Copenhagen-based Empirical Spirits boundary-pushing distillery uses vacuum distillation.
Copenhagen-based Empirical Spirits boundary-pushing distillery uses vacuum distillation.
Tim Spreadbury
By Tyler Zielinski / May 7, 2020 8:00 am

Flavor can act like an abstract form of time travel, from childhood meals to the first cocktail you ever truly love. Those multi-sensory memories around food and drink are the ones that inspire Copenhagen-based Empirical Spirits to do what they do: create bespoke, flavor-focused spirits that engage the inquisitive drinker using uncommon ingredients and stimulate their senses. Now, drinkers all over the world can have these unique tipples shipped straight to their door.

When Lars Williams decided to leave Noma — René Redzepi’s groundbreaking New Nordic restaurant (#2 on the World’s Best Restaurants list in 2019) — after it closed for refurbishment in 2017, he decided to reapply his experiences in food research and development to alcohol instead. Along with Mark Emil Hermansen, an anthropologist who also worked on food development with Redzepi, Williams co-founded Empirical Spirits. The boundary-pushing distillery uses vacuum distillation — via custom-built machinery — which relies on a pump that pulls air and vapours out of the distillation container. This lowers the atmospheric pressure so that less heat is required to reach boiling temperatures.

“Traditional distillation techniques rely on heat, which can kill off flavor,” Williams, who oversees distillery operations, points out. “We vacuum distill our spirits in order to preserve the fresh flavor and aroma compounds of the botanicals we use.”

The Plum, I Suppose

Achieving optimal flavor is nearly impossible without sourcing exceptional ingredients, so the team works tirelessly to ensure they are using the best herbs, spices, botanicals and grains possible — many of which have never been used to make spirits before. “We’re on a constant search for flavor, and that search often takes us all over the world,” Williams says. “In many ways, what we are producing could be considered as spirits seen through the lens of a chef.”

Williams and Hermansen have sought out the perfect kōji in Japan, hunted down marula to ferment in Zimbabwe, foraged for açaí in the Brazilian jungle and scoured the mountains in Oaxaca, Mexico, for pasilla chilis. In addition to their global expeditions, they also use seasonally sourced local ingredients. “We harvested fig leaves on Bornholm, an island near Copenhagen, [and] took coffee chaff from a neighboring roastery and reused our own spent kōji as a botanical,” Williams says. “Regardless of where they come from, we look for ingredients that are both delicious and evocative.” The result is a premium product that is unparalleled in flavor and style. 

The spirits available for purchase online in their U.S webshop include products such as: “Fuck Trump and His Stupid Fucking Wall,” a controversially named, refreshingly smooth, habanero-flavored spirit made from a base of pearled barley, Belgian saison yeast and koji; “Ayuuk,” the distilled application of the Pasilla Mixe chili sourced from the mountains of Oaxaca, a smoky, earthy grain-based spirit that is reminiscent to flavors of a mezcal; “The Plum, I Suppose,” which uses the dried inner plum kernel, an ingredient that has a similar scent and flavor to almonds, and has a nuanced sweetness that’s bright and refreshing; and other atypical spirits that boast various herbs, fruits, and spices.

“Our spirits have a lot of their own complexity and flavor,” Williams says. “Depending on your mood they can be enjoyed simply by adding a mixer that will elevate the flavors and aromas. One of our serve suggestions for ‘The Plum, I Suppose’ is to add your favorite white grapefruit or other citrus soda to bring out the brightness of this spirit.”

Lars Williams left one of the most famous restaurants in the world to open Empirical Spirits (Maureen Evans)

As of May 5, Empirical Spirits will be launching a pre-bottled cocktail made in collaboration with Cosme, the renowned NYC Mexican restaurant. The cocktail is made with Empirical Spirits’ “Fuck Trump” spirit, Yola Mezcal, espresso and rose, and will be sold on Cosme’s site in 375ml bottles. The proceeds from the sales will benefit the Cosme Restaurant Relief fund, helping to support the restaurant’s staff.

They will be launching canned cocktails on June 1 in the U.S. on their American webshop, and they will also be available at select bars, restaurants and retailers in NYC, L.A, San Francisco, Washington D.C. and Chicago that are still currently operating via delivery and takeaway. With a unique perspective towards creating multi-sensory, memory-evoking experiences through their unctuous spirits, the convenience of them being just a few clicks away make them all the more appetizing.