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Boozehound Alert: Agar Alcohol Clarification Plus Some Thoughts.

July 14th, 2009 · 42 Comments · Agar, Clarification, cocktails

posted by Dave Arnold

High alcohol fluids can’t normally be clarified with gelatin because they can’t normally be adequately frozen. A couple of years ago, the guys over at Tailor at the time (Sam Mason and Fran Derby) had the idea to freeze the gelatin laced liquor with LN; when it thawed, it clarified. Brilliant. They never demoed and took credit for the idea, so I felt uncomfortable using it, but now there is a new technique.

When I was working with spinning unfrozen agar gels in the centrifuge to clarify them, I made that technique work with liquor.  I was going to post on that technique but that technique has also been superseded—in less than a month!

Simple agar clarification gets the job done.

The look is much brighter than vacuum infused strawberry gin, and I like the taste a lot more; which I didn’t think was possible.

Clarified Strawberry Gin

Clarified Strawberry Gin

The recipe and procedure (this recipe size is too small, you will want to triple it to increase yield):

100 grams of strawberry purée (blend strawberries, pass through a chinois)

300 grams Tanqueray Gin (47.3% abv) room temperature.

1 gram Telephone brand agar (o.25% of total weight of gin and strawberry)

Whisk the agar into cold purée the disperse the agar. Heat the purée while stirring till it comes to a rolling boil.  Continue a soft boil for a couple of minutes (you can add some water to make up for evaporation) to hydrate the agar.  Turn off heat and while vigorously whisking, slowly add the gin to the strawberry agar mixture. If the temperature of the mix falls below 35° C while you are mixing, you might get some pre-gelling and ruin the gel. Put the mix in a half hotel pan over an ice bath to set.

 

Breaking the Strawberry Gin Gel

Breaking the Strawberry Gin Gel

After the gel is set, break it up with a whisk.

Gin Squeezins

Gin Squeezins

Dump the broken gel into a cheesecloth and squeeze. Occasionally open up the cheesecloth and stir the mixture to increase flow.  My yield was only 200 ml, but I lost a lot to the cheesecloth, etc.  Larger batches would yield much more.

Notes:

  • I used a little more agar here than I normally do cause the alcohol messes with the gel a bit. 
  • The finished mix of strawberry and gin is about 35% abv.  This is the sticking point of agar and liquor. I doubt the proof could be pushed much further north, but I’d be super-pleased to be proved wrong.
  • Don’t attempt to boil the gin.  The temperature will be too low to hydrate the agar plus it will certainly catch fire.

This technique can be used to clarify any low- to medium-proof spirit mix, bitters, etc.

I couldn’t really measure the proof of the finished drink because the strawberry messes with both the density and the refractive index of the product, so I can’t easily use my hydrometer or my refractometer.  For the record the drink tasted fairly full strength, like the average vacuum infused gin, a little under 40 abv.

More thoughts:

The cheesecloth should be replaced with something tougher, more even, and less absorbent—like a superbag.  My feeling is that a superbag is really an overpriced paint straining bag (try www.thecarycompany.com/containers/ez-strainers.html with many different mesh sizes, or www.mcmaster.com/#95495t42/=2r0b3p which is 530 microns).  Since I have never used a real superbag,  someone please tell me if I am wrong

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42 Comments so far ↓

  • Fabulous

    This is the sexiest thing I’ve seen in a long long time. Hey Dave do you have any special requests from this part of the world?

