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MOST DISTILLERS have a keen desire to understand the science of flavor. Just how does one create those wonderful fruity notes? Or all those caramel flavors? Creating the perfect spirit is what all distillers are chasing after. Understanding how each chemical compound tastes, smells, changes, ages and more importantly, how to create that compound, is a tall order. The world of flavor creation is complex and you’ll need to understand a little bit about some seemingly scary sounding topics, mainly organic chemistry and flavor chemistry. 100 

Start by taking a look at ethanol. A few things can happen to ethanol under the right conditions, which, in most cases in this industry, is in a barrel. If ethanol is oxidized, (which in simplest terms means to have a loss of electrons or to have a chemical reaction with oxygen) it can turn into acetaldehyde. Acetaldehyde is a very common congener and flavor compound. In spirits it can give off a green apple or fruity note and additionally it can be used when creating those respective artificial or natural flavors. If acetaldehyde is oxidized further, it turns into acetic acid. Acetic acid, as many of you may know, is easily recognizable as vinegar. Depending on the individual, that could be good or bad. In this case it is good, but not for the most obvious reason. Three different flavor compounds are now swimming around: ethanol, acetaldehyde, and acetic acid. What’s next? The answer is esterification, or the creation of esters. Esters are compounds that have a pleasant/fruity aroma and can only be formed through a reaction involving an alcohol and an acid. Carboxylic acids, which are acids that contain a carboxyl group or COOH, are most common in this reaction, the simplest of which is acetic acid. Acetic acid and ethanol will react to create an ester. This leads back to why acetic acid can be good. Ethanol and acetic acid together create ethyl acetate. Ethyl acetate can be described as pineapple, wine-like, bittersweet and can be used in flavor production to make all sorts of



different fruity flavor concentrates. To put that into perspective, one alcohol can theoretically create three additional flavor compounds. The flavor ingredients you start with will determine how many all of the potential flavor compounds you will end up with. Going back to the beginning basic organic chemistry, esters are formed from a reaction between alcohols and acids. But this is not exclusive to one alcohol and one acid. If a distillate has one acid and five different alcohols present, that single acid could react with all five alcohols creating five different ester compounds each with their own unique aroma and taste. Now that you have a basic understanding of how these compounds get created. For a quick understanding of flavor chemistry, an easy way to understand it is like cooking. For example, let’s say that you want to make pasta sauce, so you bring in five chefs and ask them to make you pasta sauce. Each one of those sauces will contain a lot of the same ingredients like tomatoes, onions, garlic, and red wine. But after all is said and done, you will have five different sauces, because each chef will make it slightly differently. Now, to create flavors, just replace chefs with flavorists and the sauce ingredients/pantry with a lab bench and flavor ingredients. If each flavorist were to create an apple flavor, all would start with similar compounds like ethyl acetate or amyl acetate. Each base would then be supplemented with other chemicals to achieve a fresh and green WWW.ARTISANSPIRITMAG.COM

Artisan Spirit: Fall 2017  

The magazine for craft distillers and their fans.