When Lars Williams and Mark Emil Hermansen set off in creating Empirical in 2017, they were guided by a child-like curiosity about how the world works. This perspective blended with their knack for tinkering, exploration, and continual refinement. The result? A powerful blend that pushes Empirical to focus on creating the best flavors possible. They’ve custom-built machinery, developed hybrid fermentation techniques, augmented low-temperature distillation, and traveled the world to source the highest-quality ingredients.
They currently have four releases, plus two limited edition spirits. GSN was sent samples of the former.
Symphony 6 (Ingredients: Pilsner Malt, Belgian Saison 2 Yeast, Lemon Leaf, Tangerine, Fig, Coffee Leaf, Vetiver, Ambrette Seeds, Black Currant Buds, Citric Acid, Carmine, Water) The aromatic power of leaves has always been an object of fascination at Empirical; one we fully delved into to create Symphony 6. Our journey started with mandarin and lemon leaves imparting a refreshing bright acidity and light fruity notes. To create contrast, coffee leaves brought darker tones and leathery length. The combination resulted in an elegant base to work from; it was the start of a conversation and interplay between light and dark notes. It needed some more flesh to create a full narrative arc, a melody telling the story of Symphony 6. Fig leaves then came into play; green and earthy flavors evoking the cooling sensation of finding shade after a sun-drenched day.
We looked further into the world of perfumery to bring up high notes of black currant buds with biting, green, sulfurous and liqueur-like layers. Ambrette seeds and vetiver roots highlight the darker tones of coffee leaves revealing distinct musky and warm characters.
The maceration and blending of Symphony 6 come in several movements to allow each botanical to shine.
The fresh lemon and mandarin leaves are macerated separately, then blended to be distilled together. The coffee leaves come in treated like tea through a bruising, oxidizing and drying process. They are macerated and distilled before being combined with the citrus cuts to create our flavor canvas.
Black currant buds, fig leaves, ambrette seeds and vetiver roots are macerated and distilled separately to then be added to the base. The final blend is once again macerated with coffee leaves to finish off. Color, reminiscent of that perfect twilight moment, is added through carmine.
– Serve over ice, with a Mediterranean-style tonic
GSN’s Remarks: The initial notes are of coffee, followed by some fig and very light citrus. An intriguing spirit that is light, yet full of dark, brooding flavors. In some ways it is like a distant cousin of an amaro, but much birghter and lighter in body. We like this in lemon forward tropical drinks, as well as enjoying as a pick-me-up ice cold shot. Well done, and unique. GSN Rating: A
The Plum, I Suppose (Ingredients: Pilsner Malt, Pearled Barley, Plum Kernal, Marigold Flower, Belgian Saison 2 Yeast, Aspergillus Oryzae, Sugar, WLP600 Kombucha Scoby, Water) The Plum, I Suppose relies on the balance between two very different components. The kernel inside the plum stones is the foundation of this spirit, lending a marzipan, bitter almond flavor. Distilled marigold kombucha contributes floral and tannic notes somehow reminiscent of plum skins.
Our head of R&D Chris was doing a deep-dive into the idea of what we consider a tea (shaved woods, fresh fig leaves, dried fruits, etc.) things that were teas in the sense that they were dried “herbs”, but not necessarily a typical tea. That’s how we got to marigold: it has a tonic, floral note to it that adds both vibrance and aromatics to the final spirit.
The Plum, I Suppose is an instance where two very different ingredients combine to form a third completely different expression. The name is a reference to the Robert Frost poem, “The Rose Family.” One gets the sense of a delicate umeshu, a slight plum fruit flavor over an undercurrent of bottom notes that are ephemerally familiar. The top notes are what brought us to the name; there is no fruit in the spirit at all.
The kernel inside plum stones is the foundation of this spirit. Rather than tasting of stone fruit, the kernel lends a marzipan, bitter almond flavor. Distilled marigold kombucha brings another side of floral and tannic notes reminiscent of plum skins; the combination is sort of the suggestion of plum, hence the reference to the Robert Frost poem. Perception of sweetness with a refreshing finish. Keep refrigerated.
– Serve neat or over ice with citrus soda
GSN’s Remarks: Lovely, marzipan character, like a distilled version of an orgeat. Rather than sweet, this is quite dry and has a soft herbal character. Very delicate, but enthralling. I agree that there is a plum character here as well. Try it with a few drops of saline solution and fresh lemon juice to create an Umeboshi cocktail. This spirit is excellent and has a lot of potential behind the bar. GSN Rating:A+
SOKA (Ingredients: Sorghum Syrup, Sorghum Cane Juice, Thai Rice Chong Yeast, Water) Fermentation is a large part of our creative process, as is our constant search for new sources of sugar, the key to it all. So, when sorghum came to mind, it got us thinking. This truly ancient grain is the fifth most produced cereal crop worldwide, playing a large role in beer production across Africa and Asia. But what about the stalk that supports it? Where are all the sorghum-based spirits of the world? And so we delved further, looking into sorghum’s rich history, properties and high sugar content.
To begin with, we started fermenting cane juice from European sorghum, blending it with strain upon strain of yeast from our neighbor White Labs Copenhagen until we came across a winner: Thai Rice Chong. The resulting ferment delivered aromas and flavors reminiscent of freshly cut grass, green apples and barnyards. We were hooked – and we had a vision.
Excited and ready for more, we headed to Kentucky to source sorghum syrup from fifth-generation sorghum producer Danny Ray Townsend, before moving to Wisconsin to get our hands on sorghum juice from veteran hobbyists-turned-experts Richard and Brenda Wittgreve.
With our juice in place, time was of the essence to avoid contamination and keep the flavor intact. First we pressed the juice before taking it to a distillery in Milwaukee where it fermented over three days. The next step? To preserve all the wonderful esters, which meant turning to vacuum distillation. But our equipment was in Copenhagen, so we took what we could find at hand, gave it a tweak here and there, and voila: a distiller was born, and the problem solved.
Following this, the leftover wash from distilling the juice was used to ferment our syrup, leading us to the next and final stage: the blending and bottling of SOKA.
– Serve neat, in a ti punch or twist on a Mojito
GSN’s Remarks: Very much like a Cachaça. Simple, lightly sweet, and with a dry finish. There isn’t a whole lot going on here, but the distillation is clean and crisp. We like this in a daiquiri or a caipirinha. GSN Rating:A-
Ayuuk (Ingredients: Pasilla Mixe, Pilsner Malt, Purple Wheat, Yeast WLP566, Water) The smoky Pasilla Mixe chili is the sole botanical and the source of all the complexity in Ayuuk. We source it directly from Mixe farmers in the mountains of Oaxaca, Mexico, and macerate it in a spirit made from Danish heritage purple wheat and pilsner malt. After distillation the best fractions are rested in a sherry Oloroso cask, allowing the flavors to infuse and mature with each other, giving a smooth, distinct and savory finish.
– Serve over ice, with Ginger Beer
GSN’s Remarks: Smoked chili pepper on the nose. The chili has very little heat, but adds a rich smokiness. The sherry cask doesn’t add much sweetness, but rather a slight tannic oakiness. A very nice sipping spirit, that makes for a great addition to the creative bartender’s backbar. GSN Rating: A
For more information go to: Empirical
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