“Switching” the Cocktail Technique you’ve never heard of...
Updated: Mar 29
It's rare that in the bartending profession real innovation comes along. Usually we borrow a lot from the kitchen & chef based innovations that don't always translate well into the bar. It all goes in waves as the last time we innovated properly was about 20 years ago. When I talk about innovation I speak about techniques that could change the way bars & bartenders make cocktails in a global scale. When Iain McPherson of Panda & Sons in Edinburgh, Scotland called with a new technique he'd been developing based on existing techniques in the industry already. So without further ado the next words are from Iain...
Words by Iain McPherson Last year I was getting more frustrated with myself and the general bar industry, that we weren’t coming up with more of our own techniques. Following kitchen trends has been great, it really has, but now I find we are generally just following kitchen trends as it is a clear path to follow. Panda & Sons around this same time had just turned 5 years old, I felt that I personally had hit a roof in terms of creativity. Not that my ideas had dried up, I just didn’t have the tools to keep on going and achieving what I wanted. So I ripped out the existing back of house and started again. I designed a creative space dedicated around how my brain works (not just for the sake of saying “hey, I have a lab, how cool is that!) tailored with equipment I needed to achieve my ideas in my notebook.
I have always been fascinated by sub zero temperatures. I’m basically an over qualified ice cream lover. I have always referenced that sub zero temperatures are like the deep sea. The deep sea has been explored far less than the moon. Just like sub zero has been compared to heat techniques, in the bar and kitchen. I changed my approach to freezing and how I saw it. For example “fractional concentration (same process as fractional distillation, but distillation is to create stronger alcohols). I saw similarities with it to reducing a sauce through heat, it's a process of concentrating flavour. So I started looking at it that way. I find having things to relate to, makes my research easier. The benefits of freezing is we aren’t altering the flavour as much as cooking a flavour. For example a cooked raspberry tastes completely different to a fresh raspberry. The difference between a frozen raspberry and a fresh one, is a lot closer!
After playing around with fractional concentration, I started thinking about lego and how I used to swap the legs, heads, arms and accessories of lego characters around (I know that sounds fucked up, but hey). So what if i can separate the water from the alcohol and switch it with something else? This was the beginning of my technique called “Switching”. I could concentrate the flavour of the alcohol without it losing a lot of its flavour and then influence the spirit with another flavour without altering the abv at the end of the process. Now the initial problem I faced was freezers we can readily buy from shops only tend to freeze down to -20c or -25c. For a 40% (80 proof) alcohol you need -27c to start that process. So I needed a specialist freezer to achieve the freezing point required. I purchased a freezer that could go down to -50c and one that would also allow me to control the temperature.
Initially I just chucked a large pre batch of negroni in to the deep freezer. I didn’t factor in varying alcohol and sugar levels, lesson learnt. It did make a damn good slushy though! So I focused solely on using my “Switching" technique with spirits (preferably with no added sugar). I weighed the gin and then put the gin in the freezer on its own at -30c (the gin I was using was 47%). I left it in the freezer for 24 hours. I then filter out the liquid gin and I am left with the frozen water. I then defrost the water and weigh the volume of it. I like the citrusy notes of the gin I was using so I Switched out the water with a clarified pink grapefruit and orange juice blend. The juice was also giving the gin a mouth feel that can't be achieved through distillation. This was phase 1 of my research.
Phase 2 was looking at cocktails that called for juices and spirits. I now wanted to see the different flavour profiles I could achieve. So I made a “Switched” Hotel Nacional cocktail. I Switched out the water in the rum with clarified pineapple. Instead of adding the fresh pineapple juice after. Please note: Rums with less added sugar are easier to control and get a more accurate freezing point. Although if it doesn’t freeze at a certain temp, just keep lowering it by 1c at a time until it does.
Phase 3 was our “Switch Finishes” this was when we started to see just how big my “Switching” technique could become. We isolated the water from an Islay Whisky, isolated the water from a South American rum and swapped them. The rum now had a Smoky “switch finish”. It was incredible.
Another great thing about “Switching” is its yield over time. The specialist freezer can freeze 10's of litres in 24 hours. You cant get that from a rotovap, that isn’t going to be bigger than you whole bar and cost the World. The Process: 1. A photo of measuring the weight of the gin in a measuring jug. 2. Gin poured into cooling boxes. 3. A photo of the freezer and a picture of the mister freeze lid. 4. A photo of dropping the cool boxes in. 5. A photo of hands pouring the gin from the cool boxes into the conical colanders whilst still in the freezer (make sure to wear the specialist gloves whilst doing this... freeze burn if not). 6. Ice in the conical cylinder. Please note after pouring in the ice gin, it needs to stay in that freezer for a while. 7. Pour the ice into a measuring jug on a scale (to the weigh the weight of the water isolate)
8. Photo of Weighing the clarified gf and OJ blend 9. Photo of hands adding the blend to the gin