I’m a fan of the liqueur known as grappa. This pungent drink is literally the bottom of the barrel, the end of the line for wine. Once winemakers have sucked all the juice from the stems, skins, and seeds at the bottom of the tub there’s left a goopy sludge (called the lees). Someone somewhere was the first person to think hmmm, maybe I can distill that crud and make a drink. Hence grappa.
I remember when my wife and I first tried our hand at winemaking in 1996. I wanted to make grappa also, but didn’t quite remember that personal distillation was, well, illegal until I posted openly on Usenet asking where I might obtain a still. Ah, the folly of ignorance. A few backchannel e-mails later I was fully informed that I was a dumbass for posting this request publicly. The wine itself ended up a hellish swill, not alcoholic enough to compensate for its lack of taste. I should have made grappa, you see.
Many people think grappa is jet fuel. Like tequila, there’s a vast chasm of drinkability between the bad stuff and the good stuff and, true enough, the smell of grappa can singe the nasal passage. It is an acquired taste.
It turns out I can no longer precisely counter the argument that grappa tastes like gasoline. For grappa, I have learned, can be turned into ethanol without much effort. Wired mag reports:
From October until June, backhoes pick apart a pile [of lees] and feed the mulch onto a series of conveyors, which carry it to a series of presses and kettles. The resulting solution is further fermented to make both grappa, a potable (to some, anyway) alcohol, at one end of the distillery and biofuel at the other. Caviro [an Italian distillery] produces a relatively small amount of grappa compared with its nearly 793,000 gallons of ethyl alcohol. The potent fuel is sold throughout Europe.
Naturally most Italians are aghast at the thought of using precious wine grapes to power their cars. But I bet they’d have no problem mulching a few French vineyards for it.
[Tip: for a real kick in the pants add grappa to espresso to make a Caffè corretto, literally, corrected coffee. Ah, yes, now the coffee is correct! That’ll get you going in the morning.]