The long Labor Day weekend was the perfect time for binge-watching. With endless possibilities and viewing options to choose from, I found myself browsing through YouTube, where I discovered my latest obsession–the wildly imaginative, over-the-top culinary wizardry of Heston Blumenthal. I’d heard of his Michelin-starred restaurant The Fat Duck in Bray, England and knew a little about the chef’s reputation as a proponent of molecular gastronomy. I had no idea until I started watching his videos, however, just what a brilliant “Willy Wonka” he really was…or how insanely popular his food shows were in the U.K. The appeal is pretty obvious really. Every one of Blumenthal’s series–from Great British to Fantastical Foods to Feasts–playfully combines his love of food, mad culinary skills, and sense of fun with his fascination with history, culture, and science. It’s like Master Chef meets Good Eats on steroids…only way better.
The culinary geek in me was in heaven…what’s more, I was inspired! Yep, after watching hours of this mad scientist conjure up food magic, I decided to apply a little chemistry to concoct my own special elixirs–better cocktails through science!
One of Heston’s favorite kitchen tools or gadgets is a nitrous or whip cream canister. As it so happens, I’d been given one of these recently to test out by my friends at WhipIt. I’ve discovered that not only is it great for making whipped cream, it is the perfect vehicle for rapidly infusing all kinds of flavors into alcohol–giving new meaning to term “craft cocktail.” The injection of nitrous gas essentially forces the flavor into the alcohol, so what used to take weeks now only takes a few minutes. Though a word of warning, this method also raises the percentage of alcohol in the given liquor. Your cocktail will pack more of a punch!
Like a kid with a new toy, I’ve been experimenting with all kinds of infusions–late harvest peach, blackberry, “mango” grapes (given to me by a friend who’s dad cultivates unusual varieties).
One of my favorites so far has been St. George Botanical Gin infused with fresh slices of Persian cucumber and mint leaves.
The color and perfume are divine…and practically screams “SUMMER!” Since this is the end of summer, I thought it would be appropriate to create a cocktail that captures the feeling of summer in a glass.
Summer in a Glass
- 2 oz. cucumber & mint-infused gin*
- juice of 1/2 lime
- 4 oz. ginger beer, chilled
- 2 reserved gin-soaked cucumber slices
- 2 fresh blackberries, 1 lime slice, mint sprig for garnish
Place the infused gin and lime juice in a cocktail shaker with 3-4 ice cubes. Shake vigorously and strain into a chilled glass, then top off with ginger beer. Garnish with cucumber, blackberries, mint and lime slice.
*For the infusion, combine 1 thinly sliced medium Persian cucumber, 6-7 mint leaves, and 6 oz. gin in a nitrous canister. Inject with one cartridge, then give the canister a good shake and let is rest for a couple of minutes. Release the gas into an inverted glass, then strain the liquor.
With end of summer, comes the beginning of fall and the start of the school year. What better way to celebrate this than with a cocktail that brings to mind that classic of school lunches–The PB&J. To make my liquid version of the iconic sandwich, I first infused vodka with fresh Concord grapes–about 1 1/2 cups mashed grapes to 1 cup of vodka. For this amount of mix I used two nitrous cartridges.
For the peanut butter component, I infused vodka with chopped roasted salted peanuts (1 cup peanuts to 3/4 cup vodka, 1 nitrous cartridge), then made a peanut butter syrup by simmering 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1/2 cup water, 1/2 split vanilla bean with 2 heaping tablespoons of peanut butter, strained it and added to the peanut vodka infusion.
To serve the cocktail, I dipped the rim of a martini glass in melted grape jelly, then coated it in ground roasted salted peanuts.
- 2 oz. concord grape-infused vodka, chilled
- 1 oz. peanut butter liqueur, chilled
- 1 oz. half & half
- small cluster of concord grapes for garnish
- melted grape jelly, ground roasted salted peanuts
Combine the grape vodka, peanut butter liqueur, and half & half with 3-4 ice cubes in a cocktail shaker. Shake vigorously and strain into the prepared glass and garnish with a cluster of Concord grapes.