At three-Michelin-starred Alinea in Chicago, executive chef Mike Bagale uses sous vide—a cooking technique in which an ingredient is vacu-sealed in a plastic bag and immersed in a temperature-controlled water bath to slowly and evenly cook while retaining its moisture and concentrating its flavor—to infuse blueberries with violet for a floral stock that flavors a new first-course bite.
While sous-vide cooking—French for “under vacuum”—has been widely embraced by chefs worldwide since it originated in France in the mid-to-late 70s, in the last few years, forward-thinking bartenders across the country have also caught on to the benefits of controlled vacuum-sealed cooking, putting the technology to use behind the bar.
In the kitchen, chefs generally use sous vide to cook ingredients. But when bartenders apply the technique, they’re looking to quickly impart flavor to liquids.
At Cassia, a Southeast Asian restaurant in Santa Monica, California, lauded for its innovative cocktails, bar manager Kenny Arbuckle frequently uses sous vide to create various liquor infusions. For his popular Hop Sea Negroni, he uses a sous-vide machine to infuse Cocchi Americano, an Italian aperitif, with hops for a couple of hours; then, he strains out the hops and adds in an oyster shell–infused mescal. For his Rome with a View, he sous-vides a mixture of blood orange peels, blood orange juice, sugar and black pepper pods at 150 degrees for two hours; the sugar and the juice slowly draw oil out of the peel, which in turn infuse with the black pepper.
Josh Goldman, the bartending expert who cofounded Los Angeles–based restaurant consultancy Soigné Group, says he’s been using sous vide for more than 10 years to create tinctures, bitters and infused spirits; to fat-wash; and for tisanes—”You name it, I’ve probably cooked it under vacuum at some point,” he says. “I like being able to control the exact temperature and duration of what you’re infusing, from lower temperatures for delicate herbs and flowers to higher temps for roots and spices.” For example, when Goldman helped develop the bar program at Belcampo, also in Santa Monica, he introduced a Saved by the Basil cocktail, consisting of a basil cordial made sous vide with basil, water, sugar and grappa.
Julia Momose, bartender at New American restaurant Oriole in Chicago, considers sous vide “right up there with a scale for usefulness in creating replicable recipes.” To give her Amazake cocktail a honey aroma, she sous-vides gin with Osmanthus flowers to create a floral tincture, then adds a trace amount of that to the fermented rice-based beverage.
Chef José Andrés’s experimental barmini in Washington, D.C. has been serving up sous-vide drinks for a few years now. To make the ultra-popular Carmen Miranda cocktail, Miguel Lancha, barmini’s official “cocktail innovator,” adds bourbon, ripe bananas, cinnamon, nutmeg, water and demerara sugar to a bag, seals it and cooks the mixture at 165 degrees for two hours.
In New York City, Cristian Molina, of Rouge Tomate—a sustainably minded American restaurant—employs sous vide in creating a slew of tipples, including a pear and passion fruit cocktail hitting the menu next week. Molina sous-vides a purée of pear and passion fruit with orgeat and orange peels. When ready, he blends the mixture into cachaça and aged rum.
But perhaps there’s no better application of sous-vide technology in liquid form than Brooklyn bar manager Kyle Eberle’s application at seasonally inclined New American resto Gristmill. Eberle has redesigned one of the most present-day maligned cocktails and given it a sophisticated spin with sous-vide lemon and Meyer lemon peels. That drink in question? The cosmopolitan.
During In Good Spirits month, we're going behind the bar to find out what separates aperitifs from digestifs, which It cocktails the world's top bartenders crave and how to turn your home into the hottest speakeasy in town.
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