Mad scientist chefs have been trendy for a couple of years now, but only recently has the trend moved into the world of cocktails. More and more bartenders are using science to make interesting and delicious drinks. This style of mixology was highlighted last night at Shaker and Flask, an event that was a part of San Francisco Cocktail Week. The party was put on by the Cocktail Lab, a group of local scientist bartenders who look at drinks like Alton Brown looks at food.
The event, which was held at the eclectic and cluttered Big Daddy Antique’s warehouse, was set up with stations, and at each one a different spirit and scientific process was highlighted. Instead of simply attending as a member of the press, I thought it would be more fun to volunteer and help put on the party! When I arrived at the space, a bunch of people were standing around awkwardly waiting for direction. Everything seemed horribly disorganized. However, once the Cocktail Lab trucks pulled up out front, what started as chaos quickly became an organized routine with ballet-like precision.
Locations for each of the bartender’s stations were found. Tables were set up around the furniture-strewn space and covered with black tablecloths. Makeshift bars were placed in front of the back tables, which would be used to display alcohol. Glasses were unloaded and coolers were unpacked. Candles were arranged in a hodgepodge and asymmetrical way around the space. Fifty pound bags of ice were poured into plastic buckets.
I was told to pick a set of bartenders and help them with anything and everything throughout the night. I went to the nearest bartenders, Jared Anderson of 15 Romolo and Morgan Schick of Nopa, and offered my services. They were making Osmosis Fizzes, a twist on the classic gin fizz with two types of infused egg whites.
Jared infused the whites using osmosis. He filled a glass jar with eggs (still in their shells) and added oily aromatics like vanilla bean, orange peel, and cardamom pods. The porous shells absorb the seasonings and become subtly infused with flavor. Cool, right?! Then, these vanilla-and-orange and cardamon-and-lavender egg whites were used to make traditional gin fizzes with Oxley gin, lemon juice, and simple syrup.
Being an excellent bartender requires an element of showmanship and Jared and Morgan are masters of their craft. Knowing that it would be a pain to double-shake 300 gin fizzes, the dynamic duo came up with a genius way to shake the drinks that fit fantastically with the party’s cocktail-geek chic theme. They found an ancient paint shaking machine on Craigslist, made the libations in paint tins, and used the machine to mix a large batch of fizzes. Awesome!
They definitely put on a show and the crowd of party-goers could not get enough. But like any theater, there’s bound to be technical difficulties along the way. The gin display, bottles of gin precariously balanced on glass vases that were surrounded by ice cubes of liquid nitrogen (it was meticulously created by an Oxley representative flown in from LA for the party) broke, shattering glass and spraying ice over yet to be used glasses. The paint shaking gadget fell off its springs, twice. And, crisis of all crises, we almost ran out of egg whites an hour and a half into the event! Luckily, the best bartenders are also tremendous problem-solvers and Jared and Morgan handled these backstage issues with speed and grace.
As the night started to wind down, everyone involved with the party, had the same flushed, but happy look on their faces. An outsider looking in would have thought it was alcohol-induced contentment, but having been a part of the production, I knew it was the satisfaction of a job well done. The party-goers had fun and learned a little while drinking, and the people who put on the event knew it was a spectacular success. Cheers to evolution of science and cocktails!