Shut Down/Reset Advice

Yesterday I put the word out to friends in my hospitality community that I have a bit of experience in running a heavy batch/prep program, and I would be happy to advise them on what they could do to make sure they’re not losing stock during the dramatic downturn in trade, and potential venue shutdowns being forced upon them. It generated a bit of interest, so I thought I’d share the tips that I’ve been putting together for the venues in the company I work for. I’m taking annual leave, long since booked with serendipitous timing, so I want to make sure the crew left behind has a plan in place for when it eventuates, and how to revive the program once this is all over.
Shutting down a cocktail program that was in full flight until just a week ago is a huge task… Here’s a list of advice that should put you on the front foot, when you reopen down the track. Hopefully you won’t have to make use of this, but you might also find it useful for saving excess prep that’s starting to go to waste with the service slow down.
I’m a big fan of freezing things in small portions. That way you can take individual packets out as you need them.
  • Have a list of everything you have in your freezer, and how many packets there are.
  • Make sure everything is labelled and dated clearly.
  • When defrosting something, don’t use heat unless you think the flavour will stand up to it. For example, I’m happy to defrost orange marmalade syrup on the stove, because the original recipe is brought to boil and then stewed. But I don’t want to use heat to defrost a blended honey and capsicum/chilli based syrup that has never seen heat. Defrosting a container in the fridge overnight is your best bet, and always add the defrost date to the label.
  • Onion and garlic become stronger in flavour, and change dramatically after freezing. It’s pretty weird. If you use them in your bloody mary mix, you’re probably just gonna have to chuck it.
  • The higher the water content, the longer it will take to defrost. Don’t pour off any liquid until the entire amount is defrosted… you’ve just freeze-distilled it.
  • If you didn’t pay for your ice (ie you make it with ice moulds), when you do eventually have to close, ditch it and use that space for your prep.
Dehydrate leftover citrus and fruits for garnish, or make jams/marmalades/syrups with them.
  • Store dehydrated fruit in a clean sealed container with silica gel desiccant packets. Silica gel is more absorbent than clay desiccant, and they are reusable. If your packets have stopped working you can restore them by drying them at a low temperature. If stored correctly, and if the fruit is properly dried, it is unlikely to grow mould.
  • Store jams/marmalades/syrups in the freezer unless you are able to sterilize and seal your storage vessels.
Batched cocktails can be stored using a coravin/oxygen replacement gas, but anything that contains a housemade infusion, syrup, or if you include bitters in the batch, you should refrigerate or even freeze to prevent over-infusion or fermentation during the shut down period. Batched cocktails tend to have a lower ABV than a standard bottle of spirits, so there’s more room for things to go wrong.
  • Purchased/pasteurized fruit juices, fruit purees can safely be frozen.
  • Egg whites/yolks can be separated and frozen, but I personally wouldn’t attempt to keep them if you have already used them for a service.
  • If the batch contains a syrup that has not been properly pasteurized (heated to approx 75-80C for 20mins, or approx 55C for 2 hours) it will not be stable at room temperature.
  • Syrups that contain small particles, eg. powdered spice or tea based, have more opportunity to grow mould, as they can settle on the top of the liquid, and be exposed to air. Try oil filters/layered muslin cloth. I find oil filters have too loose a weave to stand up to very fine powders, but a coffee filter would the trick.
  • Batches that contain alcohols that have tendencies to oxidise (eg, wines, sherries, vermouths) are particularly vulnerable and should always be stored in the refrigerator in general. You might want to wine pump these.

Really know the lifespans of your prep.

  • High sugar content syrups will last ages – especially if citrus, and boiled water is involved
  • Acid powders LOVE to grow fungus. If you use acid solutions, and store them at room temp, check them regularly for white clouds.
  • I don’t recommend keeping a syrup longer than three weeks in the fridge. If it lasts longer in your fridge at home, that’s cool, but I’d say it’s still a bit iffy serving it to a paying guest.
  • If you make fat washes, remember that oil can go rancid, and even if you’ve got a super clean wash, your batch may not last more than a week or two at room temp. This especially applies for meat based infusions
  • Milk punch is a preservation method, but if it’s not cellared right (stable temp, cool, dark place) then it can still go off.
  • An unpasteurised syrup is unlikely to last more than a week in the fridge.

Despite the soft plastic waste, I’d recommend using vacuum sealed bags to store a lot of things if you’re freezing/changing temperature a lot. Glass jars and bottles are too fragile. Plastic takeaway containers degrade quickly. If you have access to them borosilicate glass containers, or something like the gastronorm plastic pans are great.

I’d also like to mention, that just because you’ve taken every care to preserve everything to the best of your abilities, you can’t control everything that happens in the bottle or container while your back is turned. Check everything for mould/fermentation/flavour degradation before you bring them back into service.

nailing siphon carbonation I

(Putting a preemptive ‘I’ on this, because I still don’t feel like I’ve totally nailed it.)

