Empirical is a flavor company. This means that every step of production has its role in bringing flavor to our spirits. Drawing from our culinary background, doing macerations in a bought-in neutral grain spirit did not make sense. That’s why we make everything from scratch, from grain to bottle. Selecting our grains and fermentation techniques to create our flavor matrix is just as important as picking the right botanicals, if not more. Meaning, each of our spirits has its own DNA.
Grains do not ferment on their own, their starch needs to go through a process of conversion to produce fermentable sugars that yeast can feed on. While there are many ways of doing so, we opted for two different processes. Making kōji and malting.
Pearled barley, Pilsner malt, and purple wheat.
For our kōji making, we set on using pearled barley instead of the traditional rice in sake brewing. Our barley is polished to 60% to remove the first layers of starches and facilitate the growth of Aspergillus Oryzae.
To further extract sugars, we also mash with Pilsner malt, the ey ingredient in pale lager beers. Its clean, nutty flavor is a perfect match to support the nuances of our barley kōji.
Purple Wheat replaces barley koji in Ayuuk. First domesticated in Ethiopia, purple wheat is now a heritage crop in Denmark. The earthy and somehow toasty notes of the Purple Wheat complement and provide a structure for the red fruit and firewood smoke flavors of the Pasilla Mixe chili.
Kōji-kin is a strain of spores, paramount to the production of many Asian drinks and culinary delights. You find it in sake, shōchū, miso, shōyu or mirin. Through enzymatic reactions, the mold converts starches and proteins into amino acids and fermentable sugars.
We grow our kōji on pearled barley. The grain is first steamed in the Dairy Queen, a converted 60-year-old butter churner from Jylland. When cooked, the pearled barley falls down into a sauna-like “kōji room” lined with naturally anti-microbial Douglas fir wood. It’s kept at 37 degrees ceCelsiusnd 70 percent humidity at all times. Kōji-kin spores (Aspergillus Oryzae) are sprinkled on the cooked grains and left to ferment for two days until it turns into a dense white cake-like substance.
Our barley kōji imparts fragrant floral and fruity nuances as well as umami earthy flavors, at the heart of many of our spirits and provisions.