Molecular Mixology? Balls to it.

All those who enjoy making or mixing up culinary masterpieces from time to time will know the feeling.  You’re standing in the kitchen, head cocked to one side, a look of mild consternation on your face and a deep sense of frustration eating away at you, as you consider the bowl of gloop on the bench.  It shouldn’t look like that.  How did it get like that?   Is it salvageable, or do I start again?  What time do my friends get here, anyway?

The worst feeling of all is when you damn well know that you DID follow the recipe correctly and therefore is some unknown issue due to some unknown factor that might possibly be the recipe, but could equally be either your personal level of incompetence or – cherish the thought – one of the minor variations in the laws of physics that always seem to occur in my kitchen.  I always assumed that as I learned to cook, I would experience this feeling less and less; if you’re thinking that now, boy, do I have news for you.

Well, this week I decided I finally wanted to try a recipe developed by Canadian bartender Jamie Boudreau.  And as you can probably guess already, it turned into a horrible, horrible mess.

Jamie Boudreau is one of several bartenders that set me on the wrong track of hunting down obscure spirits and cocktails.  Years before, when I was first researching a drink they were serving at Suite in Auckland, the only reference I could find for it came from his very excellent blog.  Traversing through his list of cocktails and discovering ingredients such as coriander tinctures, lavender infusions and home-made beer liqueurs, I suddenly realized how much more complicated all of this could become.  I began working my way through his creations, a number of which are still in regular rotation in my home – the superbly delicious Cubed Old Fashioned remains one of my all-time favorites.  But of all the obscure, bizarre and outlandish recipes I came across, none fascinated me more than those featuring molecular mixology.

Molecular mixology is the process of using various food-related chemicals, such as sodium alginate, calcium chloride, agar, gelatine, xanthan gum etc, to change the molecular properties of food and drink.  Think foams and caviars here;  it’s showy, yes, a little pointless, certainly not something I’d want to see at every bar – but ultimately, this is very cool stuff.  And so I purchased said chemicals via Amazon and picked out the easiest molecular mixology recipe that Mr Boudreau had to offer: Caipiroli.  A Caipirinha in a sort of jellied solid form that looked delicious.  And fortunately, the only key ingredients were the same as a real Caipirinha, with some added sodium alginate and a calcium chloride bath.


Well, after assembling everything, I carefully measured the ingredients, with the kind of precision usually reserved by physicists for finding lost particles, and set up my two bowls; in one, the caipiroli mixture, and in the other, the calcium chloride bath.  It all looked so simple on the videos;  I would simply scoop up a spoon of the caipiroli mixture, and drop it into the calcium chloride bath. But once my caipiroli mixture was, well, mixed, I realized that it had a similar consistancy to that of a real Caipirinha and was unlikely to bloody well be scooped up and dropped into a separate bath.  Not that I didn’t try that, resulting in a horrible, cloudy mess, forcing me to set up another calcium chloride bath.  This time I was more patient, and I felt sure that the added time would lead to success.  But it was not to be.

Dammit, I tried everything with that mixture.  I frantically searched up YouTube videos.  I reasoned that I can’t have mixed it thoroughly enough, or I hadn’t added enough alginate, so both were tried in succession.  In the end, despairingly, another 3 teaspoons of alginate was added to the mixture, turning it into a god-awful floury gloop.  Even this didn’t fix it; this gloop could be dropped into the calcium chloride bath, and after five minutes all I had was a faint skin which dissolved when I tried to pick the blasted thing up.  By this stage, it tasted pretty awful too.  The calcium chloride bath was already much more concentrated than other sources recommended, so much so that it was cloudy rather than clear.  In the end, I abandoned the project and sought a consolation drink with a friend.

Well, I’m damned if I know what I did wrong.  For now the tubs of chemicals sit on top of my fridge, and I’m not quite ready to give it another shot.  Jamie, sadly, has moved on from his blog.  He now runs the excellent (well, I hear it’s excellent) Canon Whiskey Emporium in Seattle.  I fully intend to pop up there and give it a shot at some stage soon; in the meantime, perhaps I’ll have to settle for another Cubed Old Fashioned.


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