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Drink Masters Challenge Explained!

Hi, Friends of Cocktails. Today I’ll help you become a Drink Master - but without the 100k prize at the end, sorry. I’ll show you how the contestants pulled off two techniques required to make a very special Martini with Vermouth Spheres, and an Irish Old Fashioned with Orange Air. It doesn’t matter if you watched Drink Masters or not, this will help you create elevated versions of two of the most famous cocktails out there.

The tagline for Drink Masters is “World-class mixologists showcase their dazzling cocktail-crafting skills as they compete for a $100K prize, and the title of Ultimate Drink Master”, so it’s basically like Top Chef for mixologists. Season 1 premiered on Netflix on October 28th with a lot of excitement coming from the bartending community, but has it delivered on all the expectations? That’s up for debate… I’m just excited mixology is getting its fair share of the spotlight. We’re far away from the popularity of cooking shows in this regard, but we’re making progress.

In episode 6 titled Cocktail Tournament, contestants were faced with, to quote, “Intense challenges that will put the competitor’s technical abilities, speed and precision to the ultimate test”, and we’ll do the same. Starting with round 1, the task was to make a delicious Wet Martini with Vermouth Spheres - simple enough, right? Well, a few of the contestants had some difficulties, so I’ll make sure to highlight what can go wrong. Although we don’t have the same pressure of time or the judges as the contestants, let’s go ahead with our first recipe. It’s Cocktail Time!

There are many ways to make spheres, to get different results, and we’ve done a few different versions in the past. If you want small pearls with a liquid interior you should go with direct spherification, using sodium citrate, sodium alginate and calcium chloride, like we did for the Elevated Tequila Sunrise. For larger spheres you’ll need calcium lactate & sodium alginate for what’s known as reverse spherification - that’s what we used on the Color Changing Elevated Caipirinha. This technique turns liquid into a spherical shape by encapsulating the liquid with a gel-like membrane, which then bursts when popped.

Last, but not least, you can use agar agar, which is similar to gelatin and will create gel-like pearls. We used this technique for the Baklava Cocktail. Agar is also what the contestants were given so that’s what we’ll use today. For the Martini I’ll use Beefeater gin and Carpano dry vermouth. I’ll also add in some orange bitters, because I like my Martini that way, and a lemon twist. But first you’ll use vermouth, agar agar and cold oil to form tiny gel spheres.

The judges wanted them to be uniform in shape, have the appropriate texture, and be bursting with flavor, and the contestants had 15 minutes to pull this off together with the cocktail. One key thing about this technique is that you want to use exactly the right amount of agar, so get your precision scale out and start the timer if you want to feel a little pressure.

Vermouth Spheres

● 100g dry vermouth

● 1g agar agar

● Freezer-chilled oil

Start by weighing the vermouth and agar agar and add them to a pot. It is important to add exactly 1% in weight of agar agar, as the spheres won’t form properly if you use too little, and the gel will be too hard and it will have a slight metallic taste if you add too much. Place on low heat and whisk constantly - agar must be heated or it won’t fully dissolve, but make sure to not let it get close to hard boil as this can harm its gelling ability, and in our case also lose some of the vermouth aromatics. Once you see it simmer, take it off the heat and stir a bit more to cool slightly before transfering to a squeezer bottle.

When it’s cool enough for you to be able to handle the bottle, start dropping drops of our vermouth into chilled oil. Vermouth is still mostly water so it won’t mix with oil, but it will hold its shape in the oil. Once they drop to the bottom and get chilled the agar will form a nice, solid gel. That’s why you also want them to drop all the way to the bottom and not catch them on the way down, and if you see the mixture squirting out and not holding shape it could be that it’s too hot. In that case stop and wait for a few minutes then try again.

Once you’ve made enough pearls you can strain them out and give them a rinse with clean water. Place them on a julep strainer and they’re ready to be served next to the Martini, which is what we’ll make now.

Wet Martini with Vermouth Spheres

● 60mL (2oz) Beefeater gin

● 30mL (1oz) Carpano Dry Vermouth

● 2 dashes orange bitters

● Vermouth Spheres

Add all the ingredients besides the Vermouth Spheres into a chilled mixing glass, fill it with plenty of ice and stir to chill and dilute. To keep a Martini cold for as long as possible, serving it a frozen glass is essential. So strain your cocktail and express a long, thin twist of lemon peel over the top, which you’ll drop inside the drink. Lastly, place the vermouth pearls next to the cocktail and you can give it a taste starting with the pearls.

