If 90 percent of taste is rooted in our sense of smell, one would assume that the remaining 10 percent is made up exclusively of the actual flavors picked up by your tastebuds.
One might be wrong in that assumption.
Any chef will tell you that presentation is crucial to the experience of a dish. From the top Michelin-starred restaurants around the globe to the test kitchens behind our favorite drive thru windows, a lot of time and money goes into how our food looks, and whether or not we want to admit it—it works.
The same is true in the world of drinks, where caramel colorings dashed into spirits and grapefruit peels rolled into roses decide for us just how thirsty we are.
When the solution is stirred, the anthocyanins act as PH indicators by turning pink as the lemon juice combines with the other ingredients and turns the solution more acidic. Boom. Science.
The Mojito era of the late ’90s and early 2000s that held a cruel and firm grasp on bartenders around the globe is a testament to the power of presentation. A perfect example of a “viral” drink, the moment a customer saw the bright green of mint leaves packed in layers of ice and rum, it was assured that the bartender would be a slave to the muddler for the rest of the night as round after round was called out from across the bar. Similarly, “What is that?!” might be the single most common phrase uttered in tiki bars around the country, as drinks shooting volcanoes of flames, or sporting deep blue hues meant to evoke the oceans of Polynesia are presented to wide eyed patrons wearing their favorite Hawaiian shirts. Blue curaçao, the usual culprit in any blue drink, is nothing more than the clear orange flavored spirit with a splash of dye, and yet for a time, it was all the rage. If you ask any child what popsicle flavor they prefer, they are more likely to answer with a color than a flavor. (Like most, I’m a dyed in the wool, pun-intended proponent of the flavor red.)
In modern craft cocktail bars, balance and flavor might be the top priority, but presentation is just as important as it ever was. While the days of blue curaçao and neon green apple pucker are mostly forgotten, bartenders still have a keen eye for color, and at least one bartender in town has been getting caught up in the science behind it.
“The easiest color to make, by far, is brown” notes Mouton’s Logan Demmy as he picks up a terrifyingly large syringe from behind the bar. “I tried to use whiskey in this drink, and the color was vomit green.” The drink he references is still in progress, and has been in the making for quite some time. He places the tip of the syringe under a layer of light blue-ish green liquid and slowly injects lemon juice, creating a separate layer in the bottom of the glass. “Are you ready?” he asks our photographer, as he prepares to stir the layers together. “It happens pretty fast.”
Seconds later the blues and greens are transforming before our eyes into a soft pastel pink reminiscent of cotton candy. A grin is forming across Logan’s face as we all revel in this magical metamorphosis. Sorcery? No. Science? Yes.
It turns out this drink is equal parts cocktail creation and chemistry class. While experimenting, Demmy even consulted with a high school chemistry teacher who frequents Mouton. The magic ingredient in this chameleon cocktail is rather unlikely, and ultimately fascinating: red cabbage. Demmy got the idea to experiment with cabbage on a recent trip to Singapore, where he stepped behind the bar for a guest appearance at 28 Hong Kong Street.
So why would anyone want to use red cabbage in a drink? Anthocyanins of course. I’m surprised you didn’t already know that. Ok fine, I had to Google it too. Anthocyanins are water soluble vacuolar pigments. That doesn’t really help either. Here’s what you need to know: red cabbage contains these pigments, and these pigments change color depending on the PH. You know those little paper strips that test PH levels? This is nature’s version of that. The wizardry that took place in front of us can be explained pretty simply once you know the science and techniques behind it. Demmy boiled red cabbage with sugar and water to extract the juice and create a syrup. That syrup was then combined with gin, Genepi, and egg whites, shaken and poured into a glass. The original solution takes on that blueish green hue because of a reaction with proteins in the egg whites and the red cabbage juice. At this point the solution is basic. So basic. Once the acidic lemon juice is injected into the bottom of the glass, you can see the reaction begin where the two layers meet. When the solution is stirred, the anthocyanin acts as a PH indicator by turning pink as the lemon juice combines with the other ingredients and turns the solution more acidic. Boom. Science.
Demmy is still finalizing the recipe, but if the prototype is any indication, let’s hope it makes it onto a menu soon. Beyond looking really cool this drink tastes pretty great too. That might be counterintuitive since red cabbage isn’t the first ingredient you’d pick for a cocktail, but everything about this drink is a bit counterintuitive, so you’ll have to trust me on this. I just hope Mouton’s bartenders are ready for the Mojito viral effect that is sure to come. Good luck and godspeed. •