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Mixologists: Top tools to create the extraordinary

To help create the extraordinary cocktail, mixologists rely on a slew of tools and techniques, some borrowed from the kitchen. Sous vide is a prime example; its popularity extends beyond the kitchen into the bar area, where the technique is used to keep flavors pure and temperatures consistent. We asked some of today’s top mixologists to name their favorite tech tools behind the bar, with the direction that it didn’t have to be electronic. Their answers were notably low-tech; along with sous vide, jiggers, foam-makers and a card binder make the list. Read on to learn what these leading mixologists are using to create their signature cocktails.

Chris Hannah, mixologist for Arnaud’s French 75 Bar in New Orleans, adjacent to the main dining room and offering a seasonal drink menu with recipes from the bygone era for which the bar is named, along with a vast selection of martinis, mixed drinks, wine and beer.

Favorite technology:
We have a jigger at the bar that has four units of measurement on it: ¼ oz., ½ oz., ¾ oz. and 1¼ oz. It's the ÜberBarTools jigger. With so many drinks that call for ¼, ½, and ¾ ounces of liquor or a mixer in them, it's easier to use one cup to measure than to use three or four. Our bar is small, so compacting everything is a must and this tool makes life easier at the French 75 Bar.

I've had the jigger for four years.  Before, we used one of the regular metal jiggers that have only two measurements, so one ÜberBarTools jigger takes the space of two to three of the regular other jiggers/measurers. This tool helps us with precision when creating drinks, it helps in training new bartenders and it helps in clean up. After making each cocktail, you only rinse one measurer instead of four.

The French 75 —a concoction of brandy and champagne— is ordered all night long.  Whether we are making one, two or three, this measurer always makes it possible to do all measuring with two jiggers/measurers. No matter what.

Jeremy Lajmer, mixologist for Rattan Bistro and Wine Bar in Houston, known for its inventive Pan-Asian cuisine using fresh, high-quality ingredients. 

Favorite technology
My current favorite technology is a classic cooking method called sous vide or “under vacuum,” which I use to create a cocktail by mixing all of the ingredients in a vacuum-sealed bag then infusing them in an immersion circulator at a low temperature [in the kitchen we use it to cook meat]. The circulator allows us to precisely control the temperature, allowing a subtle control of the heat and circulation, resulting in a perfectly blended cocktail. This method allows me to rapidly infuse flavors—40 minutes in the immersion circulator versus two to three weeks of steeping—that creates a cocktail with exceptional flavor and shelf life. We started experimenting with the Immersion Circulator this winter. It requires a bit of trial and tasting; we did blind taste test results on both the staff and our regulars to see which blend was the best received.

Using this method has absolutely has changed the way we prepare our signature Ginger Chili Margarita, and it has resulted in a better cocktail. All of the ingredients—Reposado tequila, fresh squeezed lime juice, Gran Marnier, lemongrass-infused simple syrup and freshly grated ginger—are mixed together and prepared “sous vide” at 57 degrees Celsius for 40 minutes. After a quick chill, the cocktail is ready to go.  To serve, we place the mixture in a shaker with ice, add some de-seeded Thai chili, shake and serve. We are currently experimenting with other infusions and we hope to add some interesting new drinks to our house cocktail menu.

Jack McGarry, mixologist for The Dead Rabbit Grocery and Grog in New York City, which embodies the conviviality of Old New York and Irish-American traditions, serving craft beer, bottled punch and whiskeys of the world on the ground floor and 72 historically-accurate 19th century cocktails in the upstairs parlor.

Favorite technology:
My favorite piece of kit would be the sous-vide water bath. I love it because it gives you the ability to control temperature to ensure no flavor degradation occurs, which results in flavor purity. I'm all about flavor, so any piece of kit that enables me to get closer to consistently clean and representative flavors is something I love. I also love the water bath for hot drinks; we serve our hot drinks at 75 degrees Celsius, which means you can drink it instantly without the top of your mouth being burnt off. Another piece of kit couldn't live without is our punch circulators, similar to the iced coffee dispensers you see in many a deli. They keep our punch rotating and ice cold to ensure they are fresh for up to 3 weeks.

