Molecular structures and esterification may not be the first things that come to mind when you’re knocking back a whisky sour at your local watering hole, but the realms of science and bartending have a lot more in common than you think.
“The scientific technique involved at the base level with distillation is the foundation for everything we do,” local mixologist Gez McAlpine explains to the Straight by phone. “And then there are the reactions that are happening when you add ingredients like egg whites, citrus, or varying levels of acidity. There’s a lot of stuff that kind of ties into science.”
This oft-overlooked connection is the basis of Science of Cocktails, an annual fundraising event at Vancouver’s Science World at Telus World of Science that showcases the technical side of bartending. Launched in 2016, the ticketed fete brings together a stable of the city’s most inventive mixologists, each of whom is tasked with shaking up an envelope-pushing libation that incorporates skills and methods you may recognize from high-school physics and chemistry classes.
“There’s a lot of liquid nitrogen,” observes Jennifer Ingham, vice-president of development at Science World, during a media preview of the 2017 gala at Clough Club. “Last year, some people did cocktail Popsicles, and there were some drinks with steam. It was pretty wild.”
Attendees can expect similar innovations for this year’s soiree, which will see over 25 of Vancouver’s leading bar stars—including McAlpine, brand ambassador for Bruichladdich single-malt and the Botanist gin; the Union’s Kristi-Leigh Akister; and Donnelly Group’s bar and beverage director, Trevor Kallies—convene at Science World after hours.
Imbibers will be treated to samples of each mixologist’s experimental creation, plus hands-on demonstrations, cocktail showdowns, and gourmet-food pairings from 13 local chefs and caterers.
A “robot bartender”—a hand-constructed contraption programmed to mix drinks without the help of humans—will also be onsite. All proceeds from the event benefit Science World’s class field-trip program, which gives thousands of underserved kids from across the Lower Mainland the chance to visit the museum during the school year.
On the menu this time around are the Piña Clear-ada, a piña colada sans slush thanks to the use of milk that has been acidified and then strained through cheesecloth; frozen gin-and-tonics; and McAlpine’s Nitro Lady, a twist on the classic White Lady that employs nitro-muddling, a crushing technique that removes the lingering pungency from various herbs with the help of liquid nitrogen.
“You’re flash-freezing it and then it turns it into a very, very dry powder, so it takes any of that bitterness out,” says McAlpine. “And when you add the rest of the cocktail and shake, you’re left with a very, very fresh flavour rather than any sort of dull or flattened taste of the herb.”
Last year’s debut Science of Cocktails raised over $185,000, which organizers are hoping to top. Of course, the fundraiser also offers Vancouverites a chance to get up close and personal with the ever-fascinating field of science.
“Everything breaks down to that level,” adds McAlpine. “So having an event where we can showcase exactly what’s going on in the drink is really cool.”
Science of Cocktails takes place on February 9 at Science World. Tickets start at $159 and are available online.