Palate-Pleasing Chemistry: Keep Taste Buds Excited with New Twists on Flavor

By: Cheryl Gray

In the flavoring industry, it’s all about chemistry. Literally. Food chemists work to identify, develop and improve upon a good thing. For beverages regulated by the TTB, the balance is in creating new tastes for drinks such as beer, distilled spirits, sake, wine and kombucha without comprising the integrity of the product.

Food scientists pair expertise with artistry, combining knowledge of the chemistry of flavor with the analytical techniques involved in creating new flavors. 

If You Can Imagine It, We Can Create It

  Just ask Mother Murphy’s Flavorings, headquartered in Greensboro, North Carolina, and servicing multiple industries in 30 countries around the globe. In business since 1946, its research and development team has created a catalog of more than 60,000 flavors,  lending credence to the company motto: “If you can imagine it, we can create it.”

  For the beer and spirits industries, Mother Murphy’s focuses on fruits and botanicals to enhance the naturally occurring flavor notes and characteristics in aged alcohol and infused liquors. It also works with craft brewers and distilleries to develop trademark, recognizable flavors. Neither size nor season matter – the company provides small-batch flavoring needs for small breweries and distilleries and much larger orders for international conglomerates. 

  Al Murphy, whose grandfather and great uncle started the family-owned business, is co-President of Mother Murphy’s. He is a member of several industry trade associations and has traveled abroad to learn about the beer and spirits industries. His knowledge includes the processes involved in producing gin, whiskey, botanical spirits, brandy and wine.

  Murphy told Beverage Master Magazine why creating flavored beers and distilled products requires specific skills. “A person that knows how to create flavorful beverages has a unique skill set in itself,” he said. “It takes a different skill set to make a blended spirit, unique skill set to create a distilled spirit, a different skill set to be a brewer and different skill set to create a flavored product.”

  Murphy said business savvy brewers and distillers recognize how uniquely flavored products can draw new consumers.

  “Flavors create memories, and people want to have a product that tastes good,” he said. “The spirits industry has been able to achieve a lot of success through flavors, which brings more people that wouldn’t drink a traditional non-flavored spirit to try a product.”

  There are some precautions, though, Murphy warns, that every craft brewery and distillery should heed when entering the flavoring space. 

  “Flavor by itself is one aspect of building a flavorful product. There are other factors, such as acid blends and sugars, that are a part of the overall experience of tasting a product. If you don’t know how to build a beverage product without the other ingredients, then it is like building a car without an engine.” 

  Beyond flavorings, Mother Murphy’s provides various services for its craft brewers and distillers, lending invaluable expertise in many different areas.

  “We have expert folks within our organization and a variety of solutions to help all types of people in the category,” said Murphy. “We are constantly solving problems for small guys that need more than flavors. We provide market trends for different aspects. We also offer beverage services depending on the customer needs in the marketplace.”

Made From the Real Thing

  Potomac Distilling Company knows its way around the world of flavored rums. When Todd Thrasher launched his Washington, D.C.-based distillery in the wharf district near the banks of the Potomac River, he did it with his flagship Thrasher’s Green Spiced Rum, created with an original blend of herbs that he started out growing in his backyard.

  Now, nearly four years later, Potomac Distilling Company grows those same herbs on its rooftop garden. A combination of green cardamom, mint, lemon balm, lemon verbena, and lemongrass creates the spirit. The distillery uses it in cocktails like Thrasher’s signature Rum and Tonic, conjured from his traveling adventures to the West Indies and South Pacific.

  “There are many contributing factors to the increased popularity of flavored rums. I like to think of Thrasher’s Rum as ‘vacation in a bottle,’ and I think we all crave a dreamy sense of escapism!” said Thrasher. “Flavored rums also make it really easy to mix cocktails at home because the spirit provides a depth of taste. Flavored rums and their aromas have provided a true sense of place for me – transporting me to my island-hopping adventures as a scuba dive instructor.”

  Potomac Distillery boasts six signature rums. Among them is Thrasher’s version of a dry – not sugary sweet – Thrasher’s Spiced Rum, made from a combination of allspice, cinnamon, clove, orange peels, star anise and vanilla bean, all steeped in Thrasher’s White Rum to create a flavored product.   

  Still another of the distillery’s flavored spirits is Thrasher’s Coconut Rum, among the few on the market made without extract. Instead, Thrasher uses 60 pounds of raw Thai coconut heated at 180 degrees Fahrenheit. He then places the coconut mix into a gin basket to transform its vapors into liquid. From there, the liquid is “proofed down,” dehydrated, toasted and left to sit for 80 days at room temperature. The result is a coconut rum made from the real thing.

  These variations of flavored rum do not come by accident. Thrasher has an extensive background in spearheading multiple well-known bars throughout Washington, D.C. He received his training at Moonshine University in Louisville, Kentucky, alongside gathering information from other distillers.

  In all, Thrasher has created six rums, including one just introduced last year, called Relaxed Rum, which is aged in American oak barrels for 24 months. The result, Thrasher said, is a rum with a smooth flavor touched by hints of vanilla and the smoky notes of tobacco. The Thrasher Rum collection is featured at the adjoining bar, Tiki TNT, and is also available for ordering through partner locations.

Teasing Taste Buds With Flavor

  Cream Ale is just one of the creations of 2 Silos Brewery in historic Manassas, Virginia. This award-winning brewery has launched flavored beers and ales with catchy monikers like Citralicious American IPA, featuring whole tangerine puree, and Squared Pants, a fruity sour made with pineapple and guava purees.

  The idea for 2 Silos Brewery took shape in 2014 when co-founders Forrest Morgan and Marcus Silva began trading ideas for creating a brewery that could become a hub for hospitality. That idea is now a popular destination spot in Northern Virginia on the Farm Brew LIVE campus at Innovation Park in Virginia’s Prince William County. The brewery draws locals and tourists alike, who come to sample beers flavored by a combination of fruits, spices and other natural sources. The facility also houses canning and keg operations and an in-house quality control lab.

  2 Silos creates products with the goal of teasing taste buds with flavors that are familiar but with surprising twists. Its Hua’ekola – translated as fruit beer – is ladened with purees of passion fruit, blood orange and pink guava. Seasonal options include a Gingerbread Ale infused with ginger, cinnamon and clove. Another is Pumpkin Ale which, as the name implies, features pumpkin puree. The brewery’s Indulgence Series showcases a dessert-worthy Fudgetastic Imperial Stout –a blend of the brewery’s Old Dominion Barrel Reserve Series with an infusion of chocolate fudge, coconut and natural almond flavors. 

  Though the flavor names are quirky, 2 Silos Brewery is committed to serving its area through philanthropy, funded by one of its flavored creations. One hundred percent of the proceeds from sales of its Raspberry Cream Ale support The Sweet Julia Grace Foundation, a Virginia-based nonprofit servicing children with serious medical challenges.

  Blending flavorings for beer and distilled spirits is a craft unto itself. Get it right, and breweries and distilleries can create a niche market for their products that broaden their appeal to consumers looking for new ways to enjoy old favorites.

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