The craft of mixology is as old as the first taverns and bars in history. Mixologists are bartenders or alcohol innovators who create new mixes for others to enjoy. Mixology comes with its own set techniques and patterns with plenty of variations which have been evolving with time.
The modern-day mixologists are working with molecular mixology to create novel drinks. This trend has been sparked off by the innovations in the kitchens of molecular gastronomy chefs like Heston Blumenthal in collaboration with mixologist Tony Coniglianro. Using the scientific techniques and tools available for molecular gastronomy, the mixologists are able to create drinks with greater intensities and variations of flavour.
Presentations have evolved with the use of gels, sprays and powders to create dramatic effects. Pousse-cafes or multi-coloured layered drinks are one of the oldest drinks made, based on the variation in density and viscosity of the liquids used. These have also found their way into smaller shooter formats like the “flying grasshopper” or the hugely popular, B-52.
Cocktail spheres that explode in the mouth, cocktail caviar, edible cocktails, powdered cocktails, frozen “nitro shot” cocktails and “jellied” shots are all innovations courtesy of the exploitation of the physical properties of liquors.
In his book, The Craft of the Cocktail, Dale DeGroff said: “I called myself a master mixologist because I wanted notoriety from the press. And I got it.” And somewhere between notoriety (or respect, however you’d like to put it) in the eyes of the public and the actual task and act of “mixology” lies what a mixologist is all about. DeGroff belonged to a small but dedicated group of bartenders, including Audrey Saunders and Julie Reiner, who regarded making cocktails as an art and began using fresh juice and premium ingredients way back in the 19th century. To give the craft a new name and identity, distinct from sling shots and beers, bartenders were honoured with the nomenclature of “mixologist.”
Mixologists worked to evolve bartending by creating innovative drinks the world had not seen before. They are bartenders or alcohol innovators who have evolved beyond just tending to the bar. They create new techniques and mixes for others to enjoy and use.
Mixology has often been misunderstood to be a modern-age phenomenon. Actually, not only has it existed from the times the first taverns and bars opened in the world. Cocktails – classic and new age – are a result of mixology. Today, a “cocktail” refers to any mix of drinks, qualitatively and quantitatively blended together. However, when the word first surfaced in the USA, it meant a specific mix of brandy, sugar, water and bitters. Towards the end of the 19th century, a “cocktail” was anything that was prepared in a mixer or shaker.
Mixology started as an American speciality in the 1900s before the habit and culture spread across the Atlantic Ocean. The form and style of the craft have changed over the decades with the changing demands of the clientele. Martini is a perfect example of a drink which has evolved from being made with orange bitters originally to moving on to Angostura bitters in the early 1900s to eventually attaining its “dry” avatar with a change of ingredients from red vermouth to dry vermouth.
Mixology in the 1950s was on a minimalistic mantra, with careful emphasis on not masking the flavour and structure of the base liquor. Rums were the preferred spirit of the mixologists. The heavy use of tropical fruits and ingredients created a unique range of drinks. These innovations of the 1940s and 1950s are classics of the bartending world today.
Mixology as an art gave way to commercial bartending and cocktail-making from the 1960s to the 1980s. Though a few innovations like the Irish Coffee and the Bellini surfaced during this period, there were no significant trendsetters in this phase.
The 1990s saw a re-emergence of the mixologist with the “fresh and local” mantra. Bartenders began experimenting with fresh ingredients to create new mixes and cocktails. Fresh fruit juice became the popular mixer, with mixologists experimenting with creating house syrups and fresh mixes from local produce. Infusions with local herbs in liquors became the new bases for cocktails. This phase also led to the decline of several other forms of drinks created by mixologists in earlier decades. Eggnoggs and Flips – both rooted in the 1800s – have lost popularity and many modern bartenders would not be able to re-create these concoctions. On the flipside, this phase also saw the emergence of “sangrias” and “wine coolers” as a community drink and its many variants cropped up in different parts of the world.
About the Author:
Chef Manu Mohindra has a decade-long experience of managing kitchens with the Taj Group of Hotels. His company, Under One Roof Hotel Consultants, provides design consultancy to restaurants.