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?

Cool Hunting - Lab Video

Thanks to Cool Hunting for this brilliantly shot "behing the scenes" video of the lab at 69 Colebrooke Row.

Although alot of the equipment and technology has been moved up the road to the new, and more spacious, lab, the video provides insights into the methods of thinking and ideas behind many of the cocktails at 69.

Flavour of the Week - Cranberry

The christmas adds have already started, along with decorations springing up all over town.
In some ways I feel like I am somehow subtly being coerced into this choice of post, however the flavour is delightful regardless.

Though cranberry is an obvious choice when it comes to juices and longer drinks, I can't remember the last time I saw a cranberry syrup or a more concentrated version of the juice used in a cocktail.

For instance an interesting idea would be cranberry and almond syrup, that can be used in place of sugar. Perhaps a cordial mixed with lime or maple syrup.

Flavour - Tart, sweet, fruity. If eaten fresh they are very sour and bitter so will need sweetening.

09 November 2011

Caffeine Inhaler by Aeroshot

We all hit that point in the day, 4 or 5 coffee's in. Still feeling as though you need that extra hit to get you through the final hours before it is socially acceptable to start drinking. Now there is an alternative. Delivered by Aeroshot, who had previously developed an "inhaler" of chocolate.....just without an calories and no actual masticating involved.

Each container consists of 3 puffs of powdered caffeine that is absorbed directly onto the tongue. The total value works out to around 100mg of caffeine which works out to about the same at a large cup of coffee.

Created by Harvard biomedical engineering professor David Edwards, Aeroshot also contains your daily recommended does of vitamin B6, B12 and Niacin.

"Frequently, the first time people do it, they laugh" Says Edwards. "There's something funny about the act, how it happens in your mouth."

Pressure Cooking in Cocktails

Inspired by Dave Arnolds splurry of knowledge on the post below we thought it was time to take the time to look at the pressure cooker as a whole and talk about how we can use that behind or above the bar.

Firstly, what is pressure cooking? Basically the pressure cooker allows you to preset and control the pressure inside the cooker and does not allow any air or liquid to escape below that pressure. This allows you to increase the boiling point of liquid inside the cooker so that the food can be heated to a higher temperature before the liquids start to boil.

The build up of pressure is created before cooking starting with the use of water and steam. The steam is trapped inside the cooker. Put simply "the higher the pressure the shorter the cooking time". Generally speaking you only need around 1/3 of the normal cooking time.

It is only recently that experiments with pressure cooking have begun to show us how much more they can do, than act as an expedient alternative to normal cooking.

For instance if you have watched the video below you will now that pressure cookers react in a interesting way with foods high in sulphur. To demonstrate onions were cooked at 15psi and if cooked in just the right way you can take away the pungency normally associated with onion flavour. The same happened with horse radish, and garlic. After cooking you can eat as much as you like without suffering the usual burning or after dinner garlic breath you would normally expect.

Dave Arnold also goes on to mention how the most prominent flavour left in the onion is it's sweetness. Leaving the options open of making ice cream or even a sweet syrup we could use in cocktail. For, maybe, more practical bar purposes we also find that you can "press" the juice out of fruits.

Berries you can do whole and harder fruits simply need to be roughly sliced into smaller pieces. You can also make syrups and extract flavour from herbs and flower. Just be very careful the flowers are edible, not covered in chemicals and can also be used in steam distillation! To do this you will need a heat proof container, a trivet and a steamer basket. All of which you can buy from the same supplier as your pressure cooker if they did not come with it already .

Specific recipes we will go into another time however make sure you start testing out the best ways of juicing or extracting at different pressures. This potentially leaves a very quick and controlled method of creating our own juices, syrups,and concentrated flavours that we can use every day on the bar.

Historical Context and Demos Illustrating the Relationship of Food and Science

Amongst all the new techniques and knowledge beeing passed back and forward between the drinks and culinary world, it is often the most basic questions that can be missed.

For instance "how do you define cooking?" or "how do you define being a cocktail bartender or, to coin a popular term, a mixologist"

These basic questions often supply the best guidelines from which you can then build and grow as a bartender or chef but keeping these guidelines in your mind.

In the above lecture we are treated to the combination of Harold McGee and Dave Arnold, teaming up to answer both basic and advanced questions and demonstrate mdoern techniques.

Perhaps most interestingly they also demonstrate and give examples of how cooking has played an essential role throughout humans history and may have actually contributed to our evolution.

Though we have only relatively recently started using gelatins and clarifications in the drinks world, there is evidence that the techniques have been used since the middle ages.

Fireballs That Don't Burn

So firstly a reminder that fire is DANGEROUS! and do not try this at home.......

However imagine how much fun it could be if a trained professional were using this, under stirct safety conditions, behind a bar to zest an orange or toast a garnish infront of a customer.....

Flavour of the Week - Lemon Verbena

Grown mainly in Chile and Peru, the plant can sprout 5 feet per season and has the potential to reach 15 feet in height.

Often used in cooking, after being dried out, mainly for the fact that it retains it's flavour almost indefinitely and is easy to prepare.

For bar uses it is possible to use when both dried and fresh, however both will give a different flavour profile. The leaves can be used to infuse a spirit or be muddled fresh into a drink. Due to their high concentration of flavour small amounts are needed per drink.