They bring a pleasant mouthfeel and there’s almost a surprise of how much flavor they have, but make sure to leave some for in between sips. The Martini has a nice mix of lemon and botanicals on the aroma, with the gin coming through first on the palate. But it’s nicely balanced and really a worldwide classic for a reason. I’m pretty sure this is good enough for us to pass in round 1, but let’s face the challenge from round 2 anyway, where they went old school with an Irish Old Fashioned, made modern with orange flavored air, which the judges wanted perfectly made and tasting great.

We’ve made plenty of different foams and airs to crown different cocktails, using different techniques. Cocktails like the Inverted White Russian, the Club Clover, Stout Fashioned, the Clarified Ramos Gin Fizz, Inverted Mojito and many others used soy lecithin, xanthan gum, egg whites, methylcellulose, or a combinations of these foaming agents to achieve a stunning and flavorful addition to the final result. Contestants were given oranges, sugar syrup, soy lecithin and an immersion blender and they had 20 minutes to create the cocktail and whip up an air with big bubbles that hold its structure.

I’ll start with the Orange Air - you don’t want to make the cocktail first, then have it wait and over dilute while you’re making other ingredients.

Orange Air

● 200g strained orange juice

● 1.4g soy lecithin

Cut some oranges, juice them and strain the juice through a fine mesh strainer to catch any pulp - I find oranges have a nice citrusy sweetness so I don’t think you need to add any sugar for the orange air to be balanced. Don’t forget to place the spent orange half into the freezer as a small life hack that I’ll explain later. Now using an immersion blender combine the juice and soy lecithin, which is a soy based emulsification agent that combines the ingredients and stabilizes the bubbles.

If you add too little the air will mix into the drink too fast, but if you add too much it will be a thick foam on top of the cocktail and it will add a slight nutty flavor that you may not wan, so try to stay within 0.5% and 1% of the juice, depending on what density we want our bubbles to be. Remember to place the immersion blender at a slight angle, and use a wider bowl to create a larger surface area for bubbles to form.

The term air is a reference to how light in texture this will be - you almost can’t feel it on your palate, but it still has a wonderful flavor. Once you’re happy with your air, start making the cocktail.

Old Fashioned with Orange Air

● 60mL (2oz) Jameson Black Barrel Irish whiskey

● 5mL (1 barspoon) rich demerara syrup

● 2 dashes Angostura bitters

● 3 dashes orange bitters

● Orange Air

As with the Martini, start with a chilled mixing glass and add your ingredients. Then fill with plenty of ice and stir to properly chill and dilute, while the serving glass is already chilled by the large clear ice cube, which has tempered. So pour the cocktail, making sure you reach the wash line, and then scoop the orange air on top until it reaches all the way to the rim of the glass. Now for the hack I mentioned, which I learned from my mom and her baking, usually when you grate citrus zest the essential oils make the zest clumpy and it sticks to the grater. But if you place citrus halves in the freezer it’s easier to grate.

This zest will melt as it falls on our air and give it extra orange aroma, and when you use spent citrus halves it’s also a more sustainable practice, which should give us extra points, right? The air will keep its shape and texture nicely, but even with soy lecithin, it won’t stay like this forever, so give your cocktail a try! Orange aroma hides the whiskey at first, but it can only do that until the first sip. The combination of the light, citrusy air and the spirit forward cocktail works together perfectly. It’s nicely balanced by the sugar & bitters, with Black Barrel having enough character to stand its ground against the additional orange flavors. Not to judge it myself, but I love it.

With that, you too can be a Drink Master, but if you want to be a part of an even better community you can do what Kevin McAlear did and become a member of the Cocktail Time Wall of Fame. Kevin is joining our top tier Patrons who are a part of our set, and you’ll also see his name on our website and in the description of the episode. From one Kevin to another - thank you for the support! I wish everyone a great time with their families these holidays, and get some rum and champagne ready for next week, as we’ll celebrate the year that was. Cheers, Friends of cocktails and Masters of drinks.

By buying through the affiliate links you’re also helping out the Cocktail Time channel with a small commission (at no additional cost to you). Cheers!


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