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Tobacco-infused bourbon: lessons learned


Adam Thornton
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I've been making my own cocktail additives for a while now: the Artemisia Absinthum in the back yard is a reliable contributor, and using that as the bittering agent, I and my colleague Martin made an interesting chili-chocolate bitters and some nifty Szechuan Peppercorn bitters. I've also been making Amer Picon to Jamie Boudreau's recipe (more or less) and have achieved quite a bit of success with it.

Last weekend I decided I wanted a tobacco-infused bourbon.

I started with Knob Creek, as a reasonably-priced overproof bourbon base. The tobacco is some homegrown that I dried out two years ago and never used, so it's not like I'm starting from a particularly good tobacco stock.

I tried two methods. One was to take about two grams of tobacco and sautee in 1 floz of neutral vegetable oil until it began to smoke, and then fat-wash 8 floz of the Knob Creek with it; I let that sit for three days and stuck it in the freezer for two. Then filter off the fat.

The second was a straight-up tincture of about a gram of tobacco in 4 floz of Knob Creek. Let sit for 5 days and filter. I say "about" in both cases because I need a more precise scale.

Well, the fat-wash was a disaster. I ended up with greasy-tasting bourbon.

The tincture is maybe a little better, but not what I was hoping for: the bourbon gets an astonishingly bitter finish--way too bitter to use more-than-bitters quantities in a drink, and not even the spicy bitterness of wormwood. I saved it and I will use it a few drops at a time, but it doesn't taste at all tobacco-ey, just bitter. So I guess it makes an OK bourbon-flavored bittering agent, but, well, meh.

Anyone else had better luck with this task? Any more promising techniques?

Adam

Edited by Adam Thornton (log)
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I rarely fall victim to fearmongering but I've read enough scary stuff on tobacco infusions that I'm not brave enough to mess with it. I'm not claiming to know for a fact that there are dangers and I would never take it upon myself to tell others what they should or shouldn't try (I play with tonka beans and cherry pits more often than some might say is wise) but I don't think I'll be doing anything with tobacco in alcohol anytime soon. I'm not sure if I'd even like it anyway, I've never smoked a cigarette, cigar or pipe or chewed tobacco in my entire life.

It's kinda like wrestling a gorilla... you don't stop when you're tired, you stop when the gorilla is tired.

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Yeah, I did some back-of-the-envelope calculations to make sure I wasn't actually going to be poisoning myself.

It is unlikely that this tobacco strain was ever 15 mg/g (it was a mostly-decorative, not a mostly-smoking, tobacco), and although the tincture was likely to give better transfer than the fat-wash, even if I drank all the proceeds at once it wouldn't actually be poisonous--note that I am using only 1 or 2 grams of tobacco in my experiments.

I did not expect the striking bitterness of the tincture, which means that the amount of nicotine in the amount you'd actually consume is pretty negligible. I was actually going for "about a cigarette's worth per drink" but I'm fairly sure that I'm far short of that in the amount it's actually possible to use of what I made. That's a lot of "actuallys", isn't it?

Thanks for the pointer, though.

(Also, it's probably worth mentioning: I'm a home enthusiast and have no customers to serve this to and risk liability.)

Adam

Edited by Adam Thornton (log)
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Tobacco-infused booze is certainly an interesting idea, at, as you say, the one-cig-per drink level or thereabouts. I suspect nicotine's a lot safer taken this way than smoked, in the same way that hash brownies are healthfood beside a fat doobie.

If you were looking purely for the hit, would the nicotine in commercial OTC nicotine tablets go quietly into tincture ? You'd have explicit dosage control.

I can certainly understand the appeal of something that has the sweet, aromatic character of tobacco... I'm sure you've thought that other tobacco strains might lack the bitterness ? Try some good commercial rolling tobacco (again, nicotine content is tested for you) ? If the bitter aromatic comes through both with alcohol and fat, then it's likely to be hard to separate simply when extracting with organic solvents, even exotic things like butane - might there be a pleasant extraction to be made with water or mild acid, say ? You know nicotine processing better than I do (i.e. not at all) - how is it with other solvents ?

QUIET!  People are trying to pontificate.

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You might check the U.S. Pharmacopeia.

Ingested nicotine is not rapidly metabolized and the residual effects can be dangerous even when very small amounts are taken.

This is compounded because alcohol actually speeds the absorption into the affected organs.

Handling it is also problematic because it can readily be absorbed through the skin.

Read this before you proceed.

sixteen years ago we had this case that created a stir in the OC.

And last December this was in the news.

It's not just in mystery novels.

If you absolutely must try it, do so with the tobacco that is intended for chewing - it has a sweetening agent in it. Snuff is also probably easier to measure so you know exactly how much you are getting.

Edited by andiesenji (log)

"There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty. The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What's up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don't think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass!" Terry Pratchett

 

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There's too little known about tobacco infusions for it to be something worth dabbling with, plus there are other ways to get the flavour commonly associated with tobacco into your drink if so desired.

I did not expect the striking bitterness of the tincture

I'm pretty sure that what you're getting was astringency and not bitterness.

Evo-lution - Consultancy, Training and Events

Dr. Adam Elmegirab's Bitters - Bitters

The Jerry Thomas Project - Tipplings and musings

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First let me say that I have never smoked or otherwise used tobacco except for what I might have gotten as second hand fumes (yuk!) but I can appreciate the fragrance of some pipe tobacco (before it is smoked mostly).

