Recently I put together nine rounds of modernist cocktails for a few visiting food scientists. Here goes:
1. Green Apple Soda.
The first drink was the green apple soda which I decided to leave non-alcoholic because there were so many drinks. Carbonation rang in at 8 g/L which was quite bubbly. De-aeration with the champagne bottle manifold keeps the juice from browning which is the main gimmick. No ascorbic acid or pectic enzymes were added (not that I’m opposed to them). It is simply a way to show off the de-aeration concept in a fairly beautiful context. The apples were even juiced with an Acme centrifugal juicer which whips extra air in them which the magic of the manifold successfully removes.
2. Aged St. Valentine’s Day Sparkling Magnum
This drink first appeared on NYE 2012 but I served the batch executed for Valentine’s day 2013 which meant it was well over six months old and was showing well with no evidence of oxidation or loss of carbonation. The drink is proof that cocktails carbonated with the Champagne Bottle Manifold, when well executed, can be aged.
1.5 oz. Pacific Rim Heirloom Framboise
.5 oz. Blanco Tequila
.5 oz. Aperol
.5 oz. Lime Juice
1.5 oz. Water (dilution)
I did not finish off the magnum for the tasting and have been slowly serving glasses from it ever since with no problems de-aerating after every usage (days are elapsing between uses).
3. Bees Knees
For the Bees Knees I broke out the Tabasco aromatized gin and the Ames Farm single source Bass Wood honey syrup. For the gin, a commercial gin is simply re-distilled with Tabasco that first has had it’s volatile acetic acid (vinegar) neutralized with baking soda. The distillate is wildly fun but still fairly low involvement. It is not cut quite right so there is the faintest louche at 45% alc. and bottle condensation develops on the shoulders. The slight defects could be corrected by being more involved through executing more generations of the recipe. The Bass Wood honey syrup is scooped from the jar and mixed 1:1 with vodka to preserve it as well as precipitate some of the trace amounts of wax which can ultimately be removed with the centrifuge.
1.5 oz. Tabasco Aromatized Gin
.75 oz. Bass Wood Honey
.75 oz. Lemon Juice
The overall goal of the drink was to synthesize the character of the rare and astounding Strawberry Tree honey of Corsica, Sardinia, and the Al Garve in south Portugal. This honey can smell redolent of chilies. I had been able to work with Corsican Strawberry Tree honey for many years but it has since been unavailable.
4. Special Edition Cherry Campari
I had intended to serve this as a Boulevardier but opted to only serve it on the rocks because there were so many drinks. Cherry Campari is pretty simple, the orange aroma is removed and replaced with the aroma of Kirsch. When the orange aromas are removed so too are the bitter aromas so they have to be replaced as well. It turns out olfactory-bitterness is very important to Campari’s identity. I made two versions which were cherry/wormwood and cherry/yerba-mate. The goal was to see how well they stood alone and then possibly blend them to create the most extraordinary tonal bitter effect. I still haven’t sufficiently explored all the blending options.
To remove the aromas, Campari is simply de-hydrated in an Excalibur food dehydrator. The Kirsch aroma is derived from Hiram Walker Kirschwasser re-distilled with the botanicals but I would like to explore simply compounding the Kirschwasser with a steam distilled essential oil. The Kirschwasser reconstitutes the dehydrated Campari but some gentle math has to be done to make sure everything returns to the original volume and alcohol content.
The results are subtle because the orange aroma of Campari is subtle. The same treatment can also be given to Cynar where I enjoy using slivovitz with quinine. There is a subtlety to replacing fruit aromas with fruit aromas because they are fairly convergent with expectations based on color and prior experience with the real deal Campari, but it might be exciting and pleasurable to pursue slight divergence by replacing the orange aroma with benzaldehyde-almond aromas taken from re-distilling an amaretto.
5. Satan’s Whiskers: an alliteration of echoing orange aromas, oh my!
The most important theory in the Culinary Arts is that all creative linkage aspires to create a super normal stimuli. People are starting to study creative linkage within flavor but so far have not caught on to my theory nor come up with their own. They might benefit from learning a little more about the nature of attention from the great book, Slights of Mind, which is an excellent, edutaining, and accessible neuroscience title. I boil down the attainment of a super stimuli by the linkage strategies of alliteration and collage. My chosen example of alliteration is the Satan’s Whiskers poetically rendered in equal parts with a special guest appearance.
