07 September 2009
discussion and heckling encouraged, based around the art of Alchemy. Topics to
be covered will be how we can look back at the principles, teachings and
methodologies of the alchemists and how they can be employed and re-invented
into the modern Bartending world. With a demo and tasting session showcasing the
"Bain Marie" and its variety of uses for taylor made infusions, sugar syrups and
The second half of the talk will focus on the Japanes product of Shochu. One of
the worlds biggest selling yet least recognized spirits. Its place in the
ancient world and its place behind the modern bar. We will delve into Shochu's
history, origins and production methods. With some very original yet delicious
shochu cocktails being created and tasted to inspire and educate on this great
21 July 2009
27 June 2009
26 June 2009
Harold Mcgee, Audrey Saunders, Bernard La Housse, Dave Wonderich, Damian Alsop, Dave Broom, Steffi Holt and Dale Degroff for his cameo....
Special thanks to Claire West and Suzie Agar who without which none of this would have happened!!
Thanks also to
Clifton food range
Glass and Co.
And a massive thank you to all of you that made
the seminars and made them such great fun!!
From us all at Drink Factory.......
Giles Gavin- Cowen
27 May 2009
The car pulls to a slow stop by the sidewalk, headlights dipped down the vague street. The atmosphere is inky, black, save the flickering golden light of a lantern, beckoning me. I tip the driver, he nods and the car slides away.
Mesmerised, I move towards the light. My shadow weaves and wanes, following me like a damned private investigator. The click of my shoes, echoing on the paving slabs, slips into time with fragments of jazz, fractured beats drifting out into the damp night air.
The muffled clink of glasses and laughter becomes distinct as I draw closer. I push the bell, stub out my cigarette on the pavement. The door swings open, that warm glow illuminating the street for a moment, then swishes shut behind me. I'm in.
A fun event hosted by Science London demonstrating the chemistry behind creating cocktails. Find out how smell changes the way a drink tastes, how to create the perfect layered cocktail, and how temperature affects a drink's flavour, as well as much more.
Row (http://www.69colebrookerow.com). don. N1 8AA (see their website for a map). Nearest tube: Angel.
Who: Andrea Sellam Drink Factory.
How much: Free! There is an optional (but strongly encouraged!) "£5 for 5 cocktails" vouchttp://cocktailschemistryandthesenses.eventbrite.com - places are limited!
PASS IT ON!
Tell your colleagues, friends and family! It's easy - just email or com
See you there!
12 February 2009
The stone was the fuel behind many alchemical processes. It drove forty generations of alchemists to dizzying heights and discoveries, we would be lost without in modern chemistry. Perhaps also notable it has been the inspiration bestselling writers, granted in this respect, it is taken with an air of childishness and a hint of artistic licence.
To past alchemists the stone possessed a spiritual power much like a deity or God. It lay consistently out of arms reach but close enough for it to stimulate the imagination and the senses. It's, most famous, function being the transmutation of base metal into pure gold. Others believed it to be the elixir of life, granting renewed and prolonged health or even immortality of a sort. The immortality they spoke of was one regarding the spirit or metaphysical self as appose to the physical body. If sought after with a purity of mind and soul, if all aspects of the self are balanced, the stone would grant a man all that he wished for, wealth, immortality and no doubt power would soon follow.
There were, however, the few mercenary alchemists who sought the stone for no other purpose than that of self gain and selfish endeavour. These men would find nothing but folly in their search for the stone as it lay far out of the reach of the self obsessed mercenary. Finding the stone was a quest for perfection. Aristoleans held that:
"nature strives always towards perfection, it seems logical to suppose an agent promoting this process should exist"
To religious mystics it was mans imperfect nature striving towards perfections, in essence man striving to be more like their creator, God.
