I am a wannabe chemist.
When I was in high school, I was lucky enough to be chosen to take part in REMS^2, a program for students who were gifted in math and science. My prospective major in college was biochemistry. I was a total science geek.
Alas, I was more gifted in the abstract concepts of science than in the practical work, and not at all gifted in math. Biochemistry was not for me, and I soon found fulfillment and significantly better grades in the subject that everyone thought I’d have chosen in the first place; namely, English. While I don’t regret the switch, I still really like science, but take it in mostly via its pop-cultural forms. I listen to RadioLab, and read books like Parasite Rex (which is amazing and gross) and Mutants: On Genetic Variety and the Human Body. I am a dilettante supreme.
It was a book called On Food and Cooking that made me realize that the kitchen is a lab, too, and I am much better at navigating it than one filled with Bunsen burners and test tubes. Harold McGee’s ruminations on Maillard reactions and the interesting chemical properties of milk was just the first step – chefs like Ferran Adria and Wylie Dufresne take this a step further, of course, with actual chemistry experiments in the kitchen. Unlike these gentlemen and their disciples, I have very little interest in buying sodium alginate and food dehydrators to make bizarre-but-beautiful deconstructions of common foods. However, I mentioned in this post, I have a fondness for cocktails and cocktail culture. Alcohol is a chemical!
So, I decided to go beyond just following the recipes for drinks I like, and start making my own. It’s been an interesting process. Some ideas fall flat because of the wrong ingredients – I’ve learned that I just don’t LIKE creme de cacao. Other times I’ve been stymied by the appropriate water balance – the other night I made a drink that tasted horrible until the ice melted because I didn’t mix it with enough in the first place. Through it all, though, I get all of the thrills of experimentation and discovery with none of the fear of explosions – and a very manageable amount of math.
Here’s a very simple recipe I started out with – just a flavor addition to a classic. I’ll post more successes as they come!
2.5 oz Hendricks Gin (the floral notes of Hendrick’s work better than other gins, I find)
1 oz fresh lemon juice (don’t be lazy, squeeze the danged lemon)
.75 oz lavender syrup (I tried doing it with muddled lavender, but there were bits. No one likes bits)
Lavender sprig for garnish
Shake everything except the club soda. Strain into a collins glass filled with ice. Top with club soda, add the lavender sprig, and you’re good!
This is adapted from the recipe in The Joy of Mixology, my cocktail textbook. If you have any interest in cocktail science I strongly recommend this book!