As we announced in a post back in January, we keep investigating the world of beverages that actually are distilled but without alcohol. Today we met with Roland Barics who started Nogins Virgin and Rum’less as we still have many blunt questions about processes and ingredients.
We wanted to meet him as he conceives his beverages within the bar world. At Spiritsfully we believe in an inclusive bar world, we are thinking pleasure and sensory, gustatory feelings for adults. We think we are building a world with and not against. Being a mindful drinker is not being a former alcoholic (as if it is the case, I have the impression hanging out in bars is not the best idea ever)! We believe the bar of the future will not be only alcoholic.
Anyway, long story short: we met with Roland and discussed many subjects and all in German, that’s why I am transcribing and translating only parts of our conversation..
Who are you, Roland except the distiller of NoGin?
I am coming from Hungary and i’m a cocktail educator based in Munich since 2004. As I wrote on my website mixkultur, I dedicated myself body and soul to gastronomy, and my greatest [professional] passion has always been the preparation of cocktails.
Which products did you recently put on the market?
Why are you making alcoholic and non alcoholic beverages?
As a cocktail teacher I always felt a little bummed by teaching classes not everyone could play and participate in. There is always the assumption that you do not drink, there must something wrong with you. But actually not! And this is what is getting interesting nowadays. It is more and more an accepted option.
How did it start?
The situation above and the fact that I always did my own gin, syrups and other cordials. It led me to go further and create my own alcohol products and brand. Moreover I started distilling more seriously in 2014 as I started offering education about « how to become a distiller ».
How do you become a non alcohol distiller?
Learning by doing for sure! For example for Nogin Virgin, we are talking about 80 attempts before I was satisfied with the recipe. And even more attempts after that until most of the people I was tasting the gin with were also happy. The process was complicated, the major challenge was to work without alcohol which is a flavour carrier. It allows to bring more aromas with fewer spices or ingredients in the first place. Removing the alcohol means intensifying the number and quantity of ingredients. With a non alcoholic products only the spices have to speak for themselves, without help or step stone of alcohol, so to say. This is the challenge. Moreover, in the absence of alcohol not all the characteristics of the spices can be kept, only the ones that are water soluble. The hydrolat contains the water soluble chemicals from the plant in other words.
I decided to work from the beginning on without alcohol. This is not that the alcohol is removed after distillation with a reverse osmosis process like other do.
Hence why I say I’m doing hydrolat, combined with steam distillation. The base is distilled water to which spring water is adding at the end of the process as distilled water has too much of a low PH, which creates unwished acidity. The spring water is added after distillation.
How do you make a drink out of an hydrolat? Isn’t it just flavoured water is the end? Why is that so expensive if it is water?
Because my process is way more complicated and complex as I use distillation to embark the aromas. With the absence of alcohol, I cannot rely on the different boiling points like you can with alcohol which contains water. Water has a higher boiling point so it requires a very careful process to extract the flavours of the ingredients, without burning them, without having the alcohol evaporating first and carrying flavours through. Moreover bringing water to boil requires more energy, and more cold water to allow condensation and passage from steam to liquid again. The production process is more energy consuming which passes on to the price.
Why using this complex process?
To be able to use real aromas and not artificial natural aromas like in flavoured water, it has to be distilled.
What would the ideal word to name the product?
The correct name according to the EU “alcool free base for cocktail ». This is actually on the bottle. No producer is allowed to write « alcohol free gin » or alcohol free whatever » because those beverages are not gin or rum. That would be misleading to the consumers. In reality though, most people are unofficially referring to those beverages as such. I think this is probably better this way, to keep the name but in the real world too, it is clear that those alcohol free drinks are made to recreate a certain category of spirit. Maybe the wording will have to change at some point. But I feel there is no need to now. It is also hinted in the name of the product.
Isn’t it frustrating that in a alcohol free beverage, the mouthfeel can never been reproduced?
Strangely enough when you drink an alcohol free beer and a beer, it actually tastes and feels the same. The ethanol is kind of not missing. This is a whole another story with spirit. And this is a concern or a challenge for alcohol free procurers. This has to do with the process. In other words, fermentation vs distillation.
The truth is that alcohol free drinks are not made to be drunk pure. The structure that is missing, the roundness of alcohol has to come from another element, such as a tonic for example. Just like tea needs water to express its aromas.
How to become a good distiller?
I think it is very close than being a good cook. You also work at combining aromas.
How did you become a distiller?
Through the experimentation. Because I like this, trying out. Because I really wanted to male that alcohol free gin i became a distiller. i am an Edelbrand sommelier and this is part of the education. But mostly learning by doing.