  • sygyzy

    I just tried this with 170 g of strawberries and 0.32 grams of agar and a superbag. It failed terribly. I am not sure if I didn’t let the agar set long enough or what. I boiled it, put it in a glass bowl and set it over an icebath for at least 30 mins. It seemed firm to me but when I whisked it, it broke up very easily. It was not chunky or curd-like in Dave’s photos. When I put it in the Superbag nothing dripped out so I started squeezing but what came out was exactly what was in the bag. 100% of it passed through …

    • Dave A

      Hi sygyzy,
      Let’s figure this out. your 170 grams of strawberry was a straight puree? The agar in there comes out to .188 percent. slightly low but shouldn’t bee too much of a problem. Sometimes small amounts are difficult. Not being there its is hard totroubleshoot, but try this: as a first attempt, hydrate the agar in 1 part water and whisk in 3-4 parts puree. make sure there is enoiugh product in the bottom of the pan that the agar can disperse well. Sometimes agar can be difficult to put into straight puree, in which case the puree should be watered a little. Also make sure the agar boils/simmers for s good long time. We have a cassis fluid gel recipe that sometimes fails because of incomplete agar hydration. Sometimes it looks a bit firm because the agar is partially hydrated and the puree is thick, but it hasn’t really been set. First things first, try hydrating the agar in straight water and whisking in the strawberry. 125 grams water, 375 grams room temp strawberry puree, 1 gram agar should be bulletproof. Tell me what happens
      Dave

      • sygyzy

        Dave,

        Thanks for the troubleshooting. I will try that. I actually meant 0.34 grams which is 0.2% but I mistyped. Also, the only scale I had at home at the time was accurate to 0.1 only not 0.01 so it could have been 0.31 or 0.39 grams …

        The puree was straight puree, no water, no sugar. I bleneded it really well then strained it through a Matfer Exoglass chinois. I put all of it in a put with the agar whisked in and brought it up to a boil.

        How long should I let the strawberry and agar sit so I know it’s properly set?

        Thanks.

  • Dan

    What is the benefit of clarifying the gin? Why can’t you just clarify the strawberry puree and at it to the gin afterwards?

    • Dave A

      Excellent question Dan,
      Having tried three different straberry gin techniques: vacuum infustion of strawberry slices in gin, agar clarification of strawberries and gin, and the addition of clarified strawberry juice to gin, I can say they are all different. Vacuum infused gin tastes good, but doesn’t have quite the purity of taste of the clarified one (perhaps the agar is holding on to something in the strawberry that affects the flavor). The vacuum infused gin also tends to throw a sediment, even if it has been filtered. Adding clarified juice also produces a different product. I have had great success making mixed drinks using this technique but haven’t been able to get the same amount of strawberry flavor at the same alcohol concentration as I can with agar. For straight liquor work, I think the clarification is best. I guess you could reduce the strawberry clarification then add it, but I think that would affect taste. Because the agar reacts with water and not ethanol, more of the strawberry plus liquor’s water is retained in the gel matrix than would be the case if you added enough water to strawberry puree to get a good clarification and then added the clarified juice (this is a guess).
      That said, I should have chosen another example. Here is a great application: Blend caraway with liquor (different flavors will be retained than if done with water, believe me). Let the liquor rest for a couple of hours and strain through a chinois, then clarify it with 1/4 part water mixed with agar. Bam clear caraway. That is the type of application that will be most useful.

  • -SK-

    I recently opened one of my bottles of 1982 Mouton-Rothschild, and to my horror the bottle was full of some kind of debris. Now I have the perfect solution for the rest of the case. This technique is so fast, I can probably clarify all of the remaining bottles this weekend so they’ll be ready next time I have important guests over. Thanks guys!

  • ChrisD

    Dave, would this make a more pure flavored vodka than the current flavored vodkas on the market?

    • Dave A

      I would think so. Your flavors don’t have to be stable, their’s do. Plus you get to control it.

  • Marco S.

    Perhaps you could use sieves like those used in ceramics to increase the through-put. They come with different mesh sizes (10 mesh to 200 mesh — don’t know how many microns that is). They might actually be a bit cheaper than the superbag. The ones in the “interchangeable screens” series also have the benefit of coming apart easily to clean.

    http://www.talismansieve.co.nz/sieve.html

    you should be able to buy at Ceramic Supply Inc. (they are in the catalog though I can’t find them in the web store)

    http://www.7ceramic.com/Merchant2/merchant.mvc

  • asbel

    food for thought, have you or anyone you known of tried methocel for a hot clarification. in the oven , over a cheese cloth and drip till room temp. if that would work it would also be a speedy process. todays a day of gonna give it a go tommorow. btw when am i comin in for a skal shot. last time you were too busy making everyone in the hallway nervous with a chef knife and a champagne bottle. haha

    ps we have to discuss the microwave freeze drying thing. i got some ideas and would love youre input

  • Paul A.

