21 December 2011

Merry Christmas and Happy Toddy Drinking

Christmas is basically upon us. I am sure you are all as organised as we are and have planned down to the second your Christmas presents and when to buy them......but haven't actually done any of it yet!

We here at Drink Factory just wanted to send out a big Happy Christmas from all of us and wish you a happy time wherever you may be and whatever it is you may be doing. (For those of you who's places of work may be open on Boxing Day our most sincere condolences)

To celebrate the season we though a festive recipe was in order. Make sure you give this Hot Toddy recipe a go at home on Christmas Eve maybe.

(Not actual image)

Toddy Recipe:
50ml Somerset Cider Brandy 5yr
25ml Lemon juice

1 slither of unsalted butter

20ml Sugar syrup (2:1)
150ml Breton Cider Horses
Neck of lemon peel

Heat the cider in a pan till it at 80 degrees and
then pour into a Toddy mug with the rest of the ingredients

Flavour of the Week - Sandalwood

There are over 19 species that exist within the genus Santalum family. They grow throughout most countries and continents including Asia, India, Australia and Europe.

The tree's hit their most fragrant stage generally at a minimum of 8 ears old, however ideally 14 is the optimum age to get the most scent.

Often found in cosmetics and famed for it's health benefits, absolutes and essential oils have been made out of Sandalwood for a long time. It is also well known for enhancing flavours it is surrounded by, hence it frequent use in perfumes.

The essential oil is said to have a typically woody note, however it does retain a slightly lighter edge meaning it could potentially sit well alongside lighter more fragrant or citrussy notes.

Flavour - Woody base note, aromatic, light, bright, fresh,

Expanding infused Marshmallows

So they may not be the classiest or most refined of cocktail ingredient or garnish, but let's be honest, people love them and they are alot of fun.

We are yet to try this ourselves in the sous vide however I imagine it to work in a similar way. If you were to also add a flavoured liquid into the vacuum bag and vacuum both the marshmallow and the liquid it has alot of potential to infiuse the marshmallow.

Think rum marshamllows, cherry marshmallow, or, dare I say, flavoured vodka marshmallow.
Maybe not the most high end of ingredient, and be careful not to vacuum for too long as they are liable to burst or shrivel up, but certainly some Christmas fun!

Artisan Distilling Revoltuions - So what exactly is Artisan Distilling all about?

Written by and in collaboration with Jamie Baxter. Jamie was a master distiller at Chase Distillery where he was responsible for designing, installing, commissioning, running and then developing products. He now works as a consultant, working around the UK and South America aiding in start up small scale artisan distilleries.

If you are lucky enough to be shown around the Beefeater Distillery in South London, you will see some huge great pot stills that have been mothballed. These were originally used to clean up the alcohol coming in to the distillery as it was not of a good enough quality to make their wonderful gin. Nowadays however, the base spirit that they buy is excellent, and this is just one other ingredient that they purchase in addition to juniper berries, coriander seeds and all the rest of the botanicals. You see, Beefeater, in common with virtually every other gin distiller in the country, do not make their own base alcohol, but ship it in from elsewhere before re-distilling it with the botanicals to convert the neutral alcohol into gin.

EU Regulation 110/2008 sets out the legal definition of all spirit types within Europe, and gin (and indeed vodka) has to be made from “ethyl alcohol of agricultural origin”. This in turn is defined as ethanol with no flavour other than that of the raw material and at a minimum of 96.0% ABV. (The regulation also sets out maximum levels of certain residues, but I won’t bore you with that other than to say that these maximum allowed levels are lower in the finished product for London Gin than for other distilled gins). Every gin distiller therefore has to decide whether to make their own base ethyl alcohol, or to buy it in.

If you have read this far, you will be wondering why on earth I am telling you all this. The reason is that I have recently been drawn into a transatlantic discussion as to what artisan distilling is all about, and the point of view was very forcibly put across that a distiller who buys in neutral spirit rather than making it themselves is somehow cheating. Now, my gut feeling was to disagree with this, but it did start me wondering why I felt that way, and what therefore I would think is the defining characteristic of an artisan distillery. Most of us could probably write a list of artisan distillers in the UK and not argue too much over those distilleries on it. For example, I don’t think that anyone would argue that Ian Hart, the wonderful distiller of Sacred Gin, is not an artisan distiller, and he uses bought-in alcohol in his tiny still. But it is more difficult to decide why these names are on the list.

So if it is not making your own base alcohol, is it the size of the still? Again the answer is no, this is too simplistic. Different products and different methodologies require different sized stills. When Sipsmith Distillery started up they advertised their beautiful pot still as being 300 litres. The fantastic Chase Distillery pot that I know so well is 2300 litres, and yet Sipsmith could produce more bottles of finished product than Chase at that time because they were using bought-in alcohol whereas at Chase we were making it all from potatoes and apples.

Is it the use of a pot still rather than a continuous still? Again no. The thing about designing stills is that there are many different ways of getting to the same point. Pretty much every still is unique, and the distiller must decide what system best meets his requirements (see my earlier blog). Now this might be a continuous still, or a pot still, or various combinations of the two - and this is without considering vacuum distillation and other more esoteric methods. I would argue that a pot still is generally “more artisan” than a continuous still, but this has rather more to do with the way it is run rather than the still itself. With continuous stills it is important to keep the flow rates, temperature profiles, steam pressures, refux etc. relatively even. Pot stills are more forgiving, and so continuous stills would tend to have rather more sophisticated control systems, which nowadays means a computer. Plc controls take the craftsmanship out of running the still – indeed these stills are usually run without an operator even being there, and the dictionary definition of an artisan is “a skilled workman” or “a handicraftsman”. At the risk of alienating computer programmers it is hard to see how this definition can apply to a computer controlled still. So it is not the continuous still itself that moves it away from the realm of the artisan, but the control systems often (but not always) associated with it.

So if I haven’t yet nailed down what defines an artisan distiller, what might disqualify a distillery from being one? Obviously big industrial scale plants are out, and so too are small plants owned by a large organisation – they should be privately owned and independent. This allows for greater risk taking and sheer bloody-mindedness.

The truth is that although everyone is talking about the new wave of artisan distilleries, they have been around for a while. They almost died out with tight excise controls, but the Somerset Cider Brandy Company has now been going for over 20 years. Edradour in Perthshire is capable of producing 2500 bottles a week. Their spirit is produced by just 3 men without automation and claims a history going back 170 years. But it is very true that this is relatively rare in this country. Scotland has around 100 distilleries of various sizes. By contrast, Austria has a similar population and 20,000 registered distilleries, including my cousin who has a tiny still in the shed in his garden where he distils a wonderful Zwetschken Schnapps from the half dozen plum trees there. Every now and again he produces something that he is incredibly proud of, and rightly too. I have come to realise that this is one of the defining characteristics of an artisan distiller for me. Every distiller perfects his recipe and strives to make each batch identical, however variation is inevitable and some batches are better than others. In a larger distillery these variations are blended away to maintain consistency, but the artisan distiller embraces the variability and indeed celebrates it by putting batch numbers on bottles. What is the point of that if each batch is identical?

