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Drink Eco-Good Liquor & A Tree Grows in the Forest

on 26/10/10 at 3:57 pm

BoozeBlog, Spirits

thumb.phpBy BoozeNews reporter D.R. Stewart

While it would be nice if people did good things altruistically, you can get more people to contribute when there’s a little something-something in it for them. Greenbar Collective (formerly Modern Spirits) falls under this category. Greenbar’s product is eco-good and tastes good.

The Collective has these environmentally sound principles going for them:

  • Ingredients. Ingredients (not extracts!) come from local green farmers who help keep the water base clean, their land free of pesticides and don’t overly ag-engineer crops.
  • Bottles. The Greenbar bottle used to be fancy-schmancy, but they realized by streamlining design, they could reduce the carbon footprint from Shaq-size to Jeremy Piven. Current bottles use recycled paper for labels, soy ink and lightweight glassware.
  • Trees. Each bottle drunk means a tree comes alive in the decimated areas of Central America. Not by magic, but by the owners’ conscious and generous choice to donate to the Sustainable Harvest International Fund. Thus, when you drink a bottle of their Tru Vodka like I did in one sitting after a Buckeye loss, you have actually not only erased your carbon footprint for the day but have added 760 carbon NEGATIVE. My drinking has saved the planet! My goal is to consume enough so that everyone can buy an SUV with a clear conscience.

BoozeNews made a journey out to their facilities in picturesque Monrovia. Owners Melkon Khosrovian and Litty Matthew were gracious hosts and took us through their current offerings: flavored vodkas, gins, rum, liqueurs and bitters. Melkon held forth on many topics, including the EXCLUSIVE ACTION EYEWITNESS BREAKING BOOZENEWS that they’re getting into Tequila and that wine ruins food (kidding! or not!).

We’ve decided to run the extensive dialogue, with incendiary things in RED:

BoozeNews: What’s the Greenbar difference?

Melkon Khosrovian, Greenbar Collective: We are our own competitor – our last batch is our biggest chance to improve upon. We make things with real ingredients, which are never consistent. Most of our peers, our giant company peers – they solve this issue by having formulas with chemicals. They take ten thousand gallons of liquor, they add 3 bottles of some sort of chemical mix – and that’s the ratio that produces the consistent they are looking for. But we don’t deal with bottled anything; ours are real ingredients, which always taste different. A little bit different, or a lot different. The only way we address it, is by having this particular point of flavor or aroma that we drive the product towards. Much more like flying a plane. We know where we are gonna land, we have the control yoke, and we are always steering the plane to that landing strip. We are free fliers. We purposefully drive production to that goal, to that taste profile we want. We make stuff almost like cooks make stock. We add, we stir, we taste. Even from the same tree, two fruits taste different. Seasonally, ingredients change.

BN: There’s theory behind wine getting better in the bottle? Any theories behind these vintages?

GC: Nothing stays the same. If you use real ingredients, nothing stays the same.

BN: So, what happens over time? Should you drink spirits young?

GC: The young thing isn’t much of an issue. From us to consumers, it mellows out, it settles. All the ingredients feel comfortable with each other. Once you open the bottle, then oxygen, heat and light come into play. They dull out fine resolution of flavor, so with our gin for example –

BN: You drink it in a room with no oxygen and no light. Special NASA-gin.

GC: Exactly, and it feels really cool. With out recent gin, it feels like you can taste every single ingredient. If the bottle stays opens for months, those flavors start to blend. Some things get better, some things get worse. But, there’s always that muting effect. Aroma is light-weight oxygen. You lose that too. It loses its edge.

BN: What goes on in the bottle? Five years, 10 years.

GC: Not much, if it’s properly sealed.

BN: How do you pick your proofs?

GC: Some things we start at very high proof, because the ingredients we add have more densely-packed molecules. Molecules are aroma and flavor. Lower proof can access smaller molecules. That’s how we control layering and gradation of flavor. If we took one ingredient, if we put it with one proof alcohol, we would have a one dimensional taste. If we took that one ingredient with a different proof, it would give us a much different flavor curve, because different things come up.

BN: How did you experiment at first, did you have to go through a whole process until you found the perfect proof?

GC: We’re still learning. We know more about this than any other company in the world because we’ve made more mistakes. We went down this path to make a spirit that specifically could accompany food. There was no room for error. It’s not like you could make a cocktail and adjust it.  We made a spirit designed to be drunk straight, at slightly chilled temperatures – with food. If there were any errors, you would screw up your whole meal. In the process, we screwed up a lot.

