Velvet is a bar in the heart of Neukölln, which changes its menu every week and uses not alcohol, but specific tastes as foundation of their cocktails. They have their own lab, where they produce among other destillates and tinctures from locally grown ingredients. Here the process of fermentation and following destillation and their difference to the process of obtaining a tincture will be discussed.
Velvet Bar got the “Mixology Bar Award” as the “Bar of the Year” in Germany. The concept is novel and refreshing – this bar offers small menu on self-developed cocktails, which are made from the regional products. The menu is changed every week after a LabDay on Tuesday. On this day the team comes together to taste recently developed shines, liqueurs and other spirits. To make that happen barkeepers have to visit one of the local farmers and to see, which local and seasonal products are available. Sometimes the inspiration comes from the Berliner streets – like young pine cones or sakura flowers!
From these local products tinctures, destillates and decorations for the cocktails are done. What makes the cocktails at Velvet very special is that drinks here are based on an ingredient and not on a spirit, which makes every cocktail different to anything you have tasted before. We tried cocktails based on aspargus, Cassis wood, moos and young pine cones as well as destilates based on Russian terragon, mustard and pear. The foundation of the cocktail on a taste of an unconventional ingredient gives every drink an exotic start. It is like smelling a completely new and different parfume for the first time. Of course any lover of a certain type of alcohol will find his favourite on the menu, as the menu is balanced on alcohol and nuances of taste.
The concept was developed by Robert Havemann and his two partners two years ago, as they decided to start something extraordinary. With Filip Kaszubski, Ruben Neideck, Sarah Swantje Fischer and Veniamin Porkhov on their team they succeeded. The bar is located in Neukölln – one of the vibrant night life district of Berlin. It is in proximity to the StadtBad Neukölln and is surrounded by many lively places. The interior is well chosen and spiced up with icone like images and pink flamingos. Nonetheless the main charme of the bar are it’s cocktails developed in the bar’s own lab with use of designated chemical machines for destillation and processing. In the following we would like to discuss the chemical difference between a tincture and a distillate as well as how this distinction affects the taste of the liquid.
Here we would like to discuss the differences between a distillate and a tincture. Chemically during distillation process the ingredient-own carbohydrates are transformed to alcohol and the content of the alcohol is increased by distillation. In tincture parts of the ingredient are placed into alcohol, where the molecules responsible for specific taste and aroma are extracted. Later the concentration of these molecules is increased by evaporation of the solvent (alcohol in our case).
The process of creation of drinkable alcohol (ethanol) consists of two steps – the first step is a chemical process of fermentation, which can deliver liquids with alcohol content as high as 15%. If higher content of the alcohol is required the second step – a physical process of destillation is used (Process Biochemistry, 2004; Applied microbiology and biotechnology, 2005).
Fermentation is the process of turning sugar in alcohol.
The basic carbohydrates for the reaction are glucose and fructose (both C6H12O6, but with different structure as shown in fig. 1). The general fermentation reaction is therefore:
C6H12O6 –> 2 C5H5OH + 2 CO2.
This formula means that from each molecule of fructose or glucose two molecules of ethanol along with two molecules of carbon dioxide are created. Most alcohols are brewed from sucrose (C12H22O11), which is a dimer of glucose and fructose. In this case reaction looks like this:
C12H22O11 + H2O + invertase –> 2 C6H12O6.
The fermentation is actually more complicated as it is shown in the first equation and consists of three steps: 1) glycolysis, 2) pyruvate decarboxylase and 3) alcohol dehydrogenase.
It has to be mentioned that in case of the usage of e.g. grain or potatoes the energy is stored in starch, which has a formula (C6H10O5)n – (H2O) and can be broken down to basic sugars by malting.
Fermentation can only deliver alcohol content of around 15%. However, the original batch contains most of the taste of the original ingredients. This original supernatant has to be filtered.
The alcohol content can be increased by distillation.
This is a process (fig. 2), where differences in the boiling temperature are used (Applied microbiology and biotechnology, 2005). If you heat the mash, which already contains alcohol and water, alcohol boils at 78°C as water at 100°C. As result only ethanol boils if the mash is kept at T > 78°C and can be collected, if the vapour is cooled. Now as result of statistical nature of evaporation process also water escapes, which leads to the necessity of several distillation processes in order to acquire a mixture with high alcohol content.
Warning: if the mash has impurities additional harmful byproducts such as aceton, propanol, ethylacetat or methanol can be created during heating! As they have different boiling temperature it is still possible to separate ethanol from the dangerous byproducts, if the distillation equipment is well calibrated.
As we covered in warning the proccess of creation alcohol from carbohydrates can be dangerous and therefore used scarcely and with precautions in mixology. Additionally, there are plenty of restrictions and taxes. Therefore a more popular method of creation of the specific and novel tastes is a tincture.
Chemically, a tincture is a solution with alcohol as a solvent and the taste component as a solute (Journal of Pharmacy & Pharmacognosy Research, 2016).
Products contain different chemical compounds, which make them taste as we know them to taste (Food, 2007). E. g. for the orange these componds would be acidic juices and essential oils. The extraction of the taste of the orange is straight forward as you can press out juice or the oil from the peel. In many other ingridients it is much harder to extract their taste. Let’s take e.g. cassis wood – it contains the molecules and oils, which are responsible for the taste and aroma.
To aquire a tincture first the wood has to be chopped or ground. That destroys the wood and some of its cells. If the wood is freshly plucked it also releases some of the juice. This mixture is covered with alcohol. Here alcohol is the solvent. The sap mixes with the alcohol. A solution is an even mixture of elements, where the chemical compounds are broken down to the molecules, ions or even atoms. However you can also create a mixture with the particles responsible for the taste and smell – a so-called suspension. It can be homogeneous or not. So here, depending on the nature of the ingredient several competing processes can take place, such as (Herbal Research Notes, 2009):
- dissolution of salts and compounds in alcohol
- a diffusion of compounds from the cells to the liquid surrounding
- destruction of the cellular structure of the ingredient and release of the compounds from the destroyed cellular structure
- creation of stable or non-stable, homogeneous or non-homogeneous suspension of microparticles with alcohol.
After this initial step the mash has to be filtered, in order to remove all the ground rests of the ingredient (e.g. cassis wood). This result in a alcoholic solution/suspension of the desired taste. In order to increase the concentration of the taste compounds of the ingredient, the distillation process can be used. Above this process was used to increase the concentration of the alcohol. Now it can be used to remove the alcohol from the solution/suspension. If alcohol is more volatile than the compound in the solution it can be removed during the destillation process and more concentrated solution/suspension of the main ingredient in alcohol will remain. If the ingredient is more volatile (e.g. ethereal oils) then the these compounds can be removed during the destillation, leaving us with the desired highly concentrated tincture of let’s say cassis wood in alcohol.
We described the process of creation of alcohol by fermentation from basic sugars. Additionally the process of destillation to increase the alcohol concentration was described. At last the process of obtaining a tincture from ingredients solved in alcohol as well as its differences to the process of fermentation and destillation was explained.
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