So celebrate the difference with us. Keep close to the distiller, ask what’s new, what’s recommended, how the runs are going and buy direct if possible. In short, treat your distiller just like your local butcher. It’s a little time-consuming but worth it to get the best drop, and if the distiller can’t make time to talk to you, then that’s not an artisan distillery.

Stefanie Holt Interview

Stefanie Holt has been an easily recognisable face around the London bar scene for many years. She has been heading up the El Dorado Brand in the UK since 2008 and in January 2011 she took the next step and became the International Brand Ambassador for the rum and holds the post to this day.

1. What is the first cocktail you ever made?

Hmmm, I worked in a Belgian Beer bar which had awful creamy blended
cocktails on the menu, so I probably made a few of them (although I used to
hide the cocktail sections of that menu whenever I started a shift to avoid
having to make any!), but after that I moved to a proper cocktail bar and I
think my first one was a lovely, foamy French Martini. We made millions of
them and after my first shift it felt like my arms were going to fall off!

2. What are your 3 favourite drinks plus recipes; old, new and your own?

I think my favourite old drink recipe is a negroni. Love those equal
measures for making quickly/easily and it tastes soooo good at any time of

Favourite 'new' one that really surprised me was a Rhubarb & Coriander
Mojito that the Sanderson Hotel did with El Dorado a couple of years ago. I
think of Rhubarb as really British and very wintry, and Coriander as more
exotic and summery, so it was a surprise when the flavours worked so well
together. Nice & easy to make as well!

Hmmmm, my own; well its been a while since I have come up with anything, but I always love it when I use stuff on a bar that doesn't really move. There was one I created at the Groucho (called 'On Your Marx') which contained Pisco, limoncello, yellow chartreuse and lemon juice which was very tasty...

3.Tell us about a new flavour you have discovered recently?

It's not new, but I am mostly playing with Kummel at the moment; bit of a rediscovery as I used to use it a lot in comps.

4. If you could pass just one thing, on to an apprentice bartender or someone wishing to enter the drinks industry what would it be?

Oh god! Quite a few of my old trainees still call me 'Mum', so I'm sure they
would tell you I couldn't pass on just one thing! Mainly to have fun & to
smile, that you can never stop improving/learning and that going even a
little bit above & beyond pays dividends.

5. What does the future hold for yourself and what do you see happening in
the future in the industry?

I think the industry is pretty exciting just now as there are a few really
developed markets who are really pushing the boundaries, but also they are
influencing the more developing countries/cities around the world who are
growing & becoming advanced really fast. It's nice to see that bartenders
around the world are using the internet to form a global community and
sharing ideas. For myself, I'm pretty happy - I still have a lot to learn
about markets around the world, and my brand still has plenty of growing to
do, so I'm settled!

6. What has been your biggest satisfaction from working in the bar world?

I think the biggest satisfaction with this industry is discovering that you
can have a career/job you love and lots of fun. I think at school all jobs
sound quite boring and like proper 'work', and I never dreamed I would find
such a vibrant and interesting industry. It certainly wasn't suggested by a
careers advisor!

7. If you were to have a conversation with a cocktail, (and presuming it
could talk back to you and tell you its past). Which cocktail would it be
and why?

It's kind of pre-cocktail, but I reckon the most interesting
stories would come from Navy Grog, I'd want to hear all about the daily
routine as well as battles it played a part in! Get it to teach me some sea
shanties as well...

8. What influenced your drinks from outside the industry (I.e. art,

Science probably - I did genetics at university so things have to make sense
scientifically for me. When I was learning I thought of cocktails as
following formulas to make balance - they usually tasted good, but my
garnishes often needed some work!

9. If you where to break a bartending golden rule what would it be?

Goodness, I can't think of any golden rules now! I'm sure I have broken them
all at some stage...

10. Outside of flavour and the craft of the cocktail what in your opinion
effects the appreciation of cocktails and spirits the most?

I think the overall environment in the bar (decor, lighting, music etc)
affects the appreciation of a cocktail a lot, but the thing that can sweeten
or sour an experience in a bar the most is service - v simple and it seems
like people never stop banging on about it, but you can still walk into a
bar and be ignored while the staff talk to each other or do 'more important'
things, or be made to feel like a nuisance for wanting a drink.

11. If you where to champion a cocktail or spirit which would it be?

Apart from El Dorado & Rum? I reckon a spirit would be Mezcal - there is so
much fascinating heritage there as well as the interesting production
techniques, and that flavour - wow!

14 December 2011

Food Pairing: Fad or Totally Rad

Since its conception food pairing has been on the tip of every chef and bartenders tongue. Combine that with the work of people like Bernard Lahousse, who has created a website which offeres the easiest and most approachable access to possible combinations, it is definitely a "trending" topic you might say.

Recently though there has been more and more questions raised concerning the theory and whether it stands up both on a scientific level but also from a cultural and empirical level. We thought we would take a look at what is being said and then let people make up their own mind.

Lets begin with the basic premis of what food pairing actually is.

The more aromatic compounds 2 substances have in common the better they will taste when paired together. This idea is said to be even more true when these aromatics are shared amongst a foods "characteristic flavour"

In more practrical terms it means that we can take flavour A and substitute it for flavour B. The two flavours are not naturally something that would "work" together however due to their similar aromatics it means they should, in theory, be easily swapped out. This is the first step to creating a new combination.

The theory is also based on the idea that we taste volatile compounds 80% through our olfactory or smell. The other 20% is perceived through mouth feel and taste on the tongue.

So in short we can put this flavour with that flavour because they share aromatics. Regardless of what we have "learnt" through our experiences of taste, or ideas we have formed on what should be served with what, scientifically the two will work. This does not detract from the fact that the flavours must still be balanced and a symphony created between the two.

The idea was given birth back in 2002 by Heston Blumethal. He was searching for alternatives for salt when he stumbled upon the combination of white chocolate and caviar. Bemused and intrigued, equally, Heston sought answers. They came from a man named Benzi who cited the combination of pork liver and jasmine. It was a similar anomaly of delicious flavour combination, and worked because they both share the volatile compound indole.

Maybe the best visual illustration of the principle can be seen over at Khymos and is illustrated below.

The letters represent a food and the colours represent how many odourants / volatiles/ aromatics they have in common. In the example below A and K have no aromatics in common however they taste delicious together .
Because the colours are similar we can see that A and C share aromatics. It would be unsurprising that the two would taste good together and indeed taste similar.

Here we see A and Z. Despite the letters being at opposite ends of the scale Food Pairing shows us that they share key aromatics and so should taste similar.
Imagine A is a prominent experiment in a dish. The colours surrounding it are traditional accompaniments. We see this in the way the colour tones are matched.
Based in the Food Pairing theory we can then add Z into the mix, as it shares similar aromatics to A and so should sit well with the surrounding flavours.

