It's the trend that's filling people's heads with experimental procedures and outlandish ingredients, forums filling up online questioning its practicality and legitimacy as a bartending trade and making bartenders whisper to one another about the best place to get hydrocolloids. It's this buzz, this charismatic new frontier of mixology that has had everyone rushing around in a veritable panic trying to cram as much information in their heads as possible and taking a very definite scientific stance on the world of cocktailing. Molecular Mixology or MM for short is the reason behind all the global commotion. We are going to investigate this almost X-Files phenomenon and figure out what all the fuss is about.
Molecular Mixology is a direct descendant of Herve This' first work "La gastronomie moleculaire et physique" which he published as his thesis for his degree in "Physico-chimie des materiaux" (Physical Chemistry of Materials). His thesis spawned various works with only two pieces being translated to English. His works covered discoveries such as the perfect temperature to cook an egg, using electrical fields to improve smoking of salmon and adding a dash of water to egg white exponentially increases foam during beating. All these discoveries were made applying scientific methods into every day cooking techniques. Although he takes a definite scientific approach to cooking, his book Cooking is love, art, technique covers not only the science, but also the passion and love behind creating dishes.
There are two international success stories when it comes to Molecular Gastronomy in the world. Ferran Adria of elBulli in Spain and Heston Blumenthal of the Fat Duck in England. Ferran Adria has become famous for his thirty course gourmet dinners in the restaurant that only opens six months out of the year. The rest of the year Ferran perfects his recipes in his culinary laboratory "El Taller" in Barcelona. Ferran is credited with creating the "culinary foam", which involves discarding of the use of cream and egg; foam is made exclusively of the main ingredient and the air. His most notable foams were espresso, mushroom and beetroot.
Heston Blumenthal of the Fat Duck takes a different take on molecular gastronomy in his search for perfection. He takes classic British foods and applies his scientific approach to cooking, searching for the right textures, techniques and flavours to create the perfect dish. One of his signature techniques is the use of a vacuum jar to increase expansion of bubbles during food preparation. This is used in such dishes as an aerated chocolate souffle-like dessert. He is also famous for slow, ultra low heat cooking keeping the fats intact and not releasing any juices but making all the meat moist. All the studies, research and experimentation has now become the focus point on the integration into the world of mixology. According to Herve This, "Molecular Mixology is the practical application of the theoretical findings of Molecular Gastronomy to the bar environment."
It is not completely known who was the first to make the transition from the kitchen to the bar, but it all spawned from the 2005 Bols symposium in Amsterdam. Herve This was in attendance and with eight other bartenders they began creating boozy ice cream using liquid nitrogen, an ice-cube-like gin-and-tonic jelly and exploring the possibilities of applying science to the bar. This has now snowballed to many bartenders around the world now successfully practising the art of MM. When talking about the pioneers of MM, a few names come to mind. Tony Conigliaro, Philip Duff, Eben Klemm & Eben Freeman have all been credited for pushing the movement throughout our bars and restaurants for the past four years.
Tony Conigliaro has worked at some of London's most fashionable bars including Detroit and Isola; he is currently working with Heston Blumenthal on a unique MM cocktail list to partner with Heston's legendary three Michelin star restaurant, the Fat Duck. He currently oversees the cocktail and beverage program at Shochu Lounge at Roka in London, a place that has been cited as having one of the best cocktail lists in the UK. Tony has been on the cocktail scene for years and has many cocktails scattered throughout Difford Guides, Class and NY Times. His views on cocktails are fresh ingredients, classics with a twist and the beautiful craft of MM.
Philip Duff of BOLS fame and now owner of the first speakeasy in Amsterdam were the brains behind organising the symposium in 2005. Philip has trained more than 8000 bartenders around the world not only in the art of fine bartending, but the craft of MM. His view on MM is simple, it is still bartending just a speciality version of advanced bartending. Molecular Mixology can be as hard or as simple as you make it. Philip is one of the most recognisable and prolific bartenders in the field of MM in the world and continues to push the envelope at door 74 in downtown Amsterdam. How about a Carpano brulee'd foam on a Rowan's Creek Manhattan with bitters flamed through a little blowtorch?
Eben Klemm's role in MM actually started long before his move to bartending. Originally a Molecular Biologist at MIT in Boston, Eben turned his hand to bartending and fell further still into the MM scene. His background at MIT and thirst for pushing the boundaries of cocktail culture has influenced his innovative combinations and techniques, playing not just with flavour but also with form and perception. His experimental nature has lead him to become Director of Cocktail Development for B.R. Guest Restaurants/James Hotels, a New York City-based collection of concept restaurants, lounges and boutique hotels. He oversees not only all the training for bartenders and staff but also the development of the group's speciality drinks.
