An Awaited Evaluation

Happy Monday!  I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving and enjoyed any time off you may have had.

As always, Monday morning’s post is compliments of Stephen Hall.  Thank you, Stephen!

Some time ago, actually November 21st of last year, I wrote a post about an idea I had to make a novel type of fermented alcoholic beverage from maple syrup as an example of how mathematics are reason drive the connection between creative ideas and the implementation of actual innovation, in an article entitled An Interesting Mathematics.

“Thus you can see that should my concoction prove to be drinkable I am left with something of a dilemma. I know of no actual name for an alcoholic beverage made from trees, much less a specific tree of maple. It may not be a problem, the alcohol fermenting may turn out to be absolutely horrendous in taste. It may turn out to be incredible. Or is may be drinkable and passable, but nothing remarkable. We shall know in about six months, and I shall be certain to inform the reader thusly.”

It comes time to inform you, dear reader, of the outcome of my experimentation, to evaluate the product of that once conceived notion of a little over a year ago.  Given the nature of the product, it must be a subjective evaluation based upon sensory inputs, subjects and approaches with which I am never comfortable.  However, evaluation must be made, and an honest assessment had, so I will subject myself to subjectivity.

First, as is obvious from the picture above, I did finally settle upon a name for the elixir, that choice to call the beverage a “nectar”, and in the present case, given that it was derived from maple syrup, I chose to call it Maple Nectar.

According to ancient Hellenistic (Greek) mythology the food of the gods was often called ambrosia or sometimes nectar, thought there was a disturbing lack of consistency in the usage of these terms.  They were sometimes referred to as a food of yellowish colour, light and fluffy, or even of jellylike consistency and at other times described as a beverage of a light golden colour sweet and delicate to the taste.

In myth, both were associated or theorized to be derived in some manner from honey, and some interpreted them to be something like a mead, but this special mead was so good as to be the drink, or food, of the gods, often associated with being a source of their immortality.  Of course, the immortality of the gods was also associated with golden apples from a divine tree, so all such speculation became, or rather was designed to be rather vague and muddled.

I also considered the name Soma, which was a name of a drink which was one of the world’s oldest recorded alcoholic beverages, probably a mead, coming out of the region of Persia and Anatolia, but in the end I thought such a reference might be a little too obscure and unfamiliar to most people.

The general accepted usage was to use the word ambrosia to refer to the food, and nectarto refer to the beverage.  Thus, I selected the name nectar because it was not purely a mead, but it was certainly a beverage.  Having a brownish golden color, it resembles superficially a mead in colour and consistency, but turns out to have a distinctively different flavor.

Having settled upon a name, let us look to the actual qualities of the drink.

As expected, given the numerical calculations of the ratios of fermentable sugars and proportionate concentration in the must (a must is what an unfermented batch of wine is called after heating but prior to adding the yeast, as opposed to a wort which is what a batch of beer is called at that same stage) the batch turned out just a bit on the dry side just as I had hoped, as I prefer a dry wine or mead.

Being dry meant that the sugars, the sweetness, had changed to alcohol, something which often surprises drinker of mead that the mead, particularly a dry mead, is not actually sweet like honey because people are unfamiliar with the fermentation process and expect anything made from honey to be sweet.  Likewise, an inexperienced drinker might expect an alcohol derived from maple syrup to be sweet rather than dry; fortunately this was not.

However, the maple, woody flavor remained a lot stronger than I expected and did not weaken with the fermentation process, but rather came through even stronger no longer being mitigated by the sweetness of the sugars.  This perhaps should not have been surprising when one remembers just how maple syrup is made in the first place by the boiling down and concentration tree sap, taking on average 30 gallons of sap to make a single gallon of syrup.

This imbued the nectar with a slightly harsh taste combined with a strong maple aroma, more than slightly reminiscent of a sherry or a port.  It was not the mild flavour one might expect of a sipping wine like a white wine or a merlot, and while it had a sharper flavor like a shiraz or a cabernet, the sharpness was not in the back of the mouth like those wines but in the front like the sherry.

It does not have, however, the tangy tannin taste of the red wine but a rather woody taste which one would more naturally expect from a wood based product rather than a fruit based product like a wine.

It did maintain a thickness and consistency like a wine, not light and thin like a mead, providing a certain heartiness which conformed to what I expected given that 32-34% of the syrup was not sugar; thus it was not the palate cleanser that mead would be.

All in all, I came to the conclusion that it would make a fairly good desert wine (well nectar), complementary to something sweet or a fairly good aperitif, or even an after dinner drink with a nice cigar, much like a cognac.

So, it being Thanksgiving, I had the opportunity to try it with a slice of pecan pie after dinner.  It complemented the sweetness and nuttiness of the pecan pie amazingly well.  I suspect that it would also be complementary to a vanilla ice cream, but I have not had the opportunity to try that one as of this time.

It was suggested that it might be better were it chilled, so with some trepidation, I tried a second glass with some ice cubes added.  Needless to say, I was a little concerned that the melting ice might affect the flavor of the alcohol in addition to merely adding a bit of chill to the nectar.

For those who are not scotch drinkers, the experience of the difference in flavour which the melting ice imparts to a good scotch is distinctive and significant, thus a preference for some like myself, to have scotch on the rocks, while others prefer it neat.  They have even marketed literal soapstone rocks to use to chill a scotch drink without the flavour altering effects of the water.

The chill and the melting ice did make the nectar a little more smooth and mild, so it appears to be beneficial to add a pleasant chill to the bottle of nectar prior to serving.

The original article related the process of creativity with mathematical calculation in a broader context of human innovation, so it seems more than fitting to wrap up this post with a few thoughts of the broader ramifications of the testing and evaluation process in its broader context.

Context being the key word of the concept of evaluation itself, it is the process of making distinctions, of placing things.  The nectar placed in its context becomes a valuable addition to the panoply of culinary delights, but out of context becomes just an oddly flavoured alcohol.

Concepts and ideas must be fitted to their proper role, their intellectual context.  Taken out of context, a valid and valuable concept can morph into a grotesque figure of foolish dogma.  One should not murder, that is to kill unjustly, but to extend that to all killing being bad, leads to foolishness.  Likewise, every idea, every innovation must be placed in its context of purpose and correct perspective.

Enjoying life, getting the most out of life, is the ultimate goal of every philosophy, it is the purpose of our innovation, and can only be sought through careful evaluation and reflection.  Never get too caught up in looking forward, in creating the new, that you fail to reflect, to place in context that which you have already achieved.

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