Part art, part science: the mystery of flavour chemistry. Part 2.
You’ll remember from our last post that we have an intended flavour compound profile that we aim for in every batch that we make.
As well as benchmarking against this, we also benchmark against well-regarded competitor gins. The ones that regularly win the big global gin awards. We’re doing this to measure how intense our intended lead flavours are, and how balanced our profile is compared to other gins.
One of the other reasons for checking our flavour profile on the gas chromatograph is to evaluate what might influence our intended flavour profile after it has been bottled. How the way it has been handled through the supply chain might impact it, as well as any influence how it is handled by consumers has.
Traditional wisdom vs. 21st-century science
There is no such thing as a ‘best before’ or ‘once opened consume by’ date on a bottle of spirits. Why? Because traditional wisdom says that the high concentration of alcohol preserves the product. If preserving means that the spirit doesn’t deteriorate to become unhealthy to consume, that wisdom is broadly correct. But when it comes to quality as defined by flavour, we reckon that this is missing a huge point.
To test the hypothesis, we took four bottles of LoneWolf Gin. Three of them were stressed by extreme exposure to UV light, heat (40C) and being left open to the atmosphere (oxidation), all for a week-long period. Fairly extreme storage conditions in other words. The other was the baseline that you see above.
The results were conclusive – exposing LoneWolf Gin to extremes of conditions, especially to oxidation, results in a deviation from our intended flavour profile. That’s not to say a deterioration necessarily as flavour is highly subjective. But definitely not the flavours that we took 192 distillations to hone and perfect.
Given this was an extreme test, we did a further trial on oxidation to reproduce a more realistic home situation. We left bottles of gin in various levels of fill – ¾ full, ½ full and ¼ full – for three months and opened them once a week to mimic taking a weekly tipple of them. Again, the results speak for themselves. After just one month nearly half of the intended flavour compounds in a ¾ full bottle of gin had dissipated. In bottles half or more drunk that figure rose to almost two-thirds.
What does this mean for the gin you’re drinking in a bar or at home?
A good bar will sell through their stock relatively quickly, typically 3+ bottles per week of a house gin, a bottle a week for a back bar gin. So, not such a problem here for conserving intended flavour compounds, right? Not necessarily. If that bar uses speed pourers, then the oxidation level could be up to 98.3% in just one week.
So, calling all bartenders out there – if you use speed pourers, sealing them at the end of each shift will result in you serving a gin that is more representative of what the distiller originally intended.
At home, the slower consumption could be more of a problem. According to Gin Foundry’s excellent Ginfographic survey in 2016, 61% of gin tipplers drink 3 or fewer gin cocktails a week.
If that were just from one bottle of gin, that would mean that bottle is going to be lasting 4 weeks or more (based on a solid double measure each time). And that’s assuming you’ve only got one bottle on the go at any one time. No, not a state of being that we’re familiar with either.
Fresh is best. Here’s what we advise to preserve those intended flavour compounds as much as possible in your gin collection:
- Take a leaf from the saké book. Get sociable in sharing the gin love. The quicker you get through a bottle, the fresher you can guarantee it will be.
- Keep your gin in the fridge. Not only will this counteract the effects of both light strike and heat, but keeping your gin at 5C will slow the oxidation rate.
- Failing having enough space in your fridge, keep your spirits in a cool dark place. Not on that shelf next to the south-facing double glazing.
- If you’re really serious, for just under £20 you can buy an inert gas supply to flood your opened bottle of gin with argon each time you pour from it. Get yours here.
What you can rely on us for is to do everything in our power to ensure that the bottle of LoneWolf Gin that reaches you has been packed with a minimum of oxygen present and has been stored in a dark cool environment all the way through the supply chain.
Over to you for the rest.