Some Like It Hot: Sous Vide Hot Drinks


Hot drinks have an allure, but sadly they are hard to serve in some logistic scenarios so many cocktail programs forego them. They also aren’t as popular with guests as food writers make them seem. All this being said, I thought I’d try and innovate the hot drink a little bit in a way that is easy for others to play along (by degrees) and hopefully solve a few peoples’ problems and stimulate some new ideas.

The first way hot drinks can be innovated is the serving method. Many hot drinks are water based and mixed from scratch or served in heated urns with alcohol being added to finish them. Water based drinks are a challenge because you typically have to leave the bar to get hot water or with the urn you lose highly volatile top notes and eventually develop a stewed character. Typically only one urn is available so programs only offer one choice of hot drink. With an immersion circulator style water bath (the Polyscience I used might be over kill), multiple varieties of completely batched hot drinks can be served at the same time. And if they are not served tonight, they will be fine for service tomorrow.

The second way hot drinks can be innovated is using the sous vide closed container idea which opens doors to new aroma possibilities. If we heat juices like apple in closed containers, the freshest top notes won’t evaporate leaving the juice with too much of a stewed character. This character I’m calling stewed is more from loss of volatile aroma than from time sustained under heat. These innovations means we can both make service easier and make the sensory experience more extraordinary which hopefully will give the technique some traction.

I even took things a step further and carefully de-aerated my proof of concept juice with the intention of limiting any color change due to oxidation. I’ve never had a hot cider that wasn’t a muddy brown so the idea of something hot, pale, and fairly clear seemed very extraordinary to me (and it was delicious!).

Using the process from my green apple soda recipe, I juiced the apples with an Acme centrifugal juicer.photPeriodically I transferred the juice to a champagne bottle and used pressure from CO2 to force oxygen out of solution. I then transferred the juice from magnums to 187 mL & 100 mL bottles using another bottling device I developed that I’m still keeping a secret (It works so well its amazing but I haven’t figured out how to sell it!). [1/26/15 This mystery bottling device will soon be revealed because I finally found a company to source and assemble the parts!]

photoAs the juice heated and the liquid inside expanded, the bottle caps were cracked to relieve pressure then caps re-formed with a Colona brand capper (every bar should own one!).

photo 2Serving cups can be warmed in the water bath as well as aromatic botanicals added to fill a room with festive aroma.

photo 3The proof of concept was an un-oxidized apple cider served hot with all its top notes intact. Because you retain the most volatile aroma, you do not necessarily need to ameliorate the cider with botanicals like citrus peels, but of course there are no rules and I really liked adding cinnamon & nutmeg.

1 oz. Asbach Uralt German brandy
4 oz. oxygen free, fresh, 90C, organic, honey crisp
apple cider
grated nutmeg.

(An old hot drink favorite I thought I’d share)

Hot Yaffe
1 oz. scotch whisky
1 oz. caraway aquavit
.5 oz. alpine spruce tree honey syrup
10 oz. MEM’s spiced hibiscus tea
Add the spirits, honey syrup & water directly into
the tea pot and let steep for two minutes before

Will we see a bar program start offering six different hot drinks?

5 thoughts on “Some Like It Hot: Sous Vide Hot Drinks

  1. As far as the six-hot-drinks-menu… There may be answers to these questions already out there but as a young bartender I’ve heard repeated from my peers and superiors repeatedly that hot drinks are impossible to balance, that the heat makes the alcohol flavors too prominent and turns customers off, etc etc. Basically “They think they want hot toddies, but they don’t.” Do you think that these issues are part of the same problem as heating? Or simply a lack of experimentation on the part of your average bartender? Or issues yet to be solved?

  2. Hi Jacob.

    The problem with the hot drinks most people make is that they put a standard pour into the drink because they feel they have to to justify a price. I’d say pretty much a good rule of thumb is that hot drinks needs half the alcohol content we usually put into a cold drink because high heat changes the threshold of perception of alcohol making the drinks feel massively alcoholic. Notice that I only put 1 oz. of spirit into 4 oz. of cider or that the Hot Yaffe only has 2 oz. of spirit per 10 oz. of tea. So I guess that pretty much means that no one has experimented.

    So you can either just charge less because the cost basis is lower or charge whatever and make outsized profits.

