Click the image to watch a mixologist at workSome people think the concept of mixology -- artful cocktail making -- is a joke. That bartenders don't really create anything per se; they just pour fluids into cups according to recipes. If you're preparing a Screwdriver, that's probably true. But cocktails have gone through radical innovations in the first decade of the new millennium. Bartenders are sourcing exotic ingredients, using high-tech machinery, creating oddball flavors and textures, and, ultimately, blurring the lines between food and drink. The most accomplished (some would say pretentious) of these professionals are called mixologists or bar chefs. And the most avant-garde among them are applying the tenets of molecular gastronomy to bartending. The booze community refers to this either as "molecular mixology" or "progressive" cocktail making.
Molecular gastronomy is the application of scientific principles to cooking. The term was coined in the 1980s by Hungarian physicist Nicholas Kurti and French physical chemist Hervé This -- and adopted by food science whiz Harold McGee. Chefs like Ferran Adrià, Heston Blumenthal, Grant Achatz, and Wylie DuFresne are all known for their wildly experimental cuisine: foamed espresso, egg and bacon ice cream, "fried mayonnaise," and so on.
Progressive bartenders, such as Eben Freeman at Tailor Restaurant in New York, combine an appreciation of classic cocktails with the bold innovations made possible by equipment like Cryovac machines (to vacuum-seal ingredients and cook at low temperatures), Pacojets (to make weird sorbets and ice cream flavors), and immersion circulators (to keep food at a very consistent temperature). Recipes often have some sort of industrial edible thickener, such as xanthan gum or agar, to, for example, make foams.
Eben Freeman's Bazooka Bubblegum Cocktail Recipe:
In the videos featured here, Freeman gives a tour of his bartending stations, kitchen, and equipment. He also waxes poetic on the topic of modern mixology. And, finally, he demonstrates some of the techniques he's developed to create bubblegum-infused vodka and his genre-bending "solid cocktails" flight, which includes Kahlua Rice Krispies (a White Russian served via cereal in milk), Ramos Gin Fizz Marshmallow (an egg-based cocktail reimagined as a meringue/marshmallow and tossed in juniper sugar), and Cuba Libre Rum and Coke (suspended in a gelatin cube and served on a crisp lime chip).
James Oliver Cury is the executive editor of Epicurious.com. He is a member of the James Beard Restaurant and Chef Awards Committee and has been a judge at the Culinary Institute of America, the Jack Daniels World Barbecue Championship, and the Food Network's Iron Chef show. He's written for dozens of magazines, including Esquire, Playboy, Details, Entertainment Weekly, Maxim, Men's Journal, SPIN, Glamour , US Magazine, Food & Wine, and Every Day with Rachael Ray.
MORE FROM EPICURIOUS.COM:
Recipes & Menus
Epicurious.com's portfolio of dishes for all seasons, cuisines and occasions
The Epicurious Editors' Blog
Food News and Views From All Over
Delicious menu guides for the busy work week
Epicurious Technique Videos
See better approaches to preparing your meals
Assorted galleries featuring pictures and recipes from Epicurious.com