I've had the water bath around 3 years now and the punch circulator around 2 months. I brought the water bath because when we ran the bar at the Merchant Hotel in Belfast, we used to boil a lot of our fruit syrups and I realized after a while that the flavor was brown and it seemed to die after a few days. After some research I found this piece of machinery and I haven't looked back since. 

The water bath has made our drinks very pure and crisp. I added the Bishops section to our menu (the 19th century selection) because I knew I could execute it via this machine.

Junior Merino, founder of The Liquid Chef in New York City, offering original cocktail design and staffing for private and corporate events, workshops and seminars on mixology and cocktail development for liquor and restaurant brands.

Favorite technology:
A jigger and my muddler are my favorite behind the bar tools. The jigger because it says to guests immediately that consistency is important because we want to always make sure that they get the same cocktail, whether I make it or someone from my team makes it.  The jigger also cuts down on “over pour” costs as well as shows dedication to the craft of mixing. As for the muddler, it gives me the option to use fresh fruits as opposed to juices or purees. When muddling citrus, the citrus gives flavors of the oils of skins, which is something that juice can not give.

I have always used jiggers, or measurers as they are sometimes called.  I used to have an elegant sterling silver double-sided jigger that was 1 oz. on one side and 1½ oz on the other. I have varied my collection since then, with jiggers from different countries, and now sell my own branded jiggers. 

Before designing my own muddler, i would use metal ones with teeth on the bottom that would just tear at the fruit causing rapid oxidation. Also it was too short with a small top that would dig into my hands. I designed my muddler with maple wood. It is long I do not cut my hands on the sides of the shaking tin and it’s flat on the bottom so it gently presses and extracts the flavors of the fruit. The top is designed for comfort, so your palm is not bruised whether you muddle one cocktail or hundreds. 

I think one of the hardest cocktails to eye-ball is my Avocado Mezcal cocktail, as the balance of this cocktail is so delicate. Adding to much agave would make it too sweet, while too much mezcal would make it too strong and too smoky. Using the jigger, you guarantee the quality of the cocktail every single time. 

Darcy S. O'Neil, president, Art of Drink in London, Ontario, is a chemist, writer, bartender and fizzicist.

Favorite technology:
My favorite piece of technology is an alphabetized business card binder with plastic covers for the cards and my home printer.  I buy blank business card sheets and print out cocktail recipes that I use behind the bar. When my memory fails me I can just look the recipe up quickly. When the customer is blown away by the great cocktail, they will inevitably ask for the recipe, at which point I just give them the recipe card. Before my next shift I reprint the recipes that I need.

Before this I would have a number of cocktail books behind the bar, but variations with stocked ingredients, brands and even techniques made it difficult to reproduce the exact cocktail at the bar. When I made a good cocktail, I'd just take notes and eventually it lead to this system where I created my own cocktail guide. This system helped to produce consistent cocktails from night to night and between bartenders. It also helped to make drinks a bit more complicated because we could always refer to the recipe in an easy way.

Jack McGarry, mixologist for The Dead Rabbit Grocery and Grog in New York City, which embodies the conviviality of Old New York and Irish-American traditions, serving craft beer, bottled punch and whiskeys of the world on the ground floor and 72 historically-accurate 19th century cocktails in the upstairs parlor.

Favorite technology
My favorite tool is my Japanese jigger.  But if we are talking in terms of technology I love to work with the Isi foam machine. This is my favorite because it can really transform the consistency, the presentation and texture of the cocktail. I used a foam machine for a few years before I got the Isi.  But since Isi came out I have been very loyal.  It is a new machine that came out a year and a half ago.  This company improved the machine with better results and easy use.  Definitely, molecular mixology has everything to do with technology and new resources.  It made a big impression in the way you think of creating cocktails because of the way you prepare and execute. It totally gives it a dramatic twist.  

The EVR Margarita consists of a classic margarita, but the twist is the foam.  The foam is Himalayan salt foam with lavender and hibiscus flavor.  The foam takes the margarita to the next level. 

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