Gin And Juice With Harold McGee

mcgee-and-arnold-low-res.jpgI decided to pass up the lure of free beer at Monday night’s SciMix poster session and instead headed for the rarefied air of the 57th floor of Philly’s One Liberty Place. That’s where the ACS Communications Office feted author and curious cook Harold McGee (that’s him on the right), who won this year’s Grady-Stack Award for Interpreting Chemistry for the Public.

Cocktails-wise, I clearly made the right decision. David Arnold (left), director of culinary technology at the French Culinary Institute in New York City, was preparing drinks for the crowd of chemists and science writers. McGee described Arnold as “the expert on bubbles and pleasure” and the potables he and his assistant Mindy Nguyen served up certainly didn’t disappoint.

Arnold wanted to demonstrate how the degree of carbonation affects the flavor of sparkling wines, so he served champagne that had been stripped of its carbon dioxide in a vacuum machine alongside champagne that had been recarbonated to 30 psi and 40 psi. Arnold noted that although a number of sparkling wine makers typically aim for 40 psi, that’s too much carbonation. California sparklers, he said, are notoriously overcarbonated. If you’ve got a bottle, Arnold suggests letting it go a little flat before drinking to dramatically improve the flavor.mindy-gin-and-juice.jpg

Arnold also served up water that had been gassed with nitrous oxide, which gave it a smoother, sweeter, creamier taste. A blend of 70% carbon dioxide and 30% nitrous oxide makes the tastiest sparkling water, according to the chef. When I asked Arnold if he had any plans to commercialize this special blend, he said that he’d certainly be interested.

Arnold and Nguyen finished off the event with a sparkly gin and juice cocktail. The drink is made by mixing grapefruit juice with gelatin, freezing it, and then straining the liquid through cheesecloth. This clarification process removes the pith and bitterness from the juice leaving behind delicious grapefruit flavor. The juice is then mixed with gin and carbonated to create a deceptively potent potable.

At the moment, there’s no bar that serves Arnold’s custom cocktails, but Nguyen suggested cocktail connoisseurs check out New York City’s Tailor restaurant, which serves up its own variety of interesting drinks.

I suspect Arnold might be inclined to swap aperitifs for equipment. He gave a talk yesterday in which he discussed how he uses a modified rotovap to extract the flavor of habaneros from the wickedly spicy pepper’s heat. He currently employs a modified 1980s-era model that he bought on eBay, but if you’ve got something newer, the chef would be happy to take it off your hands. Perhaps he’ll even mix up a special drink to thank you.