Carbonated drinks are bubbling up on the coastal cocktail scene
Sailor, aviator, author and conservationist Ernest K. Gann once said: “It’s remarkable how quickly a good and favorable wind can sweep away the maddening frustrations of shore living.”
Sailing? Well, that may be what Mr. Gann was referring to. But sailing is a lot of work.
Those maddening frustrations of shore living are more easily banished with a drink full of wind. Yes, the ultimate carbonated cocktail. No anchors to weigh. No jibs to hoist.
For those who wisely point out there’s a good reason motors and boats go so well together, wind and water are so much better enjoyed on land in a comfortable seat under the capable hands of a good bartender. Ahoy, matey!
Granted, carbonation in a cocktail hardly sounds like anything new, and it isn’t. Two Frenchmen patented the first known siphon bottle to make fizzy drinks in 1829. Some of the first carbonated cocktails became the rage in the mid-19th century and they hit a peak in popularity in the 1920s and 1930s. But then came the carbonated mixers, which nearly brought the demise of the self-carbonated drink, as well as the flavorful nuances that made these cocktails so special in the first place.
These days, a carbonated drink most often is made that way by adding tonic, club soda, cola, ginger ale or some carbonated mixer to alcohol. While these can still make a good drink, the mixers don’t actually carbonate the alcohol. They simply add several ounces of another liquid.
Carbonating drinks directly is a wake-up call to the alcohol and other ingredients in the mix. No more just hanging around a few ice cubes while the bottled tonic water does all the fizzing. The sudden infusion of carbon dioxide into the drink churns it all. Suddenly, even the most common cocktails take on more intensity and flavor. Bourbon and branch becomes bourbon and sequoia. Scotch straight becomes scotch flamboyant. A Tequila sunrise becomes a Tequila meteor shower and celestial explosion. A Zombie becomes, well, bubbly, which is a lot for something dead.
Infusing ingredients into the alcohol using direct carbonation is equally magnificent in the results. The carbonation forces the alcohol into and through the herbs, vegetables, fruit or other infusing ingredient. When released, the alcohol retains the flavors.
The resurgence of carbonated cocktails started in the United States about four years ago and shows no signs of slowing.
Residents and visitors of Galveston can experience the thrill at one of its newest bars, DTO, 2701 Market St., which was planning a summer opening. One of the men behind this venture is Brad Stringer, a huge star in Houston’s bartending circles. Before leaving to devote full time to opening DTO, he was at Johnny’s Gold Brick, a bar whose cocktail program raised the bar, so to speak, and won numerous local and national awards.
DTO might add more carbonated cocktails in time, but for now, Stringer is maintaining one — a traditional Zombie.
“I use the traditional tiki drink ingredients but carbonate it all in a keg, roll that around and then let it chill,” Stringer said. “Then it’s ready to go.”
Stringer uses a system more easily set up in a commercial business. But the introduction of various appliances made for imbibers of the bubbly cocktail have increased the popularity of carbonating drinks.
One of the most recent, and by far the one mixologists endorse most, is the Perlini Carbonated Cocktail System, which sells for about $200. The Perlini system is a very cool-looking cocktail shaker that actually is a pressure container to carbonate and hold the drink. Even cooler, the whole set arrives in a shiny silver briefcase containing the shaker and a row of six carbon dioxide cartridges, a pressurizer and instructions on a flash drive. Just imagine arriving at a cocktail party with a silver briefcase and setting up shop. This may be fully worth the price.
The Perlini has gotten high praise from professional and amateur drink mixers. A similar carbonating system, iSi Twist ‘n Sparkle, was subject in 2012 to a total recall after reports of the container bottle exploding and injuring people. Even an amateur host knows explosions and injuries, not to mention cocktails on the ceiling, can put a serious damper on a party.
On a brighter note, mixologists have discovered that iSi’s Gourmet Whip, a metal canister intended to whip cream, actually has endless uses in rapidly infusing alcohol with everything from herbs, jalapeños and even bacon. Not all cocktail carbonators can do this.
With the iSi Gourmet Whip, mixologists are readily adding all kinds of things to bring new flavors to Tequila, vodka, gin, scotch, bourbon, rum and even wines. Whatever goodwill iSi might have lost with the exploding Twist ‘n Sparkle bottles, the company more than regained by making it possible to sit back and sip a carbonated, bacon-infused bourbon.
One maker of carbonating devices most familiar to U.S. consumers is the Israeli-based SodaStream. Although all of the SodaStream products on the market now are for carbonating water with ample warnings not to use other liquids, the company is coming out with a cocktail carbonator called SodaStream MIX.
As for the current water carbonators, some have been reported to successfully carbonate cocktails. Some have not. Check the user instructions to make sure the device can be used with liquids other than water. While it’s not much fun, best heed the warnings.
For all this fancy gadgetry, however, the golden age of carbonated cocktails also rang in the golden age of soda siphons, which also were called seltzer bottles. These came in metal, glass, combinations of both and in all shapes and colors.
These carbonating grandfathers are still being manufactured, aren’t expensive and are easily available online. A cautionary suggestion, however: Don’t buy antique or even vintage bottles for cocktail use, as parts might be difficult to find, fittings might have aged and the container might have weakened with time. It’s also suggested to always go with sturdy metal or frame siphons. Solid glass ones are attractive, but dropping a bottle full of carbonated liquid is bomb-like and dangerous.
One other downside to the old-style siphon is the drink turns out best and more bubbly if refrigerated for two to four hours, so planning is required. The other carbonators take anywhere from a few minutes to an hour.
Most all siphons, whip containers and cocktail carbonators come in 1-liter and ½-liter sizes, but bartenders suggest going with the larger. That’s not to suggest drinking twice as much, but the 1-liter size takes just as much assembly and time. Note, however, that infused drinks should be removed from the container and strained, lest the alcohol be over-infused.
Carbonating will bring out the tartness in a drink, so experiment by using less citrus and fruit juices than called for in a recipe. Also, if plans are to keep the now-carbonated cocktail for several days or more, strain the ingredient beforehand. Citrus pulp, for example, will make a drink go flat faster.
Finally, chill your carbonating container before use and then make sure all the liquids to be added also are well-chilled. Carbonation works better with cold.
Recipe by Brad Stringer, owner of DTO in Galveston. Uses 1 liter soda siphon for six drinks.
3 ounces white rum
3 ounces dark rum
3 ounces overproof rum
3 ounces pineapple juice
3 ounces passion fruit syrup (recipe follows)
3 ounces lime juice
3 ounces lemon juice
3 ounces turbinado syrup (Turbo) (recipe follows)
6 ounces water
12 dashes Angostura bitters
Build all ingredients in soda siphon. Cap and shake. Charge soda siphon with carbon dioxide and shake again. Place in refrigerator to cool, about 90 minutes.
Note: Fresh juice contains pectin and will make your cocktail foamy. If you’re using fresh juice, it’s better to clarify using agar agar, a vegan gelatin substitute found at most specialty stores.
Passion Fruit Syrup
4 cups of passion fruit juice
2 cups simple syrup
1 ounce grain alcohol
Combine ingredients and keep cold.
2:1 turbinado syrup
8 cups turbinado sugar
4 cups water
Combine over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Refrigerate.