They say that chefs influence what bartenders do in the bar, when it comes to MM this cannot be truer. Eben Freeman began working with a few burgeoning chefs that were tinkering in the art of Molecular Gastronomy and began to take some of the concepts and ideas they were using and applying them to the bar. His combinations of flavours, textures and temperatures have made him a household name in MM and his role of Bar Manager at wd-50 in New York has brought MM to the masses. His main goal is to show the simplicity of MM and give the customers an exemplary experience. Most recently he was commissioned by Bacardi to create the Mojito of the future. His example is a mixture of lime and mint flavoured spheres suspended in a Bacardi, soda and xanthum gum liquid.
One of the West Coast's most privilent Molecular Mixologists is Jamie Boudreau who believes that molecular mixology is the next evolutionary step in the cycle of bartending. It was this evolution that first got him experimenting in the field. He says that MM has almost reached its cycle. We've turned alcohol into every state from solid to gas. He thinks the next and final step will truly be at the molecular level "Alcohol hates most ingredients and I think it'll take a organic chemist to help us figure out how to get it to play well with others. I think that it would be great to figure out what flavours would work well at a molecular level as well, offering us flavour combinations that we may not have thought of previously." He believes that more people need to be willing to experiment in the field using simpler techniques such as foams, which are easy to create and can be made long before using them. These techniques can be used in a variety of establishments including nightclubs, however to create a truly MM cocktail list is a feat in itself.
These pioneers have begun to spread their knowledge, passion and craft out into the world for anyone to grab and run with. Martin Lange and Dustin Davis of Sling Lounge in Brisbane, Australia have brought MM down under and taken it to the extreme. Their list of 350 cocktails has a section of about 30, which are completely devoted to the art of MM and the first Tuesday of every month they hold an intimate seating for their cocktail degustation menu. They practice all forms of MM except for the lasers, which in Martins opinion is too expensive for the final results. Items that stand out on their MM list are deconstructed classics such as the Deconstructed Hemmingway Daiquiri and the Bloody Mary in different temperature layers. The locals have responded so positively that the bar goes through three litre canisters of their signature Kaffir Lime and Pickled Ginger foam a week. Both Martin and Dustin are pushing the envelope of MM in Brisbane and think that it will probably plateau soon; this is a good thing because it will have time to mature and become more user friendly.
If you head far south in the US you will find New Mexico, not particularly a place where you would usually find a Molecular Mixologist at work, but head to La Casa Sena Cellar Lounge in Santa Fe and you will find Chris Milligan creating something new for his clientele. Chris thinks that MM will be like any other aspect of the trade similar to flair or bar magic. He believes that bartenders will find a way to use these practices in everyday life and almost "pick and choose" what works for them very similarly to how a bartender breaks flair into "working flair." At Chris's bar though, he dazzles guests with textures and sensations. Jellies, foams, sorbets and caviars top his list for giving his guests something they can't get anywhere else.
With the burgeoning art of Molecular Mixology hitting shores all over the world, it wouldn't be long before the spirit brands got on board with BOLS. Cointreau recently launched its Cointreau Caviar cocktail line developed by Cointreau Global Brand Ambassador Richard Lambert and renowned mixologist Fernando Castellon. They have developed a specialised tool kit to create these spheres behind a mainstream bar, "This is the first time that bartenders have been provided with the instruction and tools necessary to replicate the spherification process in a bustling bar environment," says Lambert. Grand Marnier teamed with pastry chef stars Francois Payard and Nicolas Boussin to release the first luxury Grand Marnier Cocktail Macaroons, inspired by four signature Grand Marnier cocktails: the Grand Cosmo, the Grand Margarita, the Grand Mojito and the Orange Crush. Cocktails that you can eat are an even further step in the world of MM. With big brands getting behind the new avenue of exploration, we can only see better exposure, easier techniques and more experimentation from everyone involved to stay one step ahead of the competition.
Molecular Mixology is a wonderful experiment and adventure into the genetic makeup of cocktails as long as your primary focus does not change or falter. Your primary focus as a bartender is the customer, making them happy, making them feel comfortable and getting them a drink in a timely manner. This is where some bartenders won't experiment with MM, they think it is too time consuming and the scientific fiddling of it all scares them a little. Molecular Mixology can be as hard or as easy as you like. The key to MM is the change, changing the drink to give an alternate experience, a new texture or umami and to alter the perception of peoples thinking.
With MM twist the bartending world over the last few years, classics have been even getting a Molecular Mixology Makeover. Bartenders across the globes are taking the practice of MM and applying to the common household classic with very interesting and award winning results. This is giving the general public a good place to start their foray into MM, a comfort cocktail if you will. Using the practices of MM, you can create, change and twist the classics we all know and love into a skewed Salvador Dali interpretation of the next step of cocktail evolution.
Like an unseen force MM is creeping into every bar in one shape or another. It is a veritable evolutional step in bartending, the next dawn of creation. With the infinite possibilities, the current media exposure that a lot of mixologist are getting from this new frontier and the willingness of the public to continually try new things, MM is a long way from being fully explored and finally conquered.