If you are a cocktail lover, you can tell when the bartender does not hold back on the liquor or the syrup. But sometimes, the syrup tastes a bit too artificial.
Syrups and sweeteners have often been used to mimic the taste of fruits but now a cooking technique can be used to put a spin on your favourite cocktails - it is sous vide.
On arrival at the Balcony Bar at Villa Rosa Kempinski, bartender Edwin Oloo begins mixing a negroni he calls ‘the nutbreaker’ which is infused using walnuts and figs using the sous vide technique.
The bourbon-based apéritif as a result has a very strong earthy smell and is very sour on the tongue. The infusion of the walnuts and figs is very apparent.
“This is more of an experiment to see what works and what does not. When I tell a client that the cocktail has chocolate, walnuts or snap peas, they get curious to try it out,” he said.
Sous vide - which is a French term meaning ‘under-vacuum’ - is an innovative cooking technique in which food is sealed in a vacuum and slow-cooked in a water bath at constant precise temperatures until it’s perfectly cooked.
This technique specifically used in food preparation is now being used in mixology to infuse more flavour from ingredients not normally used in cocktails such as bacon and chickpeas.
Edwin, who has been a bartender for four years, says that the preparation of sous vide cocktails almost resembles the food preparation process because it starts in the kitchen.
For bartenders and mixologists, this allows them to create new flavours and add more vibrant tastes to classic cocktails such as negronis, margaritas and martinis.
As the Balcony Bar launched their Thursday special called the Social Nook, Edwin and his fellow bartenders treated guests to a cocktail immersive experience serving three different drinks made through the sous vide technique: The Nut Breaker, the Twisted Pisco Sour, and the Snap Chat Shooter.
As the name suggests, the Snap Chat Shooter is infused with snap peas. The gin-based cocktail is one of the few cocktails that is made using vegetables and has a balanced ‘sweet and sour’ taste.
“We used to do cold maceration where we would take the specific cocktail’s ingredients such as the walnuts for the nut breaker cocktail and soak them in the alcohol for about three days at room temperature. With this new technique, we have more control. We are introducing heat to mixology to produce more accurate results. It depends on how delicate the ingredients are.”
“We can heat the ingredients sealed in a bag for 30 minutes at 60 degrees Celsius. The infusion duration also becomes shorter. We store the liquid for future use depending on how fast the drink moves. Sous vide increases the intensity of the flavour and aroma of the drink,” he said.
According to Sous Vide Magazine, the technique allows chefs to cook food at a precise temperature to achieve a consistent result that maximizes the taste, texture, and aroma of food.
This involves sealing the food or ingredients in a plastic pouch, essentially creating a ‘second skin’, and immersing the food in a water bath set for a series of precise temperatures and times.
Edwin picked up the technique at the Diageo Bar Academy, where he also competed in the World Class Competition that attracts bartenders and mixologists from all over the world. He was among the top 20 finalists in May this year.
High uptake of cocktails
“There are times a client would walk up to the bar, do not want anything on the menu and ask to be surprised. In the World Class competition, the task was to come up with a new creation. Lucky enough, I had some practice in doing that,” he said.
Diageo Luxury Spirit Brand Ambassador Kevin Kamau said that there was now a high uptake of cocktails in hotels, bars, and restaurants.
“Drinks like whiskeys and tequila that have been around for over 50 years were mostly consumed neat. Consumers now might like a certain drink but do not enjoy drinking it as it is. Some prefer it to be sweet or flavourful. That is how people began making cocktails to make it easier to drink. There are alcoholic spirits such as Tanqueray that are specifically made for cocktail creation. It has a lot of botanicals such as juniper, coriander, angelica root and liquorice that give it flavour and make it easier to drink,” said Kevin.
According to Sous Vide Magazine, the founder of Culinary Research & Education Academy Bruno Goussault is recognised as the founder of modern sous vide. In 1971, Dr Goussault developed sous vide as a way of improving the tenderness of roast beef.
He discovered that if the beef was vacuum-sealed in a specially designed pouch and slowly cooked at a ‘slightly lower than usual’ temperature, it showed little sign of profit-robbing shrinkage compared to conventional cooking methods. Plus, the flavour was notably enhanced.