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Chemistry and cocktails

Adding lemon juice and sugar to the daily rum ration was once a scurvy-preventing measure for the sailors of the spice trade. Performed with neither care nor precision, upon the decks of salty sea-going vessels, it has now evolved into a delectable science of infusing spirits with any flavour imaginable.

This is the inspiration behind C.G.R. Merchant & Co.’s wide array of infused gins and rums. Think toasted coconut and chocolate rum, rose petal gin, or chorizo rum. Bar Manager Charlie Holyoke outlines some of the more refined techniques they use at their specialist infusion cocktail bar on Courtenay Place.

Maceration is possibly the oldest and most common form of infusion. Consisting of adding ingredients such as herbs, spices, or fruit to a selected spirit, and waiting for the flavours to be imparted. Or, if you are impatient, the fastest and most exciting way of performing an infusion is to use a soda siphon fitted with nitrous oxide to force the flavour into the liquid − flash infusing. ‘The perfect technique to use when you want to preserve the freshness and “brightness” of an ingredient, such as fresh basil, which is particularly good paired with gin,’ says Charlie.

Clarification is a technique used in a broad range of food and drink production, from refining wine to removing solids from consommés. In the cocktail world, it’s used to create milk punches, the first recipe, dating back to 1711, attributed to housewife Mary Rockett. A Milk Punch is a clear cocktail comprising alcohol, acid, and selected flavours. The clarification is achieved by adding the cocktail to warm milk, which curdles, trapping any particles with the curds. This is then strained to produce a clear and beautifully refined finished drink with a smooth and creamy texture.

Bartenders have only been dabbling in the technique of ‘fat-washing’ for around 15 years. With its origins in the great art of perfumery, this process involves adding liquefied fat (bacon fat, or butter) to a room-temperature spirit, leaving it to stand, letting the flavours be absorbed into the liquid, then freezing it to solidify the fat for removal. It is finished by fine straining through muslin, leaving you with a modest looking but surprisingly tasty cocktail. Fat-washed infusions work particularly well in an Old Fashioned cocktail, as the fat-washed liquor takes on a lovely, rich, and unctuous mouthfeel. Charlie says, ‘Using techniques old and new, each jar of infused gin or rum tells its own story.’

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