How do you make a hi-tech cocktail?
At Rush Lane, the Queen West snack bar and experimental cocktail laboratory, Jordan Bushell and Simon Hooper craft complex beverages using medical lab equipment. A clinical approach, they say, makes more consistent drinks: “the fewer variables we have, the better,” says Hooper. Last week, they came up with the Playa Riviera, a strong, smoky drink that tastes a bit like a vacation. “It was actually one of the cold days last week,” says Hooper. “I thought, where would I love to be right now? Mexico. One hundred per cent. So let’s create a cocktail that embodies the emotional aspect of that—a little heat, a little salt from the ocean, some tropical flavors.” The drink takes about an hour to prepare, using a whole series of hi-tech equipment, and it’s selling now for $20. Here’s how it’s done.
First, Hooper creates a “mango water” by extracting the scent of the fruit using a rotary evaporator (one of only three in Canada used for culinary purposes). “A medical-grade lab would use this to separate dangerous compounds,” explains Bushell.
Mango nectar is heated in an evaporator flask that’s placed in a water bath and spun continuously on a turntable at 140 RPMs. A vacuum sucks the steam into a condensing chamber, where it’s quickly cooled. The resulting “water” is collected in a glass bulb. It’s a process that’s similar to fragrance extraction in perfume making. “The water smells like mango, but it doesn’t have any taste,” says Hooper.
Next, Hooper prepares a jalapeño-agave nectar. The seeds and whitish heat glands of the jalapeños are removed and the peppers are combined with agave nectar and a tenth of a gram of cayenne in a vacuum bag.
The bag is sealed and then heated sous-vide at 55 degrees Celsius for an hour, after which time the jalapeños are strained out and discarded.
Next, Hooper heats the infused agave nectar, slowly adding water until the sugar content (also known as the “brix”) reaches exactly 50 per cent. Hooper periodically tests the brix by dropping samples onto a refractometer.
Hooper then prepares a foam that will be piped on top of the cocktail. He measures out precise portions of sea salt, Versawhip (a type of soy protein) and powdered albumen (egg whiles), which he mixes with the mango water and a small portion of the jalapeño-agave nectar.
The ingredients are placed in a whipping siphon with nitrogen gas and then chilled. The canister creates a foam that “looks like whitewash on the waves in the ocean.”
For the final component, lime juice and water are combined with malic acid (found in Granny Smith apples) and tested with a pH meter until the solution’s acidity measures a 2.2. The addition of malic acid produces the same tartness as lime alone, but without the citrusy flavour.
Now it’s time to mix the drink. Hooper combines the lime-malic solution with the remaining jalapeño-agave nectar, then adds tequila and Scotch. “ I always start with the cheapest ingredients first, in case you mess it up,” says Hooper. He adds ice, shakes, and then strains the drink into a chilled glass.
Finally, he squirts an even layer of salty, mango-scented foam onto the surface of the liquid.
And that’s how it’s done.