The Science of Bartending
World Best Bar
Mar 14, 2017
26 November 2020
Of course the number is so much more than that, shaping maths and science for thousands of years. And on the 14th of March we celebrate Pi Day, a toast to mathematical geniuses throughout the ages who have sought to further understand the complexities of this number. Why the 14th? Well if you write the date the American way, the month before the day, it becomes 3/14.
Of course mathematics and science stretch far beyond the realms of the class room, into the distilleries of our favourite spirits, the ratios of well-balanced cocktails and the glass in front of us. There are several bars worldwide who utilise a more exacting scientific method to produce their unique cocktail programmes and what better day to recognise this hard work than on Pi Day.
Discussing maths and science within the bar world, however, can’t be done without mentioning the pioneer and mad scientist that is Tony Conigliaro. His bar with no name, Colebrooke Row, makes use of its upstairs lab where the bartenders tinker away with their machines using gastronomic and scientific techniques. Techniques which arguably changed the face of modern drinks.
So what are you likely to find in a bartender’s lab? The rotavap (or to give it its proper name a rotary evaporator) is possibly the most well-known piece of equipment. It’s essentially a vacuum distillation system which is to separate compounds from solutions by means of evaporation. For a bar this comes in handy when clarifying drinks or creating infusions. The liquid is heated until it vaporises and is then condensed or cooled back into a liquid in a separate vessel. Different compounds will turn to vapour at varying temperatures so a meticulously controlled heat, air pressure and rotation is necessary to separate out liquids.
Places such as Worship Street Whistling Shop use this for clarification mostly. Other equipment bartenders can use includes basic vacuum machines which suck the air out of plastic pouches, thus keeping infusions fresh, gastrovacs which are high pressure cookers, centrifuges to separate liquids from solids and thermomixes which simultaneously cooks things while they are being mixed.
The most modern incarnation of science meets bar is the recently launched White Lyan in Hoxton where everything down the water is tampered with. In this case a mixture of calcium, sugar and salt is added to your basic London tap water, making it distinctly tastier. Here Ryan Chetiyawardana and Iain Griffiths even make their own spirits, after buying in large batches they either redistill, infuse, macerate, or use a sous vide to get the required effect.
While Ryan, Iain and Tony are certainly exceptions to the rule, this focus on the science behind drinks is starting to catch on, just as it did in the food world several years ago when Ferran Adrià opened elBulli.
At its most basic level science is giving bartenders the options to create their own infusions and flavours. So before we dismiss the likes of Pi as a tool of geeks, let’s not forget it allegedly helped build the pyramids, just as the world of rotvaps and distillation is giving us great tasting cocktails.
Written by Claire Sherwood