Kitchens are repositories of paraphernalia, equipped with an endless array of gadgets and gizmos that often have frustratingly specific jobs. It’s time to free those lonely kitchen tools and put them to work somewhere a lot more fun: your bar.
With all of the house-made tinctures, bitters, cordials, molecular mixology parlor tricks and technological equipment like rotovaps and immersion circulators, today’s bartenders are more than ever like the scientists of the cocktail world. But for all of its complicated formulas and precise measurements, the science of drink making can be deceptively simple. The low-tech beaker, which calls to mind memories of bubbling concoctions in high school chemistry class, has quietly become a must-have stand-in for the traditional mixing glass.
Bar as Laboratory
Barmini, the crafty bar in Washington, D.C., adjacent to chef José Andrés’ two-Michelin-starred molecular-gastronomy restaurant, minibar, is described by cocktail innovator Miguel Lancha as a “cocktail lab where creativity meets innovation.” The staff began using beakers back in 2013. “They felt natural and comfortable for us in the spirit of the science that’s behind many of the things we do behind the bar,” he says.
Lancha turns to beakers for stirred drinks; using unconventional glassware has always been part of the bar’s concept, he says, citing the antique and rocket-ship-shaped glasses that are both on display and used for guests. According to Lancha, beakers with a wide open mouth are very convenient and easy to stir and pour. Not to mention that their scratch-resistant glass allows for both an accurate reading and a clear view of whatever’s being mixed.
Glass beakers also come in handy for doling out juice, tea and other ingredients for cocktail builds. And adding dry ice emits ethereal “aromatic clouds” that can be employed to finish a drink in front of the guest. Servers at barmini drive home the laboratory vibe by presenting the check at the end of the evening in a small beaker.
Drawbacks and Limitations
Of course, beakers aren’t without their drawbacks. “Some have an unusual shape that makes them somewhat easy to crash against something accidentally if you’re not used to their shape, volume and counterweight,” says Lancha. “In some scenarios, they might transmit a less cozy mood and a bit of a cold, synthetic feel that I think can make some people feel unconsciously suspicious.” In other words, while liquids in a beaker can look intriguing and spark curiosity, anyone who has ever worked with a lab partner on an experiment gone wrong might remember the end results being off-putting, toxic or volatile. Though as beakers become more ubiquitous at bars, guests may slowly warm up to them like an open-flame Bunsen burner.
Jeremy Key, the bar manager at Virtù Honest Craft in Scottsdale, Ariz., grew up watching “Mr. Wizard” and “Bill Nye the Science Guy” and has always maintained a mathematical and scientific mindset. After shopping online to replace broken cocktail glasses, beakers popped up on a web search, so they decided to give them a shot. “It seemed to make the most sense for mixing all different types of liquids,” he says. “Once we had some success using them, it just became a no-brainer.” They’re now Virtù’s go-to vessel, and Key even uses them at home.
He submits that even though they’re made from tempered glass, they’re still too fragile to be used for shaking cocktails. But beyond stirring drinks, the staff also uses them to mark volume. “This allows us to measure out an exact amount while making in-house ingredients used in cocktails, as well as exact measurement of cocktails themselves,” says Key. Pyrex is his preferred brand; the No. 1003 style holds 600 milliliters and costs less than $50 for six beakers, a fraction of the price of a single mixing glass, which can run up to $75. And they can easily withstand the extreme temperature variations during a busy shift, from mixing cold and warm drinks to washing them with very hot water.
As for their biggest downside? It’s all about perception, says Key. “They bring to mind images of scientists and lab work, which to every amateur comedian comes the phrase ‘it’s like you’re a mad scientist.’” Maybe it’s time to embrace your inner Louis Pasteur or Marie Curie.