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The last frontier of cocktails: H20

Water, most commonly used as ice, is one of the defining ingredients of the cocktail. Now bartenders are unpacking that essential component and shoving it into the spotlight.

At Marvel Bar in Minneapolis, bartender Pip Hanson has built a section of his menu around cocktails that have been diluted as much as 200 percent. For the Strongwater cocktail, a 60-milliliter mixture of bourbon and cognac is combined with twice as much distilled water. "When you dilute past what seems normal, different flavors come to the fore; your palate recalibrates and you taste the more quiet notes of the alcohol," he says.

Another hyper-diluted drink, The Gatsby (see the recipe), calls for no ice--just chilled distilled water. Served in a wineglass, the Scotch-based drink is served at wine-cellar temperature.

Meanwhile, in Houston, Alba Huerta of Anvil and the forthcoming Julep has been experimenting with adding flavor while distilling water. Not unlike the way that botanicals are introduced to gin during the distillation process, she has flavored water with cacao, cinnamon and star anise. "It's an interesting alternative to infusions, because you're not dealing with filtering or coloration," she says.

The flavored water is particularly useful when making long drinks that could use flavor without additional proof.

Time to hydrate.

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