Almost every bar I’ve ever worked in has had a housemade ginger beer. The recipes have varied, but the one thing they all had in common was that they were dispensed through a siphon. Pouring out a glass, they never really maintained a stable carbonation though. All I ever seemed to get was a giant glass of foam, and waiting for it to settle took about as long as pouring a warm diet coke (ugh, whyyy). Afterward there never really seem to be many bubbles rising upwards. Eventually I learnt that carbonating a liquid in a siphon and then opening the canister to pour the liquid out gently instead of using the dispense nozzle reduced the loss of carbonation. (Personally I like using a cream siphon, because the opening is much larger and you can release the excess gas/increase the pressure inside, without losing any liquid. Not entirely sure, but I have this funny feeling that the companies that make the siphons would warn against using CO2 in a siphon designed for N2O, and vice versa, so consider this a disclaimer..). So I’m in territory now where I’m carbonating and bottling on a small scale and things are still fizzy for real, which is pretty exciting. Like actual soda. There are a few concepts that have helped me once I got my head around them.

Why the soda loses carbonation when it’s squirted from the dispense nozzle: agitation. Squirting the soda from the siphon agitates the liquid and lets the CO2 escape from the liquid much faster. Pouring gently gives it less opportunity to break the surface tension of the liquid. (Scientific American)

Why does cream taste sour when you accidentally charge it with CO2 instead of N2O: dilute carbonic acid. When you charge water (H2O) with soda cartridge (CO2) they bond to form H2CO3 (carbonic acid). Basically, carbonic acid is the name for carbon dioxide that has dissolved into water, and it’s an acid, so it tastes sour. (N2O is more stable and mixing it into water or cream doesn’t create new molecules. In thick substances, like cream, it just gets trapped in there and hangs out. In thin substances, like water, it doesn’t get trapped, so no gas bubbles stick around.) (Seasoned Advice)

Why does soda carbonate better when it’s cold: Le Chatelier’s Principle. Here we’re getting a bit beyond the limits of my scientific education, but as I understand it, Le Chatelier’s Principle is about maintaining equilibrium. So if you apply a stress to one part of system, the system will adapt to balance it. Lowering the temperature and increasing pressure are stresses that increase the saturation point of the liquid and the solubility of the CO2. They encourage the CO2 to dissolve into the liquid. (I’m still reading about this principle, because I’d really like to compare it to something like making a saline solution/brine or sugar syrup. Saturation points make sense to me in those circumstances, because increasing the temperature of the water increases the amount of salt or sugar that you can dissolve into it…)

One more link, and the best of them all… (Carbonating at Home)


accidental discovery: walnuts can make things purple?

So I’ve made this recipe belonging to a buddy of mine about five times without any anomalies and consistent flavour. It’s a simple method using an immersion blender, comes up a creamy golden brown, with a little separation continuing after a cloth-straining (no big deal as it’s blitzed into a creamy drink). It’s walnuts, honey, vanilla, water.

Out of nowhere this week, and originally to my absolute horror, as I began blending the walnuts into the honey it began to turn purple… and then black. What the hell had I done? What new element had I introduced? It was practically inky and the foam on top was cement grey-purple.

Turns out this is one the coolest accidents to come my way. It was an acid that is commonly found in the skins of walnuts, called gallic acid. After a bit of google searching I ended up on baking and beekeeping forums, and the wikipedia page of an ink used between the 15th-19th centuries, and this is what I’ve got:

  • A problem for bakers is having their walnut breads turn purple because of gallic acids found in the skin.
  • A highly sought after and quite rare type of honey that occurs naturally is dark purple. Many apiarists believe this is because of high acidity in the soil in the vicinity of hives.
  • Iron gall ink was prepared using iron salts and tannic acids from oak gall nuts (where the name for gallic acid is derived.) A well prepared iron gall ink would gradually darken on the paper to a dark purple colour.

I totally triggered a chemical reaction accidentally. Perhaps the honey contained something that interacted with the walnuts? Maybe I didn’t bring the water entirely to the boil?

Now where do I find this actually purple honey, though?

using acid to clarify homemade orgeats

For a while I was looking for a method to get my pistachio syrup stable, be it cloudy or clear, without using metres of muslin cloth. (pistachio syrup with xanthan). I actually solved this a little while back and after making it a few times have pretty much nailed down an easy method.

The recipe I was using had a splash of unexplained vinegar in it. For most of the time I have been making it I assumed it must have been included as a preservative measure, as with shrubs, as there was no mention of it in the recipes method. One day however, as I was melting sugar into my pistachio milk on the stove, I noticed a thick skin forming on the top of the liquid, and I began to skim it off, as you might while clarifying butter. So many things clicked in my brain at the same time (citric acid in cheesemaking, alternative milks like soy and almond curdling in hot coffee) and that unexplained splash of vinegar suddenly made sense.

