systems are often sold as a combined solution.

The substantial downsides and maintenance issues have, at least temporarily, dissuaded me from considering a whole house water treatment system. There are alternatives, but those tend not to be as effective at addressing hard water scaling issues, which is the other half of the battle.

Donnie Darko
QUOTE(Leopold @ Jan 7 2009, 02:47 PM) *

I don't know of a single distiller that uses anything other than r/o or deionzed water for dilution. Even if you have really, really soft water, you're asking for trouble if you don't treat you water.


Interesting. I know Laphroaig and Grey Goose brag about their water sources, but perhaps those water sources are only used for fermentation/distillation, and then for dilution they use DI water?
Leopold


So do the major brewers. They're all full of shit. It's marketing nonsense. You'll hear the same thing from the bourbon distillers.

Brewers and distillers all do the same thing for mash water and fermentation……they strip their process water down using deionization or some variant thereof, and then build the salts back up to exactly the levels they desire. For dilution, as I explained, they have no choice but to get most/all the minerals out of solution, or they'll have some serious issues in the bottle.

The minerals in the water you use changes with the seasons. You can't use straight water from a faucet or well if you want consistent results. And if there's some sort of spike in your water from some downstream processing error or act of nature or man, leading to elevated minerals, or chlorine, or any number of chemicals….you're totally screwed. So even places like Pilsner Urquell, who has famously soft water, will have some type of treatment to ensure a consistent supply of safe, brewing-ready water.
Leopold
I should add that there's a slight exception…..some Scottish distillers get a bit of peat in their water from peat runoff, and modify their water treatment regime to get it into the final product. So I guess that there's a wee bit of truth to the marketing of places like Laphroaig.
Doctor Love

Huh, I always figured the peat flavor only came from the burning peat during the drying process, not the water itself. Yer a wealth of factoids there, Leo!

Leopold
Oh…. the vast, vast majority of the peat flavor comes from burning peat under damp malt. The water just adds a bit more, is all. I've never been to a distillery that has slightly "peaty" water, so I only know this from conversations I've had with Scottish distillers. All I know is that the contribution to flavor profile is a slight one.
Shabba53
Some of the peatiness will also come from the barrel aging process as air from the surrounding countryside permeates the wood. Same with the brineyness of the Islays and Coastal Highlands, flowery hints from the central highlands and lowlands, etc.

That is, unless Diageo's diabolical plan to plastic wrap all their barrels comes to fruition.

There's just too many dang variables. abs-cheers.gif
sixela
Sadly for my wallet (otherwise I'd just have to buy one bottle of whisky) and luckily for my taste buds.
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