    Hot drinks also have some completely different notion of hospitality to me. I almost feel like I can’t charge too much for them, especially when they aren’t in print and the guest doesn’t explicitly know what they are going to pay. People that order them typically need them. They are more like a prescription than an optional luxury. When someone truly needs something I’m more likely to be generous. I’m not sure if that makes any sense.

    cheers! -Stephen

  3. That makes a lot of sense, stephen, thanks. I think what people are starting to do with low-abv cocktails, either out of necessity (no liquor license) or for a similar sense of hospitality as you describe (delicious flavor without over-serving) is starting to slowly wear away at the ‘standard pour.’ In my personal experience my s/o has not ever drank but still enjoys stopping in to my work so I’ve had to push myself to come up with more creative low or minimally alcoholic drinks for her, and this has given this nagging feeling that we take that strict concept of how much alcohol should be in a drink too much for granted.
    Do you think that even customers at a high-end restaurant or bar would feel fleeced if they don’t get drunk enough? There’s always the line with fancy restaurants about having to go get chinese food after but there’s no “Yeah we had 10 cocktails at booker and sax but then had to swig half a bottle of sauza in the alley behind the restaurant!”

    On the other hand with classic cocktails it’s been found that overproof spirits are often better than 40 proof in recipes. (and this certainly supports your ideas about super-stimulus)

    Is there anything out there (in light of your that talks about scent– the comments on nick j’s facebook brought me to the blog this morning) about our perception of “alcohol” or “this tastes like rubbing alcohol” in say cheap spirits, does the taste in cheap spirits and the taste in hot cocktails function the same? I would think that for cheap spirits it’s to do with leaving too many bad congeners during the cut in distillation and that those other alcohols are what have such a bad flavor, and I remember some writing in Rodgers’ ‘Proof’ that talked about how aging and oxidation breaks things down and thus I assume reduces our perception of alcohol, but I wonder if the hot cocktail problem isn’t more complex than might be expected.
    I’ve always heard the explanation as “well alcohol evaporates at a lower temperature so the vaporized alcohol increases the perception.” Would a hot drink sous vided to directly below the boiling point of alcohol avoid the lion’s share of vaporized alcohol? (Wikipedia says 173.07F, so say a 170*F drink? Would that be hot enough for peoples tastes?)

  4. lets start at the end and work backwards. I don’t think that the alcohol evaporation idea is valid. the contrast enhancement change is deeper in the mind and I think related to reward & warning systems. this post encountered a closely related phenomenon:

    or encountered again in the fernet cherry:

    for perception of alcohol, I don’t think it always has to do with congeners being cut or not, but often maturing or not. some spirits are actually mellowed in neutral oak, then re-distilled to make them smoother. I haven’t found much good literature on it.

    one of the big problems highend or pretty much any restuarant has is that you’re not just paying for food youre renting a seat and a bathroom, yet people aren’t good at taking that into account. that has made it hard for many chefs to get enough money for chicken livers or even vegetables. but people are slowly learning that they are paying for more than just the raw ingredients.

    one of the reasons I started taking carbonated beverage development so seriously was because I was serving so many pregnant women. I wanted to give them something more. tart stuff, as sparkling as prosecco. but way back then, seven years ago, people didn’t really want to pay for it. my first sodas were like a gratis, but they did make experiences really memorable and women still remind me about them. at the restaurant I’m at now, we just don’t have the labor to do that stuff so we only serve plain lemonade and its crazy to see how that gesture blows minds. we serve a million children and have no soda. people can have lemonaide or sparkling lemonaide. and watching them return and know and look forward to just plain old lemonaide in our super stimulated world is pretty wild.

  5. I’ve gotta get going but as far as the blackberry maraschino goes we’ve got a drink in the works with a brazil nut infusion in an old fashioned style spec and the infusion itself tastes super nutty. In the drink it’s super muted. Then add a little salt and it’s huge again. Obviously we know salt changes perceptions, but why nuttiness and salt are so connected IDK. Roasted salted peanuts versus unroasted unsalted tasting like plastic. Or salted caramel tasting more caramelly than it did without. I know bitterness is an aspect but where does nuttiness come from? Is it an ‘umami’ scent?

    I’ve had similar experiences with the mocktails and lemonade. Also no soda here (although every day I consider caving for those types of customers rather than spend 10 minutes trying to get them to try a mocktail when they don’t want to) Several regulars who never fail to brag to their friends about “this bartender made me a mocktail and it was so good!” Maybe I should start looking more into carbonation myself.

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