Founded in 2017 by noma alumni Lars Williams and Mark Emil Hermansen, Copenhagen-based Empirical Spirits is set to fill a particular hole in the US spirit industry by expanding their online store (in partnership with Domestique) to ship to customers stateside. Whereas most American distilleries rely on strict, centuries-old spirit category rules, Empirical relies on flavor and flavor alone. Rather than call their product a gin or a rum, for instance, they release blends and afford themselves the liberty to use any ingredient they feel necessary to their desired profile. Their low-temperature distillation techniques and commitment to fermentation and use of unique, high-quality ingredients separates them from even the most niche craft distillers.
“We’ve found that people are increasingly more open to the experience of flavor, and less confined by categories and labels,” Empirical Spirits COO Ian Moore explains. “It’s a matter of getting the spirits into your glass and letting the taste do the talking. We provide descriptions and tasting notes on the website, so that will help guide expectations, but ultimately hope that consumers enjoy what they try and return for more.”
Empirical’s viral hit, FUCK TRUMP AND HIS STUPID FUCKING WALL BLEND ($85), for instance, is a vacuum-distilled, 54 proof spirit that employs habanero, a foundation of both naked and pearled barley, Belgian saison yeast and Koji. According to the product’s listing, “The clear product is rectified with a habanero vinegar that gives it a 27% ABV that imparts an intensely fruity habanero profile without any of the heat.” Insight into the distillation process reveals that “an innovative high-pressure, low-temperature distilling process removes capsaicin, the painfully spicy active component in the chilies, and preserves the pleasantly floral and fruity notes typically hidden in habaneros, for an eye-opening tasting experience.”
For Williams and Hermansen, complexity and surprise are the ultimate goals. Oftentimes, because categories are so tyrannically defined, parameters become muddled and it can be difficult to differentiate one from the other—and this deters producers from adding unconventional ingredients to their products. Another of Empirical’s releases, the ONYX BLEND ($85), features blackened Koji, black walnut, hibiscus, birch kombucha, Equinox hops and Pilsner malt. It ultimately presents notes of wood spice and white stone fruit and a sweet and slightly spicy palate.
“We just want to make a quality product and in our case, that means creating a category of our own,” Moore continues. “Since co-founder Lars Williams’ background is as a chef, with flavor being of the utmost importance, it was more about creating the best method to capture that and less about filling a void. We’re on a constant search for flavor.”
The expanded Empirical Spirits online store is now taking orders.
Hero image by Claus Troelsgaard for Empirical Spirits