Following this theory one step further we should be able to substitute A for Z entirely. Carry on the process with the surrounding ingredients and it will slowly but surely become an entirely new dish.

Some have begun to argue that the idea is just a fad sweeping through Europe. Used as a method to separate kitchens, and their chefs, based on 'those who do' are excellent and pushing the boundaries. 'Those who don't' are average and doing nothing innovative. There may be some truth in to this, however the idea has already been around for a solid decade and seems to be gaining pace rather than slowing. Especially with the advent of it's path leading towards bars and drinks meaning we are seeing more weird and wonderfully unapparent combinations springing up on Cocktail Menu's all over the globe.

A study was conducted recently which offered some interesting, yet hotly contested, findings.

Undertaken by Yong-Yeoul Ahn at Harvard University. The group mapped and studied over 56,000 recipes taken from website Epicurois.com, Allrecipes.com and the Korean site Menupan.com.

The recipes were split into geographical groups. I.e Asian, North American, European and analysed to understand the flavour sharing components between them.

The results found that recipes from North America and Western Europe lean toward ingredients that share flavours. However Southern Europe and East Asian cuisine tend to avoid ingredients that share flavours and actually leant more toward a concept dubbed 'Antipairing'.

Now, arguments abound that this has more to do with location, availability, tradition, and cost in some cases. Rather, that in certain places these dishes are eaten out of necessity rather than for the pleasure of flavour combinations. Others contest that Asia is actually one of the most successful examples of Food Pairing theory.

Whether or not this theory applies to drinks is another question. An entirely new study could be conducted on cocktail ingredients and their origins. However one thing is for certain currently the Food Pairing theory is laying down the gauntlet of how far we can push drinks combinations. The idea of savoury flavours within cocktails is only just really being breached, beyond Bloody Marys, Bull Shots, and dare I say bacon infused vodkas we have stuck to what people know and are comfortable with.

I think we would be hard pressed to find another time when people's mind were more open to food and drink breaking down boundaries.

JJ Goodman meets Drink Factories Marcis Dzelzainis

After participating in the Beefeater 24 G&Tea competition a couple of weeks ago (His recipes you can find HERE) Marcis has now sat how with JJ Goodman who is doing a series of interview dubbed "You're Hired".

JJ: Tell us where you’re at and what are you working towards?

MD: I work for Tony Conigliaro as the operations manager for 69 Colebrooke Row. What I’m working towards? I haven’t a clue! But that’s the whole point of working for Tony: you never know what’s around the corner.

Who’s behind it?
The infamous Tony C and the lovely Camille Hobby-Limon

What was your previous job?
I was assistant bar manager at Quo Vadis

Why did you leave?
Tony offered me the opportunity to work on a wonderful project, which was to become the Zetter Townhouse.

What are you drinking at the moment?
Pina Coladas

Where do you drink on your day off?
Happiness Forgets on Hoxton Square..............

Read the rest of the interview at over at View London HERE

Drink Factory Guardian Feature

A very warm and Christmassy thanks to everyone who made it to the Drink Factory Masterclass. A special thanks to Alex Petridis fo this article in the Guardian. You can read the entire article HERE.

Have a read to find out what he thought of the practical home applications of some of our techniques, his occasional "eureka!" moments compared with his slightly more often miserable failure moments and where his passion for cocktails began.

Ferran Adria - Final Harvard Lecture of 2011

The man who really does need no introduction Ferran Adria graced the Harvard stage with the final lecture of 2011 last week.

The El Bulli mastermind was joined by Jose Andre who acts as both a translator and also takes the opportunity to add his two cents to what Ferran has to say.

The lecture begins with Ferran explaining his thoughts and process behind finding the concept for El Bulli and how despite initial criticism, and many people scoffing at the idea he followed through and turned what was a simple 50 seat restaurant, open for 10 months of the year, into arguably the worlds most famous restaurant in the world.

He then goes on to describe a project, set to roll out in 2014, called The El Bulli foundation. The project comes in collaboration with Telefonica, who are a communications company, ,and it's basic goal is to create platforms to share their knowledge.

The project will include an idearium, a brainstorming room, the kitchen workshop, with all the ideas and creativity being open to the public. He explains the idea around the 50min mark. It truly looks groundbreaking both visually and conceptually.

Flavour of the Week - Linden/Lime Blossoms

Lime (UK) and Linden (US) Blossoms are derived from a variety of tree called Tilla. There are around 30 species of the tree and they exist in most temperate climates, but with the largest variety being found in Asia.

Despite what it's name implies the blossoms have no relation, by species or by taste, to the citrus fruit.

The blossoms/fruit are taken from the leaves of the tree and are commonly used either dried or as an essential oil or tincture. The flowers themselves are edible and are also said to be very tasty when used as a tea, in addition to having various internal and external health benefits.

The flavour works very well with o.j peel, blackcurrant or fruits that have slightly deeper notes. As a scent it is used more often than simple beeswax tincture for it's more complete and round flavour.

Flavour: Floral, rich honey aromatic.

07 December 2011

Beefeater 24 G&Tea Recipes

In reaching the finals of the Beefeater 24 G&Tea finals 69 Colebrooke Row's and Drink Factories very own Marcis Dzelzainis was one of only two participants left representing the UK.

The remaining participants spanning Canada, Greece, Italy and UK were put through two rounds. The first was "Flavour Matching" where each contestant was randomly assigned a tea and allowed to build a cocktail from there. The second round was "Tea Ceremony" where the participants had to come up with a ritualised tea ceremony to serve and accompany their cocktail.

We can now bring you Marcis' two recipes (unfortunately minus high quality photos) and their serves.

Round 1 - Camellia Cocktail

"I really wanted to accentuate that sensory connection you make with sencha tea and the seaside. It can have quite a seaside, seaweed taste, so I'm transporting the drinker by creating a personal beach for them." - Marcis

Camellia Cocktail 

Glass: Ceramic Japanese tea cups
Garnish: Grapefruit zest
Method: Stir all ingredients with ice then strain into cups 

40ml Beefeater 24 gin 

2.5ml Lemon sherbet (finely grated zest, sugar and lemon juice)

20ml Homemade kiwi cordial (made with kiwi fruit cooked sous vide and then separating in a centrifuge) 

5 drops Sencha tincture (made from tea brewed twice)

Round 2 - Tippy Assam

A black Assam tea that produces a darker and stronger liquor after brewing for 3-4 minutes at nearly boiling point, with raisin notes and a more tannic character

Tippy 24
Glass: Coupe
Garnish: Grapefruit twist (discarded)
Method: Rapid infuse tea and gin using nitrous oxide in a siphon. Shake all ingredients with ice then strain into a chilled coupe.
50ml Beefeter 24 gin infused with Tippy Assam tea (3g tea to 350ml gin)
25ml Salted Uzu and lemon juice (1:5)
25ml Plum wine
15ml Elderflower cordial

For the rest of the contestants recipes head over to Class

Tasting Tips

Though many of us will do this all the time, many of us will also have asked am I doing right? Well, yes, you probably are, however this post is more of a general reminder and some informative bits of knowledge that other, not so seasoned tasters, can take away with them.

