Bar tool sets are no longer composed simply of mixing spoons, jiggers, cocktail shakers and other basic essentials. More and more, bartenders have been using technological equipment when preparing their drinks. Cryovac, iSi cream whipper, centrifuge and other gadgets have helped mixologists to raise the bar when considering their patrons’ drinking experience. The best mixologists are drawing on technology and science to create amazing liquid combinations – using trends and techniques from gastronomy, applying kitchen processes that have been used for years in the food world to produce mindblowing drink innovations.
For a long time in the Fine Dining sphere, while the kitchen evolved a lot in terms of techniques, the service of the sommeliers and beverage managers remained the same: the drinks, although important, kept to tradition – wines predominantly, then some spirits.
Now, hi-tech machines in bar tool sets and scientific know-how are shaking things up behind the bar. “Mixology has always centered around new techniques and technologies and even types of equipment. It’s our way to think and conceive it,” says Dave Arnold, founder and partner at Existing Conditions, located in New York. A mad drink genius who has long been regarded as one of most progressive thinkers in the beverage industry, with a focus on the in-depth science of drinks, Arnold is the author of Liquid Intelligence: The Art and Science of the Perfect Cocktail, a great reference in the field.
Existing Conditions is known for its complex tools for drink-making methods – many of them designed by Arnold himself, a techy-geek. The whole arsenal, however, has only one goal: to create the best cocktails he and his partners, Don Lee and Greg Boehm, can dream of. "We use many techniques, including cooking ones. We spend hours clarifying, centrifuging, and pressure cooking in our kitchen lab to create our cocktails”, he points out. The result is minimalist, sometimes translucent, and always ingenious mixology drinks that look very simple to make but with many layers of flavor. All the scientific approach is not to brag, but to create a better drinking experience. “We’re trying to change the way we make the drinks”.
Another amazing location striving for cocktail evolution is the Aviary cocktail bar opened by chef Grant Achatz and his business partner Nick Kokonas.
The Aviary cocktail bar opened in Chicago in 2011, following up with a location in NYC in 2017. Achatz’s idea was to bring his Alinea restaurant and all the sensibilities of their kitchen directly to the drink world: “We began to wonder if the techniques and flavor combinations we had developed over the years at Alinea might be just as applicable to cocktails."
With this in mind, alongside the creative cocktail work of beverage director Micah Melton, The Aviary has helped push the idea of modern cocktail tastings paired with food. Like the above example, they have developed their own equipment to help them on their quest, most notably The Porthole Infuser created with Martin Kastner from the Crucial Detail design studio. Pictured above, the circular design allows mixologists to create and display cold infusions in a beautiful way.
The team also just released The Aviary Cocktail book which offers a step into the world of liquid chefs, amazing combinations, new techniques and cocktails that will blow your mind.
Just watch the Aviary team below, the video shows the team as they create a cocktail using all manner of equipment.
The Lobby Bar
“I think we have already lived the age of expressionism in cocktails, with innovative glasses, provocative garnishing. Now, we're getting back to classicism, but with the help of technology to improve what we've been doing for decades”, summarizes Pedro Paulo, bartender at The Lobby Bar at London's swanky One Aldwych hotel.
Paulo is known for creating a cocktail that unites virtual reality with the act of drinking. His signature creation, The Origin, takes drinkers on “a trip to the Highlands to discover the tastes behind the cocktail”. After ordering the cocktail, the customer receives VR goggles and headphones to watch a 2-minute video that takes them on a journey to discover how the drink is made, from the distillery where the Dalmore 12-year-old whiskey comes from, passing through London's skyline.
“My inspiration came from a dish created by chef Heston Blumenthal, in which he took the patron to the bottom of the sea using VR. I think many of the cocktail parties are triggered by gastronomy”, he points out. Paulo agrees that, in this sense, mixology has sought to further improve the techniques and quality of the ingredients – something that is going on in gastronomy as well, where impressing the customer has more to do with serving the best products at hand.
“Each drink, each cocktail requires different steps. We proceed to study each of them thoroughly, to get to conclusions such as: 'this cocktail needs to be shaken for 18 seconds', or 'this has to be stirred with the spoon 36 times for a perfect dilution'. This is this level of detail that we are seeking today”, Paulo explains.
Paulo also sees the trend of more bartenders creating their own ingredients, even making their own spirits to be incorporated into their creations. Something that has even reached the distilleries, especially the more artisanal ones, that are eager to create new beverages for this changing market. This is the case of Empirical Spirits, a Danish distillery created by ex-Noma alumni Lars Williams and Mark Emil Hermansen in Copenhagen, who are making spirits from chicken skin and other curious ingredients, all thanks to science.
“After the molecular gastronomy that arose with chef Ferran Adrià and took over the food scene, now is the time for the mixology scene to embrace science to allow a new level of experimentation in spirits and drinks,” Hermansen says. He explains they chose spirits mainly because they wanted to create something new, that could encompass fermentation, the natural world, and different traditions in an industry that hasn’t seen many innovations for a very long time.
They built a custom vacuum still in which the liquid acts as if it were boiling, when it actually remains at a cold temperature: it distills by boiling without heat. Their facility also counts on a bioreactor and ultrasonic technology to control the distilling process and uses unique ingredients such as koji, heirloom barley, juniper berries smoked over juniper wood and even indigenous fruits, such as mazanje, natural from Zimbabwe.
"We work with flavors, ingredients and some high-tech techniques only in order to offer people a different way to drink in a novel fashion,” Hermansen adds. They don’t seem to be the only ones.