Milk & Honey, the cocktail bar in a New York City apartment building with an unlisted phone number, was the first to fire off the great speakeasy trend when it opened back in 1999. All of a sudden, in-the-know bartenders stopped making appletinis and got serious about rules and classic cocktails. Then the international bartender convention Tales of the Cocktail began in 2002, and "Googling" became a word, and bar trends became as portable as suspenders and hats.
Today, several thousand bartenders all over the country have put their own spin on the classics—changing the chemistry of cocktails using milk and nut butter and eggs, and even making drinks in coffee brewers and whipped-cream canisters. Food science has moved from the kitchen to the bar, and the resulting concoctions taste better (and crazier) than ever. It's bedlam, and the next step is bringing it to your house.
Filter your booze with milk
Clarifying milk to remove bitterness from cocktails is not a new technique. It's been around since at least the 1700s, when Benjamin Franklin employed it in a cocktail called milk punch to take the edge off brandy potent enough to varnish a table. It works like this: When you mix milk, liquor, and a small amount of citrus, the milk proteins bond to astringent compounds such as polyphenols (bitter oak notes and tannins) in the liquor, then curdle. Filter the curds off and you end up with a clear, mellow cocktail that feels round and silky when you drink it. "What's left over in the bottom will have whey in it," says Dave Arnold, the bartender who pioneered modern milk-washing in his book, Liquid Intelligence: The Art and Science of the Perfect Cocktail. "So if you shake that with an egg white, like in a milk-washed whiskey sour situation, the froth will blow up like the head on a Guinness, which is awesome."
Use a Whipped Cream Canister
Colleen Hughes, bartender at Haberdish in Charlotte, North Carolina, learned early on that not every variety of alcohol is available everywhere. "I would drive to other states to find the ingredients in cocktail books just to find out what they tasted like, and then figure out how to re-create that flavor in the kitchen," she says. One way Hughes did this was to infuse liquors using an iSi cream whipper. "Years ago I read , by Dave Arnold, and that was where I learned about the iSi, which got me started in developing a bunch of one-note tinctures I could play around with," she says. To do it, put any strong alcohol (vodka works well) in an iSi cream whipper with pretty much any food (coffee, cucumber, melon, ginger, etc.) and charge it twice with nitrous oxide. The pressure will force the liquor into the solids. Releasing the lid will boil it back out.
Recipe: Honey Bee and the Buzzing Monk
by Colleen Hughes, , Charlotte, North Carolina
• 2 oz Sipsmith London dry gin (or any good dry gin that doesn't have an overwhelming juniper taste—try Citadelle or Sutler's)
• ¾ oz fresh lemon juice
• ¾ oz honey syrup*
• ½ oz yellow chartreuse Szechuan-flower tincture†
• 1 vanilla bean
• 1 pinch saffron threads
• 1 cup sourwood honey (Online at savannahbee.com, or use any good, light-colored honey)
• 1 tsp white sugar
• ½ cup hot water
• 20 buzz buttons, roughly chopped (You can buy these on Amazon.)
• 1 ½ cup 100-proof vodka (or other neutral high-proof spirit, such as Technical Reserve, page 79)
• yellow chartreuse
1 / To make the honey syrup, cut the vanilla bean down the center and scrape out the seeds. Combine bean and seeds, saffron, and honey in a glass jar and allow to infuse at room temperature for 10 days. Remove the vanilla bean pod, add sugar and hot water and stir until combined. Store in the refrigerator.
2 / To make the Szechuan tincture, place chopped buzz buttons and vodka in a half liter iSi whipped-cream canister. Charge once with nitrous oxide, shake, then add a second charge and shake again. Allow to infuse for 1 hour at room temperature.
3 / To dispense the iSi, hold the infuser upright and hold a plastic container over the top to catch any spray that might come out. Fully de-gas and then open the top and allow it to rest until you no longer hear the sounds of gas bubbles releasing, about 15 minutes.
4 / Strain all flower particles out of the tincture through a fine-mesh strainer. Combine equal parts Szechuan tincture with yellow chartreuse. Store at room temperature in a sealed container for up to one year.
5 / To make the cocktail, shake the gin, lemon juice, and honey syrup until thoroughly chilled and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Serve the Szechuan-infused yellow chartreuse on the side.
Flavor your booze with oil!
Fat-washing is similar to milk-washing, only instead of taking flavors out of booze, you put them in. This works because alcohol is both hydrophilic and hydrophobic, so it can bond to both water-based aromatics (fruit infusions), and oil-based ones (chemicals in bacon).
→ Spread about ¼ inch cashew butter on a rectangular baking dish and refrigerate for about 20 minutes to let it firm up. Pour about 1 inch rye over that and refrigerate for about an hour. Pour off the rye and run it through a coffee filter to remove any last globules of oil.
—Colleen Hughes, Haberdish, Charlotte
→ Cook bacon over medium-low heat until crispy. Let cool. Mix about 4 oz of fat and a 750-mL bottle of liquor in a deep plastic Tupperware. Shake to combine, wait an hour, then place the container in the freezer. After another hour, punch a hole in the layer of fat that congeals at the top with a chopstick and pour out the liquor. Run through a coffee filter.
