In this week’s opinion piece, Annie Hayes admires how some of the world’s most influential bars are harnessing cutting-edge techniques to create flavourful cocktail ingredients.
Unless you’ve actively avoided the cocktail menu in every bar you’ve ever visited, it’s likely that at some point you will have sampled house-made tinctures, infusions, concentrations, bitters, distillations and spirited flavour modifiers in one form or another.
Increasingly bartenders are taking the cocktail experience up a notch by using kitchen equipment to create all manner of textures and flavours that can’t be bought in a bottle.
Take the Coast to Coast menu at The Savoy’s American Bar, which launched just today. A quick scan through the menu reveals the likes of birch liqueur, fermented plantain syrup, hop & herb tincture and salted cacao liqueur.
Earlier this week, Scarfes Bar at Rosewood London unveiled a new caricature-themed menu containing roasted pineapple shrub, spiced Malbec reduction and galangal tincture.
One of the most coveted gadgets used to create these bespoke liquids is the rotary evaporator, or rotovap. With a price tag upwards of US$5,000, this chemical laboratory-grade equipment is found in only a handful of bars, and is able to capture the fragile flavour compounds of otherwise inedible ingredients, such as soil and leather.
Another firm favourite is the sous vide – another heat-based technique borrowed from chefs – which sees ingredients vacuum-sealed into a bag and immersed into a temperature-controlled water bath that gently cooks the contents. The results are quick, and the flavours very strong, according to David Muñoz, chef and owner of experimental Madrid-based restaurant Street XO.
Some are using both. Food and drink innovation company Bompas & Parr has just created ‘Hopped Up Shot’; a rabbit salami vodka served in a carnivorous plant. “My normal approach is to infuse the ingredient in vodka using a vacuum-sealed bag and sous vide, then strain the infused vodka and distill it using a rotary evaporator,” bar development manager Adam Lock told me in a recent interview.
So, bartending visionaries, where to next? If we can drink rabbits and leather and birch, it’s anyone’s guess what will be in our glasses come 2117.