Not a big bourbon fan either for that matter but as far as infusing the scent of tobacco into spirits (which I assume is what you are after) how about blowing smoke into a container of bourbon and letting it sit for a while? The is a device called a Smoking Gun that I saw at JB Prince in New York last week that is used to infuse various wood smoke flavours into food. No idea if that would work for booze nor if there is any risk of nicotine poisoning from the smoke or not but it could be worth the try.

Llyn Strelau

Calgary, Alberta

Canada

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There's too little known about tobacco infusions for it to be something worth dabbling with, plus there are other ways to get the flavour commonly associated with tobacco into your drink if so desired.

I did not expect the striking bitterness of the tincture

I'm pretty sure that what you're getting was astringency and not bitterness.

Actually, tobacco is quite well researched, and information on minimum and maximum quantities of nicotine and other compounds present in tobacco are well documented. The levels of potentially toxic substances that infuse cannot exceed those present in the amount of tobacco used. I first looked into this when I experimented with tobacco-infused truffles, several years back (I posted what I found about that here, post #28).

Anything tobacco-infused becomes miserable tasting at well below the toxic level; there's the astringency, but the tobacco has an unambiguous bitterness, too. This is not something that should be used as a test of 'too much for safety', but something to keep in mind in terms of flavouring: just because the amount used is within safe limits, doesn't mean it is going to taste good.

Michaela, aka "Mjx"
Manager, eG Forums
mscioscia@egstaff.org

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Actually, tobacco is quite well researched, and information on minimum and maximum quantities of nicotine and other compounds present in tobacco are well documented. The levels of potentially toxic substances that infuse cannot exceed those present in the amount of tobacco used. I first looked into this when I experimented with tobacco-infused truffles, several years back (I posted what I found about that here, post #28).

No doubt there's a wealth of information on tobacco but I haven't come across much on tobacco infusing in alcohol (save for the post on Darcy's blog).

The comparison often seen (with infusing and smoking) doesn't sit right as no-one smokes a cigarette from start to finish, there are points where it's burning on its own so the full level of nicotine isn't directly consumed. With an infusion it's different as the nicotine extracted is only going one place, into the spirit and then down someone's throat.

Evo-lution - Consultancy, Training and Events

Dr. Adam Elmegirab's Bitters - Bitters

The Jerry Thomas Project - Tipplings and musings

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I rarely fall victim to fearmongering but I've read enough scary stuff on tobacco infusions that I'm not brave enough to mess with it. I'm not claiming to know for a fact that there are dangers and I would never take it upon myself to tell others what they should or shouldn't try (I play with tonka beans and cherry pits more often than some might say is wise) but I don't think I'll be doing anything with tobacco in alcohol anytime soon. I'm not sure if I'd even like it anyway, I've never smoked a cigarette, cigar or pipe or chewed tobacco in my entire life.

First off: Drinking tobacco-infused spirits in quantity is dangerous and can be deadly. It is not recommended and feel free to do at your own risk, but do not put others at the risk without informed consent. In small amounts at certain concentrations, it can be an interesting sip. After a friend asked me how to make it and I told him not to take more than a shot or two of it at a time, his response of "how can I only drink that little in a night?" scared me. I had to explain that he ought to pick up a different bottle and put that one down. Informed, thinking people can make intelligent decisions; the problem is that a good percentage of the population cannot.

Second off: A safer way of getting the tobacco notes in the drink is by bitters. I published my long-time guarded recipe for Smoking Ban bitters a week or two before Darcy did his post. Most of the math and warnings there were repeated in his more eloquent voice. But my math shows that even at the highest concentrations of nicotine in tobacco leaf, a barspoon (1/8 oz) of these bitters has still less nicotine than smoking a cigarette.

So use at your own risk, albeit tasty risk:

http://cocktailvirgin.blogspot.com/2011/03/smoking-ban-bitters.html

Note: feel free to flame away at how I am killing people. I've heard it before. I hesitated publishing this recipe for a year or two (despite requests from people who tasted it); however, other people were doing it, I figured it could be an educational experiment to publish the math.

Third off: Tonka bean and cherry pits used in most liqueur or bitters concentrations are not that exceptional hazardous; however, the FDA frowns upon them with a zero tolerance policy. If there weren't a tobacco lobby, the same would probably be true of cigars and cigarettes.

Edited by Frederic (log)
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Interesting stuff Frederic but you don't have to convince me. I try a lot of things that some may claim I shouldn't but I don't sneak any of it by unsuspecting victims. If I make a dessert that includes tonka bean or cherry pit, even using amounts or methods generally considered safe, I let people know and I never use them at work, only in my personal experimenting. I won't be doing tobacco in booze mainly because I'm not sure it's of interest to me but also because of the warnings I've read in various places including your blog (which I check in on daily). I saw the post about the bitters when you originally posted it and don't doubt it's safe used as recommended. I'm more at odds with the tobacco itself than the safety issues. I'm not sure it's a flavor I'm interested in. The warnings just make the decision easier.

It's kinda like wrestling a gorilla... you don't stop when you're tired, you stop when the gorilla is tired.

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