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Ask a Bartender: Molecular Mixology, Yay or Nay?

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Nick Tarsi of Kachina Southwestern Grill in Colorado

These days, more and more mixologists are bringing the techniques of molecular gastronomy behind the bar, using high-tech methods to refine their drinks. But other bartenders are all about the classics. We asked bartenders across the country: Molecular mixology, love it or hate it?

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Allen Burton of A.G. Kitchen in NYC

"It's awesome to elevate bartending beyond simple pouring and shaking, whether it's adding a foam or an in-house infusion. That said, when I'm going out I'll always pick a dive bar for bourbon and beer." — Allen Burton (A.G. Kitchen)

"I love all adventurous cuisine, and moving that skill set behind the bar really excites me, but only so far as the core values stay the same: drinks are only part of the experience. If you're a great bartender working at a great bar, the most simple cocktail will taste as good as anything with rosemary foam." —Dan Bronson, The Strand Smokehouse

"Love it. That's not to say it's always a success; it often isn't. But if innovative bartenders didn't push traditional boundaries then we wouldn't be able to have remarkable experiences like you find at The Aviary here in Chicago." — Garrett Sweet (Perennial Virant)

"Hate might be a strong word, but I certainly don't love it. I am a simple man, a shot and beer kind of guy. While there is a place for it in the culinary world, and I certainly respect proper execution, it's not for me or my bar programs." — Nick Tarsi (Kachina Southwestern Grill)

"Sometimes it can be utilized amazingly, and other times it can be really gimmicky." — Jeremy Strawn (Bo's)

"Hate it when I want a real drink, but sometimes it's fun to try. I'll try anything once." — Daniel Farr (The Eveleigh)

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Beau du Bois of The Corner Door in Los Angeles

"Hate it. No gimmicks for me." — Beau du Bois (The Corner Door)

"I think it is really cool what some bartenders are doing,—they are the chefs of the front of house. But we don't do any molecular mixology at Azu because it's not our style. We are out in the mountains of Southern California with all these great products, and we really like to keep it simple. Great spirits, fresh organic citrus, and herbs combined thoughtfully to create simple, fresh cocktails." — Richard Smith (Azu)

"I love the creativity, pushing the industry forward, but I think I love tradition even more." — Brandon Lockman (Red Star Tavern)

"Depends on the situation. I love it when I'm at the Aviary because the presentation is amazing and the cocktails are delicious as expected.  At the same time, I don't want to go to a dirty dive bar for a shot and a beer and have my beer in the form of cotton candy or my Scotch served as hand lotion." — Brian Means (Fifth Floor)

"I respect it. Not all bars, or bartenders, are set up to attempt it. The ones that do, and do it well, are artists in their own right. It definitely has a place in cocktail culture." — Brady Wilkens (Lucy Restaurant & Bar)

"Love it—the stuff they are doing these days are mind boggling. People just shouldn't expect it at every watering hole in the country." — Chino Lee (Departure Restaurant)

"I think there are some good applications in molecular gastronomy for the bar world, but not many (notice I didn't say mixology). Carbonating cocktails and some liquid nitrogen tricks can be useful. Most take too much time and require much more prep. What is most unsettling is the growing popularity amongst the bar world's new-comers. They are filling the ranks without learning how to make classics. Make me a proper Old Fashioned or a Negroni, then we can talk." — Jeret Pena (The Brooklynite SA)

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Jen Queen of Saltbox Dining & Drinking in San Diego

"Love it! Science is rad and bar nerds are awesome!" — Jen Queen (Saltbox Dining & Drinking)

"I find some aspects very fascinating.  Those techniques really open up a path for new flavors and textures for a bar program to explore. However, are they practical in every bar setting? I'd say no. I incorporate some really minor aspects of these techniques, only because I'm able to prep them before service.  If I were to do these things per order, I'd be in the weeds by 5:00 p.m." — Christopher Longoria (1760)

"The name 'Molecular Mixology' suggests science, but really it's art, and I've got nothing but respect for anyone who can do that professionally. That being said, I'd still rather have a nicely balanced craft cocktail without all the bells and whistles." — Dan Rook (South Water Kitchen)

"I love it. It's good to see other progressive techniques to elevate the bar." — Ray Anguiano (Atwood Café)

"I really think that as food goes, cocktails will go. We are getting further and further away from the 'old barkeep' and into the nerdy side of mixology. I am a huge fan of this. 'Airs' or foams alone can allow a mixologist to add layers of flavor that couldn't have been done before. You want a margarita? How about one with an avocado foam at the head? You get the flavor of avocado without a greasy or dense consistency. That flavor will pair very well with the lime and tequila. When using molecular gastronomy equipment for cocktails, there are endless possibilities in regards to flavor enhancements. What's not to love about that?  As long as it can be done in a practical way for a bar's usual flow of business, I say go for it." — Roger Bailey (Filini Bar and Restaurant)

"Can I choose both? I do love it, but I hate that it takes so much time. There's no way I could make these cocktails to order on a busy weekend night." — Rushton Smitherman (Coal Fired Bistro)

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Paul Sanguinetti of Patina Restaurant Group in NYC

"I enjoy molecular mixology/gastronomy as long as it serves to elevate the culinary experience. Often times it's gimmicky, which can still be fun in the right setting. But, unless the mixologist/chef is truly adding something pleasurable to the glass or dish, they risk alienating the guest and/or distracting them from what could have otherwise been a pleasant affair." — Jeremy Lake (Crossroads)

"Hate it!" — Kelsye Downs (LAVO)

"Since I am currently taking an online course from Harvard about science and cooking, and have used pearls and an iSi to make a Tom and Jerry, I'm going to go with love molecular mixology." — Elizabeth Powell (Liberty Bar)

"It really depends. Any time the flavor and enjoyment of a cocktail&mdas;or food, for that matter—is subverted for the 'look what I can do' enjoyment of the creator, it's a failure. If, however, something new can elevate and accentuate the food and drink and change the way the cocktail or dish is consumed and enjoyed, then it's a success. All depends on the intention and execution." —Mike Ryan (Sable)

"I'm kind of impartial. As an individual I'm very old-school in all things I do, but I respect all forms of progress. Personally I cannot think of a way to make liquid nitrogen a viable 'ingredient' behind the bar, but if someone else can utilize it in an interesting and effective manner, why not. This is life and we might as well explore our options." — Zachary Svoboda (Ela)

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