Thursday, June 3, 2010

i ♥ >40%

[Wendy is the anchor that keeps this blog ship afloat, but every once in a while Dayne needs to contribute too. What follows is his attempt to keep up.]

The earth is flat. (And 6000 years old.) 640K ought to be enough for anybody. Your satisfaction is our priority. Size doesn’t matter. 80 proof is fine.


The vast majority of us live with a lot of myths, fables, untruths, compromises, self-delusions, and downright disappointments. The 80° (40% alcohol by volume) issue seems to be one of them. For the most part, the occasional gin aside and not counting ill-advised Bacardi 151 or Everclear experiences in the teen or college years, we're used to spirits bottled at the seemingly-arbitrary strength of 40% ethanol. It's always seemed strange to me that producers add water to their distillates to hit the same number for everything from the blandest of vodkas to aged cognacs and tequilas; how can that result in the best products? It's like saying that all chocolate recipes have to have the exact same amount of cacao. (Thankfully most gins don't seem to have fallen into that trap, with 94.6 proof or thereabouts being pretty standard for London dry styles.)

In a slight departure from some of our normal posts, I’m not going to talk about where we’ve visited or what we’ve done lately, at least not directly. Instead, I’m going to preview a session on strong spirits entitled At Full Sail: The History and Application of Spirits at Proof, Navy Strength and Overproof that Eric Seed will be presenting (and that Wendy and I will be attending) during this year’s New Orleans-based Tales of the Cocktail.

We had the opportunity to correspond via email with Audrey Saunders and Wayne Curtis, two of the panel members for that session, and have included their responses to a few questions below. With what what we’ve heard so far, we can’t wait to attend!

Dayne & Wendy: What was the first overproof spirit (> 40% ABV) that really made an impression on you?

Audrey: Rum for sure. I was too young to appreciate the flavor profile of whatever it was, but it made for one heck of a pyrotechnic show. And really, who doesn't love that?

Wayne: Lemon Hart 151. It wasn't just the heat, it was the intensity of the flavor that really came through and intriuged me.

D&W: What's your current favorite overproof spirit?

Wayne: Smith & Cross I like a lot. But I'm also really partial to Booker's.

Audrey: I don't have an overall favorite; they all serve different purposes. I can enjoy an overproof whiskey (with a splash of water), as much as an overproof rum (with perhaps as a float), or an overproof gin (either as a martini, or worked into a cocktail). They're all different animals. And then of course, there's Chartreuse.

D&W: If you could ask any one producer to move a product to a higher proof, what would it be?
Audrey: Cognac, for sure. All of the old recipes were done with 100 proof. Unfortunately many of today's cognac cocktails aren't as "zippy" as they potentially could be, it's that extra bit of octane that will give cognac drinks the spine and "umph" they need to maintain their structure.

Wayne: I'd be more inclined to ask Lemon Hart to crank up production on their 151, and make it more widely available. I think it's still easily found in the Pacific Northwest, but elsewhere it's hard to track down. And it's so essential in a number of great tiki drinks.

D&W: What interested you about this seminar topic?

Wayne: A simple question: why do so many overproof taste so good and so strikingly different than their lower-proof cousins?

Audrey: Eric invited me to participate. He has picked my brains occasionally over the years about different products he was developing, and asked me for my thoughts on 100 or 114 proof for Smith & Cross. I tasted them both, and felt strongly that he just go ahead and own it. The 100 was good, but the 114 was even better, and at that proof, really showed off the quality of the distillate. Everybody wanted a high-quality rum, and the 114 separates Smith & Cross from the boys. I've always been a real fan of his concepts.

D&W: What do you hope to achieve/ get across to the attendees?

Wayne: A bit of history, and a bit of science. How did most spirits sold in the US end up at 40 percent? And how does a higher-proof alcohol affect the taste of a drink?

Audrey: Not to be afraid of working with higher proofs, and a better understanding of what they bring to the table. For instance, the flavor profiles of the high-quality distillates hold up beautifully with some dilution!

D&W: Why do you they think people should attend this seminar? Who would get the most value out of it?

Audrey: Any professional, certainly, as well as people who are responsible for crafting cocktails.

D&W: Audrey, what's your favorite use for an overproof spirit?
Audrey: Google for a photo of "kill-devil cocktail" [D&W note: or just click here] ; you will see a photo of our Kill-Devil Cocktail, and the simple flaming garnish that we give to it. We simply invert a lime disc, and add a dropper-full of Elixir Vegetal de la Grande-Chartreuse (71% Alcohol). The drink has a rhum agricole base, and this works beautifully with it.

D&W: Wayne, have you ever tried lighting gunpowder after it's been exposed to Navy Strength rum?

[D&W note: You'll have to attend the seminar to get Wayne's answer to this one!]

Thank you Audrey and Wayne! Looking forward to seeing the both of you along with Eric and Britt at your Tales session.

1 comment:

  1. you're right...size totally does matter! (of course I mean the size of the proof!) :) nice post & I'm still working out my list of Tales seminars but maybe I'll check out this one!


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