Sunday, September 2, 2012

Drink 201: Balls Well That Ends Well

Are you tired of drinking beverages that are entirely liquid?  Do you believe that America’s decline is due in large part to alcoholic beverages can be made simply by pouring the ingredients into a glass?  Is the prospect of making dozens of jokes about “blue balls” appealing to you?  Then the Cocktail R-evolution Gin Tonic is probably right up your alley.

You may recall from our last post that Mrs. Bottle and I have recently become chemists.  But instead of cooking up meth Walter White-style, we are mixing up interesting new drinks.  Even though our emulsification experiment was a bit of a failure, we remain undeterred.  This week we went with spherification, also know as balling. 

Actually, this looks a lot like Heisenberg meth.

Spherification is the process of turning a liquid into tiny spheres (or balls).  The spheres have the size and consistency of salmon roe.  The good news is that our balls didn’t taste like fish eggs.  Instead they were made with tonic water and blue Curaçao so they tasted like tonic water and blue Curaçao.  But the consistency was dead on.

Turning a liquid into blue balls takes a lot of teasing and a little chemistry.  The first step is to mix the tonic water and blue Curaçao with sodium alginate (NaC6H7O6) powder.  Even though its empirical formula spells “nacho”, the powder tasted horrible on a Tostito.  That isn’t that surprising since it is extracted from brown algae. Its purpose is to create a gelatin-like substance out of liquid.

When Mrs. Bottle mixed the powder in using our last-century hand mixer, she happened to splash some of the blue liquigel onto the counter.  To the untrained observer it appeared to be a careless spill, but the trained observer would realize she was ritualistically pouring some on the counter as a tribute to our fallen homies.  Luckily our countertops are stain resistant since the same tribute happened last time she tried to mix something.

Spherification in action
After the NaCHO was assimilated into the liquid, we used a pipette to drip the mixture into a calcium lactate (C6H10CaO) bath and make little balls.  Sadly, calcium lactate’s empirical formula spells “chcao” which doesn’t lend itself to any cheap jokes.  I also am not sure what the point of the calcium bath is other that to wash our balls.   I guess it must somehow contribute to the making of the spheres, but our kit came with no details so I’ll just go with ball washing.

That lime slice looks suspiciously
like a lemon wedge
Once we had a sufficient number of balls, we made the drink.  The recipe DVD didn’t have many specifics on the recipe.  It just had us dip our balls into two ounces of gin with some lime slices.  No ice or other tonic water other than that which had been gellified.  Since we are sticklers for the rules we tried it that way even though we know it would probably be horrible.  Much to our surprise, it was indeed horrible.  It was pretty much just drinking straight lukewarm gin with a bunch of fish-egg looking things on the bottom of the glass.  I didn’t get any balls in my mouth and probably would have had to shoot the whole thing in order to get even one.  And not just because it would have relaxed my inhibitions.  Those suckers were stuck on the bottom.

After adding some ice and tonic water
Neato, eh?
We ultimately added some ice and tonic water and turned it into more of a traditional Gin and Tonic, which is delicious.  The balls floated in the tonic and I got some in my mouth in almost every sip. I actually thought the spheres were pretty good and added an interesting textural element to the drink.  Each time I bit into one there was a tiny orange explosion in my mouth.  Mrs. Bottle, on the other hand, did not enjoy chewing her drink and would prefer her next one to be ball free.  It probably will be unless I am feeling mischievous.

Overall Rating for Gin Tonic

Taste: 3
Presentation: 5
Ease of Preparation: 1
Drinks Until Blackout: 3 - All gin


Tonic Water
Blue Curaçao
Sodium Alginate
Calcium Lactate

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