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The latest trend in the world of cocktails

Gabriele Randel

"Shaken or stirred?" - that's old hat! Nowadays it is extravagant molecular cocktails which are being created in the hip bars and clubs around the world. Exciting cocktails which look completely different and leave a surprising feel in your mouth. At the bar of the "Cafe Atlantico" in Washington, for example, the Whiskey Sour is served with a topping of passion fruit espuma, or "celery foam" lies on the Bloody Mary or "sea salt foam" on the Margaritas. In the "WD-50" in Manhattan, cocktails are transformed into paper, jelly or powder. At the bar of the "Primehous" in Chicago, the Vodka Martini is not served with an olive but with lollipop made of reduced olive brine and salt crystals. The German head barmen in "Vu's Bar" in the Emirates Towers Hotel places blue foams on drinks which taste of orange. And the "Zeta Bar" in Sydney is famous for its "Barbecue Drinks" which contain roasted ingredients...

First let's take a look into the past. The originator of molecular gastronomy is Herve This, a French physicist, who started to occupy himself as early as 1990 with biochemical and physico-chemical processes in the preparation and consumption of food and drink. The "molecular" hype however first began in Spain. Since 1994, Ferran Adria has run a special laboratory near Barcelona where chefs and scientists question everything which has valid in the kitchen of yesterday and develop mega-exciting new recipes. The result can be tasted and experienced in "El Bulli", Adria’s world-famous restaurant, during a meal comprising 30 tiny courses. Incredible food which is an which is an adventure for the palate - innovative, cheeky, gutsy, and surprisingly different.

Crunchy vegetables are transformed into multi-coloured strips of warm, transparent jelly and given a charcoal aroma. "Electric biscuits" are served: water-thin squares of dried milk sprinkled with sichuan pepper which, as it were, cause electric shocks on your tongue. Transparent pasta made of parmesan wriggle on the plate and sorbets are produced with much ado in liquid nitrogen. There is parmesan froth with muesli, a soup with foamy letters which look like marshmallows, and salmon-coloured "fish eggs" are served which are revealed in your mouth to be little spheres full of melon juice. All quite unique and almost extra-terrestrial pleasures!

300.000 gourmets from around the world attempt each year to land a place in "El Bulli", but only 8.000 places are awarded. Thus Adria is regarded as the "Father of Molecular Cuisine" with good cause. He has opened a door to new molecular techniques and methods and made "molecular gastronomy" popular.

The progressive change in the kitchen has long since rubbed off on bars too. Under the title of Molecular Mixology, experimental methods and techniques are now conquering the world of cocktails. Innovative cocktails are being created which are turning upside down everything which to date was common practice in the bar.

But what are molecular cocktails really? Basically, they are cocktails which are made either entirely or partly using the new techniques of molecular gastronomy. The cocktails obtain a different consistency which almost confuses the senses, clearer aromas and totally new appearance. Or, in other words: the structure of the cocktails is changed, they are mixed differently than before and/or furnished with surprising elements. The barmen looks beyond the rim of the normal cocktail glass and plays with textures (textura: Latin for "tissue") and aromas.

Thus whole cocktails or individual elements of standard cocktail mixtures are encased in little gel-like skins, look like caviar or spheres which burst in the mouth and then release their liquid centre. Or the drinks have a different viscosity, they can be layered in the glass without running into each other. Some mixtures are crowned with toppings from decorative jelly snakes or airy espumas (foams). Other drinks glow in the dark. Solid “cocktail food” is produced from liquid cocktails which is then served on a spoon or in the fruit or coconut blows. The cocktails are given a new texture, transformed into lollipops, paper or powder. Or they are dipped into liquid nitrogen and sheathed in a crispy crust.

Admittedly, all this is only possible with special ingredients and methods. The texturizers, i.e. the powders which change the textures of food or drink, where not invented by the pioneers of molecular cuisine. It is rather the case that some things were developed quite some time ago for industrial food production, and used there too, but never made their way into gastronomy or to the bar, let alone into the home. It is thanks to the molecular hype that these texturizers have been used in gastronomy and there partly also changed or improved.

The texturizers are not chemicals which are hazardous to health either. Rather more they are newly developed gelling and thickening agents extracted from algae, seaweed, plant fibers or seeds. They are all natural products with no chemical additives and they are also taste-less and colourless. They can be used to produce stable foams or warm gels, amongst others. These agents also allow a taste density which was previously only possible with sugar or large amounts of fat. Taste intensity also increases.

Even if some molecular mixing ingredients – such as liquid nitrogen – are not suitable for private use, the amateur mixer can still produce bizarre cocktails in his bar at home. Although it would seem at first glance that only a professional barmen can succeed in producing many of these extraordinary creations, at closer inspection, ingenious new methods are unveiled which easily be learnt. Just a little practice and soon quite remarkable results are possible.

The texturizers are, as it were, the software which is available from Biozoon as a starter set for making cocktails. The measuring spoons, pipettes, measuring jugs and drop spoons provided are essential for making spheres or noodles. But the other hardware needed for molecular mixing is not complicated either. Every home usually has blows, a tea strainer, a skimming ladle, a powerful mixer or an electric blender. A normal cream siphon is also necessary as that is the best way to produce espumas.

Then all that is missing is a broad selection of juices and spirits. After all, a molecular cocktail is still a cocktail. These ingredients can however lead the problems because the texturizers react differently with juices and/or alcohol. One reason for this is that each brand of juice has a different recipe. That means that even the amateur mixer needs to do a bit of “research”. Sometimes he might have to test one recipe or another using different brands of juice.

And, last but not least, important advice for drivers: Even if molecular cocktails look excitingly different, and even if you eat them instead of drinking them, all the alcoholic versions will still make you tipsy.

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Creation date : 28/01/2010 @ 06:20
Last update : 25/05/2012 @ 21:16
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