A well-made cocktail is a wonderful thing, like a tiny work of consumable art. Done right, it is a lesson in balance: sweet with sour with bitter with savoury with boozy bite.
But, it’s not just our taste buds that get involved – smell, touch, sight and even sound can all have an impact on our drinking experience.
The multi-sensory creations of experimental chefs such as Ferran Adrià and Heston Blumenthal are now the stuff of modern legend, even among those of us who haven’t had the pleasure of dining in their restaurants. Dishes such as Blumenthal’s The Sounds of the Sea, complete with an iPod playing seas sounds hidden inside a shell, bring together complex layers of sensory stimulation to create an all-enveloping experience.
There’s even a scientific discipline, informally known as ‘gastrophysics’, that is dedicated to studying the minutiae of how we experience food and drink and how factors such as the colour, texture and weight of plates and cutlery or background noise affect our sense of taste.
And now, the world of mixology is also increasingly harnessing the science behind flavour and taste to create immersive experiences using techniques such as aroma, fogs, foams, sounds, special glassware and liquid nitrogen to stimulate multiple senses and transport drinkers to another place or time.
If this has got you intrigued, here are four suggestions for where you can get a bit of multi-sensory cocktail action around the UK.
With five branches across Leeds, Manchester and London, The Alchemist bar chain provides a great beginner’s introduction to the world of experimental cocktails. With a mission to tempt guests into spicing up their drinking habit, the extensive cocktail list is sure to woo the most hardened pint-drinker into trying something a lot more exciting (although pints are still available as well).
The Alchemist's signature cocktails use a variety of molecular drinks-making techniques to surprise, baffle and confound your taste buds in a most pleasant manner – and they look pretty great as well.
Shortcross Sensory Experience
The Shortcross Gin team are seasoned participants in the world of multi-sensory mixology. Shortcross Brand Ambassador Nicola Spiers tells us, “it fascinates us how stimulating or heightening one sense can change your entire perception of taste.” Launching in 2016, Shortcross Gin’s new Rademon Estate Visitor Centre will take gin fans on an experimental cocktail journey.
The exact details of the experience are top secret, but the Shortcross Sensory Story event which took place as part of last year’s Dublin Cocktail Week gives a glimpse into what might be in store. Designed in partnership with Dublin experimental mixologists The Alchemists, this event included exploding scent-filled helium balloons, sound recordings from the Rademon Estate, and gin and tonic jelly balls disguised as Juniper berries.
The Bar with No Name
Tony Conigliaro is a giant of the London bar scene whose experimental work in the field of drink making is internationally renowned. In 2005, he founded the Drink Factory, a research and development laboratory dedicated to pushing the boundaries of bartending. The results of its experiments can be experienced in Conigliaro’s flagship bar in Islington, an unassuming establishment called The Bar with No Name (or, more helpfully, 69 Colebrooke Row).
The menu changes to feature the latest discoveries of the Drink Factory, but you should be able to get your lips on what’s become known as its signature drink, the Prairie Oyster – a deconstructed Bloody Mary, rebuilt in the form of a partially solidified ‘tomato yolk’ and served in a ceramic oyster shell.
Bompas & Parr’s Alcoholic Architecture
Bompas & Parr is a creative studio whose projects blur the boundaries between flavour and culinary research, and art installation. The studio first gained renown with its jaw-dropping jelly-making skills (far from your average birthday party jelly and ice cream), and has has since gone on to create immersive flavour-based experiences such as the world’s first multi-sensory fireworks and – take a deep breath – an inhabitable cloud of gin and tonic.
Their latest installation is a ‘walk in cloud bar’ at London’s Borough Market where visitors are immersed in a cloud of breathable cocktail. Described as “an alcoholic weather system for your tongue where meteorology and mixology collide,” the Alcoholic Architecture experience is open until July 2016.