I first became interested in looking at how flavour worked back in 2000 at Isola. It was the Head chef, Bruno Lubet, who introduced me to the work of Ferran Adria and prompted me to start to writing to him: asking questions about how he was making some of his cocktails and about his ideas. This communication was, in essence, what stimulated me to scratch behind the surface of what a cocktail was. Having been involved in various projects since then, I have been able, not only use a great deal of these techniques, but also create new ones; some using the simple basics of science, others; far more complex. Nevertheless, it must be emphasised that science is not the only avenue I have followed over the years, there have been many influences, from designers to perfumers to books on alchemy, the list is endless, but I have never strayed far from my love of the cocktail.
Last year I was involved in a project that asked me to show case some of the ideas I have learnt from chefs, to give bartenders an in road to this way of thinking. I have always known that these techniques are not for everybody but there are defiantly things that can be used in any bar at any level, so see this more as the opening of a toolbox…and only use the tools that are relevant to the work that you are doing.
This year I will be showing far more techniques with strictly cocktail references. Here we go:
Take three words that you have heard a million times “A Dry Martini” how many times have those words reverberated in your eardrums? Now think how many times have you thought beyond what you have immediately been asked for?
We know what a dry martini is, we know that by asking a series of questions you will be able to garner the dryness required by adding the appropriate amount of vermouth, we also know that the series of actions that follow the initial request will achieve the finished drink. It is fair to say that it is no secret that the alcohol and the herbs in the vermouth is what provides the slight dry-ish feeling in your mouth. From here your mouth reacts and produces saliva. In turn the stimulation of the saliva glands prepares your stomach for the on coming food, producing that hungry feeling… job done in the aperitif department. The dryness comes from the reaction of the alcohol within your mouth, and the botanicals mainly with-in the gin; but if you then take that further and isolate the ingredients and processes that make the dryness happen.
Once you have discovered this, you are armed with the knowledge that you can re-add those ingredients to the drink and create that dry sensation in a pleasant manner, and that adds to the experience of Dryness in the martini. That would be a truly “Dry” Martini!
By deconstructing the processes of drinks and how they work you can really begin to play with them. However, it is very much about being very precise about what you are doing slap dash efforts produce slap dash results. Start with asking yourself simple questions about flavours or ingredients that you use everyday, i.e.: how does sweet and sour work? Why does my mint not keep fresh? Etc (Ps Wikkipedia is an amazing tool!)
Next the Millefleur Champagne Cocktail is a drink I worked on for almost 2 years. It was from studying of work of perfumers and reading books on alchemy that I realized the links between the three disciplines and the shared history. I started looking for a usable perfume (useable in the sense that its original notes had ingredients that could be found or be replicated into food grade essences to make the translation). That perfume was the iconic perfume. I then set about working on how I was to translate the notes in the perfume into an ingestible replica and which delivery system to use in the cocktail.
After a lot of trial and error (writing everything down at each turn) I managed to get an accurate translation of the perfume. The delivery system was, in a way, decided for me in that although there was no direct translation for aldyhydes, which is one of the structural notes of the perfume, the note has been described as musty champagne floral. I then consulted some sommelier friends in order to find a champagne which would achieve both of these things: musty and floral.
I knew the drink would have to try and emulate the perfumes iconic status; within the cocktail world, making the cocktail, as distinguished and elegant as possible was the priority, it was therefore easy to narrow if down the style to a classic champagne cocktail. This choice of delivery system inadvertently saved me a great deal of time solving another problem; how to ensure that the cocktail. As prior experiment, I had tried to use a classic martini as the delivery system, but the volatiles where lost due to the low temperature, but by using the champagne, which is served at a slightly higher temperature, the volatiles carried well. In addition, the bubbles helped by carrying the essences to the top of the drink….
The result is, a faint waft of flowers off the top of the drink (just a hint), and a subtle floral champagne taste in the mouth.
I think it is important to note that if a drink is not perfect do not foist it on your customer. Yes, people have different tastes but if a drink is badly made then it’s badly made, that is not an excuse for a badly made drink, it doesn’t matter how much gimmicky stuff you do to it. Take time to ensure that the structure is well worked out, then keep working on it until it is absolutely perfect; there nothing wrong with working on something for a very lengthy period ….its not about gimmickry, its about well thought out drinks that create a different effect or stimulate a different emotion….
The beauty of a good magic trick is that you are left with the feeling that you don’t know how it worked, with a feeling of wonderment at something you can’t quite grasp.
The way you learn a magic trick is by practicing your trick over and over again and studying so that one day your trick is perfect.
If someone shows you a trick that is done badly you feel let down, the trick loses its magic. In the same way that, although it is very interesting for other magicians seeing how a trick works, don’t you always feel disappointed when you’ve seen one of those programmes that “reveals all the secrets”? As an audience member it is far better to be intrigued that to know the mechanisms………..
I am in a way using this as a metaphor to say even though there is a move towards using new techniques for drinks, the use of science etc, lets not bore our customers with geeky talk of xyz chemicals or the machine that goes beep, like the trend was a couple of years back when there was a lot of historical (s)pouting…its all about the delivery; from the glass-ware, to service, to a good yarn to an amazing tasting drink…..
You are the magicians so lets create magic….!!
Now, it will not be all about high tech stuff in my column over the next few months; I will be disseminating different techniques and equipment like things like enfleurage, brix meters, ph meters, etc. I will be starting by talking about the Rotavapor, a machine I was introduced to a couple of years ago and one that opens up a huge amount of possibilities for bartenders.
Article published in the British trade magazine Class in April 2008