Science of Cocktails returns for third annual evening of experimental tipples

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      Think piña colada and your mind likely conjures up tall, frosty glasses of blended pineapple being sipped poolside or, better yet, along a warm, sandy beach somewhere in the Caribbean. Local bartender Grant Sceney’s spin on the tropical cocktail, however, looks and feels a tad different.

      Dubbed the Guatemala Colada—“essentially a reverse piña colada,” he says—the drink smells like the classic rum-and-pineapple beverage, but, thanks to the omission of cream, milk, and ice, looks more at home in a martini glass than a curvy Hurricane. Stirred and served neat, the potion is the result of Sceney choosing to extract flavours using fats and oils rather than simply tossing in the standard pineapple chunks and coconut cream.

      “We’re using soluble ingredients, so concentrating the flavour compounds of the piña colada into a boozier drink, if you will,” he explains between pouring rounds of the Colada at a preview for this year’s Science of Cocktails at Showcase Restaurant & Bar.

      Notes of coconut are incorporated through a concept called fat-washing, for example, in which a fat (in this case, coconut oil) is added to an alcohol (here, rum) and then chilled. The fat flavours the spirit, but is removed once it solidifies. The method handily illustrates the intrinsic relationship between science and mixology, one that takes centre stage at Science World’s aptly titled Science of Cocktails.

      A charitable event that raises funds for the museum’s class field-trip program, which gives underserved kids from across the Lower Mainland the opportunity to visit Science World at Telus World of Science during the school year, 2018’s third annual gala will feature over 25 of the city’s top mixologists—including Sceney, head bartender at the Fairmont Pacific Rim; Amber Bruce, senior bartender at the Keefer Bar; and Carolyn Yu, lead bartender at Parq Vancouver—concocting novel libations that use everything from dry ice and citric acid to fully functioning laminar jets.

      Mixologist Grant Sceney pours his Guatemala Colada at a preview for this year's Science of Cocktails at downtown Vancouver's Showcase Restaurant & Bar.
      Christopher Guy

      In particular, J-S Dupuis, corporate beverage director at the Wentworth Hospitality Group and another participant at this year’s Science of Cocktails, will be combining sodium alginate and calcium chloride in a process called spherification to form translucent pearls reminiscent of caviar for his Yuzu Sake-Tini. The tiny balls are added to a blend of vodka, sake, and simple syrup, creating a “two-dimensional” tipple.

      “It’s a cocktail that you chew,” Dupuis tells the Straight at Showcase. “You don’t want to drink it; you want to burst those little caviar bubbles and get all that citrus flavour coming out of the cocktail.”

      Alongside the list of experimental sips will be a slew of interactive science demonstrations, mixology showdowns, and hors d’oeuvres from local chefs like David Robertson of the Dirty Apron, Michael Chan of Peake of Catering, and Takayuki Sato of Hapa Izakaya. “It’s the science of mixology, the mixing of cocktails,” notes Scott Sampson, CEO and president of Science World, “and, on the other hand, the science of food or molecular gastronomy.”

      Having conducted two sold-out events since 2016, Sampson is hopeful that this year’s gala will top the previous iteration, which raised $240,000 to send over 11,000 kids in need to Science World. Once again, it will also give Vancouverites the chance to explore the wonderful world of science and bartending. “Mixology is science,” says Dupuis. “It’s physics, it’s chemistry, it’s biology. It’s all of it.”

      Science of Cocktails takes place on February 8 at Science World. Tickets start at $159 and are available online.

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