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[Booze Issue 2013]

The weird science of Vegas cocktails (that don’t look like drinks at all)

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Yes, that is é’s cava sangria (and not just a really classy Jell-o shot).
Photo: Sam Morris
E.C. Gladstone

Not that long ago, a fancy cocktail might be indicated by an exotic edible flower garnish or some artfully presented citrus peel. My how things have changed.

Nowadays, it’s almost commonplace to see a cocktail presented in a glass kettle, with frozen nitrogen “steam” floating outward; Pop Rocks or some candied exotica garnishing; or a tableside preparation straight out of Bill Nye’s science lab.

Newly returned to the Cosmopolitan, chef mixologist Mariena Mercer has her own cocktail research station, and maybe one of the most advanced in the country. Foams, airs and uncommon infusions are all in her playbook, but her upcoming fall menu seems set to blow off the doors.

“I’m doing a whole edible flight, based on a childhood movie and a transformative experience,” she says. “Everything has a different technique, it’s a very interactive piece.”

Also in the Cosmo, é by José Andrés (inside Jaleo) offers a number of radically rethought cocktails, including a gel sphere of cava sangria. “Initially it’s just to shock, and then it’s a very quick intense flavor for a few seconds, one huge punch,” says sous chef Cody Jeffs.

Inside é, “gin & tonic” requires quotation marks, the tonic element delivered as a frozen, almost sorbet-like espuma.

“I don’t believe there are any limits,” Jeffs says. He points to current cocktails at Andrés’ Washington, D.C., restaurant Minibar that “you can pick up and eat, like the Oaxacan Snowball or the Mojito Leaf. Those are things we’d like to bring to é.”

And cocktails are starting to reach beyond the bar, like at Sage, where pastry chef Stephanie Boswell is pushing every boundary she can find. Currently, she offers root liquor caviar, black sambuca newsprint with an apple fritter, and mulled malbec geleé with foie gras ice cream.

Science experiment or cocktail? Geisha House's Bubble Wrap is a little of both.

“Beverage programs and dessert menus are looking more and more alike,” Boswell notes. “I am always talking to our bartenders, trading flavor combinations.”

Even off the Strip, there are notable signs of risk-taking. At the new Geisha House on Flamingo, general manager Christian Oldan offers a hilarious goblet drink called the Bubble Wrap that was created almost accidentally. Oldan never suspected the combination of Ty Ku coconut nigori sake, Cruzan vanilla rum, pineapple and lime juices, coconut milk and ginger beer would be volatile, but when he added some dry ice, thinking it would just make a typical misty cloud, the whole thing turned into a spontaneous bubble factory. “I thought the drink was ruined,” Oldan admits, “but the owner liked it, and now I like it, too.” It’s one of the coolest things you can drink in town—and like so many scientific discoveries, revealed by accident.

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