The end result, though, is worth it: a powder that world-renowned chocolatier Christopher Elbow will use to create a one-of-a-kind delicacy.
"When it gets to me, it's a simple matter of melting and tempering the bar, then adding the freeze dried whiskey," Elbow says.
An appreciation for the uniqueness of this project is shared by all involved, especially in the Labconco lab where the freeze-drying occurs.
All parties agree that this process—flavor extraction and infusion into substances like chocolate—is an evolving one. The technique is reproducible, as they've also been able to lyophilize fresh strawberries for infusion into ice cream. Like most things worth doing, though, using lyophilization to isolate flavors is not without its challenges.
Currently, the experts at Labconco are working on increasing yield while maintaining the aromatic profiles of the final product.
"The whole process has been trial and error," Goldstein says. "Now, we are trying to get a larger quantity of the powder while matching the spectra [chemical makeup] of each batch like fingerprints."
Freeze-drying whiskey flavor takes both special equipment and manpower, Prater says, which can make cost-effectiveness a challenge as well.
"From a liter of liquid, we're getting a tablespoon(ish) of the flavor returned in powder form," he says. "Now, it is true that a little goes a long way, but the next step is figuring out how we can make this economical as well. There are a lot of applications."
Elbow says he is happy with the progress of the project and optimistic about the possibilities.
"Now that we have been successful, the challenge is scalability," Elbow says. "We think this is something that could be a pretty niche market."
The one chocolate bar he had so far, though, is enough to keep him going. Elbow, who likes his whiskey on the rocks or in a well-made cocktail, chuckled when asked if that whiskey-flavored chocolate bar was any good.
"Oh yeah," he said. "It was worth it."
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