Forget shaken or stirred. Today’s top mixologists are turning to centrifuges, refractometers, dehydrators, carbonations tanks and other laboratory-grade tools you probably haven’t seen since freshman chemistry class. At their bleeding-edge cocktail bars, taste your way through classic drinks that have been totally reimagined thanks to molecular gastronomy—or as we prefer to call it: better drinking through chemistry.
1. Foie Gras Flip
Eamon Rockey, general manager at Manhattan’s progressive cocktail bar Betony, uses performance-art theatrics and sous-vide technique to transform ordinary vodka into a botanical-spiced gin in just 90 seconds, for his a la minute G & T. In his newest cocktail, the Foie Gras Flip, he wields his immersion circulator to make a Spanish-inspired sherry and brandy elixir spiked with a foie gras fat wash. To create the wash, duck liver is seared, cooked sous vide, and strained, and the rendered fat is frozen. Poke a hole in the hardened fat, and voila, out comes a spirit infused with all the caramelized flavor of liver. The final cocktail is shaken over ice with a whole egg to give it a rich and creamy texture, then garnished with freshly grated nutmeg. Photo by Signe Birck.
2. Mojito Sphere
At barmini, the avant-garde cocktail bar at Jose Andres’s minibar in DC, head bartender Jose Rivera uses the same set of high-tech techniques and chemical reactions as the kitchen does to create his slate of fun, totally unexpected cocktails. But for a drink that’s good enough to eat, we’re partial to his Mojito Sphere. Rivera adds calcium salt to a housemade mojito base, then drops the mixture into a sodium alginate bath. As soon as the calcium interacts with the sodium alginate, it instantly gels around the liquid, creating an almost perfect sphere. Because it's “cooked” from the outside, the mixture forms a hard shell but remains liquidy inside and pops when you bite into it. The Mojito Sphere is currently available as part of barmini’s bar flight, but if you ask nicely, they’ll make it for you as a stand-alone. Photo by Greg Powers.
3. Yo, Listen Up
There’s no shortage of flaming, smoldering, exploding, spherified cocktails and unusual vessels to contain them at The Aviary, the state-of-the-art cocktail bar attached to chef Grant Achtaz’s Alinea in Chicago. With the Yo, Listen Up drink—a mood-ring-like, bi-layered elixir featuring Del Maguey Vida Mezcal Tequila Cabeza, butterfly pea flower, toasted coconut, finger lime syrup and lime juice— beverage director Micah Melton has created the most head-turning of cocktails. He freezes the middle with liquid nitrogen so that the pea flower's blue color stays vibrant; then, once the guest blows bubbles in the straw, the layers mix together, and the lime juice triggers a chemical reaction that turns the liquid to purple, and then pink. Whoa. Photo by Matthew Gilson.
4. Royal Tannenbaum
Chad Solomon, co-owner of the neo-cocktail bar Midnight Rambler in Dallas, maintains a back-room lab tricked out with immersion circulators, separatory funnels, rotator vacs, centrifuges, PH meters and micropipettes. For him, these tools are simply a means for creating “clean, vivid, more pure flavors and aromas," and they help “complete the concept of where the drink should take you.” For the Royal Tannenbaum, a post-modern riff on a traditional English fruit cup, he first uses the sous-vide technique to infuse dehydrated rosemary, bitter orange-peel, pink peppercorns, and allspice in Tanqueray gin for 48 hours. Then mixes the infused gin with Punt e Mes, fresh lemon juice, ginger syrup and house-carbonated cranberry soda. To finish off the drink, he garnishes it with fresh rosemary and cranberries. Photo by Tony Alvarez.
5. Smoky Negroni
Bartenders at the swanky Cantonese restaurant Hakkasan (with locations in London, Miami, New York City and San Francisco) have been relying on Poly-Science guns for years to give the classic Italian Negroni a smoky makeover. For their iconic Smoky Negroni, they pour equal parts gin, sweet vermouth and Campari into a glass decanter; then they take wood chips that have been soaked in Grand Marnier and light them on fire. A tube attached to the gun transfers the smoke into the decanter, and after about 10 seconds of swirling, the cocktail is poured over a large spherical ice cube and topped with an orange twist. The phenomenal cocktail gives "smoking gun" a whole new meaning.
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