London Cocktail Week – Molecular Mixology at Purl
London Cocktail Week was a whirlwind of tastings, seminars, and masterclasses but one of the standout moments for me was the Molecular Mixology seminar at Purl. Dry ice, liquid nitrogen, smoke and foam all made for a fascinating and delicious tour the most modern mixology techniques being used today.
The session kicked off with an interesting discussion about exactly what ‘molecular mixology’ was. One thing was clear and that was, for Purl at least, novel techniques might be used but it was the quality of the drinks and overall experience that was most important. We moved on to discuss the importance of stimulating the five senses, taste, touch, smell, sight and sound. It was interesting to learn how the drinks at Purl are created to stimulate as many of the senses as possible, with sound always being the hardest to nail.
Using Chemicals to do Cool Stuff!
With the serious discussions concluded, it was time to move on to making some drinks. First off Tom made some cocktail caviar using the process of spherification. Created by mixing fruit juice with sodium alginate and dropping from a syringe into a solution of calcium chloride. Exact measurements are key here, as is the time the liquids are left in contact with them. Tom expertly made some apple juice and liquorice bitters ‘caviar’ which were promptly consumed! When made correctly, these little balls are a real joy, with the skin a little thicker than ‘real’ caviar, the tiniest pressure causes them to burst, releasing an explosion of flavour into your mouth.
Next up was a demonstration of foams and airs. I have made foams before at home by mixing up a flavouring (I used maple syrup, lemon juice and water) with a protein (I used egg white) then charging in whipped cream canister with nitrogen canisters. Whilst the resulting foam was delicious, I found the foam to not last anywhere near long enough. Tom and Tristan demonstrated how a longer lasting effect could be created by using ‘airs’. In this case sweetened earl grey tea was mixed with a precise amount of lecithin a portable fish tank aerator used to bubble air through it. The result was copious amounts of earl grey grey flavoured foam that had the consistency of bubble bath bubbles and lasted ages! Simply spooning on top of a traditional martini made for a delicious drink that could easily be made at home.
Time to Chill
If the first half of the seminar was characterised by techniques that could (with the right kit) be used in the home environment, the second half was full of techniques that should probably be left to the professionals. So it was time to get stuff cold, really cold!
I knew that both liquid nitrogen and dry ice were both darn cold (liquid nitrogen boils at -196C and dry ice turns to a gas at -56.4C) I had never given much consideration to the different uses of these chemicals. Tom and Tristan demonstrated how dry ice can be a very useful way of (almost) instantly freezing liquids, producing some salted toffee ‘ice cream’ for our delectation. The process was surprisingly easy, with a scoop of dry ice added to the liquid to be frozen, which was then whisked until semi-solid. Those of us lucky enough to find a small nugget of dry ice remaining in our taster had all sorts of fun puffing plumes of CO2 out of our noses like dragons! Probably best not to tell the health and safety people about that bit!
The cold theme continued with Tristan creating some ‘cosmopops’. Essentially a regular cosmopolitan frozen solid in a bath of liquid nitrogen. Anyone that has tried to freeze a liquid containing more than a smidgen of alcohol will know that the freezing point of alcohol is too low for most domestic freezers to be able to achieve anything more than an icy sludge. Liquid nitrogen of course has no such problem and after just a few minutes of being chilled, the cosmopops were ready to enjoy. Well, I say enjoy but what I really mean is they were ready to do some serious damage to anyone daft enough to put a whole one in their mouth! These things were so cold, only the briefest and fastest of licks could be achieved if you didn’t want to spend the rest of the evening with a cosmopolitan slowly defrosting on your tongue.
The Last Word
So there concludes a whistle-stop tour of the Purl masterclass. I have only touched the surface of the creations we enjoyed that night, with frozen martini’s, sherbert and self-serve punches also featuring. Suffice to say the seminar was by far the best of those that I attended during LCW. Tom and Tristan are not only extremely skilled and progressive bartenders, but some of the nicest in the business as well. If you haven’t made it to Purl, you really must, this is a bar that will be going places.