Sustainable Innovation in Cocktails: Exploring Panda & Sons’ New Menu – Transcend

Priyanka Blah takes us through Panda & Sons’ new sub-zero menu and pioneering techniques.

Nestled in the heart of Edinburgh’s vibrant West End, Panda & Sons, disguised as a vintage barbershop, is a hidden gem that takes you back in time to the prohibition era, with its low-lit, intimate setting and sophisticated cocktail menu. From classic drinks to innovative, technique forward drinks, the team here are true masters of their craft. Whether you’re a seasoned cocktail connoisseur or a casual imbiber, Panda & Sons is an experience not to be missed.

I went over a few weeks ago to take a closer look at their latest cocktail menu – Transcend. Iain McPherson, Nicky Craig and their team have introduced yet another fresh and innovative menu that highlights their expertise in using freezing techniques to craft unique and exciting drinks – a culmination of 5 whole years of research and development. While in the food world, chefs rely on heat and flames to work their culinary magic, The Panda team prefers to keep things ice cold at the bar. This new menu is just the latest example of their creatively packaged concepts, demonstrating a commitment to pushing the boundaries of mixology and offering patrons a truly unforgettable experience. 

Nicky Craig & Iain McPherson

In the basement laboratory of the group’s other bar, Nauticus, Iain led me through a step-by-step demonstration of each technique, showcasing the equipment, ingredients, and final products involved in crafting their unique drinks. With patience and expertise, he walked me through every detail, illuminating the artistry and precision that goes into creating a truly exceptional cocktail.

Chapter 1 – Switching

A proprietary Panda & Sons technique, Switching involves directional freezing of the chosen spirit in ultra-low freezers, allowing the separation of the liquid into two components: water and higher proof spirit. The water is then replaced or “switched” with another flavoured or textured liquid to bring back the liquid mix to its original ABV. This switched version of the spirit, then forms the base of a variety of cocktails with elevated flavours and texture. 

The frozen water from the gin during the Switching process

Our pick from this chapter is the Sgt Pepper:

  • Bruxo x Mezcal
  • Hush Hush Pale Ale
  • Bell Pepper
  • Tomato Water
  • Acids
Sgt Pepper from the chapter on Switching

Chapter 2 – Sous Pression

The latest technique to emerge from the Panda & Sons lab and make its debut appearance in Transcend is Sous Pression, an alternative to sous vide that applies sub zero temperatures instead of heat. After a batched cocktail is prepared, it is stored in an ultra-low freezer where the freezing process generates pressure that amalgamates the ingredients into a cohesive and velvety flavour profile. Following this, the frozen cocktail is allowed to defrost before it is served as a cocktail to guests. According to the team, Sous Pression can be likened to a burst frozen water pipe. This innovative method employs freezing pressure that is 20 times stronger than the force required to rupture a typical household water pipe. By harnessing this pressure that is usually lost when a pipe bursts, Sous Pression effectively extracts flavour from fresh produce and seamlessly fuses it with other ingredients.

Bottling a drink for Sous Pression

Our favourite drink from this chapter is Sability.

  • Bombay Premier Cru Gin
  • Fino Sherry
  • Lustao Blanco Vermut
  • Sable Grape
  • Maraschino Liquer
Sability form the chapter on Sous Pression

Chapter 3 – Freeze Drying

A technique seen as an alternative to dehydrating ingredients, freeze drying is a combination of freezing, condensation, and vacuum to extract 99% of moisture from produce, thereby preserving it and allowing for the creation of new textures and flavour directions. The fresh produce is lined up on trays and then fast frozen before being introduced to the freeze dryer. Inside the freeze dryer, the ingredients are exposed to a plethora of temperature conditions, vacuum, vapour, and time. Once ready, the freeze dried ingredients are stored away to be used as either garnishes or for rehydrating fresh juices to prevent waste, and eventually with the purpose of being able to preserve and use local and seasonal produce all year round. 

Ingredients going into the freeze dryer

Ask for Wilderness.

  • Maker’s Mark Bourbon
  • Aelder Wild Elderberry Elixir
  • Blackberry Leaf
  • Fino Sherry
  • Acids
  • Coast Maple Soda
Wilderness from the chapter on Freeze Drying

Chapter 4 – Cryo Concentration

The final chapter of Transcend brings us face to face with a technique that we are currently obsessed with. Through Cryo Concentration, a fruit can be ripened by freezing and extracting the water content from it. First, blended fruit is placed in the freezer for about 24 hours. Once the fruit “juice” is partially frozen, it is ready to be taken out and filtered. Once all the water content is filtered out, what remains is a higher ratio of flavour to water, thereby mimicking the process of ripening. Furthermore, due to the reduced water content in the fruit juice, beverages made using Cryo Concentration can be chilled to a greater extent and boast a more intense flavour. This technique is particularly beneficial when working with fresh fruit and produce, as it guarantees consistent ripeness. Additionally, it serves as an effective solution to address the issue of high demand for ripe fruits, which places unnecessary strain on our food systems.

Frozen water being taken out of the grapefruit to concentrate the flavour
The ice clusters in the grape fruit as it goes through Cryo Concentration

The drink we love most from this chapter is the Girvana.

  • Hendricks Gin
  • Peach
  • Jasmine
  • Absinthe
  • Champagne
Girvana from the chapter on Cryo Concentration

Without a doubt, Transcend stands out as one of the most innovative cocktail menus in recent years, showcasing a remarkable achievement in research and development. It also serves as a commendable example of how bars can adopt sustainable practices if they are willing to make the effort. The amount of dedication and hard work invested in crafting this menu and presenting it in an enjoyable, accessible manner speaks volumes about the team’s drive and ambition. The menu’s clarity of concept and well-crafted drinks are evident in every sip, free of pretension and delivered with a genuine warmth and sincerity that sets it apart.

The Panda Squad

When you find yourself in Edinburgh, make sure you make a beeline for Panda & Sons. We can’t wait to hear all about it.

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