Flavoured spirits: an extra taste dimension to explore
Spirits are made by fermenting and distilling raw ingredients, but how are other fruit or herb flavours imparted to them and are some methods better than others?
Spirits are made by fermenting and distilling raw ingredients, but how are fruit and herb flavours imparted to them? The answer of course, is that there are various ways to do this, from the quick and cheap methods to the more expensive processes, which yield higher quality drinks. Here’s what you need to know about the key ways to add flavour to spirits and how the top brands manage to create such deliciously refreshing, pure and natural flavours.
Taste the difference: three ways to add flavour to spirits
Just add flavourings: The quickest and cheapest way to add flavour to a spirit is to drop in synthetic flavourings or essential oils, a bit like making a cordial. Unsurprisingly though, these kind of flavourings tend to taste more chemical than natural and there is a jarring imbalance between the spirit, the sweetness and the flavour; they don’t meld seamlessly. Chances are that if cheap flavouring is added, the spirit will not be as high quality either. On the upside, it will be cheaper… but that’s not always what it’s about, is it?
Macerate to concentrate: For centuries, infusing natural ingredients with alcohol, i.e. letting them soak in the spirit for a time to release flavour and other properties into it, has been used as a method to make all kinds of potions and herbal remedies. For flavoured spirits, this infusion method produces a more natural, elegant character. Sometimes, the ingredients are cut into small pieces before soaking to allow them to release flavours more readily and when this happens, the process is called ‘maceration’. With the best spirits, care is taken over temperature and time; too much of either can mean bitter tannins or burnt flavours.
Distill to thrill: Imagine a spirit with a subtle, elegant nose of real fruit, that builds and expands on the palate, lingers on the finish and then finally, fades away… It comes as no surprise that the process used to create such exquisite, natural flavours, is both complex and time-consuming. It’s worth it, though. Gin is made by a combination of maceration and distillation and top vodkas such as Belvedere Vodka for example, pride themselves on creating some of the purest, most elegant flavoured vodkas in the world by undergoing many production steps. With Belvedere, this includes distilling the finest polish rye four times, then gently soaking the fruits, peels, berries, roots or herbs in the spirit before gently pressing the fruit, removing pulp and macerating again. Both the infused spirit and the fruit peels are gently distilled separately in a pot still (as would Cognac or perfume producers do) before everything is finally, very carefully blended together. These multiple distillations make for a clearer, purer taste with vibrant, fresh yet rich flavours.
All about the base
As with wine and food, you are never going to get the best final product if the ingredients you use are less than perfect. Flavoured spirits are no exception to this rule, which is why Belvedere Vodka uses only the most perfectly ripe, naturally grown grapefruits, lemons and limes for their flavoured vodkas. Couple this with very gentle, multiple distillations and there is simply no better way to flavour your spirits; all you need is dedication and a little patience.