Beyond the Muddle: Rotary Evaporation in Mixology

Jerry Thomas and Lyman C. Craig might seem like a really odd pairing: Jerry “The Professor” Thomas, considered the founding father of American mixology, belonged rigidly in the world of bartenders and craft cocktails, while Craig, the inventor of the rotary evaporator, was a respected chemical researcher. In recent years, the boundaries of rotary evaporation and mixology have been pushed to unprecedented heights, and in this blog post, they intersect: Let’s have a look at the use of rotary evaporators in mixology.

For the past decade, rotary evaporators have gained significant traction in mixology. Seemingly out of place behind a bar, rotovaps offer exciting possibilities for creating unique and innovative cocktails. Here’s how:

Capturing Volatile Aromatics

Classical infusion techniques like steeping or maceration often struggle to preserve the most delicate and volatile flavor components of botanicals (including fruits, herbs, spices, etc.).

Let’s say you’re preparing a gin basil smash: Steeping your basil leafs for too long in alcohol can extract undesirable components along with the desired flavors (such as tannins), whereas an uneven or incomplete maceration of the leafs can lead to a suboptimal extraction of the terpenes that give the gin basil smash its vibrant flavors. You can circumvent these issues by using a rotary evaporator: 

  • The vacuum (check out our blog post on the use of proper vacuum if you still haven’t!) lowers the boiling point of your volatile compounds, saving them from thermal damage. This preserves the aromas that are essential for the success of your concoction.
  • The rotating evaporation flask creates a large surface area for your sample which both increases the rate of evaporation, and keeps the sample evenly mixed and heated.

 

Chasing Transparency

You drink with your eyes first – if the one factor that’s stopping your cocktail from being visually stunning is its turbidity, a rotovap is what you need. Let’s take Mojitos for example: A cornerstone of every mojito is the macerated or muddled mint, which equally adds flavor and turbidity to your cocktail-to-be. Not with a rotary evaporator! Add your mint leaves to your boiling flask with the appropriate solvent (e.g. ethanol or methanol) and let the rotovap do the magic: by selectively isolating your desired component  while leaving behind non-volatile (often turbid constituents), you are able not only to extract your target aromas, but also to create crystal-clear distillates from traditionally cloudy infusions. You can also go the extra mile by using agar or gelatin as clearing agents with your rotovap. Time for crystal-clear mojitos!

 

Isolating Desired Flavors

Ever felt like having a Jalapeño Paloma or Bloody Mary, just without the spiciness? Now you can enjoy these classic cocktails heat-free. By processing your peppers in your rotary evaporator, you get to preserve complex flavors (like the smokiness and peppery tastes of your Jalapeños) while discarding unwanted compounds/flavors (capsaicin in the case of Jalapeños and other spicy peppers). In other words, by using a rotary evaporator in your bar, you can cherry-pick the flavors that you want inside of your cocktails at the molecular level (or discard any unwanted flavors).

 

Pushing the Boundaries of Infusions

Traditionally, infusing your alcohol with flavors (be it through herbs, spices, or fruits) takes anywhere between days to weeks. You need to get your ingredients ready, throw them in a mason jar, top it off with your alcohol of choice, and forget about them for what might feel like eons. With a regular rotary evaporator, it’ll take you hours. With an Ecodyst Hydrogen, even less

 

The world of mixology is constantly evolving, and the use of rotary evaporators is a testament to this innovative spirit. By granting bartenders the ability to capture delicate flavors, achieve crystal clarity, and isolate specific taste components, rotovaps are opening doors to a whole new level of cocktail creation. While rotary evaporators might seem like a far cry from muddlers and shakers, they represent an exciting future where science and mixology collide in the quest for the perfect drink. So, raise a glass (of your meticulously crafted, rotovap-infused creation, perhaps?) to the continued exploration of flavor and the ever-blurring lines between the laboratory and the bar.

Cheers!