When Tom and Nadine of Michelberger Booze first toured the distillery in 2010, they were blinded on familiar smells, but were surprised that they couldn’t identify them. “We compared the scents of artificial strawberry to real strawberry,” said Nadine.
“Vanilla is made up of 500 compounds,” said The Professor, “but if you buy vanilla for cake, it’s just one chemical, one compound. We’re used to single compound-based scents, not the real scent.”
“Companies buy artificial single compound aromas,” added Nadine, “but The Professor extracts all 200-500 compounds, which we’re not used to identifying.” With their schnaps, the Michelberger team wanted to capitalize on the distillery’s ability to extract these real aromas and flavors.
Inside the distillery at PSM
The recipes for Michelberger Forest and Michelberger Mountain took a year to develop. The final recipe for Mountain contains 12 herbs and roots including lemon peel, juniper, coriander, and cardamom; while Forest has 11 roots and herbs including gentian root, juniper, coriander and cinnamon bark and orange peel. When tasting samples, Tom and Nadine made suggestions: perhaps it needs more of this… “But that was the problem,” said the Professor. “If you say add one thing, but its 15 herbs, all each with 200 compounds…” It is not a matter of what the individual item adds to the recipe, but how it reacts with other compounds in the distillate.
The Michelberger team at their NYC launch party at Threes Brewing: Gerald Schroff, Dr. Ulf Stahl ("The Professor"), Nadine May, Tom Michelberger and Azar Kazimir
“Mountain is a clear distillate of herbs and roots,” said Gerald. “We had to use a different kind of extraction. In maceration, raw materials soak in a water/alcohol mix, but you get phenols, and tannins. You have a lot to work with but it has color, so you can’t use this for a clear schnaps. For a clear product, you can use distillate, which gives volatile essential oils and aromas, but doesn’t have as much flavor as a maceration. It’s hard to work with very little sugar, which carries flavor. It’s hard to do.”
Employing a 140-year-old copper vessel they were able to speed up the reaction and intensification of the extraction of herbs that are used in Forest. “We had the maceration for the Forest [which is not clear]”, said Tom, “but not the Mountain. So we said—Can’t we just distill the herbs?— because we wanted something clear. He just looked at me,” he added and laughed. “But he knew there was a tradition of distilling herbs.”
Luckily, their forth still was built in 1952 by a scientist and machinist who worked together to create a vacuum-distilling unit that works below atmospheric pressure, which has a lower boiling point. It was in this still that they’d found their missing link because distilling with less heat yielded the flavor that they needed.
“In distilling you get heat and pressure and it’s harder to get a balance between flavors and aromas,” explained Gerald. “We had to try thousands of times to find a distillation that yielded the right balanced flavor.”
“I grew up in the mountains in Austria,” said the Professor matter-of-factly, where it’s light and uplifting. “He’s the forest,” he said, pointing to Gerald and laughed.
For more on Michelberger Booze, read here.