Knowledge is the enemy of indifference - Study your products. Learn what botanicals go in what gin, learn the subtle differences in the soil, climate, or distillation and then attribute them to the spirit.

Try and make a mental note that this botanical tastes like this. If possible try and get hold of fresh ingredients and then smell/taste them alongside the spirit. Your pallet and sense of taste can become encyclopedic in the number of flavours/areas/methods of production it can recognise.

Beyond this make sure you use your own words to describe flavours and create personal associations. These can then be built into a table and refered to in dire times or when you are so far into the tasting memory lapses occur.

Your nose knows - Your sense of taste is profoundly reliant on your sense of smell. Always go in with the nose first but be careful not to reach in too close as you may burn your nasal receptors and smell nothing but ethyrs.

Be sure you set your nose back to "neutral" inbetween each smell otherwise you will be smelling part of the previous spirit. This is easily done by smelling the skin on your hands which has a neutral odour.

Your are never wrong - True, there are certain aspects of a spirit that everyone should be able to taste and recognise however tasting is SUBJECTIVE. Try not to take others lead on what you can taste. The quote "Madness is rare in an individual but the rule of groups" often springs to mind when the room nods in agreement with a confidently stated flavour.

This leads back to the earlier point about being sure to recognise as many flavours as possible meaning you can confidently make suggestions. Everyone will perceive flavours slightly differently and everyone has a different threshold for what they can and cannot taste. This does not affect peoples ability to pair flavours and understand what works and how.

Dilution is good - Never be worried about diluting a spirit. Various studies have shown that, in whiskies particularly, adding water actually releases new flavours that would not have been present prior.

Myth - Do not trust anyone who tells you that a certain kind of glass is better for tasting because it means the liquid hits points of your tongue. The tongue map is not accurate and we now know that we can sense each kind of taste with very little difference all over the tongue.

Caramelized Cream

Having never been a big fan of drinks with cream I wasn't exactly gripped by the idea of "caramelized cream". However I went away and gave it some thought. With the light of a new day came an open mind and some inspiration.

The main reason for my disdain of creamy alcoholic drinks is their taste. Cream, for me doesn't impart a great deal to any drink beyond thickening and texturising. Flip that on it's head though and why not add flavour to cream whilst retaining the texturising effect.

We can thank Ideas in Food, for the news. The recipe goes like this.

Add o.5% baking soda to the cream. This will have the effect of expediting the browning process. The mixture was added to a mason jar (it is essentially a jam jar pictured below) and the lid loosely screwed on. An inch of water was then added into the bottom of the pressure cooker and turned on at a high pressure for 2 hours. Once the pressure had naturally dissipated the cream was left looking brownish in colour and with rich deep nutty notes.

Essentially what you are doing here is cooking the sugars in the cream and "caramelizing" them to release the deeper, sweeter flavours.

An alternative method to try, is placing the cream in a airtight jar or sous vide bag and then cooking in a water bath for around 15 - 20 hours until brown. The cream will curdle however this can be addressed simply by blending the mixture. This method is time consuming but cost effective.

The resulting product can potentially be used to add a new dimension to a cocktail. Perhaps a Caramelized White Russian, or a Irish Coffee with a distinct edge. Let us know if you come up with anything exciting!

Flavour of the Week - Pine Needles

Now I can't say I have ever heard of pine needles being used in Western cooking, (let us know if you have or know of any recipes) however I do know that they are used in Korean serves and Asian cooking. Firstly because the flavour they impart cannot be substituted and secondly because they are easily available and can be picked directly from the tree.

All pine needles are edible, however the amount of flavour varies greatly so be sure to either ask advice when buying or taste before harvesting.

Alternatively Pine Needle Extract is easily available both over the internet or from health food shops. In addition to having a distinct aroma and taste the extract boasts a wealth of health benefits.

It is said to work very well as a vinegar, and sit comfortably within a gin or cranberry juice.

Flavour - similar to juniper in ways, deep citrus, fresh, clean

Portrait Created with 3.2 Million Dots

Clearly this does not have anything to do directly with drinks, or catering. However as people that appreciate art in all it's forms, especially when that art is taking something known and mundane to add a new dimension and pull it back from the brink of obscurity, we hope that you will enjoy this not only for the skill of the artist but also for the cinematography and editing involved.

30 November 2011

Lip Smacking Science - Crystals, Emulsions, Foams

An absolute treat today, coming out of the Harvard Lecture Series. The talk is lead by Bill Yosses who now acts as the pastry chef for The White House! He is accompanied by Naza Tanesh who achieved the rare feat of working her way around every section of the El Bulli kitchen, but began life in the pastry section.

The lecture focuses on creation of crystals, emulsions, and foams. We see the recipe for how to make El Bullis legendary hot and cold gin drink and let into the secret of how to make a meringue without using any egg whites.

The pair are maybe two of the worlds foremost pastry chefs and as we know many of the techniques used in the pastry section were amongst the first to cross over into the bar world.

With that in mind this is pretty much a masterclass in how to achieve the perfect crystals emulsions and foams.

Gelatin Cube Bouncing of a Table

Modernist Cuisine - High-Speed Video : Gelatin Cubes On Solid Surface 6200 FPS from Modernist Cuisine on Vimeo.

Though the video may not be directly related to cocktails, there is something quite beautiful about watching Gelatin Cubes bounce of a solid surface over and over again.

The video is another gem to come out of the Modernist Cuisine camp and is shot at 6200 FPS.

How To Carbonate Cocktails

Personal experience is a valuable thing. I could probably already tell you the answer to “Do bubbles get you drunk quick?” - In my case yes, champagne makes me go wonky, shots however I can put away for hours. Though, that’s no reason to not look into the idea further.

The idea of carbonating a spirit is something I can’t say I have seen being used behind bars too much. Maybe the process seems overly complex or not practical for service. Maybe the idea just doesn’t appeal to people. However I sent a mail to Kevin Liu over at Why Cook asking if he had any info on the matter……… his response and a few additions from myself are below.

Giles asked me a few weeks ago what I thought about carbonating hard liquor. I’d heard of the technique previously via the Cooking Issues Radio Show, but I hadn’t played with it and didn’t really understand why anyone would want to try it. After messing around for a few hours this past weekend, I can definitively pronounce: carbonating liquor is easy and definitely worth doing.

Some Science

First, it’s worth understanding some things about carbonation.

- It seems to get you drunk faster. Something about the carbon dioxide increases ABV more rapidly than if you drank vodka alone. This only happens in some people, however.

- When you carbonate something, you are literally dissolving the gas CO2 in a liquid. That CO2 has no reason to come out of solution unless it’s disturbed or if there happens to be a nucleation site available.