The leaf also provides an interesting alternative to stand in place of lemon juice or lemon zest, adding a similar yet cleaner flavour.

Flavour: intense lemon, pure, clean, fresh, floral.

02 November 2011

Drinkers are Smarter.........?

This study itself is a couple of years old however, today feels like any justifications for drinking are welcomed, it has been one of those weeks already! Plus we haven't reported on this before so here it is!

The findings come from two seperate studies, one based in the US and one in the UK. They followed two groups of children, measuring intelligence before the ages of 16 and subsequently volume of alcohol intake later in life.

Intelligence levels were categorized as "very dull", "dull", "normal", "bright" and "very bright". At the age of 23 the group from the US was revisited however the group from the UK were followed throughout their 20's, 30's and 40's.

Re-assuringly for many of us, it was found that the more intelligent a child the greater their volume of alcohol intake later in life. So binge britain is in fact a rabble of geniuses who've lost their way from a white board of equations to a gleaming back bar full of shiny spirits and temptingly named cocktails. *Phew*

Now, we have all had the experience of meeting someone who could be described as "very dull" and observed their high level of alcohol intake. These very dull people often suddenly became more interesting as a result. However I'd bet we have all also met someone "very bright" or someone wildly creative who drinks just as much if not more. Musicians and artists are a good example of the latter. Often in this case we find that the only way they can bare to look out onto this cruel and unjust world without shedding a tear for its occupants is to turn to a bottle and just get through it "day by day".

Many talk about how they are inclined to drink more in order to numb themselves and relate more easily to those around them, though often finding this may in-fact is not be the case in the morning. A good opportunity for the "very bright" to think fast and formulate a non-akward exit strategy. Others will swear blindly that it helps their creative process (it doesn't, alcohol doesn't add anything at all, bar verbal lubrication). Whatever the reason for every "dull drunk" we can find a "very bright" one and often they will get on just fine.

Theories range from Satasho Kanazawaat of Psychology Today siting evolutionary causes...… "

"Drinking alcohol was "unintentional, accidental, and haphazard until about 10,000 years ago. Smart people are generally early adopters and, in the context of human history, the substance [alcohol] and the method of consumption are both evolutionarily novel." - Ummmmm so alcoholics are more evolved then…….okay, moving on.

To people who theorise more intelligent people may have higher profile jobs that require socialising, and thus drinking. The classic "everyone else was having one" reason, nice!

Others argue (rather loosely) intelligent children were suppressed during their youth and studied hard meaning they missed out on the rebellious and often more "fun" side of growing up. Now that there are not any drinking taboos in adult life they are making up for lost time and getting the booze in. I wonder if this might show more about their personality that the study at hand…….

Personally I'm not entirely sure, we do however know that some of the worlds greatest men and women were booze addled drunks for instance Freud, Ernest Hemingway, Jack Kerouac and Johnny Cash all enjoyed a tipple every other 10 minutes or so.

Whatever the reason at least the next time we worry we might be delving slightly too deep into the cocktail pot for a Tuesday night, we can safely assume that it is infact because we are actually geniuses and we feel oppressed by a world that can never understand our intellect………Yep that's what I'm sticking with.

Alternative theories are welcome! Comment or send them in.

Three Coloured Liquid

Imagine a drink that changes colour, or texture, or even flavour as you drink it!? The flavour one has already been done and unfortunately the reaction above, as amazing as it looks, is also quite poisonous although very easy to do. It will be a while still before we have drinks that change colour as we drink them.

The affect is called Briggs-Rauscher reaction and is a combination of 3 different solutions

1. Potassium Iodate, Sulfuric Acid, and Water

2. 30% Hydrogen peroxide solution

3. Malonic Acid, Manganese sulfate monohydrate, starch and water

Exploring Thickeners to Manipulate Mouthfeel

We know that thickening a liquid makes you think it is sweeter, even if that liquid is water, we also now that by adding what feels like pulp to a juice we think it is fresh and therefor healthier.

The lecture above is given by Carles Tejedor (Via Veneto), Fina Puigdevall and Pere Planagumà (les Cols) all from Harvard University.

The lecture itself is very very long so come prepared with pen paper and a couple of hours spare.
The cooking and demonstrations start around the 36 minute mark.

Flavour of the Week - Aloe Vera

It's getting cold(ish) so all the help in waring of illness and getting through flu season unscathed is a good idea.

Aloe vera can help. There are over 500 varieties of Aloe Vera Plant and it's health benefits have been documented for many years. Whether it be internal, juice or capsules, or external, creams, it seems it can be used for a range of purposes including being a daily supplement to aid health in general.

Easily available both in juice, jelly, or pulp from most suppliers.

Flavour: Fresh, light, floral, slightly citrus.

Fresh Strawberry Daiquiris are Healthy?

"In an experiment on rats, European researchers have proved that eating strawberries reduces the harm that alcohol can cause to the stomach mucous membrane. Published in the open access journal Plos One, the study may contribute to improving the treatment of stomach ulcers."

So in theory this could mean that any fresh strawberry pummelled into a cocktail is actually counter-acting the potentially bad effects of the alcohol in the drink.......

Good news for all drinkers!!