A distillery that’s the Noma of booze (Wired Magazine)

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Food, Travel, Writing

Copenhagen-based Empirical Spirits, led by Lars Williams and Mark Emil Hermansen, wants to bring new flavour to alcoholic drinks. (Photo: Christoffer Rydqvist) Words: Victoria Stewart

In a warehouse on Refshaleøen island, Copenhagen, a chorus of clattering is being produced by hacked-together machinery. Finishing some work on a still, Lars Williams, a muscular man distinguishable by his tattoos, jumps down. Over the past eight years, Williams ran The Nordic Food Lab, the research and development facility founded by chef René Redzepi of the Copenhagen restaurant Noma. It was at Noma that Redzepi, through his obsession with flavour, foraging and sustainability, helped spark the movement that explores food being an expression of its native ingredients and local environment. When Noma closed for refurbishment, Williams switched his focus to alcohol.

The result, started in February 2017, is Empirical Spirits, by Williams and his business partner, the tall and eloquent anthropologist Mark Emil Hermansen. At Empirical, Williams is eagerly leading an investigation into brewing and distilling, looking at flavours, traditions, technologies and techniques to see if things could be done differently. Why can’t spirits be seasonal, as food can, or have vintages, as wine does? Why should spirits be required to have an ABV of 40 per cent when they could taste far better at 20 per cent?

Unusually, compared to say, gin distillers, Empirical creates its own base, which Williams describes “as more of a mash-up of eastern and western techniques, taking the best parts of sake and fusing them to the best parts of beer.”

To read the full article, which originally appeared in Wired Magazine in February 2018, click here.