BN: You talk about vodka as a palate cleanser when eating.

GC: This is a huge, controversial issue. We’ve almost had fist-fights with sommeliers about this. We hosted these paring dinners with top chefs around the world. We would work with them directly. When we did tastings, the chefs would love them. There are lots of flavors that don’t go with wine. Spicy things, fatty things, fishy things – overwhelm wine, or just throw the flavor off. Chefs felt constricted having to cook to wine. When they ran across spirits – ‘holy crap we can cook whatever.’ Especially, for the small plate pairings, there’s huge palate fatigue. This happens when you pair with wine, because wine does not cleanse the palate. There’s a huge folklore about it that it does cleanse the palate. But when chefs do these wine pairings, 6 courses, they often throw in vodka to cleanse the palate. We would get in fisticuffs with the sommeliers – they would say “That’s totally bullshit. High acid wines do the same things. All you need is that sourness to cleanse your palate.” But, we kept talking to chefs and experiencing it ourselves. A few years ago, it got to a boiling point. I called up the head of Enology at the University Not-to-be-Named. Poured out my heart to this professor. He said, “Well, here’s the reality. Don’t put my name on it too much, but wine, because it’s low proof, does not cleanse the palate. The way flavor works, especially fatty flavors, is the fat attaches itself to your palate. Wine, because it’s mostly water is repelled by fat. Water and oil don’t mix, etc. Because alcohol can pair with water and with fat, what happens is that high proof alcohol (you need something above 20 proof) – all of a sudden, there’s a chemical bond that forms between alcohol and fat. Alcohol touches the fat, clings to it, and removes it.” So, when you have your next swallow, it takes the duck fat out of your palate, so the next bite taste exactly like your first bite. When you move from dish-to-dish, you don’t have something that tastes like looking through a dirty mirror.

BN: But under that theory, then would you want a cleaner vodka, with less different flavors?

GC: No, because alcohol level is what does the cleansing, not the purity of the spirits. Usually something above 20 Proof.

BN: I think there’s a thing when I taste too much wine, and my tongue gets this “tang” and I can’t get rid of that. It’s a sour tang on my tongue.

GC: The sommeliers are trying to cleanse your palate, but are instead piling on more flavors. Why do they keep saying it? Because at some point in the Sixties there were some studies that were done. They turned out to be incorrect, but have been battered into and imprinted into so many wine text books. They read the textbooks like a bible, and keep repeating the same bad information.

BN: Even Master Sommeliers?

GC: Once you become a Master Wine Sommeliers, you become part and parcel of the whole wine industry –

BN: And perpetuate the same information.

GC: They don’t want you to drink anything else. More wine. God bless wine, it’s great, but don’t stretch it beyond its natural limits. It does some things well, others it does not. These sommeliers have this intense hatred of anything that would dispel their myth. What we heard this from the head of Enology made sense?

BN: If you build your hegemony on this, and someone pulls it from you – it becomes an emotional issue. It’s a building block of who you are.

GC: I’m not a chemist; I don’t know how this stuff works. I just knew in our experiences – it didn’t work. At all. And we were just wondering

BN: To sum it up, higher proof alcohol clears the fats from the palate better than lower proof alcohol.

GC: To match spirits and cocktails with food, the best measure we find is gauge the proof of your spirits to the fat content of your dish. Higher the fat, the higher the alcohol in the drinks. Some foods make no sense to your spirits. Alcohol is the sticky part of Velcro.

BN: So, do you have a list of foods with which to eat these spirits?

GC: Our former line, Modern Spirits, did that. In doing that, we learned how bartenders use spirits and the idea of a spirit that pairs with foods – is a head of its time. Still is ahead of its time. We might get back to it at some point. What we learned in that process led us to where we are now. How the chemistry of flavors with real ingredients works. How to take this industry back several generations before chemicals and the big international liquor companies got a hold of things. They changed what was, at one point, a very artisanal product into a mass-produced industrial product. We’ve learned how to take thing back, but with a modern twist. Our flavors are very modern, our flavors are very clean. Which is not the case back then.

BN: What was the case back then? Error?

GC: No consistency, not much quality.

BN: People going blind.

GC: Too much methanol.

Part Two…to be continued

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