Distilled wine? Is that like distilled water? Like wine in its purest form without any minerals? Well, not exactly. It’s more like brandy… well, it is brandy. Or if it’s produced in the Cognac region of France, it’s Cognac. You mean the French distill perfectly good wine just to make brandy? Well, actually the initial “wine” product isn’t exactly fine wine. It’s not even up to the quality of box wine, but once distilled and aged, produces that amber liquid known as Cognac.
Actually, all of your stronger spirits — whether it’s vodka, bourbon, rum or scotch — start life as a fermented grain or fruit that’s then distilled to produce that final smooth (as in Cognac) or fiery (as in mezcal) liquid known as hard liquor. At its worst, it resembles a solvent more than a beverage; at its finest, as Colonel Sherman Potter from “MASH” stated, “There’s not enough o’s in smooth to describe it.”
Boiled Beer or Wine?
Well, yes and no. If you simply put a welding torch to a flask of beer or wine, you can distill the alcohol in said product, but it probably won’t taste very good. Secondly, you would be in violation of federal law. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) does allow possession of a distilling device… as long as it’s not for the use — intentional or unintentional — of separating alcohol from the parent liquid without a proper permit. Small distilling devices for use in educational settings are permitted again, as long as alcohol isn’t being separated from the parent liquid. And when the Hennessy’s and Seagram’s of the world legally distill their fermented beverages, they only use enough heat to vaporize the alcohol and other volatile compounds for re-condensation, sometimes more than once in the case of high-end vodka and gin.
Why distill other than to simply concentrate the alcohol? Well, the liquid left behind that’s too heavy to vaporize usually contributes to funky flavors or aromas in the finished product. In fact if you distill any liquid enough, you’ll simply be left with ethyl alcohol and water, with no flavor at all. Won’t you simply be left with pure alcohol? No. Why? Because ethanol (ethyl alcohol) and water form an azeotrope, which means that the combination of the two boil at a lower temperature than either by itself. So, you can never totally separate ethanol and water by heat distillation; there will always be 4.37 percent water left in the mixture. That’s if you have the proper permits issued by the ATF.
Favorite Distilled Applications
“The bitters are excellent for your liver; the gin is bad for you. They balance each other.”
— Orson Welles
Supposedly suggested by Count Camillo Negroni to his bartender Fosco Scarselli when the count wanted a stronger version of the traditional Americano, which is equal parts of the bitter Campari and sweet vermouth topped with club soda. Scarselli substituted an equal part of gin to make the first Negroni. More bitter than sweet or savory, the Negroni is the perfect aperitif to stimulate the appetite for the meal to come. I personally came across my “perfect” Negroni at that freeway-side restaurant in Mill Valley, Calif., the Buckeye Roadhouse, which used more dry than sweet vermouth. And like 007, I prefer mine “shaken, not stirred” with that perfect ice line halfway down the glass. My favorite rendition uses Bafferts gin, Campari and just a touch of sweet vermouth with the perfect orange rind twist.
“I feel sorry for people who don’t drink. When they wake up in the morning, that’s as good as they’re going to feel all day.”
— Frank Sinatra
Favored during the days of the Rat Pack when “men were men, women were dames and business was settled with a handshake,” the Manhattan is commonly still seen in that last vestige of manhood, the steakhouse. Okay, I’ll retract that chauvinistic comment; stiff drinks and slabs of charred meat are as much a part of feminism in the modern world. But the Manhattan was meant to be a stiff drink: three parts whiskey, one part sweet vermouth, a couple dashes of bitters and garnished with a Maraschino cherry. On those rare occasions that I find myself in a steakhouse, I’ll always start the meal with one of these libations. On the rarer occasion that I shake one myself, I reach for Crown Royal Reserve (for you whiskey purists who cringe at the notion of mixing Crown Royal Reserve, I’ll let you continue to have your real champagne-based mimosas).
“Life is one long weekend.”
— Tommy Bahama
Nothing says vacation quite like a chilled glass containing that Cuban libation, the Mojito. Very simple in concept, it simply is the perfect marriage of fresh lime juice, fresh mint, sugar and rum — like an adult minty limeade! The Mrs. also enjoys this libation on those warm summer days, especially when relaxing under a ceiling fan with a seaside view. The perfect version has the fresh mint muddled under the sugar and lime juice and rind — but doesn’t shred the mint leaves — with just enough white rum and topped with club soda. If you can find them, fresh Key limes make a better end product. And don’t worry about breaking the bank on the rum, most brands of white rum work just fine.
“Life is uncertain, eat dessert first.”
— Ernestine Ulmer
The Chocolate Martini
There are probably more versions of this “martini” than can be counted. However, this is the one and only Gochiso Gourmet’s rendition. Created for the Mrs., my version has equal parts of dark chocolate liquor (I prefer Godiva), vanilla-infused vodka and raspberry liquor (my preference is Edmond Briottet Crème de Framboise) with fresh raspberries on a cocktail skewer as garnish. Like liquid dessert that’s great to begin or end a meal.
Watch That High Octane
Remember that distilled spirits carry their fair share of alcohol. In other words, HIGH OCTANE! If you’re not careful, you’ll be wearin’ that lampshade as headgear. So make sure you have a designated driver at the very least! I’m sure you’ve heard the myriad urban legends regarding alcohol consumption…
“Eat fatty foods and you won’t absorb the alcohol.” While food in the stomach delays alcohol absorption, ethanol is such a small molecule that it still finds its way into the bloodstream… and the brain, fast. While eating is always a good idea while imbibing, it won’t prevent inebriation.
“Take a B-complex before drinking to prevent drunkenness and hangovers.” Since B vitamins are co-factors in many chemical reactions, it might seem like supplementation might benefit us. Well, simply taking a vitamin won’t do anything unless you’re actually deficient in said vitamin.
“Drink vodka because it won’t give you alcohol breath in case you do get pulled over by the highway patrol.” While vodka may not give us the same “alcohol breath” as other congeners, only other imbibers usually won’t notice. Last time I checked, most of the highway patrol aren’t drinking on the job and they also judge other parameters like walking heel-to-toe, pupillary response to light and driving skills (or lack there of).
“Drink lots of fluid to prevent the dreaded hangover.” Alcohol does act like a diuretic so you’ll lose more liquid than gain, even with beer, so getting additional fluid throughout the evening is always a good thing. But nothing cures overindulgence. It reminds me of a lunchtime conversation between several doctors I used to work with. Two male physicians were discussing how to avoid speeding tickets by “knowing” where the highway patrol usually resided for their “speed traps,” watching other driver’s brake lights, speeding only during inclement weather since motorcycle cops wouldn’t stand in the rain with their laser speed guns, etc.
Finally one of the female physicians (my own personal doctor) simply asked, “Why don’t you just drive at the speed limit?” Of course, the two male doctors simply looked at each other and nodded in disagreement, “No, can’t do that.”
Don’t want a DUI? Don’t drink and drive. Don’t want a hangover? Don’t drink, or do so in moderation. But if you do, have a designated driver, or better yet, sleep over.
The Gochiso Gourmet is a column on food, wine and healthy eating. Ryan Tatsumoto is a graduate of both the Univ. of Hawai‘i and UC San Francisco. He is a clinical pharmacist during the day and a budding chef/recipe developer/wine taster at night. He writes from Kane‘ohe, HI and can be reached at email@example.com.