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Chemistry at the bar

Posted 09/04/2013 by cgodfrey

There’s plenty of opportunity to sample a few cocktails here this week at the American Chemical Society (ACS) spring meeting in New Orleans. But for those interested in the more (aherm) sober side of the business, a special session on ‘Chemistry of the Bar’ yesterday played out to a very full house requiring two meeting rooms to fit everyone in.

First in the spotlight was one of New Orleans’ signature cocktails, The Hurricane – a mix of light and dark rum, lime juice, passion fruit syrup and grenadine that gets its sweet fruity aroma from terpenes such as limonene and citral, along with various esters, vanillin and furfurals formed by breakdown of the rum and sugar, said Neil Da Costa of New Jersey based International Flavors & Fragrances.

The trick, apparently, is to make the cocktail fresh so it doesn’t lose any of the volatiles while cheap rum works just as well as pricier rums because of the complexity of the flavours. ‘Of course the strong aroma of aqueous alcohol [The Hurricane contains 35-40% ethanol] is always very appealing,’ Da Costa added.

Andreas Dunkel, from the Technical University of Munich in Germany, meanwhile, presented a very different offering – in the form of a hugely pared back recipe of the essential 35 compounds claimed to ‘match perfectly’ the complex taste profile of Amarone red wine produced in Italy.

To achieve the exact sensory experience of red wine, however, Dunkel pointed out that this must be combined with the recipe for the essential aroma compounds by another group of researchers. And in newly published work, Dunkel also presented a possible model of the complex high molecular weight polymer responsible for the astringency of red wines.

Yet other research highlighted at the Bar included work by Christine Hughey, from James Madison University, Virginia, US, to obtain a molecular fingerprint for 27 Mikkeller IPA beers brewed in Copenhagen; useful for craft brewers and in providing a predictive model to identify hops in beer.

The Mikkeller IPAs are special as each is brewed using only a single hop variety, Hughey explained – ideal for discriminating the various chemical profiles that result. While the methods is 100% predictive for single hop beers, however, unfortunately it is not useful for most commercial beers made from several hop varieties.

Finally, a presentation by Bulat Kenessov, from the al-Farabi Kazakh National University in Kazakhstan, also explored the potential of a new analytical method – using SPME-GC/MS – to spot fake cognac, brandy and whisky, by detecting a broad range of possible adulterants.

Now that I’ve imbibed all of this information, it’s nearly time to go out and do some sensory taste tests on a few cocktails for myself. Pity I don’t feel thirsty anymore.

Cath O’Driscoll – Deputy editor

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