- On that note, although people tend to describe a “tingly” sensation related to carbonated beverages, in fact it’s more likely we are able to taste the CO2 even if it stays in solution. Scientists think we are somehow detecting the carbonic acid that CO2 forms when it’s dissolved in water, probably with the same taste buds that are responsible for sourness.

- Don’t believe me? It turns out you can taste carbon dioxide even in a pressure chamber, when the bumbles can’t come out.

- When CO2 does come out of solution, it seems to physically irritate our taste buds, so spicy things may taste spicier. At least one study I dug up, however, seems to indicate that
pretreating the tongue with capsaicin actually decreases sensation of carbonation. Weird.

- Well, maybe not that weird. Another study showed that capsaicin and carbonated water both create sensations of burning, stinging, and tingling, though capsaicin was much stronger than carbonated water. So what was probably going on in the first study was that the capsaicin was so strong, carbonated water seemed weak in comparison. Mmm, weaksauce.

What does all this mean? We’ve written before about how alcohol may trigger nerves that are also set off by capsaicin. It seems like we must enjoy some facet of the irritation we get from each of these ingredients or some combination of all of them. I’d love to know the why’s and how’s of all this, but in the meantime, it’s time to do some observational experiments…

How to Carbonate Vodka

Carbonating hard alcohol is very easy. The basic rules, as dictated by Dave Arnold are:

- get the alcohol cold
- clarify as much as possible
- remove air
- as many rounds of carbonation as possible.

You see, ethanol doesn’t dissolve CO2 as effectively as water does, so the colder the product, the better. Clarification removes potential nucleation sites. With nicely distilled vodka, which is what I used, clarification isn’t an issue. Removing air helps to prevent foaming and can be done either by letting the product sit or by sucking a vacuum on it.

The two easiest ways to carbonate at home are either using an ISI cream whipper with CO2 canisters or a modified SodaStream home carbonation system. This is pretty simple, so here are the pictures showing you how to do it.

I used silicone aquarium tubing I had lying around after building an immersion circulator. The tubing is required in order to carbonate a small amount of product (which, in the case of vodka, probably makes sense). It’s also smart to use less product if you’re concerned with foaming, for example if you’re trying to carbonate white wine.

Here are a few lessons learned:

- Toss the vodka in the freezer for a while. I got mine down to 20F.
- It will take a lot longer to carbonate such a small amount of liquid than with a full bottle. Be prepared to use a lot of gas.
- A weird cloud develops above the vodka. It’s cool.
- Use immediately if possible; the gas doesn’t stay dissolved very well.

What Should we Use it For?

The vodka tasted sweeter and less alcoholic than I remembered a shot tasting, though one test probably wasn’t enough to draw any conclusions from. The texture was definitely fun, more of a velvety sensation than traditional bubbles like would be found in soda. The potential of this is two-fold. You can either simply add a flavoured liqeur to the spirit and you instantly have a fizzy shot that doesn’t actually require a dilution like soda or lemonade, but also you could simply take a pre flavoured vodka and charge it, creating a whole new dimension to the drink.

The most obvious application I can think of for this technique would be traditional highballs served up, without the seltzer water component. Imagine a gin and tonic that used only gin, lime, and quinine. What a kick in the pants that would be. This would also be a convenient way to present service. For example, if you wanted to premix and prechill a drink, then carbonate a whole bottle of it and pour straight from the bottle. The possibilities are endless, all you’d need is empy bottles with a screw cap and ideas on what to fill them with. The idea of being able to create your own fizzy soft drinks, or long fizzy cocktails may indeed take a bit of prep but the results are bespoke and individual to your own tastes/bar

For instance - still water, sugar, and lemon to create Vodka lemonade, or a long sparkling drink that used charged white wine instead of champagne.

On the topic of which……..how useful would it be to get that fizz back in a bottle of flat champagne or prosecco. Potentially not the best practice but useful for maybe staff drinks or parties at home…..!

What would you do with this technique?

More Good News For Drinkers...Kind Of

A new study has show that we (people of the UK and Ireland) are now drinking more but living longer! We have an average life expectancy of 80, up 10 years from 1960. The study was conducted by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

The study found we are drinking more than we were 20 years ago. However notable is that the UK and Ireland are the only countries where this has occured. Of the 34 countries studied the rest were found to be drinking less. In France and Spain drinking has dropped 37% and 46% respectively and risen 18% in Ireland

Japan was found to have the highest life expectancy rate at 83.

Flavour of the Week - Raisin

Basically a form of grape, but dried, raisins do however hold their own distinct flavour profile.

"Raisin", in the UK specifically refers to a large dried dark grape, while we use Sultana for a dried white grape and Currant to describe a dried black corinth grape.

Widely used in cooking, mainly in desserts, owing to their high level of sweetness they also lend themselves very easily to infusions. The simplest method being to let the raisin soak overnight in the base spirit.

Less know for being used as a fresh muddled fruit, the flavour can be intense and overpowering, but sits very well with rose, oak, or citrus notes.

(Dried large dark grape variety) Flavour - Sweet, rich, succulent.

23 November 2011

High Speed Video:Water Balloon Popped 6200 FPS

The Cooking Lab is part of only a few "elite" kitchens that can boast to be alot more than just a kitchen. During the making of the book Modernist Cuisine there was up to 30 people working at any one time, ranging from chefs to video editors.

The books are said to strike a perfect accord between art, cookery and science, with the imagery and photography being jaw dropping before you even read any recipes.

The video above is part of a new Video Vault, available on their website. Simply put it is very very cool.

Artisan Distilling Revolutions - The Basics

Written by and in collaboration with Jamie Baxter. Jamie was a master distiller at Chase Distillery where he was responsible for designing, installing, commissioning, running and then developing products. He now works as a consultant, working around the UK and South America aiding in start up small scale artisan distilleries.

We are in the middle of a particularly English revolution. It’s very small, and rather quiet, but believe me, it is happening. Companies like Chase, English Whisky Co and Sipsmith led the way. Others such as Sacred, Adnams, Charles Martell and Ludlow have followed and there are others coming over the hill. I am talking about a wave of smaller-scale, artisan distilleries all pushing to see what has happened in America also happen over here. It’s almost the reverse of what happened with beer where the American craft brewers followed the rise of British micro-breweries.

I have been fortunate enough to be involved with several new distillery projects to a greater or lesser degree. Although there is huge variety in the products proposed, all these projects have a traditional pot still at the heart of them. The design involves a little thought:


It is best to buy the biggest pot that can be afforded and that will fit in the space available. Oddly a 450 litre still does not cost much more than a 300 litre one, and the extra capacity will always be useful. That said, all the other ancillary equipment will need to be scaled up accordingly. Similarly, it is important to consider the work patterns. With a small still, many runs can be made in one day, but a lot of time is spent waiting for the still to warm up each time and energy costs are higher. A bigger pot means that fewer runs are required. However, there comes a point where the entire run cannot be done in a single shift.


