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A Bartender and His Lab


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A fine piece in yesterday's NY Times about bartender/author and general nice guy, Tony Conigliaro. Tony has a new book out: The Cocktail Lab: Unraveling the Mysteries of Flavour and Aroma in Drink, With Recipes, and it sounds like a good one:

The book, published by Ten Speed Press, is designed to appeal both to industry professionals able to whip up a concept drink like Cosmo Popcorn (a liquid nitrogen recipe with a safety warning included), as well as home-bar enthusiasts wanting to serve their guests a simple Buck’s Fizz (one part fresh orange juice and four parts Champagne).

I'll be adding this to my shelf.

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

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So I hesitated for about 1/2 a second before clicking on the "add to cart" button on amazon...

I really like the book so far. A few approachable recipes, some less approachable. Lots of ideas and techniques for new drinks. And the first cocktail that I tried, the Wink, was not bad either. A really nice riff on the sazerac with gin as the base.


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I just finished reading my copy. The book is fun and the drink photography is astoundingly beautiful. The book has some forgivable scientific problems such as what he claims can be done with a brix meter. Unless he uses a technology I'm not familiar with, alcohol obscures a brix measurement and you can only use refraction to estimate sugar content in a sugar/water solution not a sugar/water/alcohol solution. Alcohol will obscure the measurement upwards and you will think sugar is present that is not. He also implies he uses an alcohol hydrometer for solutions that contain more than alcohol and water which would result in inaccuracies as well but he may be measuring ingredients separately then calculate an average. His practices are worded strangely. For some reason he does not list a hydrometer in his tool kit which I've found indispensable for understanding the sugar contents of commercial liqueurs (my two chart method) besides plain distillates.

I was never really sure what the Drink Factory crew was working on and they have definitely explored a lot of things flavour wise that I've never dreamt of or been exposed to. When you look at how different their work is relative to the smattering of projects that come out of my apartment-kitchen laboratory modern bar tending has some pretty big potential. Tony isn't afraid of vodka and seems to have mastered the idea that things cannot be more than 10% new which is probably why he is so commercially successful. The book and the drinks are pretty accessible despite all the PR photos of him and his lab tools.

The books shows a healthy obsession with coaxing out the most extraordinary tonal expressions from many simple ingredients like fruit juices. Tony meticulously juices, clarifies, and de-aerates in ways that I wish were more popular. Fresh, unpasteurized, self-sugared cranberry juice is an astounding pleasure but few even high end bars keep the tools around to offer it. I do however think he should explore using pressure reflux de-aeration as opposed to vacuum de-aeration to take the oxygen out of liquids. The equipment is far cheaper, smaller in foot print, serves much more double duty, and can be operated in less time.

It would also be fun to see Tony and the Drink Factory crew cross pollinate more with drink makers that have the Beta Cocktail's Wild Style. I've had just as much fun over the years mixing up heroic drinks with Macvin du Jura and Batavia Arrack Van Oosten as playing with my centrifuge and distillation rig. It would be cool to see more of the lab meeting ethnic and adventurous already bottled products. With the last few rounds of 10% new behind us modern bar tending can get away from drinks that are "balanced" and "modern palate" and move on to composed, distinct, and well curated acquired tastes.

For those that dabble in cocktail making, the book will help anyone of any skill level up their game as well as have the fun of seeing what is possible. All in all, I look forward to visiting 69 Colbrooke Row some day.

Edited by bostonapothecary (log)

abstract expressionist beverage compounder

creator of acquired tastes


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