In a Rut? Take a Chance

Last time out I wrote about the importance of visiting a new place in order to become inspired and get the creative juices flowing. That post got me thinking about other ways to get out of a rut, so this time around I’m going to relate another recent experience I had and how it helped me expand my horizon a bit and got me thinking differently.

This month, I had the chance to compete in a cocktail competition that featured a final round that required me to make a molecular cocktail. Now, I’ve never been much interested in molecular mixology, that curious blending of art and science that utilizes the equipment and techniques more familiar to the laboratory than the bar. While this genre of bartending has a growing number of practitioners and fans, it always seemed to me to be overly complicated and not worth the time and machinations it takes to produce the drink. At first, I wasn’t interested in competing. I mean, it was totally out of my wheelhouse, and besides I was more than a little bit skeptical of the whole practice. Then I thought, why not give it a try? I had nothing to lose, after all. So, I came up with a simple cocktail—a variation on a “Last Word” with gin, Green Chartreuse, Luxardo maraschino liqueur, Strega, an herbal Italian liqueur, and some lime juice. Then, I went to work deconstructing it.

My exposure to molecular techniques was limited to watching cable food shows, so I needed some help to get started. After some internet prowling, I gleaned just enough information to be dangerous and jumped into the world of molecular mixology. Some molecular techniques require a bit of equipment, and this can cost a few bucks. As a novice, I didn’t want to spend much money, so I focused on techniques I could experiment with that utilized ingredients and tools that were cheap or that I already had lying around the house.


Photo of Matt Sorrell by Naomi Roquet.

First, I pulled out my food dehydrator from the basement and set about creating some powdered liqueurs with the Chartreuse and the Strega. In this process, the liqueurs are poured on a tray and placed in the dehydrator for a period of time (about 24 hours for my experiments) until all the liquid has been extracted and the liqueur is crystallized. Then, the crystals are put in a spice grinder until they become a fine powder, which can be used to rim glasses or put back into the cocktail, among other things. The powder retains the sugar but loses some of the intense flavors present in the original spirit.

One of the first things I think of when the subject of molecular mixology comes up is foams, which are often times used as flavor accents or garnishes. I came upon a simple recipe for foam which entails combining lime juice, water and a bit of soy lecithin, which acts as an emulsifier. A little agitation with an immersion blender and this mix whips up into a light and airy foam that I used as a fragrant garnish for my concoction. Finally, for a little bit of mad scientist flair, I decided to cap things off by using some dry ice to chill down my cocktail.

Well, I didn’t make it far enough in the competition to get to make my molecular creation for the judges, but it was a great learning experience nonetheless, getting to delve into an area that I’d never explored before. Even though you probably won’t see me behind the bar wielding beakers and test tubes anytime soon, I definitely came away from the experience with a greater appreciation of molecular techniques and it got me thinking of new things I could do behind the bar.

So my advice is, next time you’re presented with an opportunity, take a chance and see where it goes. You might just learn something. Unless the opportunity is BASE jumping. Then just forget it and have a drink. Cheers!


Top photo by Brian Jaime.

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