In the real world of running a beverage program, there are a lot of tools and pieces of equipment that are indispensable to creating great recipes and cocktails. Equipment like blenders, juicers, and ice machines are pretty common for most bars, and it’s not too difficult to convince your manager / owner to invest in them. But why stop there?
Some of the world’s top cocktail bars have many more advanced (and often expensive) tools that help them spin, infuse and freeze an incredible craft cocktail program. Today I thought I’d feature a “wish list” of advanced mixology tools that I would have loved the opportunity to leverage with in my bar program – that is, if money were no object. (Wouldn’t that be nice?) Special thanks to some great bartenders from Facebook that shared some of their top picks as well.
This is a dream come true for just about anyone that has had to fresh squeeze hundreds of pieces of fruit to get through a shift. Just like most of the items on this list, it’s a pricey piece of equipment, but it could potentially save you hours of labor in the long run.
We’ve all seen them behind the bars in Vegas and New Orleans and when it’s hot and humid outside, they are exactly what you need. Most of the time you see them in every color of the rainbow and full of sugar.
In the last few years I’ve been seeing craft bars starting to offer “craft” slushies. Ditching the neon colors and bagged syrups, bars are creating delicious cocktails that are balanced and delicious (and not reminiscent of an ICEE in color…) Of course, the idea of serving a delicious and beautiful craft cocktail in a matter of seconds is an amazing idea from a business standpoint as well. Provided you can afford the ~$1500+ price tag for the machine investment.
Many people outside of the bar industry may not have heard of this machine, but if you know, you know. Not just any ice machine, this one is capable of producing large format crystal clear ice for cocktails. By large format, I mean 300 lb block large.
Originally these machines were designed to make these large ice blocks for ice carvers. If you’ve ever gone to a fancy wedding or party and seen the crystal clear ice swan as a centerpiece, it was probably made in a Clinebell machine. But with the instagram appeal of a perfectly clear ice cube in your Old Fashioned comes a whole bunch of bartenders that’d love to get their hands on some perfectly clear ice blocks.
If a 300lb block is more than you can manage, the company also makes a new machine that is made specifically for craft bars which produce a much more manageable 25 lb blocks. No longer will you need a hoist or small crane to maneuver your ice block, you can simply pull it out of the machine and begin the painstaking process of breaking down large format ice into cool diamonds and other fun shapes. That is, of course, if your owner has $4500+ laying around…
Beyond Zero: BZ Ice Maker
Keeping with the ice theme we have our final “cool” offering from a company called Beyond Zero. Their machine, the BZ ice maker, takes cooling to a whole new level, literally. Simply add the alcohol of your choice to the ice tray, close the machine and in a few minutes you have frozen alcohol ice cubes.
Now if you are thinking this is such a great idea, I’m going to offer a scotch rock flight as part of my regular menu, the machine starts at $6500 and if you want to store the ice, that machine will cost another $6500. While this is the “coolest machine on the list, it is also one of the most expensive.
The Art of the Vacuum
The next 2 machines are typically used in combination, but not always.
This machine vacuum seals items in a plastic bag under pressure. Often this is the first step to putting the item into a sous vide water bath. Now this is not always the next step as there are fun ways that you can use the vacuum sealer on its own.
- Flash Pickling – Add warm pickling liquid to the bag and whatever vegetable that you want to have pickled. In a few minutes you have a pickled vegetable that still has the crunch and snap of a fresh vegetable.
- Compressing – fruit and vegetables have empty spaces within their cells that are usually filled with water or other substances. If you put these items under pressure, the cells become compressed and turn into a much denser consistency. You could also add bitters and syrups to the fruit to alter the flavor while compressing.
- Aging and infusing ingredients that normally react to oxygen. This is something that I haven’t tried yet, but the theory sounds good. Since you are creating a vacuum, ingredients like vermouth, beer and wine will not have the opportunity to react with oxygen and undergo oxidation. This can open up new ways of creating novel ingredients using wine and beer products as a base.
10 years ago this machine was magic and almost exclusively found in fine dining kitchens, but now you can find them for around $100.
For those unfamiliar with a sous vide machine, it is a pump that heats and circulates water to a very precise temperature. It’s mostly used on meats to cook them all the way through without over cooking them. Like we mentioned in the previous section, you would seal whatever ingredients that you are working with in a vacuum sealed plastic bag and then add it to the sous vide water bath and allow it to cook, sometimes for days.
In the bar setting, this setup is often used for rapid infusion of products, precisely extracting flavors from herbs and fruits (i.e.fresh rosemary without the bitterness), making a custom gin for individual customers just to name a few.
