In the world of bartending, just like other areas of human interest, fashions and fads come and go with the changing times. At the turn of the century, a drinker in bowler hat might be observed at a saloon or tavern sipping a Tom Collins or an Old Fashioned, while in the seventies and eighties a Harvey Wallbanger or a Pina Colada might be the drink of choice for the greatest dancer in the discoteque. In recent years, drinking has become a science as well as an art, and enthusiasts have come to expect a bit more from their cocktail than just a tasty and refreshing drink. Molecular mixology can offer the drinker much more than years past, but is this just a passing phase or is there more to it than meets the bartender’s eye?
What is Molecular Mixology?
For those unacquainted with this relatively recent trend, molecular mixology is a number of processes and techniques that many may associate more with a science lesson than a bar. These can involve the use of blowtorches, liquid nitrogen, foams and mists that are intended to enhance the flavour or sensation of a drink, or even to create a grand visual effect not to be easily forgotten. For many, molecular mixology may add to the performance element of bartending that many enjoy, while for others it may offer an insight into the inner workings of drink-making processes.
How and Why Did Molecular Cocktails Become a Thing?
Molecular mixology is a derivation of the term molecular gastronomy, which entails similar scientific effects used in the kitchen, and a term coined in 1988. But with taxonomy aside, as the inventor of the flaming Blue Blazer it could be said that the godfather of bartending, Jerry Thomas, was the original molecular mixologist, long ago in the nineteenth century. Thomas was certainly a man ahead of his time, and while there have been more flaming and frozen effects in the meantime, for the most part it has taken a full century for any real developments to take place in this area of bartending. Thankfully, the last two decades have been witness to some astonishing progress in conjuring tricks and concoctions behind the bar, and with technology advancing fast it would seem that more is still to come.
The Most Popular Molecular Mixology Techniques
As a technique borrowed from molecular gastronomy, spherification is the process that enables liquid to form into gelatinous spheres similar to fish eggs. This effect is made possible by taking a liquid that contains no calcium and mixing it with sodium alginate, then adding this in small amounts to a liquid diluted with calcium chloride.
An example of a cocktail made using this technique could be the Molecular Mojito, which can be made by adding 1.25ml calcium lactate with the fresh lime juice, sugar syrup and mint leaves before muddling, then adding rum and soda water in the usual way. After pouring the solution (without adding ice) into ice cube trays and freezing, the frozen mojito cubes should be dropped into a large glass with sodium alginate dissolved in water, and left for 15 minutes. The mojito spheres should be washed in a container of clean water, then they are ready as curious cocktail balls.
Another concept common to molecular gastronomy is emulsification. This involves the binding together of two liquids that don’t usually mix, through the use of an emulsifier. In this way, fats can be used in cocktails where they would usually naturally separate. By using an emulsifier, such as Ticaloid 210S, a combination of gum acacia and xanthan gum, the cocktail of Cold Buttered Rum can be made by using rum and lime juice together with butter syrup, a sweet, creamy fusion that would otherwise be impossible to achieve.
Xanthan gum can also be used for another technique, suspension, as the gum can be used to stabilise and thicken a liquid. The flavour is not unpleasant, so it can be useful to the bartender in creating a drink, such as sangria, where the ingredients appear suspended in motion when viewed through the glass.
For the customer that enjoys being involved in the drink-making process, the hot infusion siphon can be just the thing for a cold winter night. This table-top infusion apparatus allows the drinker to watch the infusion process as it happens, and enjoy the result. It requires water, sugar syrup and a base spirit, such as gin, in a lower chamber, the ingredients to be infused in an upper chamber, such as lemongrass, lavender or jasmine. When the infusion has finished, a warm cocktail can be simply poured into a glass.
Of course, it would be very easy to dismiss the molecular cocktail as a passing fad that was created for marketing purposes, and was of no more use to anyone than a mere party trick that was fun at the time. But in the larger context of a bartending industry that is evolving by the day and developing its techniques quickly in the aim of creating the perfect cocktail experience, the processes of molecular mixology are only just beginning.