The phrase “noma alum” has become shorthand in food media: Expect a distinctively minimal Nordic aesthetic and a fanatical focus on the provenance of ingredients. These are both on display in Empirical Spirits, started by noma’s former head of research and development, Lars Williams. Now their spirits are widely available in the United States and can be purchased online.
Rather than tuning into any one liquor, they’re using the distillation process to explore various flavors as a chef might. Their releases are changing with each new bottle, following in the footsteps of natural wine makers, and they’re focused on using up their waste: spent koji becomes misos, soy sauces, and shoyu. Maybe it turns into hot sauce.
Empirical’s base spirit, “Helena,” is a double fermented clear koji spirit made from barley koji, pilsner malt, and Belgian Saison yeast. “Charlene McGee” is a smoked juniper spirit—think Scotch meets gin—which is aged in Oloroso sherry casks. For hints of marzipan with some floral elements and tea, pick up “Fallen Pony,” made from a base of quince, barley koji, Belgian Saison yeast, and pilsner malt.
In New York City, try out Empirical at restaurants and bars Atla, ATOBOY, ATOMIX, Brix & Rye, Contra, Cosme, Flora,
The Four Horsemen, Momofuku Ko, Oxalis, Ludlow House, and Wildair; or pick up a bottle at Astor Wines and Spirits,
Henry’s, Undercote, and Wine Therapy. Their sharp branding and limited nature also make these bottles perfect holiday gifts for the culinary nerds in one’s life, if thinking that far ahead.