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922 South Morton Street
Bloomington, IN, 47403
United States

812-202-6789

Cardinal Spirits is a craft distillery in Bloomington, Indiana that specializes in producing extraordinary spirits from local ingredients.  

Better Spirits Through Science™ - IU Chemistry Project

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Better Spirits Through Science™ - IU Chemistry Project

Adam Quirk

Today we’re excited to announce a partnership project with Indiana University’s Chemistry department. Cardinal Spirits will be working with a chemistry intern to analyze a cross-section of commercially available spirits using GCMS (gas chromatography mass spectrometry).

Our project has several stages:

1. We will examine samples of the highest quality spirits in the world across multiple categories (vodka, gin, rum, whiskey, liqueur) and analyze their compositions. Our goal here is discovering, for example, what quantities and ratios of compounds comprise the taste profiles of the best rye whiskeys. What levels of a certain compound, for instance, makes a certain rye whiskey taste more "spicy" than the next?

2. We will then determine where the compound comes from using existing research. Is it from the yeast during fermentation? Then it should be in the wash we ferment prior to distillation. We would then analyze our wash as it goes into the still.  Conceivably we could look at what it takes to get yeast to make the compound in question (specific growth temperatures, trace nutrients in the wort, specific grains or grain mixtures, length of time spent fermenting, %ABV at which one stops the fermentation, specific strain of yeast, etc). It could also be a function of the distillation, so the impact of the distillation temperature or the temperature gradient in the column could be considered. If the compound is coming from the barrel, then we would look at charring procedures (temperature, length of burn, amount of air blown through, fuel for igniting the wood, etc), species of wood for making staves (white oak from different parts of the world), curing procedures for the wood prior to making staves, whether turning/agitating the barrel improves extraction, etc. 

3. We also will determine which of the sample spirits contain only compounds that are easily produced from traditional fermentation and distillation, and which of them are using additives. For example, it is common knowledge in the spirits industry that many vodka companies add citric acid and glycerin post-distillation. Do the best tasting vodkas have these additives? How much is added?

The purpose of this project is two-fold:

1. From the compound analysis we can work backwards towards perfecting our own recipes and processes. From the additive analysis, we can expose some tricks of the trade to the wider craft distilling industry.

2. We plan to publish our findings, and contribute to further building the knowledge base of the science of spirit distillation. The research and literature that came before us has been indispensable in getting us to this point, and we're happy to give back in this small way.

Better Spirits Through Science™

We are very excited to work with the IU Chemistry department, and hope to forge a long-lasting relationship with them in our quest to make Better Spirits Through Science™.