Just as in gastronomy some years ago, something is happening in the world of cocktails. Bartenders are becoming ever more interested in physics, biology and chemistry. This is something that Schweppes acknowledged in this year’s Schweppes Signature Program. Now mixology goes molecular
There was a time when a cute-looking bartender with juggling skills was the hottest thing in the drinks industry. Today, it is a thorough understanding of the laws of chemistry that catches the eye of smart bar owners looking for mixologists. Just as the world of cuisine some years ago started to put test tubes and other laboratory equipment among their pots and pans, new mixology techniques are becoming more and more popular in cocktail bars around the world. Infusion is the new buzz word and rapid infusion methods have initialized a new palette of flavours in cocktails.
Douglas Anasagasti, regional brand ambassador of Schweppes and an ultra-skilled mixologist himself, explains: “We have created the Schweppes Signature Program with masterclasses for bartenders around Europe in order to develop the art of mixology and spread knowledge of new techniques. This year it felt natural to focus on infusions and we selected mixologists from five countries around Europe to take part in our celebrated masterclasses on the subject. The chosen ones are being judged on different elements such as style, authenticity and how they capture their vision in the resulting drink. Ambitions are very high, or, as our chef put it, they are transforming cocktails into a dish and a dish into a cocktail.”
Schweppes has been at the front line of drinks and chemistry since 1783 when the founder Johann Jacob Schweppes was the first to develop a process to manufacture carbonated mineral water. Even today the company takes great pride in its ability to produce such long-lived carbonation. Anasagasti is himself very interested in the chemical aspects of mixology and on broadening our views on what a drink could be.
“Infusions can develop the cocktail and create a true taste explosion,” Anasagasti says. “The influence for this comes from molecular gastronomy in which ingredients are studied for their properties and incorporated into dishes to enhance the flavours and control the process of cooking. This is what we’re seeing in the cocktail scene at the moment.” And he is certain you’ll soon be sipping more of these multifaceted cocktails in a bar near you.
But what is this infusion thing exactly? The dictionary defines it as: “Infusion is the process of extracting chemical compounds or flavours from plant material by suspending over time it in a solvent such as water, oil or alcohol.” It is simply a matter of steeping or soaking an ingredient in another substance, often a liquid. A good example of an infusion is Earl Grey tea, where black tea is infused with bergamot, a kind of citrus fruit, to create a new flavour. Other examples are the kinds of chocolate that are flavoured with orange or mint, but without fragments of the fruits or leaves present – these are the kinds of flavours we even think of as being natural rather than enhanced.
When it comes to alcoholic beverages there is a multitude of examples. In Scandinavia, there is akvavit, a traditional style of distilled spirit flavoured with a variety of herbs – a classic case of infusion. Unfortunately, infusions like these need a certain amount of time to work, which can be minutes or even months, and time is always short when you’re working in a popular bar. This is where the equipment at hand becomes important, bringing kitchen techniques into cocktail making to create rapid infusions. High pressure is the key factor.
The most important piece of kit is what a bartender calls a cream-whipper – a bottle with a siphon of nitrous oxide. Just put the solid flavouring ingredient in the whipper, fill it with the liquid to be infused, charge it with N₂O, swirl, wait for a minute or so, vent the gas out of the whipper and strain the infused liquid. This is an affordable method and it is all you need to do to start playing around with flavour profiles at home. There are other techniques, such as the rather complex vacuum machine and even the sous-vide, but this infusion method is an avenue of pleasure for anyone keen to try out new ingenious techniques.
The world of cocktails is right now being flooded with new products and cocktails made from an infusion, such rhubarb gin, vanilla vodka,and whiskey and cinnamon. A popular drink at the moment is coffee tonic, in which the gin is infused with coffee and mixed with tonic and cold coffee. And soft drinks or mixers are also using this technique. Schweppes Premium Mixers Pink Pepper tonic water is just one example of a successful infusion, perfect to lift your gin and tonic to a new and unexpected level.
“This is definitely the new direction for drinks in the future,” says Anasagasti while sipping a specially made fusion of ginger and mint – a fascinating taste, believe me. “We’re at the beginning of something very interesting. Bartenders are gaining more knowledge every day and it’s a great way of bringing different cultures and tastes into one. It’s mixology at its best.”
Anasagasti is currently touring Europe together with master chef Dennis Huwaë to work with one bartender from each of Sweden, Switzerland, Czech Republic, Poland and Italy to take their cocktail-making skills to a higher level in The Schweppes Signature Program workshops. The magnificent cocktails that will be presented at bar events in each of these countries will be a great opportunity to witness not only skilled bartenders working under pressure with pressured infusion, but also the initializing of a new era in cocktails.