The Science of Mixing Mind-Blowing Cocktails

on 19/08/14 at 10:21 am

Booze News
This is a cocktail

This is a cocktail

A guide from 1948 still contains the best advice about cocktail-making – but modern mixologists use plenty of 21st-century science, too. Is all that effort worth it?

David E Embury was a lawyer, cocktail enthusiast and all-round stickler. Incredulous that people thought they could serve “any haphazard conglomeration of spirituous liquors, wines, bitters, fruit juices, sugar, milk, eggs, cream and anything else that happens to be leftover from last week’s picnic supper”, he wrote a book called The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks to address the issue. This was back in 1948, but today it is still considered by mixologists such as Dick Bradsell and Tony Conigliaro the key literature for their craft.

The book’s introduction nods to why I’m wary of cocktail-drinking as a pastime (other than it being a prohibitively expensive way to get drunk). Embury’s generation learned to make drinks in the prohibition era with harsh bathtub gin, therefore “the primary object in mixing a cocktail became the otherwise emollient and anti-emetic ingredients to make it possible to swallow a sufficient content of alcohol to ensure ultimate inebriety”. Cocktails remain a fancy method of making hard liquor extremely palatable. Overpriced alcopops, if you will.

That said, a sublime cocktail on a special occasion can be mind-blowing in the best possible sense. Embury wrote that a proper cocktail should whet the appetite, stimulate the mind, please the palate and the eye, taste of booze without blowing your head off and be well-iced. The lengths to which bars will go these days to tick Embury’s boxes, part customers from their hard-earned cash and offer the ultimate multi-sensory experience are flabbergasting.