So if it’s only $100 dollar item, why did it make this “wish” list? I’m so glad you asked… If the bar is set in a restaurant environment, the sous vide machines are being used by the kitchen for food production. So unless you are using the same exact temperature that already happens to be dialed into the machine, you may not be able to sneak your items into the production cycle. Having a dedicated sous vide machine, (or 5) would allow the bar to have the same amount of control over their ingredient production. (Now we’re talking!)
Perlage, the parent company makes 3 different carbonating systems:
- The Perlage system, which is meant for preserving and carbonating wine
- The Perlini system, which is a carbonating gun that adds CO2 to one of their Perlini shakers
- …and then the flagship system, the Fizz IQ bottling system.
If I had to choose one piece of equipment on this list, it would probably be this piece of shiny, glorious machine.
The Fizz IQ dispenses carbonated liquid into a sealable glass container and allows you to make cocktails well before your first guest enters the building. The other Perlage systems and just about every carbonating system that I’ve seen up to this point needs the operator to shake the drink while injecting the CO2 into the container a la minute, which can ruin some of the theater. From my understanding you can control the level of carbonation that goes into the bottle and the volume that each bottle is filled to. It will also fill at a rate of 120 bottles an hour.
Imagine working in a busy bar, and being able to pour a delicious carbonated craft cocktail faster than the customers credit card can get authorized. Or perhaps serving a carbonated cocktail table side with your own branded bottles. You could definitely have some fun with this machine! That is, if your manager has a credit card with at least $5k available…
The next three machines sound like they belong in either a lab setting or a Dr. Who episode:
Mentioned by a friend on Facebook, I had to do a quick read on google search to find out exactly what this thing is and what it does. Essentially it’s a tool that uses sound waves to mix liquids and fats together and make them into one single homogenous liquid. (Hence the name!)
In the bar world, we typically use two different solvents in the bar world: alcohol and water. Of course, using alcohol to extract the flavor of cucumber for example will give you a much different flavor then if you extract cucumber flavor in water. The third substance that you could use to extract flavor is oil, but we rarely use this as an extraction source because it has difficulty uniformly mixing with water. Now you can see the importance of such a tool behind the bar or in the kitchen.
Imagine being able to extract basil, lemon and chile in olive oil then being able to homogenize them into one liquid. The applications are endless! I’ll definitely be adding this one to the Christmas list, but starting at $2800, I don’t think I’ll be getting one anytime soon.
If you would have told me in high school and college that I would be using the same equipment from chemistry and biology classes in a professional career, I would have told you that you were crazy. Lo and behold, the centrifuge has made its way into high end bar programs.
The beauty of using the centrifuge is in producing clear, flavorful infusions, extracts and syrups. If you are doing clarification for your keg cocktail program, this would be an extremely valuable tool.
If you remembe
r from chemistry class, the yield that you can get from a centrifuge is extremely limited. I remember pipetting into tiny vials or test tubes and letting it spin for quite some time in order to get a clear separation. Hardly worth the time and energy for a bar program, but thanks to David Arnold, you can now have a centrifuge (The Spinzall) that can produce large quantities of material for around $1000.
Rotovaps (Rotary Evaporator)
I saved the most complicated machine for last with the Rotovap. The Rotovap, or rotary evaporator, definitely looks like it would be right at home in a lab, or maybe even a horror film. Complete with glass coils, rotating flasks and hoses, the only thing missing for the horror film look would be a Tesla coil on top.
Don’t let the looks fool you, it is actually a very complicated machine. At its heart it is basically a still, (the same kind of still that produces the spirits that we serve to our guests.) Next, close the entire system and introduce a vacuum. Alcohol evaporates at a lower temperature when it is under vacuum, so if you wanted to preserve the flavor of fresh ingredients and avoid introducing them to high temperatures, this could be a great way to do that.
There are a couple of other cool features like the rotating distilling flask that helps to increase surface area and the temperature controlled water bath that will gently heat what you are trying to distill.
Before you end up shelling out the $12,000 for a new machine, you’ll want to check with your lawyer and local laws. This is for all intents and purposes a still and you could theoretically make spirits in it. The last thing you want to do is find yourself on the bad side of a legal battle.
With Great Power comes Great Responsibility
Just like with any other new technique, incorporating new technology and pieces of equipment takes a lot of research and training. Make sure you fully understand how each machine works and the products that you are creating. Some of the tools above are designed for lab applications and may not actually be food safe – so you’ll want to speak with the manufacturer first to make absolutely sure that what you are doing is safe. (Safe for your customers but also for your bar team!)
Remember, it only takes one mistake to ruin things for all of us: if some bar program accidentally creates a cocktail that hurts a customer and it’s publicized, the industry as a whole is likely to see far greater restrictions on homemade ingredients. (Not to mention that we really don’t want anyone to get hurt!)