    200 mesh is 74 microns. Getting close to oyster-gill gauge there.

    Conversion chart:
    http://www.journeytoforever.org/biodiesel_mesh.html

  • thayes

    Just tried it with a mere 20g of Worcestershire sauce, 10g of water and what my scale says is .1g of agar…

    Eureka!

    Makes for a beautiful clear sauce that’s a nice amber like a fine bourbon. Now if only I could trick someone into drinking it…

    Small amounts cause, hey, I’m cheap and it’s all I have at home. Works like a charm!

  • Barzelay

    asbel, I think this clarification technique works because agar isn’t thermoreversible. That’s why gelatin clarification required thawing in the fridge–otherwise you risk the temp getting too high and the gel liquefying. Since methocel is thermoreversible, you’d have to ensure that the hot gel stayed above the temperature at which the gel would “melt.” If you have a Combi oven, no problem. Otherwise, that might be pretty tricky, given the imprecision of most ovens. Still, good idea.

    So far in my experience, anything that works with agar works better with gellan. Perhaps that won’t be the case with this clarification technique, since it relies on the gel failing through syneresis.

    Now, the next trick would be to do the same thing without boiling the strawberries, in order to retain the fresh flavor. How about hydrating the agar in 1/4 of the puree, then, while maintaining a low heat under the pot to keep the temperature too high for the agar to set, whisk in the other 3/4 of the strawberry puree, then the gin, then let it set.

    Also, since boiling point changes depending on pressure, could pressure be used to hydrate hydrocolloids without raising the temperature of the base? I don’t know enough about hydration of hydrocolloids to answer that: is it the heat, or is it something about the resulting phase change that actually hydrates the agar? If the heat is only needed to accomplish boiling, then maybe we could hydrate gums in a vacuum chamber or rotary evaporator?

    • asbel

      or use a gastrovac. interesting? can you hydrate a gel in a vacuum? anyone got an answer to that.

    • Dave A

      Hi Barzelay, My thoughts:

      What’s cool about this technique is that it doesn’t rely on freeze-thaw stability, just on capacity for syneresis. Since methocel does leak quite a bit it might work (has anyone tried it?)

      Wylie suggested to me that we try gellan as well. The only reason I haven’t tried it yet is time (plus I like working with agar because it is so widely available and because I don’t have to heat the whole batch, unlike gellan).

      Wylie also suggested using the TIC gums low temp hydrating agar. I don’t have any in house.

      I don’t think the agar will hydrate any better in a vacuum because the hydration, unlike the boiling point, is mainly temperature dependant and not so much a function of temperature and pressure.

  • derek

    i love my super bag! i have the 100 micron mesh size. the “water” just runs right through it. as far as i know the painter bags are 450 microns. but i found they are too flimsy, rip open too easily, that and if i squeeze too hard some solids will be extruded through the holes. the human toung can detect particles as small as 20 microns, so 100 is as close to ” undtectable” as i think i can get. yeah it was expensive, but i have already got my moneys worth out of it, its dihwasher safe, durrable, easy to use over and over agin quickly. once a week i soak it in a realy light bleach soultion.

    • Dave A

      Thanks for the info. I’m embarrassed to say i’ve never had a real superbag. The crappy $1.59 paint strainers from the hardware store are, as you say, rather coarse, but they do make inexpensive nylon ones in the 100 micron range.

  • Andy Floyd

    Is there a way to subscribe to your blog or to receive it through RSS feed? Don’t see any links on your home page.
    Love what I reading lately.

