This is guest blog post by one of the only people you’ll want making your cocktails: The Mood Therapist. Take a sip and take a read as he gives you some shots (you didn’t think you’d escape without a pun did you?) on how to use sous vide to up your cocktail game.
A nice warm bath is great for many things but making cocktails may not have been the mental picture that just popped into your head…
I’ve been using immersion circulators since getting my swag from the original Kickstarter campaign for the Nomiku back in 2012. Before that, the choice was over a thousand dollars for a lab grade machine or build your own circulator from a pile of components and online instructions. I was keen to try low temperature cooking but couldn’t justify the high cost for a technique I had yet to experience and my self-confidence in combining electricity and water - without death - was low. This made the Nomiku an easy product to back and I haven’t been disappointed. It’s small, easy to use, easy to keep clean and it looks kinda cool too.
Chicken breasts, ribs, eggs, veggies, yoghurt, pâté…they’ve all bathed in the holy waters and come out transformed. So when my culinary interests started shifting towards cocktails it seemed only natural to experiment with the immersion circulator I was already using to prepare food.
So far I have found four key benefits to using the Nomiku in preparing cocktails but that’s not to say there aren’t others, I just haven’t figured them out yet…
Unsurprisingly, considering it’s use in food prep, the first is cooking! Using the Nomiku to prepare cocktail ingredients gives you many of the same benefits you experience when cooking food. The (generally) low constant temperatures give precise control and help to bring out the flavour in a gentle and controlled fashion. The most obvious example of this for cocktails is in the preparation of syrups. Using the Nomiku makes a long cook time very convenient. Just throw your ingredients in a freezer grade zip-seal bag (or using a vac bag system if you have one), expel any air using the displacement method and slip it into it’s nice warm bath. The occasional massage will help keep things moving and ensure no cold spots but really, that’s just about it. After your chosen cook time (which can vary from a couple of hours to over night), simply double strain out the bits to leave a deeply flavourful syrup that can be stored in clean bottles in the fridge.
The second use for the Nom is infusion. It’s always a bit of a hard line between infusion and cooking because if you look up ‘cooking’, definitions often mention ‘the application of heat’ which happens in both cases, so for me the defining factor is intent. When I am cooking something I expect it to taste cooked. For an infusion I am trying to retain the raw flavour of the ingredients. In this case the temperature doesn’t go over the low 50s and the time in the bath is much shorter, often only 30 minutes to a couple of hours depending on your ingredients. I love to throw soft fruit like raspberries (along with pine tips if I happen to be in Seattle at the right time of year) and a bottle of gin into a bag and give it a quick 30-60 minute spa (until the raspberries turn whitish and your gin has taken on a lovely pink hue). Be sure to chill the bag in a ice/water bath back down to room temperature before opening it or you risking losing some of that lovely alcohol… Strain and filter through a coffee filter, or better still if you’ve got one, use a centrifuge to maximise yield and leave the finished product crystal clear.
Don’t be afraid to experiment - there are an infinite number of possible variations and if it sounds good, give it a whirl.
Do use decent booze. It’s tempting to use the cheapest deal because you’re going to add your own flavours but the flavour of the base alcohol still comes through and the cheapest stuff also tends to be lower proof. Higher proof alcohol means a better level of extraction (although you do need to be aware that very high proof liquor will also extract more bitter notes, which may or may not be a good thing; it depends on what you’re making), you should always aim for at least 80 proof (40% ABV) and you may not get that with bargain basement booze. Bear in mind that by the end of the process your final infusion spirit will be lower proof than when you started because of the extra goodies (and likely some more water) now contained within it.
The third method I’ve found for using the Nomiku is for ‘speed-aging’ your cocktails. Tony Conigliaro and Jeffrey Morgenthaler have been bottle aging and barrel aging cocktails respectively for years. In Tony’s case, literally! The techniques differ in the length of time required and also the result so it depends whether you’re looking for the effect of the vessel or just time on your final drink. They are both interesting ideas but if you can’t wait eight years for a drink or you don’t want to commit to several gallons of cocktail and a significant cash outlay for a barrel, the use of a water bath is an easy first step that brings it’s own benefits.
OK, so obviously it’s not really aging in the traditional sense but the resulting cocktails are noticeably softer, more ‘rounded’ in the mouth and the flavours more integrated - all desirable characteristics of the aging process - and in a fraction of the time. Now I can’t tell you exactly what is happening in there but I do know that an overnight bath at a low temperature (I generally default to 52°C) has a remarkable effect on a lot of cocktails that would also benefit from time in a barrel. Spirit forward drinks like Manhattans, Negronis and Boulevardiers come to mind. Like barrel-aging, avoid anything with citrus juice in it because it doesn’t work well, presumably as a result of oxidisation.
The last use I’ve found for the Nomiku when making cocktails is for heating a holding bath, either for the whole drink in the case of winter warmers, or just one element such as the hot foam in my Passion Hot/Passion Not cocktail. Using an immersion circulator is such a simple and convenient way to keep these ingredients at the perfect temperature for service, it’s not funny. Mulled wine can be held in a bottle at a perfect drinking temperature, and when ordered it’s as simple as pouring it in the glass.
With the price of immersion circulators having dropped drastically since the introduction of the Classic Nomiku, every home, every bar, and every home bar should should have one! And if you’re not convinced already, maybe another $50 off just by clicking here and using the coupon code ‘moodtherapist’ will do the trick? Or how about the upcoming WiFi model? You can use the same code to get $35 off of that one, too.
A long-time home cook, while living in Ghana, Rich developed an interest in Modernist Cuisine – contemporary techniques, some using equipment more commonly found in a laboratory than a kitchen – not for the sake of it but because they could deliver a demonstrably superior product in the deliciousness department.
Unable to satisfy the demand for invitations to his increasingly extravagant dinner parties, Rich looked to making cocktails as a way to deliver pleasure to a larger numbers of guests while still focusing on modernist techniques. As his passion grew over time, so his equipment got more serious and the variety of techniques he employed expanded. A 2 litre centrifuge, a refractometer, micropipettes, a carbonation rig, a pressure-infusion set up and lots more besides are now all part of the arsenal.
Repeated requests to cater parties and events eventually led to Rich offering his services professionally. Throwing together some business cards for an early event, Rich felt a little uneasy using the job title ‘Mixologist’ or even ‘Bartender’ but it was clear that people always left his events with a broader smile than when they arrived. Thus, the Mood Therapist was born.
The Mood Therapist has catered for a number of functions including the VIP bar at the ASEAN Pride Festival for the US Embassy; My Day with Dior, the first of a series of events for Christian Dior Vietnam; the Luang Prabang Film Festival and a series of Molecular Nights - a collaboration with Chef Raphael Szurek at the French Grill restaurant in the JW Marriott Hotel, Hanoi and numerous private events. In addition to event work, Rich has been approached to conduct consultancies for bars and restaurants both in Vietnam and the region.
The Mood Therapist runs occasional “Group Therapy Sessions” - sell-out pop-up cocktail events featuring a flight of modernist cocktails, designed with the most discerning cocktail drinkers in mind.
Techniques employed by the Mood Therapist beyond sous vide include nitro-muddling with liquid nitrogen, spherification, solid cocktails (vacuum infusion), clarification, carbonation,pressure infusion, the use of hydrocolloids, and smoking. He dreams of rotavaps.