Have you ever thought about making Bloody Marys that look like tomatoes? How about spherified sake bombs? Modernist cooking techniques popularized by chefs such as Ferran Adrià, José Andrés, and Grant Achatz have moved out of the kitchens and into the bars—why shouldn't you be able to get in on some of the fun?
We've had our eye on Molecule-R's Cocktail R-Evolution Molecular Mixology Kit for a while now, and the company recently sent us a sample set to experiment with. Would it be the key to fulfilling our modernist cocktail dreams at home?
The $59 box comes packed with tools and compounds that allow you to recreate over 30 recipes, spanning techniques including emulsification, spherification, and more. There are also a handful of recipes pulled from Cuisine R-Evolution, the company's food-based counterpart. For cocktail enthusiasts looking to expand past more traditional drinks, it's a fun collection of toys, although the educational element is somewhat lacking.
What's in the box:
- 50 sachets of food additives (10 of each):
- Cold soluble gelatin (net 40g)
- Calcium lactate (net 50g)
- Sodium alginate (net 20g)
- Xanthan gum (net 10g)
- Soy lecithin (net 20g)
- 5 plastic pipettes
- 1 slotted spoon
- 1 set of measuring spoons
- 1 DVD of 30 recipes
- Introduction and recipe booklet
Molecule-R presents all of its recipes on a DVD, in both video and printed formats. The menu system for the videos makes them a bit burdensome to navigate, but it's helpful to have the visual walkthrough combined with the written instructions. Each recipe begins with a frame showing the necessary ingredients, before moving through videos of the process that are captioned with brief instructions, but not narrated. While we like being able to see the techniques, we'd prefer a voiceover that explains not only what the steps are, but why things are being done that way, and any hints or tricks that'll produce better results. We also found a few mistakes on the disc, such as sugar being left off of the video ingredient guide for the spherified mojito, but then used in the instructions.
Three of the recipes are listed in more detail the introduction booklet, each representing one of the major categories of what they call 'molecular mixology.' There's the Bloody Mary, for emulsification, Gin Tonic for basic spherification, and Mojito Bubble for frozen reverse spherification. These are labeled with detailed instructions, as well as explanations for what's actually going on, and troubleshooting tips. Definitely read this booklet before getting started; we were left wishing all 30 recipes were presented this way, but having the major concepts covered helps. Some older versions of the kit come with a less informative "Introduction to Molecular Gastronomy," which seems to be generalized to all of the company's packages.
The kit includes many of the tools needed to prepare the recipes, but not quite everything. A hand blender is needed for almost every recipe, and a silicone mold is used for freezing cocktails before they're spherified; at least the first should be considered a necessary investment, while we got good results using a standard ice cube tray instead of a silicone mold. Some of the recipes require a N20-charged culinary whipper, and the sangria listed under the deep freezing category calls for liquid nitrogen. That leaves a handful of recipes inaccessible to many hobbyists.
We didn't love all the recipes for the drinks themselves—for example, the margarita recipe simply lists "a dash of citrus liqueur" and "lime juice (to taste)" rather than specific measurements—but overall, they do serve as a good introduction to the concepts. The one thing we'd really like to see added is more explanation as to how and why the chemicals work, and how the methods can be extended out past the 30 recipes provided. Sure, you can experiment, and you should, but it's not cheap. Some more background on the chemistry would be valuable.
It's also important to know that some of these cocktails can take quite awhile to put together. The Screwdriver, for example, requires multiple 15-minute gelling periods. Creating Blue Curaçao pearls for the gin tonic involves using a pipette to drip, drip, drip, hundreds of times, while the spherified mojito has to be frozen well in advance. This isn't necessarily a strike against the kit, but it's important to be aware ahead of time.
Alternatives to Consider
If you're willing to put in a little more effort, it's possible to put together your own modernist cocktail kit, although depending on how often you plan on repeating the cocktails, it might not be practical. Each of the additives in the kit are available in bulk from companies such as Modernist Pantry. If you were to buy one 50-gram package of all of the kit's compounds, you'd shell out $35.45, plus another $4.99 for shipping. Plastic pipettes can be found for just a few dollars, and usually come in bulk. Add to that measuring spoons, standard in any kitchen, and a slotted spoon or even a strainer, and you still come in at a slightly lower price, with a great quantity of the compounds. The only thing missing, then, is the collection of recipes and instructions.
Consider It a First Step
If you want to experiment with modernist cocktail techniques, the Cocktail R-Evolution kit is a good place to start—but it should really be seen as a first step only. Many of the recipes can be tweaked to your specifications, but it's the techniques that are important, and, in general, they're a lot of fun. This kind of drink making takes some practice, but with the kit, you can produce some impressive results. You might even end making up cocktail creations you can't get locally—or at least, can't get cheaply. Once you've had a chance to experiment, learn, and discover how it all works, then it makes sense to move on to buying your compounds in bulk.