The stone was shrouded in paradox and contradiction. Some more subtle in language described these and "ambivalent ideas". What was beyond doubt was the difficulty in attaining the stone, yet it was always at hand, diffused throughout nature. All it required was a clarity of vision to piece it together. The Gloria Mundi an alchemical work of around 1526 stated:
"The stone is familiar to all men, both young and old, is found in the country, in the village, in the town, in all things created by God; yet it is despised by all. Rich and poor handle I everyday. It is cast into the street by servant maids. Children play with it. Yet no one prizes it, though, next to the human soul, it is the most beautiful and the most precious thing on earth, and has the power to pull down kings and princes. Nevertheless, it is esteemed the vilest and meanest of earthly things"
It is obvious that the stone was perhaps etched in the philosophies and religious aspects of the alchemists work, than it was a realistic goal that any of them would ever reach. It does act as a catalyst for insensitive pieces of science and discovery.
Just as alchemists attempted to harness and harmonise the elements to create perfection, so does the modern bartender attempt to create that elusive melding of ingredients. Which in years to come will still be remember and be considered a "classic"; one of those landmark drinks, many will kick themselves and curse for never having realised its simplicity but still be in awe of its complex, complimentary unity of flavour. Perfect harmony of the elements transmuted into a glass of liquid perfection.
Parallels and comparisons can be found with regard to the "classic" and the "stone". The classic no doubt lies at hand to any person working in a bar, or even a person with a well stocked drinks cabinet at home. The concept remains the same, it is always to hand, whether it be an old mans fridge or a young mans bedside table next to the cigarettes. It cannot be forced and if searched or sought with a tainted mind will only result in its own equivalency.
Perhaps a poignant question is "what is a classic"? By official definition it must have been created after Jerry Thomas' 1887 book and prior the prohibition in America. A modern cocktail is deemed to be one made post prohibition but before 1990. Where these definitions were decided I do not know. Personally I find these to be constrictive and unsatisfactory. Are all these recipes not subject to time, and so in 50 or 100 hundred years they could either be forgotten completely or actually considered to be a classic by a different definition. We should be striving to create new classics, influenced by science, discovery and experimentation. Unburdened, they should be, by the oppressions of the four flavour groups. With this is mind, a classic could be considered as something untouchable. Something more like a concept or ideal. A perfect drink, nothing needs to be added and nothing taken away.
The classic becomes the bartenders "philosophers stone". It is what drives us, gives us the perpetual motion of creating new and innovative ingredients and mixes. The quest for perfection whether it be alchemical, mixological or spiritual is no doubt fraught with both frustration and reward. Often the rewards are not what is expected, however, this does not de-value them in any way. Another question of intrigue could be what actually is perfection? Do we really want to achieve it in any work we undertake? By definition we will never be able to outdo a perfect piece of work. Perhaps creating the perfect "classic" cocktail is that crowning moment for any bartender. He will be renowned for an extension of himself and the group of flavours her created, rather than his actual self.
Another question worthy of asking is does the classic or the work of perfection actually appeal to the many or will it's nature be recognisable only to the enlightened or knowledgeable few? We can be sure that some of the greatest most creative and original pieces of art, or music, or flavour pairing went unnoticed or was shunned for its originality. It is only in later years that it can be recognised for as something so far ahead of it's time that it was misunderstood and thus unappreciated. Is it easier to make something that appeals the to already informed masses or make something that the few who understand it complexities will appreciate but then teach the blind the folly of their ways. Granted the latter is no doubt a harder body of work to tackle but should in its own way offer much greater rewards.
I have tried to ask a few, what I believe to be, poignant questions. In this ever growing and evolving world of bartending, we are constantly pushing the boundaries between science, psychology and drinking experience. Should the cocktail not move with us in a similar manner? I would be glad to invite anyone with an interesting view point on the matter to join the debate and see where we end up.
10 February 2009
Sucrose diagram: Fig. 2
Molarity is a unit used to measure the concentration of a solution. It is based on the molecular weight of 1 molecule of the solute (calculated from the periodic table) in a certain volume of solvent & relates to how many molecules of solute are contained within that volume of solvent.
Solute = thing being dissolved
Solvent = liquid doing the dissolving
Solutoin = Solute + Solvent mixed together
The most relevant solution for bartending is sugar syrup, so we shall work with that as an example of how to calculate the molar strength of a solution.
