Proof That Overproof Is What You Need
By Ted Henwood
With the recent release of the last of the Black Tot (rum rations distributed to British Sailors through July 31, 1970) our thoughts turn to figuring out how to get our hands on some of this spirit which holds an iconic (and now expensive) place in beverage history. As we contemplate affording this purchase we think back to July in New Orleans at Tales of the Cocktail 2010, the annual cocktail conference which brings together the best and greatest of the cocktail, spirits, and tastemakers’ industry to the city that has survived and thrives. It was here that we were treated to a seminar titled At Full Sail: The History and Application of Spirits at Proof and Overproof.
Led by the founder of Haus Alpenz, Eric Seed, a lover and re-creator of authentic spirits and liqueurs, we embarked on what demonstrated to be a gentle gaze at the pyrotechnics and genesis of liquor distribution.
Seed remarked, “We are hard wired for the taste of vanilla and milk.” And thus, the seminar began. In light of Seed’s condemnation of our desire for the soft and sweet palate pleasers you might ask overproof spirits, why? And why no longer cask strength? And wherein does the difference lie? Seed’s opening comments make it evident that his fight in part is to cut that wire at every turn, or at least begin to rewire that beast in us. One taste of the “Waters of Life” he has resurrected, and you will soon become one of the converted.
But before conversion it’s important to lay out the well known facts. So, let’s get simple; we know the amount of alcohol in any given spirit is indicated by proof, percentage or ABV. Stateside, proof is really the commonly known mark. Certainly almost everyone knows that proof denotes twice the percentage of alcohol. Yet how did this come to be?
Well, the answer has to do with the “work-hard play-hard” motto of the open seas, when ships were powered by three sheets flapping, and the boys pulling the ropes taut knew how to celebrate their unfettered creed. These sailors were paid in part with hard liquor, and knowing the value of a stiff drink, they developed a method to ensure their daily ration had not been made water-weaker by the ship’s bursar: apply gunpowder!
They’d take a dram of hooch and spill it into a saucer, shake a small cone of decent black powder into that shallow little pool, and touch it with a struck match. If a bright blaze, pop, and eruption of smoke ensues, they’d “proved” Continue Reading…