Traditionally copper was used because it has good heat transfer properties, but we now know that it also acts as a catalyst to certain reactions so removing sulphates and giving a smoother spirit. Stainless steel is cheaper and easier to maintain, and there are wooden ones still knocking around (El Dorado anyone?). Even glass is used, particularly for gin where neutral alcohol is usually bought in. But for the artisan distiller the only way is copper.


You will have seen the wonderful whisky stills with their tall, conical tops, and maybe an Armagnac still with an olive shaped contraption mounted on the pot. Others of you will have seen a column with several bubble plates. These are all different methods for increasing the amount of condensation of the alcohol vapour and is called reflux. Put simply, the more reflux, the purer, stronger and smoother the spirit becomes. A huge amount of reflux is needed to get the spirit to 96% ABV (the EU required purity for vodka production) and less is needed for spirits such as whisky, rum, brandies etc which will subsequently be barrel-aged to smooth the spirit out. Designing the amount of reflux is very much about getting a balance between purity and flavour.


This is dictated by the location. Mains gas is cheapest, but if you’re not on the mains then oil or LPG is a good alternative. Charles Martell uses a wood-fired boiler for his Stinking Bishop cheese plant, so it was a natural choice to design a wood-fired still as he has all the equipment needed to handle 20 tonne deliveries of logs. Electrically heating a still is perhaps easiest in a small space, but is expensive to run.


Most stills nowadays are heated indirectly using steam raised using one of the fuels above. The simplest and cheapest method of transferring this heat into the still is to run the steam through a coil in the belly of the pot. An alternative method is to run the steam into a jacket surrounding the bottom part of the pot. Although this is more expensive to make, it has the advantage that because it has a bigger surface area, and because it gives a smoother interior to the pot, particulate material can be put in the still without the risk of burning eg cider brandy (when the pot is filled with cider) can be heated easily with a steam coil, but if apple brandy is to be distilled (where the whole fermented mash including the apple bits go in the pot) then a jacket is better because lower steam pressure (and therefore temperature) can be used so reducing the risk of particulate material burning, and it is easier to clean without a coil getting in the way.

Direct heat, whereby naked flames heat the bottom of the pot, is still used by Glenfiddich and Glenfarclas in Scotland. Nolet, home of Ketel One, do the same as do many grappa, rum and cognac distillers. I must admit that naked flames in an area where highly flammable vapour might be around gives me the heebie-geebies.

Indian method of making perfume


This is the term for what the still is filled with initially. It might be thin and with few particles like cider, wine or beer, or it might be thick and gloopy or full of chunks of fermented fruit and vegetables. The former is easy to handle, the latter needs a bit of care. Perhaps a stirrer or rummager might need to be built in. Certainly a larger outlet will be required to empty it. Flavoured spirits might require easy access into the pot to put in and remove sprigs of wormwood (mmm… absinthe), orange peel, and other larger flavouring material.


One of the biggest problems faced by many distilleries is what to do with the stillage. This is what is left in the still after the alcohol has been distilled off. Depending on the spirit being produced, this might be fed to animals or sprayed on fields as irrigation where there is not much nutritional content left. Whichever way the distiller gets rid of waste, he needs to ensure that that it is done with all the appropriate licences and permissions, and that it is done at no cost.


I find all stills fascinating, and most of them beautiful. The artisan distiller should remember that tourism offers a good additional revenue stream. Over 1.3 million people visited Scottish distilleries last year spending nearly £18 each. Tap into that market. Even if you cannot receive visitors, make the distillery look nice and it will give you a nice warm feeling every morning.


Every business plan shows that the distillery will be a success, otherwise the project will not get off the ground, so plan for success and make sure that you can expand. Similarly, every business plan is wrong. Things happen and so it is wise to build in as much flexibility as possible. The artisan distiller may set out to make vodka from parsnips, but find a big demand for cherry brandy after a glut in the orchard.

Of-course the list above is not exhaustive, and there is far more to consider than just the still. The growing of the ingredients is becoming more common with distilling often being considered as a farm diversification. Mashing, fermentation, blending, storage, ageing, bottling and distribution all need equally careful thought, and in particular the choice of site is critical, but it’s really, really good fun

Flavour of the Week - Thyme/Lemon Thyme

Found everywhere from my Dad to your Mums garden, thyme is a robust herb that can survive in the harshest of conditions. Often found growing naturally in wet grassy areas.

Used predominantly in cooking, the herb lends itself well to roast dinners and red meat very well, with it's strong pungent flavour. Responsible for this flavour is a chemical called thymol which is present in many other similar herbs.

Thyme is one of the few herbs that retains it's flavour after drying and can actually become more potent.

It's flavour is released slowly when cooking which lends itself well to low temperature sous vide infusions.

Also notable is lemon thyme, which adds a citrus edge to the flavour and may have a more interesting flavour profile for bar and drinks use.

Flavour: pungent, earthy, deep, aromatic, slight spice

Beefeater 24 Masterclass

Masterclass time once again, and just in time for Christmas. Tony Conigliaro is hosting the class at The Drink Factory Lab to explore the secrets of Beefeater 24 Gin. Guests will be guided through the art of mixing the perfect martini, as well making party classics and finding out out all about the current trend for tea based cocktails.

The event takes place on 3rd December between 3 – 5pm at 35 Britannia Rown, (The Lab). Best of all its FREE!

RSVP – david@bacchus-pr.com

16 November 2011

Harold Mcgee - The Chemistry of Thanksgiving - Free Webinar

Our friend and collaborator Harold McGee is participating in the next in the series of free webinars organised and presented by The American Chemical Societies "Joy Of Science" Food Chemistry series.

Granted not many of the UK population has ever given to much though into how the chemistry of thanksgiving dinner really works. However I'm sure we can find some striking similarities or take some inspiration for our own Christmas dinners or just a family meal.

You can register for free and get some more information HERE

Below is one of the previous lectures delving into the chemistry of wine. I will do a more detailed breakdown including slides in another post. If you'd rather not spend an hour watching the whole film hold on till next week!

Layered or Un-layered?

This is probably the best example of layering and viscosity we have ever seen. Viscosity is a measure of a liquids resistance. In simpler terms it is basically a measure of how thick a fluid is. For instance water is thin and has a low viscosity, while syrup or honey is thick and has a high viscosity.

In bartender terms it basically means, and is the reason for why we can layer some fluids atop others. Often for our purposes this is also dependant on the sugar content of the fluid.

Would you like you drink layered or patchy madam?

Too Few Layers of Clothing? - Drink!

Probably any Russian you meet will be able to tell you this, purely based on empirical/experiential evidence, but alcohol does actually warm you up. Especially red wines.

More than just being a psychological effect of red wine being associated with, blazing open hearths, bear skin rugs, wrapping yourself up in a blanket and clinking glasses to begin what is bound to be a warm and steamy eve. The tanins and histamines from red grape skin actually react with your body, to help heat itself.

