How Much Science is Too Much Science?

We spoke with a few bartenders and discerning cocktail drinkers about technique driven cocktails and when it makes sense.

We’ve all been there – a bartender hands you a menu, you read a whole bunch of things you don’t understand, ingredients and techniques that sound like they belong in a laboratory – and you’re thinking “seriously guys, I just want a good drink”. 

There’s no discrediting the value some processes bring to the table – there’s a reason for everything, but the key is to know when not to. 

In 2018 PUNCH (punchdrink.com) posted an article titled “How to Science Your Way to a Clarified Cocktail” which shed some light on the benefits of clarification using the White Lyan clarified Piña Colada as an example. The author wrote (cited June 4th, 2018), “the process of clarification helps you “trap” and remove insoluble matter from a liquid. That insoluble matter can influence flavor, the visual appearance and the mouthfeel of your drink. By clarifying it, you can take a drink you know well in a completely different direction.” 

Fair. That made complete sense. Which brings us to the question – when to clarify? 

Kaustubh Singh Negi (Old Man Singapore), says “I’m all about using new techniques/equipment to elevate the game but where I draw the line is using these techniques without the full understanding of why you are using these techniques, like clarification. Simply throwing a liquid into a centrifuge and magically expecting it to turn out the way you want to is not gonna cut it. Throwing a solution into a rotary evaporator is not going to “Clarify” it. There are better ways to end up with the same result. Incubate your juice with chitosan and kieselsol, both of which are used in the wine industry to get rid of the sediments. Throw in some pectinex which breaks down a common sugar found in fruits called Pectin. And then filter it through a muslin cloth or super bag. Many ways to skin a cat.”

Another bone of contention is the use of acids. Lorenzo Antinori (The Four Seasons, Hong Kong) says “During my time at Dandelyan and White Lyan in London, I’ve realized how science can be a great ally, when unfolding and exploring new flavors. Acids, give us the opportunity to trick nature somehow, adding perhaps different weight, texture or flavor profile to our cocktails. Based on the cocktail idea we have in our mind, we can introduce acidity and at the same time smoothen up the edges of certain flavors or enhance savory ones, like in the case of lactic acid, or simply mimic natural sourness with the help of citric and malic”.

Lorenzo Antinori – The Four Seasons, Hong Kong

Across the pond, Kaus holds a slightly reserved stance – “I’ve had way too many drinks where the acids are just not balanced. You have to understand there are multiple ways of introducing acids. You can make fruit acids using leftover oranges from all the Old Fashioned’s and Negronis you churn out. Throwing in acids in a daiquiri is not gonna fly anywhere, period. The only time you should be adding straight acids is when you are bottling a cocktail or tapping it up in a keg so your keg lines don’t get screwed up as the sediments from fresh juice start settling in the lines.”

Now this brings us to another question, when writing a menu, do you add the techniques in there because you think it’s important for a customer to know? Or should we stop to consider if the guest actually wants to know what we do to his/her drink? Does that information clutter their experience? 

We asked a few discerning cocktail drinkers and regulars at some of the world’s best bars to weigh in on this and tell us what they thought of menus that detail out not just ingredients but also processes like lacto-fermentation, rotovap, etc. Julian Cordoba says “It’s all very fascinating, sure but sometimes it looks like the bartender is trying to impress his peers, and not really the guest. To be honest, I’m on a need-to-know basis – as long as it tastes great.” Mia Chen recalls going to a well known bar in her city and being presented an elaborate menu “which was like a thesaurus. I got really excited at first but I’ll admit it was all too much for my friends who thought it was unnecessarily complicated”. An interesting insight was by a well known drinks writer and former bar maven (name withheld) who said “ we appreciate that you invest heavily in R&D, but losing sight of the customer isn’t the goal – remember you’re not making drinks for other bartenders as much as you are for the paying guest. Don’t alienate them with jargon just to show your peers how much you know.”

Bartenders across the world tow a fine line on this one. Lorenzo says  “I would like to see more approachable cocktail menus. Sometimes it’s worth asking questions like, “would your mom or dad order this?”. We bartenders should encourage accessibility, in the way cocktails are perceived. We should aim to cater to a larger audience, in order to raise the popularity of craft cocktails, and the demand of it.  Using obscure terms, or getting extremely technical just for the sake of it, might discourage the audience. I like to see menus which display a good balance between accessible and technical / weird and wonderful terms or wordings.”

Over in Beirut, Jad Ballout (Dead End Paradise) believes “for me that depends on the style of the bar and the clientele but personally I don’t like to get too technical in the menu writing and I like to keep it simple and easy for the guests”.

Jad Ballout – Dead End Paradise, Beirut

The question that looms over our heads at this point then – how much science is too much science?

Jad believes that “understanding the science behind ingredients and techniques is very important and helps to achieve better results, create new flavor dimensions, and gives you an option for multiple ways to use a single ingredient, after all the drinks need to fit your concept and the outlet”, while Kaus is very clear that you should do what you want to as long as it makes sense and adds value to the drinks. “Don’t do things just to make a drink look better. Does clarifying a juice really value add to the cocktail or are you just making a clear drink? Ask yourself why and the rest will be sorted by you. Ask yourself if this is something the guest is going to appreciate MORE than what you would normally do. Don’t be a bar moron.”

The Snows of Kilimanjaro – The Old Man, Singapore –
Marshmallow Gin 
Lacto-fermented raspberries 
Lemon 
Egg White 
Cheese for garnish

And on that note, we hope you’ll pay attention to how your drinks are crafted, irrespective of which side of the bar you’re on. Knowledge is power, use it wisely. © 

Disclaimer: The opinions and viewpoints expressed by various authors and participants do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints of The Dram Attic or official policies of The Dram Attic.

Follow Kaus, Lorenzo, and Jad on Instagram to stay updated on their latest shenanigans.

Have something to say? Write in to editor@thedramattic.com

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