In their spirits!
Mixologist Rohan Rege and writer-beverage connoisseur Ajit Balgi get together to spread their knowledge about cocktails, bartending techniques and more
Do you think mixing alcohol has unpleasant consequences? It’s a scam when bars fill your glass with ice when you ask for a cocktail? What really is responsible drinking? To answer all these queries and enlighten you about things related to the bar, Rohan Rege, the head mixologist at JW Marriott Pune and Ajit Balgi, writer and leading beverage connoisseur, recently held a special knowledge sharing session called #ShareTheWealth at Paasha, JW Marriott Pune.
It’s all about the ice
Does the pinch in your pocket really hurt when your cocktail, which costs a few hundreds, arrives at the table in a glass full of ice? You think to yourself, you didn’t pay that much for all this ice that will just turn into water a few moments later. And you are correct, you didn’t pay for the ice to melt. “When the bartender fills your glass with ice, you think he is giving you less liqueur and more ice. But if you pour you drink and then put just two cubes of ice, the cubes will melt fast and dilute your drink. When you fill your glass with ice, the expensive drink you have, does not get watered down as the large amount of ice doesn’t melt quickly and helps bring down the dilution rate of the drink. Lots of ice makes certain that all you taste is chilled liqueur,”says Balgi.
Rege points out that there are different types of ice used in bars. If the cube of ice is hollow, it will melt faster and dilute your drink. But you must check the quality of ice that goes into your drink. Good quality ice made in high pressure is vital to a good cocktail.
He talks about how the Japanese are obsessed with their ice. “If you go to a bar in Japan and just ask for a whiskey on the rocks, the bartender will take 10 minutes to serve it to you. He will take a block of ice and carve it into a perfect ball for all that time till he attains perfection before pouring your drink. It is a pleasure to watch these guys carve the ice. The ice does not melt for about two hours and people prefer to order seconds in the same glass with the same ball of ice,”says Balgi.
Shaken or stirred?
James Bond made the vodka martini quite famous, and even more popular was his catchphrase ‘Shaken, not stirred.’ Explaining the techniques of shaking or stirring, Balgi says, “If you go to a bar anywhere in the world and ask for a martini, they will ask you —vodka or gin? Once you have decided which spirit you want in your drink, the question of shaking or stirring comes in view. A drink must be shaken if it includes two liquids that don’t mix so easily, like when you make a vodka martini. In case of a gin martini, you can mix it by stirring, no shaking is required there.”
The art of muddling
An essential bartending technique is muddling. Demonstrating how one must muddle, Rege makes a Caprioska. He starts by collecting the ingredients —vodka, sugar syrup, ice. Did he miss out on something? Mint! If you’ve been drinking Caprioskas at Indian bars, you will definitely miss the mint. The original recipe for Caprioska does not include mint, but if someone serves the authentic cocktail to you, you’ll ask them, ‘Where’s my mint?’ because you’re so used to what you’re served everywhere. Make note: a Caprioska does not have mint in it,” says Balgi.
Rege puts in the pieces of lime in a glass and gently muddles it with a wooden tool. “You don’t have to muddle too hard. You don’t want to extract a lot of bitter oils from the skin, you only want to infuse the fragrant oils in your drink to make it refreshing,”Balgi says.
Not so sweet
Have you ever asked for a cocktail that is not sweet? If you think you can raise your hand because you’ve had a Whisky Sour, you’re wrong (because it’s basically nimbu paani with whisky, and some optional egg white). A Margarita? No. A Black Russian? No. Cocktails that are not sweet are difficult to make. Though it’s not everybody’s cup of tea, this flavour profile is picking up among Indian drinkers,says Balgi. As an example, Rege makes a Boulevardier to make one realise what the word ‘bitter’ really means. What catches the eye is the round ball of ice settled in the beverage to make it chilled.
“These bitter cocktails are meant to be enjoyed by being sipped on slowly. The ice ensures that the drink will stay chilled for about an hour or an hour and a half. Everyone wants to mind their calories now. You save on the extra sugar calories when you use a mixer like cola with your alcohol. Alcohol itself has a lot of sugar, but it converts into pseudo calories, which do not fit into a particular category of calories. With sugar, you get calories from carbs. Say you have two drinks with cola, it comes upto 14 tsp of sugar. So people would rather have their drink on the rocks, move towards consuming finer spirits, sip slowly and save on the extra sugar calories that come with the cola,”says Balgi.
How much to drink?
As much as we support equality, the way male and female bodies work is very different. “Men have more water content in their bodies and more enzymes which helps break down alcohol than women,” says Balgi, adding that this is the reason why the amounts for responsible drinking for both genders vary. He shares that there is a scientific calculation that tells you, broadly speaking of course, how much alcohol you can have on a daily basis that will be beneficial health-wise. Exceptions obviously are made based on body size and fitness level and so on. “People behind the bar don’t care much about maths. We know our recipes and that’s about it. But this is real math,”he starts to explain the UK unit formula.
“Any bottle of liqueur that comes from the UK will have a unit size printed on it. The recommended unit size for responsible drinking for a lady is two and for gentlemen it’s two to three. How do you calculate how much a unit is? Let’s take a bottle of wine which is 750 ml, which is 0.75 litres, multiply it by the alcoholic strength of the spirit, wine has 12 per cent alcohol, so we have nine, which means that the entire bottle of wine has nine units. This means that a man can drink one-third of the bottle everyday, and a lady perhaps 200ml, which is still a big glassful. You can have cheat days, but even on cheat days, you shouldn’t exceed four units,” says Balgi.