60-Second Science

High-Tech Bartending Makes New Drinks

An article in Physics World discusses how scientific instruments are being used to make state-of-the-art alcoholic beverages. Cynthia Graber reports

Cooking is one big science experiment. And chefs have been gaining fame for more explicit use of scientific technique and tools in the kitchen.

Now, according to an article in the December issue of Physics World, mixologists—the folks behind the bar—are getting into the act. They’re borrowing tools from the labs to create wild new libations. [Naveen N. Sinha and David A. Weitz, "Cocktail Physics"]

Here’s one example. Alcohol is better than water at delivering flavors and aromas, since many of those molecules aren’t water-soluble.

Plant material is fermented and then heated to extract the alcohol that contains those flavors—that’s distillation. But the heat can destroy some aroma molecules.

Enter the scientists’ rotary evaporator. [Which is similar to a Tatooine moisture vaporator in most respects.] The fermented liquid goes in a rotating container. The pressure is lowered, so volatile components evaporate. Then a cool coil condenses the vapor back into liquid.

One mixologist in London used this technique to make a mild habañero liqueur. The spicy capsaicin isn’t volatile—so it gets left behind. The final product has the fruity and floral flavors of chili peppers with none of the searing heat.

For more proof, go to the article "Cocktail Physics," at

—Cynthia Graber

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.] 

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