Furthermore, alcohol in general dilates the blood vessels which increases blood flow, throughout the body and to the extremities. Combine that with the tanins of red wine and one can understand why so few people naturally turn to a glass of red on a warm summers day.

The official verdict is that red wine makes you warmer. Serves a pretty darn good excuse to nip in for a glass of red or shot of vodka next time you find yourself trawling the streets in the freezing cold.

Why Do Some People Hate Drinking?

This post was prepared in collaboration with Kevin Liu and Naveen Sinha, who describe themselves as - "Two geeks from Harvard and MIT who explore great food from a scientific perspective and blog about it" - Personally I'd describe them as two of the coolest people I've come into contact with, but that might say more about me than about them!

Being scientists they can take a much more detailed look at many of the things we talk about on the blog. Check out there site Why Cook for weekly updates on the latest news from all over the culinary and cocktailian world. Enough chit chat lets get into some knowledge.

I take great pride in asking people what they like to drink and finding something in my home bar that will make them happy. I enjoy alcohol as a lubricant for social experiences and am convinced that in moderation, it has at least some moderate benefits to health. The vast majority of friends I've tested have enjoyed the drinks I've made them. People who swear they can't stand hard liquor or only drink vodka have refilled on swizzles made from anejo tequila.

Except for Tom.

Tom (his real name isn't Tom) cannot stand the taste of alcohol. At all. And I know it's not his fault. He's always a good sport, tasting every single drink I've made for him. Each time, he smiles, as if confident this time, this drink, he'll find something he'll genuinely enjoy and know exactly what to order at bars forever. For me, it's like watching a car wreck in slow motion. I carefully study his face, looking for a sign, the slightest hint of a smile that indicates he's pleased, satisfied, or at least indifferent. But, every time, this venture ends the same. Tom's face tightens with disgust, his eyes squint, his tongue hangs limp from his defeated mouth.

Tom drinks Bud Lime and Coronas. I drink Tom's cocktail leftovers. Once in a while, I'll mix up something exceptionally light and he'll happily accept a glass, knowing he'll never be able to bring himself to ask for an amaretto sour or a dark and stormy (hold the stormy) in a bar. Poor Tom.

I decided to start doing some research. I had to understand why Tom didn't enjoy the same drinks I found so delicious.

Does Alcohol Actually Taste Good? (or are we all just addicts?)

Humans have been drinking alcohol for thousands of years. The earliest evidence we have dates back to the production of alcohol in China around 8000 B.C. And for as long as we've made it, we've treasured it. Pottery fragments left by Neolithic settlements living in modern-day Georgia around 6000 B.C. reveal images of celebration associated with alcoholic beverages.

Of course, early fermented wines and beers were relatively low alcohol. Some societies may have used alcohol production more as a means of preservation than for alcohol's inhibition-reducing effects. In fact, we didn't know how to distill alcohol to stronger strengths until 1200 A.D.

For more on the history of booze, see Drink: a Cultural History

A few thousand years is far too little time to evolve any sort of biological preference for alcohol, but we humans are very good at passing along our taste aversions and preferences through cultural and other unconscious cues. So what if the only reason I think alcohol tastes good is because people enjoy getting drunk and somehow that drug reliance has translated into a taste preference for ethanol? Would cocktails taste better if they were all virgin?

Some of the most telling research I found on the taste of alcohol came from the Department of Otolaryngology (the study of the ear, nose, and throat) at Warsaw Medical University in Poland. In 2000, Dr. Anna Scinska and five of her colleagues performed an experiment that, so far as I can tell, is the most definitive exploration of how people experience the flavor of alcohol available.

Dr. Scinska recruited 20 volunteers to taste small squirts of various concentrations of ethanol, sugar sucrose syrup, citric acid, saline, and quinine, a bittering agent. Perception of ethanol's taste was in question. The other solutions were meant to represent the tastes of sweet, sour, salty, and bitter - the four basic tastes the tongue can experience (MSG is a fifth, but is less explored). The results were intriguing. Every single test subject said that ethanol is bitter, even when it was present only as a 0.3% solution. The second most common taste descriptor, however, was that ethanol tasted sweet.

In the second part of Dr. Scinska's experiment, the test subjects were invited back to compare ethanol to tastes, but this time they were asked to rate the taste similarity of ethanol to a combination of both quinine and sucrose. The results confirmed what had been observed during the first test. When subjects tasted a 10% ethanol solution, they found it tasted most similar to a 3% sucrose solution with just a little quinine (0.005%) mixed in.

From this research, it seemed clear that people find alcohol both bitter and sweet. Everyone appears to find alcohol bitter, but apparently not extremely bitter, regardless of concentration. People also thought alcohol was sweet, but once again, only slightly, regardless of concentration.

These revelations were fortifying for me. The research showed that alcohol delivers a complex mix of bitter and sweet. Even at cocktail concentrations, the flavors were described as "pleasant". In fact, as I did more reading on the subject, I found that other animals (rats, elephants, birds included) seem to seek out naturally occurring alcohol for its sweet taste.

So why did Tom still hate cocktails? Going off the Scinska research, I thought maybe it might have something to do with the way he perceives bitterness. More research was needed.

It's Not Tom's Fault

In 2004, Sarah Lanier, a graduate of the dietetics program at the University of Connecticut, recruited 49 undergraduate students from the UConn population for an experiment. Lanier was working with Dr. Valerie B. Duffy, a professor at UConn who earlier that year had published a paper linking ethanol (the stuff that makes alcohol alcoholic) to a compound called 6-n-propylthiouracil, commonly known as PROP.

Here's how Lanier's experiment played out. Each of the 49 recruits sampled four different drinks: pilsner beer, blended scotch whiskey, instant espresso, and unsweetened grapefruit juice. They rated how bitter or sweet each drink tasted on two scales - intensity and whether they liked the taste. And that was it. The session must have been pretty easy for the college kids. They got free booze, a little coffee, and a few dollars for an hour of work.

But Lanier found some interesting results with this simple experiment. She collected two more important pieces of data about the students: (1) how much alcohol they consumed and (2) whether they were sensitive to PROP bitterness. People who are sensitive to PROP are known as "supertasters" because they find certain foods unbearably bitter. Most people are middle tasters, while some are "nontasters" - people who barely experience PROP bitterness at all. Lanier discovered that nontasters not only found bitter foods to taste less bitter, they also experienced sweet foods as sweeter. On the other end of the spectrum, supertasters found all bitter drinks to taste more bitter.

When Lanier linked people's perception of sweet and bitter to their consumption of alcohol, she discovered something really unexpected. People who thought scotch tasted sweeter and less bitter drank more alcohol on average. In addition, this effect appeared regardless of whether people said they actually liked scotch or not. How the students experienced beer, however, did not seem to have any predictive value on total alcohol consumption. Instead, Lanier found simply that more men tended to say they "liked beer" and those that showed this preference tended to drink more.

