In a past article I briefly discussed the procedures of both fermentation and distillation. Normally I would have left it at that, but during my current spirits and mixology tour I learned that this topic was one that people seemed to be most inquisitive about. I held seminars for sales reps, bartenders and consumers alike. No matter what city I was visiting or which group I was speaking to, the majority of the questions (especially among bartenders) seem to have related to the distillation process. So in lieu of the arrival of summer and all of the great cocktails that come with the season, I will try to put distillation in terms that we can all understand. This may help in understanding why some spirits are better suited for summer cocktails than others.
First, a raw material in liquid form has to undergo fermentation-here is where the alcohol is created. Now, it is ready for distillation, which is the removal of the alcohol. A "Still" is an apparatus used in the separation of the alcohol by means of evaporation. The evaporation point of alcohol is around 173° Fahrenheit while the evaporation point for water is 212° Fahrenheit. Bringing the temperature in the Still up above 173° keeping it below 212°, will evaporate only the alcohol. These alcoholic vapors are removed as they rise up the Still and are then passed through a condenser where they will "condensate" turning back into liquid form. This collected liquid is the Distilled Spirit. Some examples of fermented products that are distilled: wine distilled becomes brandy; cider distilled becomes Calvados or Applejack. Anything that is distilled over and over again will become neutral and eventually-vodka.
The original Still is the copper Pot Still, also known as the Alembic Still. Today, the Pot Still continues to be the apparatus of choice to produce the world's top distilled spirits like Cognac, 100% Agave Tequila, Single Malt Scotch, Irish Whiskey, Bourbon, Calvados and some of the fuller, darker rums. The down side of this Still is that it is time consuming and labor intensive-the upside is that it retains the finer flavors of the spirit. The more modern, stainless steel "Column Still" (also known as the Coffey Still, the Continuous Still and Patent Still) is far more efficient but removes far more flavoring agents. The Column Still is able to distill to a higher and higher degree without having to manually "reload" allowing the spirit to reach the "neutral" status quite easily. This Still is ideal for producing Vodka, Gin, and Light Rums among others. Unfortunately, there are a great many producers that use this Patent Still to distill all spirits because of its efficiency and for the quick return on their investment. This results in some lesser brands, cheap whiskies, and "mixto" tequilas.
The raw materials will determine what spirit will be made; the Still that is chosen will merely determine how neutral or flavorful the end result will be. Congeners are the agents that make it through the Stills that tell us if we are sipping rum, whiskey, or tequila. The more you distill, the more neutral the spirit becomes, the fewer congeners remain. These "white" spirits generally made in a Column Still have a tendency to increase in consumption during the summer months, where the "brown" spirits seem to fit the cooler seasons. The neutral spirits tend to be more versatile and their respective cocktails make for excellent hot weather drinks.
Since vodka and flavored vodkas, no doubt, will be among the fastest moving distilled spirits this
summer --and since Bartender Magazine is celebrating the wonderful ladies in our
industry <Summer 2004
Issue>, I will share one of my cocktails that will fit the bill.
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3 lime wedges
3 red raspberries
1/2 oz. simple syrup
1 1/2 oz. VOX Raspberry Vodka
1 oz. Cranberry Juice
Shake with ice. Transfer entire contents into a tall glass (add ice if necessary) and top with Club Soda. Garnish with two whole red raspberries and a lime twist spiral.