.75 oz. Gin (inherently imbued with orange)
.75 oz. Sweet vermouth
.75 oz. Dry vermouth
.75 oz. Joseph König’s 19th Century Curaçao
.75 oz. Dominican sour orange juice
2 dashes Regan’s orange bitters.
Tonal nudging back and forth by the repetition of orange components creates a timbre of sorts and from the existing response tendency for orange the drink elicits an exaggerated response; Super Orange! The beetle mates with the more orange beer bottle (this phenomenon is so crazy).
The special guest mentioned above is the rendering of a 19th Century Curaçao which illustrates some of the secrets of the first grand cru liqueurs. Their sugar content was the maximum of solubility and so was their aroma content. The 55% alcohol orange liqueur was poured from a bottle with trace amounts of rock candy growing on the bottom because at 55% alc., roughly only 285 g/L of sucrose is soluble. This old style of liqueur also only had as much aroma as it could hold before it louched. I was slightly disappointed that the visiting food scientists were not familiar with the work of König who is considered to be the father of food science.
6. Final Ward
The most elaborate drink I made was my high concept version of Phil Ward’s Final Ward.
.75 oz. Over proof Overholt rye (55%)
.75 oz. Historically accurate Maraschino cheater
.75 oz. Special edition Dandelion Yellow Chartreuse
.75 oz. De-aerated 5 day old lemon juice
The Overholt was manipulated to remove the water, increasing the proof to 110 which I had detailed long ago. This rendering illustrates that a higher proof version of Overholt would be pretty darn cool. The Maraschino cheater was constructed from blending sugared & cut Hiram Walker Kirschwasser with sugared & cut re-distilled amaretto which is essentially how Maraschino liqueurs are made. I used proportions from old chemistry texts that reference bottlings from the early 20th century. I would love to deepen my involvement and use more historically accurate benzaldehyde (almond aroma) levels. A lot of great Maraschino data exists from 1912. The Dandelion Chartreuse was constructed by essentially removing the lightly aromatic Acacia flower honey from the chartreuse and replacing it with very full flavored Dandelion honey from Roero in Italy from the exemplary producer, Pozzolo. Dandelion honey is particularly sensual and earthy, quite distinct and unforgettable. Here I got into a minor argument with one of the visitors who was sure Chartreuse was in part made by infusions because of his vacuum distillation experiments. The Chartreuses are not made by infusion, but you cannot capture all the of aroma because of a fixative effect of the sugar added to the distillates. The sugar basically holds on to a small percentage of the aroma making it important to acknowledge that the new creation is only a rendering. I borrow the term rendering from poets that often translate works from dead languages. They take liberties, some degree of something is lost, but the results are still wildly fun. The lemon juice was simply de-aerated using reflux de-aeration via the champagne bottle manifold.
Flavor wise I thought this was the most impressive of all the drinks.
The counterpart to alliteration is collage and I first took my inspiration from the curious six equal parts Savoy classic, the Charleston. The Charleston is by no means a collage and rather uses three rhyming pairs, but it looked like it could get there pretty quickly.
.5 oz. Mezcal
.5 oz. Kirschwasser (Hiram Walker)
.5 oz. Sweet Vermouth
.5 oz. Manzanilla Pasada Sherry (La Cigarrera)
.5 oz. Yellow Chartreuse
.5 oz. Plymouth Sloe Gin
Repeating aroma compounds can be highly engaging, attentional, and pleasurable but so too can barely repeating aroma compounds, but using quite a few. You can get comfortably wrapped up in a dizzying array of facets as easily as you can by witnessing the most beautiful overtone. The Savoy Cocktail Book is a great place to ponder the super stimuli via alliteration / collage creative linkage theory.