The UConn experiment seems to show two things. First, some people experience hard alcohol as extremely bitter and they drink less alcohol of any type as a result, even if they say they like the taste of hard alcohol. Second, although people experience beer very differently as well, they seem much more able to overcome their taste aversion, probably as a result of social pressure.

Aha! Now I understood why Tom could stomach some light beers, but struggled with sweet cocktails. He had probably overcome the bitterness of beer through social pressure and acquired tolerance to aversion, but the whole point of a craft cocktail is to use different strong liquors in harmony. You want to taste the alcohol. But that taste was torture for Tom.

But What About the Burning Taste of Alcohol?

There was one more thing I had to look into before closing the book on the "why do some people hate the taste of alcohol" case. Many of the participants in Dr. Scinska's 2000 study ascribed a sour taste to ethanol, but upon interview, described more of a "burning sensation". The characteristic burn of alcohol is well-documented, but, I wondered, what impact did it have on taste perception?

I posed the question to the question and answer site Quora and after a few months got a well-researched, thorough response from a medical student named Jae Won Joh:

The answer is not simple, unfortunately, and it's actually a bit difficult to pinpoint. Let's go through some of the research I've been able to dig up. Skip the bulletpoints and just go for the intermittent summaries if you're impatient.

· In 1965, Hellekant discovered that cat gustatory fibers respond to ethanol by increasing their firing pattern[1]. These fibers were also responsive to water, acetic acid, quinine, and salt. In cat non-gustatory fibers, ethanol caused a direct increase in firing up to a certain concentration before causing paralysis[2]. This was one of the first studies looking into how ethanol affected taste nerves.

· In 1999, Sako and Yamamoto showed in rats that you could induce aversion to alcohols, suggesting a possible burning/unpleasant sensation[3].

· In 2002, Danilova and Hellekant duplicated Hellekant's 1965 work in rhesus monkeys, showing that ethanol induces increases in firing in about half of lingual non-gustatory receptors. The taste fibers which respond to ethanol are also sensitive light touch and cooling. This suggested some sort of neuronal manipulation by ethanol, possibly with mechanoreceptors.

· In 2002, Trevisani published a brilliant paper showing that ethanol actually potentiates TRPV-1, a heat-gated ion channel that is responsible for the burning sensation elicited by capsaicin. Ethanol potentiated the response of TRPV-1 to capsaicin, protons, and heat; lowering the threshold for heat activation from 42°C to 34°C. This provides a likely mechanistic explanation for the ethanol-induced sensory responses that occur at body temperature.

Layman's summary up till 2002: we thought ethanol was just messing with nerves, but apparently there's this special receptor that it wreaks hell on, and it just so happens to be the receptor for capsaicin, which causes the burning associated with spicy food. Innnnnteresting. Veeeeery interesting...

· In 2004, it was found that ethanol actually activates a neural pathway reactive to sucrose[5]. That's right: ethanol is, at least to a rat brain, not all that far off from sugar. Which, in an evolutionary sense, is not all too surprising, given that they're both energy sources.

· In 2004 and 2005, Lyall showed in a nice series of papers that TRPV-1 is in taste receptors[5], proving that they were definitely in the right location for stimulation. This is basically further confirmation of Trevisani's work, I think.

· In 2005, Simon and Araujo published a nice review of the data thus far[7]. Just thought I'd recognize their paper, it's good.

· In 2009, Blednov and Harris demonstrated that if you knocked out the TRPV-1 receptor in mice, they would show significantly greater consumption of ethanol than their normal counterparts. However, you could still induce aversion in both groups, and withdrawal symptoms weren't different between the two[8].

Layman's summary up till 2009: we know now about alcohol and capsaicin, but it's apparent that alcohol has other taste pathways as well, possibly involving sweetness. It may even involve something else as well, given that you can still get a mouse to hate alcohol even if it doesn't have the capsaicin receptor.

Basically, what Joh summarized was that ethanol seems to trigger a pathway that is also responsible for the burning sensation you get from eating spicy foods and, importantly, that ethanol reduces the temperature at which the pain gets triggered.

I knew from previous research that there is only one way to build up a tolerance to spicy food: eat more spicy food. Perhaps sensitivity to alcohol works in a similar fashion?

How to Deal with Different Types of Drinkers

Everyone knows that flavor preferences vary greatly between people, but I had no idea ethanol could deliver such a complex range of pleasurable and unpleasurable flavors to different tasters. How one experiences alcohol depends on their genetics, social/cultural influences, and tolerance built up over time. Rather than go into all the takeaways, I've organized some advice for dealing with different types of drinkers.

For the beginning drinker

You have to be careful with the beginning drinkers because you have no idea whether they are a supertaster or not. Beginning drinkers are also the most prone to developing preferences for or aversions toward alcohol, so you want to make sure they don't drink too much or have a negative experience - it could deal irreparable damage.

Test the waters - mix something they're familiar with, like lemonade, and add half the alcohol you might add to a full drink. See if they appreciate how the alcohol adds complexity to the drink, or if they immediately pull away, cringing. Then you might have some idea what type of drinker they are and proceed from there.

For the Supertasting Social Drinker

For those individuals who are sensitive to PROP, the only way to make sure they enjoy their drink is to keep the abv relatively low. Highballs, swizzles, shrubs, and the like are classy and can be just as strong as an up drink, but are more diluted. Steps should also be taken to reduce the perceived bitterness of the drink. Avoid bitters and quinine if possible. Instead, emphasize sour and sweet flavors. Consider adding some salt, as salt can reduce the perception of bitterness (see here for an example). Experiment with complex flavors that are not alcohol-based, such as herbs and infused syrups.

For the Connoisseur

For a guest who's a fan of fine scotches or whiskys, you're probably safe to assume either they're not a supertaster or they have acquired a powerful enough preference for alcohol that the bitterness doesn't bother them anymore. Mixing drinks for people like this can be especially difficult because it can be hard to gauge how much tolerance they've developed in their TPRV-1 receptors. If ethanol works anything like capsaicin, what one person sees as a spicy, pleasant sip might appear to another as bland and pale. If at all possible, it might help to have the guest taste a simple blended scotch and describe it. If they find it bland and are looking for a complex drink, it may help to add bitters, quinine, or aperitifs to up the complexity.

For Nontasters

I somewhat suspect I am a nontaster. I love spicy, bitter cocktails and eat kale on a weekly basis (supertasters find many bitter vegetables overwhelming). It's not a bad life, though sometimes I wonder whether I've missed out on taste experiences others with more sensitive taste receptors enjoy. This may be one reason I enjoy smoky cocktails (have you seen our DIY cold smoker?), carbonation, and cocktails with capsaicin mixed or infused in. Nontasters are easy to please, but tough to impress. I've found that simply using higher proof spirits doesn't cut it; the harmony of other ingredients is thrown off. Challenge nontasters with new flavors. I remember once taking a shot of angostura bitters with John Gertsen of Drink. It was one of the strangest things I could imagine doing, but it was delicious. A shot of fernet, anyone?

What type of drinker are you?