The solute in sugar syrup is normal sugar, or said in a chemical way, sucrose. The molecular weight is calculated by adding up the weights of all the atoms in one molecule, so to do this you need to know the structure of the solute & the weights of the atoms. This can be found on the periodic table of elements – each atom has its weight displayed below its letter. There also has to be only 1 solute being dissolved in the pure solvent (usually water).
For the structure of Sucrose see fig 1
The chemical structure of sucrose is C12H22O11 meaning its molecular weight is 12 x molecular weight of Carbon(12) added to 22 x the molecular weight of Hydrogen(1) added to 11 x the molecular weight of Oxygen(16). This totals 342, which is the molecular weight of sucrose.
Handily enough, the scientists who came up with Molarity decided that 1 mole of any substance should be the molecular weight in grams. Meaning you have 1 Mole of sucrose when you have 342 grams of it.
To make a 1 molar solution of sucrose, you would measure out 342g of sucrose and add enough pure water to make the total volume of liquid 1 litre. It is important that you don’t just add 1 litre of water as the total volume would be too much – it needs to total 1 litre with the solute in it. You also need to make sure the water is the same temperature every time as liquids change volume with temperature – I think for making sugar syrup hot, but not boiling water is the most efficient.
This all doesn’t sound too relevant until you look at bars that make their own sugar syrup. Can they guarantee that it is exactly the same concentration every day? A lot of drinks depend on their sweet-sour balance being just right, so everything should be done to ensure the sugar syrup is always at the same strength as even a small difference could change a drink.
Some bars that make their own syrup use either a 1:1 ratio or a 2:1 ratio, but they measure the amount of sugar & water in the mixing bottle by eye which is of course different depending who does it.
Some other bars get the chefs to heat water with some sugar in it – even if you use the same amount of water & sugar each time, the water will evaporate a different amount every day depending on the surrounding temperature/humidity/size of pan etc.
We get around this by tasting every drink we make to check the balance, & as everyone’s palate is different there can be no quick fix to ensuring a perfectly balanced drink every time, but I do believe that the more constant our sugar syrup is, the less things we have to keep an eye on that could alter the flavour of a drink.
A factor that makes Molarity difficult to use in real-life situations is the water. If anything is already dissolved in the water then the Molarity of the solution changes & not many of us have access to distilled water in our bars!
If we were doing scientific experiments with the solution, this would be unacceptable, but as we are using drinking water which should have the same ‘other solutes’ in it pretty constantly, then this shouldn’t affect our syrups on a day to day basis. Obviously filtered water is preferable to stuff just out of the tab as well.
We also can’t really calculate a more complicated solution. There has to be only 1 thing to be dissolved each time – as soon as you have more than 1 solute then you have to make up pure solutions of each one & then mix them together. You can’t calculate a 1M solution of say powdered coffee as there are many molecules making up that coffee & we don’t know what most (or any!) of them are to calculate the molecular weight.
This does become helpful when you look at other sweeteners however. Glucose has a molecular weight of 180 as it is much smaller, so you need only 180g in a 1L solution to have a 1M solution. A 1M solution of glucose and a 1M solution of sucrose have exactly the same amount of ‘sweet’ molecules in it, so they taste as sweet as each other, but you need to dissolve much less glucose to get the same concentration. You can buy glucose powder to use instead of using ‘table sugar’ which is sucrose.
So maybe next time you make up some sugar syrup, try making a 1M and 2M solution of it to see how it compares to your regular solution & maybe calculate the Molarity of the solution you usually make.
Grams of sucrose used = Moles of sucrose
342 (no of grams in 1 mole)
Moles of sucrose = Molarity of solution.