This drink is staggeringly delicious but I’m not sure if the visiting scientists enjoyed it or got the concept. One visitor was late so I served it for one group of guests 20 minutes before the other. Teasingly, I predicted the late comer would ask what vermouth brand I used and then be disappointed I served him Martini & Rossi… What started out as a jab at the NYC culinary scene played out too exactly. I got the question which hijacked us from the whole point. I thought I explained everything pretty elegantly but I guess it was a miss and he needed to bring it back to territory he was more familiar with. #fail
8. Marmite Rye Sazerac
This drink is really fucking cool and an illustration in some of the biggest concepts in distillation scaled down to a size no one previously thought possible. I’ve made this for years now and it keeps getting better and better as I deepen my involvement. It is definitely in the realm of acquired tastes and I don’t think it went over well with the visitors. What I hoped for was some sort of cute Anthony Bourdain style comment, “You bastard, that is devilish!”, “I’m a real Marmite slut”, or even “I didn’t want to like it but I like it”. Beverage people likely have accumulated more acquired tastes than food people and these were food people.
Marmite Rye Sazerac
2 oz. Marmite aromatized Rye (50%)
.5 oz. Simple syrup
4 dashes Peychaud’s bitters
rinse of Yerba Mate based anise/sloe berry Absinthe (70%)
expressed and discarded lemon peel
One of the big concepts in distillation is that aroma is created in the still. The main process here is esterification where fatty acids react with alcohols in the presence of heat to form esters. This process is mostly ignored in texts on beverage distillation because it can get pretty complicated pretty fast. I’ve slowly synthesized various writing on the topic and collected and annotated a bunch of lost Australian research papers that cover the topic in simplified experiments.
In my recipe, Marmite, a yeast concentrate high in fatty acids, undergoes esterification catalyzed by added non-volatile acids which is part of the emphasis on high total acidity in the wines of Cognac or the sour mash process. In this simple re-distillation, water and malic acid are added to a commercial rye with the Marmite. Time under heat is important to aroma formation so the added water allows distillation to take place slower, providing more time under heat for aroma creation. The minimum of energy is also applied to the boiler to make distillation as slow as possible. The added malic acid is a catalyst for the esterification of fatty acids and its addition sits in for the acidity that would be found when distilling wine or a grain based sour mash. Previously, you could only learn this stuff by playing with big batches at huge expense. My little experiment here allows you how to vary the parameters with standardized inputs at only $20 a batch (and enjoy drinking the results!). When you graduate to a big rig, the aroma creation processes at work will seem intuitive and involvement will be deepened much quicker. The rye was fake aged with my barrel bouillion technique.
The Absinthe used here is the updated form of a project begun long ago. A commercial Turkish Raki is the base because Turks are the masters of anise. Prunelle Sauvage or sloe berry eau-de-vie is added to increase alcohol and lengthen the aroma. The inspiration for the anise/sloe berry combo is the basque Paxtarian liqueur. The bitter aroma of wormwood is traded for the also bitter aroma of yerba-mate which is tonally darker. Being based on commercial spirits makes the recipe easy to construct on the nano-scale.
9. Something like an Alexander with Cashew Derived Heavy Cream
One of the visitors is a serious nut milk enthusiast and the inspiration for my own nut milk adventures. I thought a great final drink might be to make something rich featuring a new nut milk idea that I don’t think anyone else has done before.
1.5 oz. Overproof Overholt
1 oz. Pineau des Charentes
.5 oz. Wray & Nephews “Berry Hill” Pimento Dram
1 oz. Cashew Milk “Heavy Cream”
Sometimes I call these drinks inverse Alexanders because instead of featuring Cognac they feature Pineau des Charentes. The nut milk heavy cream is made by blending nuts and water 5:1 then dividing the volume in four and centrifuging. The fat rises to the top and can be collected and weighed. The water based quotient can then be collected and added to the fat in a ratio where the fat content is dramatically higher than a typical nut milk. I then ran the fat and milk through the colloid mill to homogenize it. Homogenizing seems to work fairly well until the nut milk starts to ferment and turn into yogurt. I think a change in pH (which I did not measure) starts to re-separate the fat. I have not investigated this heavy cream fermentation too deeply and have typically used everything immediately. Separation only happened after a few days. Who knows, a yogurt like product might even be better in a drink or the yogurt product could be migrated to a kitchen application. Pasteurizing might prevent the yogurt effect but I have not investigated further.
The drink is really extraordinary, less for the effects of the cashew cream and probably more for the creative linkage of the other ingredients.