Now I bring that stuff to the boil, stand over it at a simmer with a large flat spoon, and skim as much of that gunk from the surface as I can, and then it’s just one pass through few layers of muslin for a perfectly clear syrup. I wouldn’t necessarily use vinegar in every orgeat recipe I made. In this recipe it works because the pistachio syrup is used in combination with a shrub that also contains the same type of vinegar, so the distinctive flavour is balanced in the final drink. It’s definitely worth looking into how small an amount of acid you can add to encourage it to curdle, to reduce the chances of altering the flavour.

concept development

I’ve been reading a lot lately about chefs and bartenders who develop recipes by seeking inspiration from other creative spheres. I stumbled across this blog post today, (Meadowlark). The writer spent some time creating a drink to match an album by Sufjan Stevens. The drink was fairly simple, but I was immediately struck by the depth of research that went into creating it. She spent time looking at the artist’s inspiration, and used that to inform her own creation. Each ingredient was reasoned, and the recipe read well because of it. (btw, I noticed that huge amount of rosewater too, but in an earlier post she has a recipe for ‘rose water’ which is actually more of a petal tisane, which would definitely work at that volume.)

In this article from last month on Punch, Drew Lazor explores different approaches to concept development (How To Develop a Concept Cocktail). I’m smitten with Chantal Tseng’s ‘limited edition’ menus at The Reading Room, in Washington D.C, that revolve around the book she’s reading that week. She uses narrative, geography, characters, and the author’s persona to inspire her ingredients.

Cerebral stuff isn’t necessarily the way to go every time, but I’ve always found that the best names and recipes (of my own) are always tightly knit together by a solid concept that drew inspiration from a clear source.

A recent recipe comes from, at first, a pretty vague space that slowly developed into a combination of dew drops on winter green, Fern Gully, the flavours I associate with the word “nectar”, and how sweet and clean I imagine this water tastes to this little guy:

I truly believe it would definitely taste like Dolin Blanc

The idea hung about in my head and in a few variations for about a six months. By the time I got around to making it, I’d spent so long messing with the concept and had such a clear idea of how I wanted it to taste that it took less than 20 minutes to nail down a recipe. The drink ended up as a light, clean, carbonated thing with a hint of sweetness that is balanced with tartaric and malic acids to give the impression of a sparkling wine.

Who knows if people are going to taste the idea of a fairy with a dewdrop cupped between their tiny, webbed fingers. I doubt it, and I’m not going to tell them that they have to. I’d be delighted to hear that someone has drawn that conclusion independently, but it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that having a concise and well developed concept helped to develop a good recipe.


the origins of fat-washing

Read this excellent run down of fat-washing on Serious Eats. I refer to it often, as my knowledge develops, and the more scientific elements the author discusses make more sense to me each time. The best thing to me though, is the discovery that the origins of fat-washing lie in an antiquated perfume extracting technique called enfleurage. There are two types of enfleurage: cold and hot. They’re used to infuse odourless and flavourless animal or vegetable fats with the scents of flowers like jasmine or tuberose that are too delicate for other infusions. In cold enfleurage that fat is spread out in a flat tray and the fresh petals are pressed into the fat. They are left to infuse, and once spent, are replaced with a fresh batch a few times. Once the fat is saturated with the scent, it is washed with neutral alcohol to extract those essential oils. This article on Punch  mentions a peanut butter infused spirit where the creator used this second step of the cold enfleurage method to extract the flavour. Hot enfleurage is faster and good for scents like lavender and rose. The flowers are submerged in hot oil and like with cold, they are spent and replaced a few times, and then the oil is washed with alcohol. I asked a perfumer what kind of oil she used for infusion and she recommended safflower.

I’m hoping that I can use this technique to make my own perfumed fat-washed alcohol. So it might carry some of the silky texture, but mostly it will be far more to create a more aromatic spirit. Like maybe cognac pumped up with rose.

tactile experience: szechuan pepper

I’ve been thinking more and more about how important the feel of a drink is. I’m talking literally texturally. I’ve been coming at the idea from a few different directions for a while now, and have just realised that in all cases I’ve been playing with the same concept of messing with the sense of touch.

Most recently I started thinking about if there was a way to make something tickle a little, or give the impression of actual movement beyond carbonation bubbles, and I stumbled across an article about an experiment with Szechuan pepper. Szechuan pepper has a little guy in it called (hydroxyl alpha) sanshool which actually produces a tingling sensation akin to vibration. Apparently this vibration (measured in studies at a frequency of 50.0 Hz: Science20) can give your tongue and lips the impression that a drink of still water is actually fizzy.
This suggestion got me pretty excited, because I have been mulling over some ideas for a drink or drink/food pairing for a while, that might trick you into thinking a still drink was carbonated. Perhaps there is a sound track of the very light, tickling crackling sound of teeny bubbles, or the food, a dust on the rim of the glass or a mousse (emulating carbonation foam) on the top has something like pop rocks in it. Sanshool might solve this! So how to infuse/extract it? Can I find it in foods other than Szechuan pepper?