Tech for Tipples
The future of mixology is here, and it continues to evolve in quest of the perfect alcoholic beverage. How can you stay competitive without breaking the bank?
When it comes to being technologically savvy, high concept cocktail lounge The Aviary has got that down on lock. It inherited its mojo from predecessor Alinea, the award-winning Chicago restaurant considered an international sensation.
Owner/chef Grant Achatz’s talented team of culinary artists wow guests from behind The Aviary’s cage-like partition using equipment you won’t find in most establishments. Of note is the bar’s ice program, which utilizes two machines key to the entire operation.
There’s a block chiller that freezes flavored ice in a few hours (with other equipment it takes 24 hours or 48 hours). And the program also boasts super chillers, which keep liquid very, very cold such as a combination of water and high-proof alcohol.
It’s the secret weapon behind In The Rocks, The Aviary’s signature cocktail using the super chiller to contain the entire beverage within an ice “egg.” When the shell is cracked with a miniature slingshot, its contents are poured into a rocks glass. Since opening in 2011, In The Rocks has taken form as an Old Fashioned as well as the New Orleans classic cocktail, the Vieux Carré. Guests are so fascinated by The Aviary’s ice program that regular tours are offered for them to experience it first hand.
While not as dazzling, sous vide machines and the centrifuge, which briskly separates liquids from solids, are also key to day-to-day operations. They’re important because they track precision and efficiency, resulting in profitability, says Alexis Tinoco, who serves as bar director for operations at The Aviary.
Guests are so fascinated by The Aviary’s ice program that regular tours are offered for them to experience it first hand.
“When we have cocktails that call for specific types of ingredients, and then used in certain quantities in a cocktail, the ingredients can be so powerful that (our technology) teaches people to be more mindful of how they’re doing their recipes,” explains Tinoco. “It also teaches people who are doing these recipes how to work with products, how to treat them and how to keep them fresh.”
Tinoco, who’s worked in different capacities at The Aviary since moving from New York several years ago, advises bartenders wanting to learn more about the industry’s technological advances to immerse themselves in education.
“Self-educating, being nerdy and asking other bartenders are the best ways to take your bar program to the next level,” she recommends. “Also, if you can stage at a bar with such programs, that would be great. Reach out with questions to influential people who are very well versed with these types of equipment.”
At sleek Kansas City, Mo., cocktail lounge Monarch, the bar program doesn’t boast showy ice machines, but its barrel-aging equipment has dramatically saved them money.
“We use an ultrasound homogenizer that adds barrel character as well as makes cocktails taste like they’ve been bottled for a really long time,” explains Monarch bar manager Brock Schulte. “In taste tests internally, we’ve decided that in 10 minutes with the ultrasound homogenizer, you can essentially barrel age three to six months in about 10 minutes.”
The ultrasound homogenizer is also important because at Schulte’s previous bar, he lost 25 percent of the cocktail when barrel aging milk punches, Negronis and Old Fashioneds in the traditional sense.
“We were putting in like $100 worth of the spirit, but in three months after evaporation and stuff, you really only got like $75 back,” he says. With the ultrasound homogenizer, Schulte doesn’t lose any of the cocktail and is able to make more product than ever.