Find out How Bryan Davis Uses Gas Chromatography Mass Spectrometry to Make Better Booze
Feb 06 2016
It’s a common rule of thumb that the older a whisky, rum or other dark spirit is, the better it will taste… and the higher price it will fetch when sold. Spirits aged for more than 20 years regularly go for hundreds or even thousands of pounds at auction. With that in mind, imagine what sort of goldmine you’d be sitting on if you managed to achieve such complex flavours without the extended time investment.
That’s exactly what art-student-cum-chromatographer-cum-booze distiller Bryan Davis has managed to do. Using the technique of gas chromatography with mass spectrometry (GC-MS), Davis was able to individually identify the components in aged whisky and rum that give them their unique flavours and then recreate these in a fraction of the time.
A labour of love
Davis’ love affair with distilling his own alcohol began as an under-age teenager, when he was too shy to ask someone to buy booze for him and so simply searched on Google how to make his own. Gradually, this passion developed into a career of sorts — when he relocated to Spain and began selling his own absinthe. However, after a fall in popularity of the spirit, Davis sold up and moved back to his native California, where he set about trying to recreate aged flavours without investing decades into them.
His first step was to buy a mass spectrometer and use the equipment to identify the compounds responsible for complex flavours at a molecular level. Of course, using GC-MS to analyse alcohol is nothing new – it has long been a practice in the quality control of wines in countries as discussed in the article, Analysing Imported Wine and Sparkling Wine: a Semi-Automated Laboratory Measuring System in use for Customs Checks in China. But Davis was the first to try to outperform time and nature by artificially engineering flavours which generally take years to develop naturally.
Seeing the Light
The answer to the conundrum came when Davis noticed that the persistent sunlight on his outdoor decking had caused the wood to crumble and decay. He realised that adding intense rays of light onto his booze concoctions during the distillation process could considerably speed things up – in fact, he found that the degradation of the wood needed to achieve certain flavours could be brought about in a mere three days.
What this meant is that a process which had normally taken as much as 20 years could now be condensed into a matter of hours, thus achieving remarkable effects that will almost certainly revolutionise the alcohol industry.
“The transformative effect Davis’s technique could have on the spirits industry cannot be overstated – not only from a production standpoint, but also in the challenge it presents to long-held attitudes about distilling,” explained renowned alcohol critic Christopher Null. “It’s something that takes time, and lots of it, to be done correctly. By all but removing time from the equation, Davis could end up rebooting the entire culture.”
Image via Wikimedia commons
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