Litres of solution when made up
08 January 2009
For most the word alchemy will conjure images of ancient monks or spiritual men attempting to transmute or magically turn any worthless metal into gold. I am sure images of ritual chanting or the signs of the zodiac being used for their magical properties will appear at the forefront of our minds. The powerfully driven media machine has led us to believe that these noble of men, dare I say scientists, were in-fact magicians no less. Calling upon cosmic energy to make gold from water, gaining riches and cursing themselves at the same time. These fictions reign supreme over this all but lost art form. There is no doubt that alchemy was both a spiritual and physical pursuit, where each alchemist would lean more to one side or the other, perhaps finding a harmony between both . The technology and instruments the employed as far back as 500BCE were stunningly advanced for there time. Some still exist and are used sparsely to this day. Admittedly the modern processes are refined, to a degree, but nevertheless easily recognisable by their heritage and ancestors.
The fundamental principle of alchemy is transmutation. Described as.
“the fundamental change of one thing into another from a grosser, impure state to a more
Refined, balanced and pure state.”
If taken in its broadest sense one could very easily apply this principle, of transmutation, to the creation of a cocktail, or a spirit. When creating a cocktail, we begin with a set of ingredients “gross” or “impure” in nature. Normally these will include a spirit, a mixer, a sweetening or souring agent and bitters or a binder. With a measure of work and understanding of each ones nature, their nature being how the flavours will interact with one another, whether they will compliment and sit happily side by side or constantly overpower and suppress one-another, it is possible to achieve a perfectly balanced, refined state. Each flavour existing in harmony with the next. Each flavour being a product of the next, interdependent upon each other to compliment and flow seamlessly across the taste buds. Even in the relationship of ingredients in a cocktail we can see the Alchemists influence.
Alchemist laboured under the condition of there being only four elements. Each one in harmony with the next, each one a product of each other. You would be forgiven for feeling a sense of déjà vu , for verification all you would need do is look up a paragraph. This rotation and interlinking relationship between the elements is obvious in practices of both alchemy and modern day sciences. Earth (solid) can be transmuted to water (liquid) by melting or dissolution in water. A simple modern example of this being either melting a chocolate, thus creating a sauce or even taking a sugar cube and dissolving it in a hot tea. Water can be transmuted to air through boiling, an obvious offspring of any pot of tea you have ever boiled. Air (gas) to water is perhaps most notable in the process of distillation. Three states of matter are actually present during distillation.. We begin with water, which is heated and becomes air. Air is then condensed and transmutes back into its original form of water. Giving us, perhaps the most perfect example of the relationship between these elements, where fire is also present in the heating of the water. Air to Fire is, still further, depicted in combustion or what could in modern terms be described as an explosion. These elements shaped much of the history and work undertaken by many notable alchemists.
Later in the history of Alchemy, one of the greatest alchemists named Paracleus came upon a new wave of thought. He created the three principles. Mercury-spirit, Sulphur-soul and later Salt-body. This ideology had a resounding impact with most subsequent alchemic work being based around the three principles rather than the four elements. Paracleus defined them as the three prime essences; sulphur being that which boils described as oil. Mercury rises as fumes and salt lays in the ashes. Alchemy regards the essences as the basic makeup of any object, not just a metal or a water but inclusive of flora and fauna. They were great leaps ahead of their time in that they could extract, what was described as mercury form a plant using fermentation to gain alcohol from its inherent natural sugars. The spirit of sulphur of a plant was its essential oil, extracted by either using distillation or a crude pressing method. The plants salt or solid body form was what lay in the ashes. A process called calcination, which put very simply is to burn a substance until it is ash. This ash is then taken and mineral salts retrieved.
These three “principles” can reside within any and all matter. They are the basis of all that is. Take any object, for our purposes a piece of lead will do nicely, then take it apart piece by piece. Purify it refine its gross and impure nature. What would be left is pure mercury, pure sulphur and pure salt. Contemporary physicists would refer to these principles and neutrons, protons and electrons. Again a perfect example of how the alchemists were laying the foundations for modern science, most likely completely and blissfully unaware of the effect they would have.
