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A Better Way to Batch and Fizz

Biciclettas, Mojitos and tequila-sodas for a crowd are just an iSi away.

When the whipped cream dispenser was invented in the 1930s, it’s unlikely its creators ever envisioned the kitchen gadget becoming a backbar staple. But today, after making a triumphant return to the culinary world on the coattails of molecular gastronomy in the 1990s, professional and home bartenders alike have discovered new applications for the versatile piece of equipment, using it to make everything from rapid infusions and espumas to batched cocktails, dispensed from the canister with boldly carbonated results.

In a nutshell, the cream whipper—most professionals use the iSi brand—can be used in one of two ways for making complete cocktails: to add texture and infuse flavors from solid ingredients into a liquid mixture via nitrous oxide (N2O), or to carbonate a cocktail via carbon dioxide (CO2). It’s this latter capability that has proved especially useful for the home bartender seeking a suitable off-the-shelf alternative to the large scale, sophisticated carbonation rig found in many of the world’s best cocktail bars.

“Having started my bartending career in Greece where the level of bartending equipment wasn’t the most advanced, my first exploration of carbonation was by using the iSi whipper,” says Angelos Bafas, bar manager at the recently opened Soma, an Indian-influenced speakeasy in London’s Soho neighborhood. “Now, many bars use efficient carbonation systems for large-scale service, but when it comes to carbonating individual drinks, or doing tasting trials for a menu, using an iSi whipper is still the go-to solution.”

Carbonate for a Crowd

For optimal results when using the whipper for CO2-charged drinks, just remember Dave Arnold’s three C’s of carbonation: clarity, coldness and composition. The drink should be as clear as possible, as close to freezing as possible and—to achieve ideal carbonation—use more CO2 for higher-ABV drinks. Then follow Angelos Bafas’ instructions below.

1. Keep the liquid, the whipper and even carbon dioxide bulbs chilled.

2. With a funnel, add the liquid into the whipper.

3. Charge one bulb and de-gas by holding the trigger valve to create the vacuum in the canister.

4. Keep the whipper upside-down, charge with another bulb, shake vigorously for a few seconds, then store upright in the refrigerator. Leave the cocktail to settle in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours, allowing the CO2 to integrate into the cocktail.

5. When it comes time to serve, de-gas the whipper by pressing the trigger valve, then unscrew the head and pour

Patrick Abalos, managing partner at Night Shift in Houston, agrees that the iSi whipper is ready-made for research and development. In fact, it’s what he used to workshop the Scotch-based Tropical Highball, before scaling it up for the bar’s draft program as part of an early menu. “For R&D at a bar, the iSi whipper is great for single batches,” he explains.

At Allegory in downtown Washington, D.C., meanwhile, the iSi whipper is the bar’s only option for force-carbonated cocktails since they simply lack the space for a larger CO2 rig. “We use one CO2 cartridge (the cost equivalent of 30 cents) per every four cocktails we serve, so it is relatively cost effective,” he says. “The cocktail comes out wonderfully carbonated and it is fun for the guest to watch the entire process.” 

For classic cocktails that typically require soda water, such as tequila-sodas and Biciclettas, carbonating with an iSi whipper eliminates the need for mixers altogether and provides a sharper, more even carbonation and the option to make a round of up to four drinks at a time; the only factor which needs accounting for is dilution.

“Dilution is a crucial part of carbonation,” Bafas points out. “If you are planning to carbonate a long drink, such as a Mojito (sans leaves), then the dilution added should equal the amount of soda used in the classic serve.” For example, if a Mojito calls for 3 ounces of soda water, then plan on adding 3 ounces of water to the mix before carbonating the drink. At Soma, the cocktail menu features a riff on the classic Mojito called the Menta, in which dilution is added via mint-infused water, while a mint cordial boosts the drink’s minty character.

“In terms of a rule of thumb for added dilution, it is fully dependent on the drink, but 3 to 10 percent is optimal for what we do” notes Three Sheets’ owner Noel Venning, who serves a his autumnal highball, Rye and Dry, from an iSi dispenser. 

While many bars prefer draft systems for carbonated and N2O-charged cocktails at scale, the whipper gives bartenders a way to trial new concepts, and is perfectly suitable for home bartenders who are eager to create more forcefully carbonated cocktail batches in their own kitchens or simply test the boundaries of the technique as Abalos has: “Our team tried carbonating a Martini once” he notes. Needless to say, it’s still a work in progress.

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