  • Dennis

    For small-pore filtration, look to scientific supply companies:

    http://bit.ly/esNjP

    That’s a link to Millipore disposable vacuum filtration units at Fisher Scientific; 0.10, 0.22, and 0.45 micron pore sizes, with the membrane made of either PES or PVDF. It might be a little pricey for food/beverage applications, though – anywhere from 5 – 10 dollars per unit. There are some companies that make nitrocellulose versions as well. Not only will you have particulate-free solutions, they’ll be sterile as well…

  • Barzelay

    Wait, gellan requires heating the whole batch? It’s the first I’ve heard that! I’ve definitely used gellan before when heating only a part of a batch, then combining with the rest, but then I’ve tried it other times and it has failed. Maybe this is why?

    • Dave A

      My guess is you are getting pre-gelation. Gellan is snap-set. if any portionion of your mix goes below the gelation temperature of gellan the gellan in that portion will gel and not re-melt.

  • Barzelay

    Ah, that makes so much sense. I guess that, when it has worked for me, I’ve just not added enough of the cold base to bring the temperature of much of the hydrated base down. Thanks.

  • curiouskat

    if i wanted to clarify fresh blueberry puree or juice, which is the best method?

    • Dave A

      It depends on how thick your product is and how much the flavor of the blueberry is modified by heating. If the puree is thick, I would strain it, measure out 1 part water to 2-3 parts puree, and hydrate the agar in the pure water before tempering in the puree. See the instruction on our Stupid-Simple Agar Clarification post. Remember to fully hydrate (by boiling) the agar and to whisk hard when adding the puree too prevent pre-gelation of the agar due to local over-cooling.

  • Benjamin Schiller

    Is it possible to clarify dark spirits, such as, whiskey, rum, or brandy? Thank you in advance.

    • Dave A

      Sure, but they will still retain color.

      • Benjamin Schiller

        I would like to see how clear I can go while still retaining the aroma and taste. The end goal I’m shooting for is a perfectly clear Old Fashioned with a crystal clear large ice cube, and a red crystalized Angostura rim. I’ll be sure to share credit if ever that cocktail hits one of my menus.
        cheers

  • John Davis

    Why do you clarify the alcohol? Why not just clarify the puree and mix alcohol to taste?

  • Adam Brewer

    Hey Dave A.
    From the title of the post I was actually a little confused and thus leads me to my question… Can you use the agar method to take a dark spirit (burbon, rum, scotch, cognac etc) and remove the color from this with out effecting the taste and aroma?

    • Dave A

      Hi Adam,
      No, this technique won’t remove the color from bourbon (might make it a bit lighter but not much). It is more for mixing products with liquor, like nuts, etc, and clarifying the whole shebang.

  • Rupert

    hey dave,

    curious on how long the flavor lasts in this method? i know the alcohol will act as a preservative and prevent spoilage, but does the flavor remain for a relatively long time, or is it fairly short-lived?. thanks

    • Dave A

      Hey Rupert,
      It depends on the flavor. Fresh herbs don’t last long –even in alcohol (unless the proof is really high, in which case this method won’t work). More stable flavors last a lot longer. Do you have anything in particular in mind?

  • Seb

    Just tried it with red wine… I needed some more Agar, and unfortunately when compared to untreated wine in an identical glass, the color was exactly the same! but not the taste…

    • davearnold

      Howdy Seb,
      Yes. Clarification doesn’t remove small color particles, only those particles which make the drink cloudy. As you noted, it will also strip out some flavor. I don’t think anthocyanins can be charcoal filtered out either but I’m not sure.

  • Scyrene

    Hey, I did this a while back – it solved a problem I’d been having where champagne cocktails made with home-puréed or -juiced fruit frothed over the glass and looked awful. All the bits were acting as nucleation points for the carbon dioxide and ruining it! Unfortunately, no cocktail book I’ve ever seen has ever mentioned this. Your method allows perfectly clear juiced and syrups that don’t cause any extra frothing. Hooray (and thanks)!

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