Among their most notable of leaps into the modern world is the deep understanding of the effect that heat has on any compound. As I briefly touched on earlier calcination is probably the simplest example. On a more complex level distillation techniques would be used to render spirit from wine making what could easily be described as the original eau de vie. However in doing this they stumbled across the fact that alcohol will boil at around 80c enabling them to render a spirit of around 50-60abv from wine. This was named, imaginatively “the spirit of wine” and would then be used in the process of herbal tinctures or for medicinal remedies. In accordance with the pure nature of the alchemist, any water being used must be distilled and therefore purified before use. This process was time consuming and arduous but is host to the dedication and patience of the alchemist to see everything that begins through to its finale. After the completion of the purification, if one were to have created earth from the water, or put in other terms, frozen this refined water creating ice. This would then become what we now see as completely clear ice, seen in many hundreds of ice sculptures and bars throughout the world. This ice holds properties far more desirable, to any bartender, than normal ice. Its complete lack of flavour and extremely slow dilution make it a tool with which experimentation can bring very interesting results.
The fashion for herbal remedies has, recently, been re-incarnated across our high streets. People flood to buy Echinacea, or whatever happens to be the latest in fashionable antioxidant flush herb or fruit. Even St. Johns Wort has been revisited by scientists, and has since been proven to be as credible and functional of an anti-depressant as Prozac, albeit minus most of the side effects. This craze is relatively young among mainstream consumers , though the techniques and principles were, of course, being used by alchemists thousands of years before. The methodology has changed little over the centuries. The plant is either pressed or distilled in alcohol, rendering mercury. The oil will rise to the top of the distillate and can be easily skimmed from the top giving us a herbal tincture or essential oil.
The true path of the alchemist is an in-depth, physical, spiritual and mental path undertaken by men seeking riches, enlightenment or for the most noble of beings self knowledge, growth and purification. What I have attempted to open your mind to your mind to, is that to appreciate and understand the impact of this great practice, one does not need to be a magician, a chemist or a spiritual man of any kind. The only pre-condition is a thirst for understanding of what exists around all of us and how it came to be. Paracleus wrote
“Alchemy means: to carry to its end something that has not yet been completed”
Though this quote is broad and open to a plethora of interpretation. It cannot begin to describe the path of the alchemist. It does,infact, enable anybody with a hunger for knowledge to unlock the door, of common misconception, we find ourselves locked behind. It offers a reasoned, logical and diverse approach to an age old art. The repercussions, of which, are still felt to this day and surround us with every step we take. The difference is now you can start to see them more clearly.
So how does pH work? Explained simply, it is the concentration of Hydrogen (H+) ions within a solution compared to pure water (H2O). At room temperature, some water molecules split into their ionic (charged) components – H+ (positively charged) and OH- (Oxygen joined to a Hydrogen with an overall negative charge).
Ionic charges work in the same way as magnets and opposites attract, so the amount of molecules that this happens to in pure water is relatively low – only 1 in 555million water molecules stays separated in this way, and as there is nothing else in the solution for the ions to bind to, the number of H+ equals the number of OH-. This gives pure water a pH of 7, and other solutions are compared to this. When the water is impure (has things mixed into it) the ionic balance is disrupted – either the OH- or the H+’s will bind to the molecules within the solution and leave an excess of the other. Due to the nature of the calculation giving us pH, as the concentration of H+ increases, the pH decreases, so the more acidic a solution, the lower the pH.
How can we as bartenders use this knowledge to improve our drinks? One of the main features of a good drink is balance – bartenders must learn to appreciate balance in drinks so that even if a drink is not to their liking, it can be recommended to someone else who may like it. Acidity and therefore pH play an important role in the balance of drinks.
We can easily measure pH of drinks & ingredients using a pH meter. They are available in versions that are portable, small, waterproof & very cheap, so the average bar can easily use them for many things. For example – citrus juices vary with seasons & countries of origin. This can make drinks too sour/sweet depending on your source. It is simple to test the juice before use (as long as you don’t squeeze as you go!) in order to compensate for any variety in pH & ensure drinks standards are maintained.
Below is a table showing some average pHs…