Making a great cocktail is a serious business.
Tailoring the ratios of ingredients to showcase stellar spirits is no small task for those searching for the perfect drink.
Molecular mixology elevates the bartending game by infusing it with a bit of science to create a feast for the eyes and magic for the palate.
The goal is to enhance the drinking experience by pushing the envelope to develop new mouthfeels, textures, and flavor combinations that appeal to the senses.
At its core, molecular mixology is very similar to molecular gastronomy, upon which it is based.
In molecular gastronomy, the emphasis is on manipulating molecules of food to achieve complementary flavors, exciting textures, and stunning presentations.
Molecular mixology strives to accomplish the same goals but for drinks rather than food.
This approach to crafting cocktails has infused some fun and flair into classic recipes.
To approach cocktail creation from a molecular mixology perspective, first, analyze your ingredients. Then, consider how those ingredients interact and play off of each other. Once you understand those dynamics, you can work with incorporating unexpected elements to achieve new textures, exotic tastes, or captivating displays.
Much of the success in molecular mixology is attributed to trial and error. Fundamentally, this approach is still more about cooking than it is science.
Manipulating physical attributes
There are a few conventional techniques that molecular mixologists employ to drastically modify drinks.
They’ll often influence the physical characteristics of a drink, for example, using some simple methods, like layering ingredients in a glass.
By taking into account the density and viscosity of each component, you create a visually appealing concoction.
Theatrical presentations, like drinks teeming with vapor from dry ice or cascading liquid nitrogen effects, are also typical of molecular mixology. While experts don’t advise you to try these things at home (both dry ice and liquid nitrogen are dangerous if mishandled), they are responsible for some very cool looking drinks.
The other end of the spectrum offers some even simpler methods for transforming cocktails. Simply freezing various components to different temperatures or heating them in specific ways will also produce different results.
A cocktail melting into a glass, for example, requires a freezer and some experimentation but is also memorable.
Some additional standard practices include making foams, gels, or mists, even throwing in a little flambé to wow a crowd.
Adding gelatin to drinks is a frequent practice because one simple ingredient can completely change a drink. Putting gelatin in a cocktail significantly changes the mouthfeel, giving even a classic recipe new life.
Another technique popular with molecular mixologists is emulsification.
A great example of this is our Gulf Coast Daisy, served here at our Ben’s Den Tasting Room.
It’s a unique take on a classic whiskey sour that combines egg whites with house-made cranberry bitters, apples, lemon juice, and our own Giant 80 Texas Bourbon Whiskey.
The Gulf Coast Daisy balances all of the components of your regular whiskey sour–the sweet, citrus, tart, and bitter notes.
What turns this drink into something extraordinary, however, are those egg whites. The protein in egg whites, albumin, emulsifies the drink.
The result is a smooth, rich, creamy, almost milkshake-like texture full of unique, complementary flavors. Adding that single ingredient transforms the mouthfeel of this drink and makes it something entirely different.
Though experimenting with different physical components of a drink can be visually satisfying, that means nothing without memorable flavors behind it. Plenty of people have called molecular mixology gimmicky.
Still, you can’t mess with a truly well-balanced flavor profile.
Occasionally, odd pairs will create an unexpected delight, allowing for just a hint of something new and exciting from a classic combination.
That happens to be the case in several of our cocktails, but in particular, the Texas Breeze.
This drink combines bell peppers, agave, jalapenos, rosemary, and ginger beer with our Giant 91 Texas Bourbon Whiskey.
The result is a playful, refreshing southwestern delight.
At first glance, those are some interesting things to put into the same glass, but the flavors complement each other.
By treating cocktails in a scientific way, you inevitably stumble upon some solutions that challenge the status quo.
The sweetness of the agave, for example, plays up the vanilla and caramel notes of the Giant 91 Texas Bourbon Whiskey.
For the Texas Breeze, the kick of spice from the jalapeno and the zip of ginger beer wake up your taste buds to a memorable experience.
Bell peppers allude to the sweet, smooth notes that come from the Texas corn mash used in our bourbon.
Rosemary aroma provides a fresh, surprising finish, tying together the earthy notes of bourbon and pulling it into a cohesive drink with ingredients that were meant for each other.
A final example, our Cosmic Rock, also illustrates our molecular mixologist approach to cocktail invention.
Stunning hibiscus and rose pedals round out this rich, floral, punchy, and startlingly scarlet drink.
It is all at once floral, sweet, sour, and robust, flavorful enough to tame and highlight both of our balanced spirits, as lovely to look at as it is to drink.
Though over-the-top molecular mixology may have fallen out of favor in the last few years, the basic principles carry through to developing any good drink.
By treating the bar like a lab, it’s possible to showcase different flavors in new ways, highlighting and contrasting tastes that center on a quality spirit.
Better yet, plan to take a tour of our facility.
As distillers, we regularly take into account how science impacts the spirits that we produce. It follows then that we would impart some of that same discipline into making those same spirits shine in new and inventive ways.
Molecular mixology is a great way to switch up old standards and fine-tune new, potentially better combinations of ingredients.
Tell us, what is your favorite cocktail? Comment below!