—Dave Arnold, author of Liquid Intelligence
Cinnamon-vanilla brown-butter rum
→ Lightly toast a couple of cinnamon sticks in a pan, then add 8 oz butter, a vanilla bean, and ½ tsp brown sugar and cook until the butter melts. Remove the cinnamon sticks and vanilla bean and mix the butter and rum in a plastic container. Follow the same technique as for the bacon bourbon.
Hack Your Coffee Maker
"The principle of siphon brewing comes down to the expansion and contraction of the vapor," says Miguel Lancha, cocktail innovator at chef José Andrés's Barmini in Washington, D.C. "When you heat the liquid, it transforms into vapor and needs more space, so pressure forces it into the top vessel. Then, when the heat is removed, the vapor cools and brings all the flavor down into the drink." This is how a siphon brewer makes coffee, but it works the same way with teas, citrus peels, fruits, and whole spices. There are lots of siphon-style coffee brewers on the market, but Lancha recommends the ($70) because it creates the best seal.
Recipe: Roughly 9400
by Miguel Lancha, BarMini, Washington, D.C.
• 1 ½ oz Koch Tepextate mescal (or any good unaged mescal)
• ½ oz Appleton Rare Blend 12-year rum (or any other good aged rum, preferably from Jamaica)
• ½ oz ginger syrup*
• 2 dashes Fee Brothers barrel-aged bitters (or any other barrel-aged bitters)
• 4 oz water
• 2 Tbsp dry chai tea
• 2 Tbsp chopped fresh ginger
• 1 whole lemon peel
• 3 marigold flowers
• ¾ cup cream
• ¾ cup evaporated milk
• ½ cup condensed milk
• 2 Tbsp dark rum
• pinch salt
• lemon peel
• 1 cup water
• 1 cup white sugar
• 1 2-inch piece peeled ginger
1 / To make the ginger syrup, combine one part water with one part sugar over medium heat and stir until the sugar dissolves. Let cool. Peel and chop the ginger, and blend it with the simple syrup in a blender. Strain out the ginger pieces and keep the liquid in the refrigerator.
2 / Combine the mescal, rum, syrup, bitters, and water in the bottom vessel of a coffee siphon.
3 / Add the dry chai tea, ginger, lemon peel, and flowers to the upper vessel of the siphon.
4 / Light the fire and let boil for 2 ½ minutes. Remove heat to bring the liquid back down. Pour into a mug and garnish with lemon peel.
5 / While the drink cools, combine the cream, evaporated milk, condensed milk, rum, and salt. Shake hard for 7 seconds, then heat in the microwave for 25 seconds. Serve 2 to 3 ounces on the side, like you would cream for tea.
To truly experiment with DIY cocktail creation, you've got to start with nothing, and a new product called Technical Reserve is the most scientifically composed bottle of nothing you can buy. Flavorless, odorless, and colorless, with zero impurities and tremendous solvent capability, the neutral 191.2- proof (95.6 percent ABV) spirit is an azeotrope: a perfectly balanced mixture of ethanol and water that cannot be separated by further distillation. It's a high-alcohol blank slate. "Technical Reserve doesn't impart flavors. It extracts them," says Ronak Parikh, head of growth and operations. "We think of it as a tool." There are lots of ways to use it. We made tinctures. Unlike bitters—hugely complex botanical mixtures including bittering agents like wormwood and gentian root that take weeks to make—tinctures are concentrated notes of a single ingredient, some ready in an afternoon. You add a few drops to a drink, and the drink is transformed.
Anyone can do this. There's a biological reason your mouth and nose are connected: So that you can make tinctures. Finding the right balance between solid and liquid—between the extractable flavor and the solvent—is a matter of guess, test, revise. Here's what we came up with:
1 / Use small, clean, dry jars with tight-fitting lids, like spice jars.
2 / The ingredients you are extracting need to be completely covered by the Technical Reserve.
3 / Gently shake the mixture at the beginning and then every hour or so.
4 / Work in small portions until you get the ratio right and take good tasting notes, estimating and adjusting as necessary.
5 / Start testing your flavors on the early side (a few hours) rather than later.
6 / When the mixtures taste ready—as in good—to you, strain through a clean coffee filter and store in clean jars. A good option: stainless-steel cone drip with double-mesh filter.
7 / When you're ready to add your tinctures to a cocktail, use an eyedropper. Not because you're a pretentious jerk, but because you're practical. This is concentrated flavor in 191.2-proof alcohol. Too much will throw the balance of any cocktail out of whack.
If you've going for:
. . . Something green and woodsy in your gin and tonic, or want to mess with your classic gin martini: 2 Tbsp rosemary needles (fresh, approximately 4 stalks) and 2 ounces Technical Reserve. (You might snip the needles with a scissor so they will be easier to submerge.)
. . . A little Southwest in your Bloody Mary, or want to complicate a michelada: 1 ancho chile (dried poblano), snipped into pieces, seeds included, and 2 ounces TR. If you want more heat, just slide up the Scoville scale, indicator of a chile's pungency. For example, the ancho is 1,000 to 1,500 heat units and the ghost pepper is over 1,000,000 heat units, with many choices in between.
. . . A deeply smoky manhattan, like the world's most delicious ashtray: 1 Tbsp Lapsang souchong tea (loose leaves, quality is everything) and 2 ounces TR.
. . . Floral and fancy in your greyhound or French 75: 2 Tbsp dried lavender buds and 2 ounces TR. Add to a sparkling Cava or mix a few drops with simple syrup for your lemonade or iced tea.— Francine Maroukian