Cocktail of the Day: The Heads Up, an “adult soda”

One of the seminars I attended at Tales of the Cocktail this year featured the amazing Dave Arnold, director of culinary technology at the French Culinary Institute in New York and co-author of the not-to-be-missed website Cooking Issues. He was joined by the also amazing Tony Conigliaro, the owner, head bartender and chief mad scientist of 69 Colebrooke Row in London, and the stupendously amazing food scientist and author Harold McGee. The worst thing about that seminar is that it was only 90 minutes; I could have spent an entire semester listening to those guys and we’d only be getting started.

Last year Dave discovered an amazing technique for doing infusions. Typically we read of infusing various ingredients into spirits for times ranging from an hour or two (in the case of teas, for instance) to a week or even longer for fruit and spice infusions. This is apparently no longer necessary unless you want to test your patience (which I never do, because I have none, and I want it NOW, Daddy!) — how about thirty seconds to five minutes? Dave wrote an article entitled “Infusion Profusion: Game-Changing Fast ‘n Cheap Technique.” If you’re intrigued by my summary (and if you want to make the cocktail as demonstrated below), you may want to pause and read that article.

You can infuse flavors into liquor (and water based things, too) almost instantly with nothing more than an ISI whipped cream maker. You can use seeds, herbs, spices, fruits, cocoa nibs, etc. Here’s how:

Put room-temperature booze into the cream whipper. Add herbs, seeds, whatever. Close the whipper and charge it with nitrous oxide (N2O –the regular whipped cream chargers). Swirl gently 30 seconds and let stand 30 seconds more. Quickly vent the N2O out of the whipper, open it, and strain out the infusion. Done.


Here is what I think is happening:

When you charge your whipper with nitrous oxide, high pressure forces liquid and nitrous oxide into the pores of your flavorful food (your seeds or herbs or what-have-you.) When you suddenly release the pressure inside the whipper, the nitrous forms bubbles and escapes from the food quickly, bringing flavor and liquid out with it.

This is mindbogglingly useful, Babel Fish be damned. (Okay, a Babel Fish would be pretty cool, but it can’t infuse cacao nibs into Bourbon in two minutes.) “I did a 5-minute knee-slapping song-singing jig around the school when I figured out this technique. It’s really good,” says Dave.

The equipment you’re going to need is minimal, and relatively inexpensive, and the sky’s the limit for your infusion ideas. Try to think of flavors that go well together, rather than just sticking fruit into vodka, for instance. Yes, I’m sure many of us went through our fruit-infused vodka phase; I did, about 12 years ago. You do it, and then you move on. (That said, that apple-infused one I made was pretty good.) How about a beautiful marriage like … sweet white vermouth and watermelon?

Bartender Alex Day, formerly of Death & Co. in New York and currently one of the main partners in cocktail and hospitality consultancy Proprietors LLC in Los Angeles, demonstrates this marriage of flavors done in five minutes rather than two weeks.

This drink is also a perfect example of another technique we’ve been learning about of late, one that stretches back over 100 years to the heyday of the American soda fountain — acid phosphate. Ever been to one of the few remaining true soda fountains, perhaps even in an even rarer drugstore that still has one? Ever wonder what a “chocolate phosphate” or “cherry phosphate” soda was, or what it tasted like, or what the hell phosphate is and what is it doing in my drink? It’s a way to add acidity to a drink, either alcoholic or not, but with a “blank slate” of flavor. In many cocktails you’ll see the sweetness balanced by acidity from citrus juice, typically lemon or lime, and while this works wonderfully in a variety of classic drinks they also have a very strong flavor. What if you want to achieve balance via acidity in your drink without adding citrus flavor, which might throw the flavor balance off? Acid phosphate is your solution.

My friend Darcy O’Neil, bartender extraordinaire, professional chemist by day and author of Fix the Pumps, a wonderful history of the soda fountain, now manufactures a high-quality acid phosphate for use in cocktails. If you’re a cocktail geek — hell, if you’re a soda fountain geek who wants to learn how to make the soda fountain drinks of yore — you need both the book and the phosphate. You might also want to pause again to read Darcy’s article, linked above.

Okay, I grant you … this does involve a bit of prep, but I think you’ll find it immensely rewarding. Alex brings together all these ingredients and techniques in an absolutely gorgeous drink he calls “an adult soda.” It’s a perfect light aperitivo, and something I can relax with and enjoy after work and before dinner. I’m trying to cut down a bit on my daily alcohol consumption — yes, I have a drinking problem, but it’s not what you might think. My drinking problem currently manifests itself in my not being able to get my pants buttoned (and a recent trip to Ross and Macy’s to buy bigger pants and THIS IS NOT GOOD). A lighter yet very flavorful cocktail is exactly what I need. Take it away, Alex …

(by Alex Day, Proprietors LLC)

2-1/2 ounces watermelon-infused blanc vermouth
1/2 ounce Aperol
1 teaspoon acid phosphate
Soda water
Grapefruit slice

iSi or other cream whipper
2 standard N2O cartridges

In a Collins glass, build the first three ingredients, add ice and stir. Top with soda water, stir gently to mix and garnish with your lovely grapefruit slice.

Dolin Blanc Vermouth de Chambéry is preferred, but you may use Martini & Rossi or any bianco vermouth.

[Yeah, I’m beginning to get my writing mojo back. I just needed something to come up behind me and zap me with a cattle prod, and this drink was it. It looked really great, plus it gave me the opportunity to link to Dave’s article on nitrous infusions, Darcy’s article on and source for acid phosphate, plus the drink itself. Great links brought together by commentary, the perfect old-school weblog post. Thanks, Alex. Thanks also to Taste Terminal for producing the video.]


9 Responses to “Cocktail of the Day: The Heads Up, an “adult soda””

  1. Tony Harion said:

    Nov 22, 11 at 3:53 pm

    Beautifully done Chuck!

    You just managed to jam some of the most important happening/discoveries on Cocktail geekery of the late in one great post.

    I´ve been using Dave´s technique all the time and it´s just amazing!
    The acid phosphate is also too cool to pass. It´s been a good resource to balance stirred drinks and still keep them stirred, not to mention the other zillion applications.

  2. Barry said:

    Nov 24, 11 at 11:00 am

    This article made me buy earlier this year:

    going to have try this stuff out!

  3. Shari said:

    Nov 25, 11 at 7:10 am

    Yay! Chck’s back.

  4. Shari said:

    Nov 25, 11 at 7:11 am

    Oops…forgot the “u”….dang iPad typing…

  5. Jason Riedy said:

    Nov 27, 11 at 6:15 pm

    Now I’m contemplating this for flavoring sugar syrups for use or fondant, milk for ganache…

  6. Chuck said:

    Nov 28, 11 at 1:28 am

    The technique should work well with all of those, and oils as well. It’s pretty amazing. There’s lots of good information in the comments section of Dave’s article, too.

    I really should have written about this a year ago when the article first came out. God Emperor of Procrastination, that’s me.

  7. David said:

    Nov 29, 11 at 3:53 am

    Finally Chuck’s back and posting Yesssss

  8. dago red said:

    Nov 29, 11 at 12:54 pm

    charging my whipper with nitrous oxide: i’ll have to convince my wife

    thanks – now i have a purpose for the holiday season (as the cook and bartender of the family)

  9. Chuck said:

    Nov 29, 11 at 1:20 pm

    Sky’s the limit, too. I just did cacao nibs into Bourbon, and … YUM.