Chemical Compositions

by on June 10, 2014

Tales of the Cocktail 2014 is just about a month away. As usual, I am presenting this year and I'm going back to my roots, chemistry. The Chemical Compositions session is about what chemicals make spirits taste like spirits. The coolest part is that we will be sniffing more chemicals than a 1980s hair metal band. I'm packing a bag full—9 to be exact—of individual chemical compounds that are core components of a number of spirits and liqueurs. Curious?

Understanding how different chemicals produce unique aromas and flavours is more than just smelling those compounds which is why we are going to talk about synthetic versus natural flavours and why natural flavours are preferred by most people. Then we will touch upon food and drink pairings based on similar chemical compositions that was popularized by Heston Blumenthal's white chocolate and caviar combination.

A few chemistry lessons will take place, like stereochemistry and a quick introduction to organic chemistry. Why? The word ester seems to have taken over the flavour world, but there are more flavour components than just esters and we'll talk about those and smell them as well. I promise I'll make it fun.

There is even a historical element to this session. Back in the 1800s it was quit common for bars to produce their own liquors. In fact, there were many books published on the subject and here are two you can read online.

The manufacture of liquors, wines and cordials, without the aid of distillation. (1853) 
The Art of Blending and Compounding Liquors and Wines (1885) 

If you have browsed through some of these old books, some of the recipes look they were sourced from manuals on witchcraft. The reality is that many of these recipes are basic chemical flavour combinations, like the following for rye.

Rye Oil
64 oz Fusel Oil
8 oz Œnanthic ether
8 oz Chloroform
8 oz Sulphuric Acid
2 oz Chlorate of Potassium
8 oz Water

Combine in a glass still and distill 64 oz.

What exciting chemicals are we going to sniff? Here's the list:

1.) Ethyl Butyrate
2.) Ethyl Propionate
3.) Rum Ether
4.) 1-Heptanol
5.) Ethyl Acetate
6.) Ethyl Benzoate
7.) Ethyl Heptanoate (Œnanthic ether)
8.) Amyl Acetate
9.) 4-Methoxybenzyl Alcohol 

Sounds like fun to me! There are only a few tickets left, so if you want to expand your mind go grab a ticket for Chemical Compositions (Saturday July 19th @ 1:00PM).