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 *M*A*S*H* stated, “There’s not enough o’
s in smooth to describe it”.
Is it Simply 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 and Firearms (BATF or ATF) does
allow possession of a distilling device… as long as it’s not for the use of separating alcohol from
the parent liquid – intentional or unintentional – 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 Hennessey’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 (vaporize) at a lower temperature than either by itself so that you can never totally
separate ethanol and water by heat distillation. There will always be 4.37% 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."
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, 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”
Favored during the days of the Rat Pack when “men were men, women were dames and business
was settled with a handshake”. Commonly still seen in that last vestigial remain of manhood,
the steakhouse. Okay, I’ll retract those comments of the last remnants of chauvinism; 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; 3 parts whiskey, 1 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
“Life is one long weekend”
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 perfectly 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”
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 and Ms Karen, my version has equals
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 fare share of alcohol. In other words HIGH OCTANE!
If you’re not carefully, 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 of 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 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 stated “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.
Distilled Wine… and Other Distillates