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How to “Flash Blend” Your Way to a Better Frothy Drink

Dated as it might seem, the "Hamilton Beach" stand-up mixer has a variety of practical applications in modern drink-making.

Even if it’s made by another brand, most bartenders still refer to the stand-up mixer as, simply, the “Hamilton Beach.” While they might seem dated by today’s standards, these mid-century, malt shop-style mixers are increasingly becoming a common sight in bars, where they’re used to make a variety of modern cocktails, especially in the tiki tradition. 

According to tiki expert Martin Cate, who dedicates an entire section of his book, Smuggler’s Cove, to the stand-up mixer (also known as the spindle blender, milkshake machine or flash blender), the device first started to come into use for cocktails in the 1920s. It enjoyed nearly two decades of popularity before being replaced by the Waring blender (today’s standard-issue blender), which was introduced in 1938.

The two designs have very different effects on the outcome of a drink. Whereas Waring blenders work from the bottom up, turning crushed ice into a frozen-style cocktail, drink mixers blend from the top down, which leaves much of the ice intact while offering aeration and dilution.

“In just three or four short seconds of ‘flash blending’ it will effectively chill, perfectly dilute and aerate your cocktail, making it frothy, waking up the citrus and pushing the aromatics to the surface of the drink as the air rises,” explains Cate, who typically blends with a combination of crushed ice, plus a few larger “agitator cubes,” then pours the entire contents of the mixer directly into the glass. “In the tradition of the exotic cocktail,” he adds, “the technique makes sense for a few reasons, including the use of heavy syrups that require additional dilution.”

Garret Richard, a New York-based tiki bartender, formerly of Slowly Shirley, agrees. He points to the classic Pearl Diver cocktail, as well as his own Mystery Gimlet (both of which include Gardenia Mix, made with honey and butter), as prime beneficiaries of the stand-up mixer. Whereas standard-issue blenders will often result in a drink that’s either too thick or too thin, something that bartenders typically compensate for by adding additional spirit or sweetener, that’s not the case when using a stand-up mixer. “Flash blending gets you right in that sweet spot; you’re not over-sweetening or over-boozing your drinks,” says Richard, adding that the technique results in a texturally “lighter, more palatable drink.”

Another application that has even non-tiki bartenders integrating these mixers into service is for frothy egg- and egg white-based cocktails. It’s been spotted at the Jerry Thomas Project in Rome for that purpose, as well as in New Orleans at Cane & Table, where partner Nick Detrich says the drink mixer will cause a cocktail to foam up so aggressively that it creates “a Ramos Gin Fizz with a Ramos back.”

At Pouring Ribbons in New York, Joaquín Simó uses a stand-up mixer for fizzes and has also relied on it to incorporate heavy miso-butterscotch syrup into the Takashi Murakami cocktail, a Scotch-based drink mixed with pineapple and sherry that was part of the recently-retired “Revolutionary Artists” menu.

As for which mixer to buy, Cate recommends three road-tested models—the Hamilton Beach 760C Classic DrinkMaster Drink Mixer, the Waring PDM series Drink Mixer and the Hamilton Beach Single-Spindle Drink Mixer HMD200 Series—though he cautions that these “commercial, weapons-grade” versions aren’t must-haves for home bars.

Richard agrees, and suggests using an immersion blender, also known as a hand blender, instead for similar results. In fact, he once watched Bologna-based “tiki maestro” Daniele Dalla Pola “rocking a hand blender… like the kind you use in a kitchen to make soup” when they worked together at the Hukilau tiki festival in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

“A hand blender is a more economic way to do this,” says Richard, who estimates that the smaller, easy-to-carry tool can offer 70 to 80 percent of the power of a stand-up mixer. Plus, he says, “It’s difficult to carry a Hamilton Beach in a suitcase.”

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