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Microwave Your Manhattan

Ryan Chetiyawardana has an unorthodox method for upgrading stirred classics.

manhattan microwave

He opened his first bar just seven years ago, but Ryan Chetiyawardana has already established himself as one of the bar world’s most forward-thinking players. The London-based bartender who goes by the moniker Mr. Lyan is the force behind the eponymous bar empire that includes Super Lyan (Amsterdam), Lyaness and Cub (London) and the recently opened Silver Lyan (Washington, D.C.).

Known for his assiduously researched cocktail techniques rooted in science, Chetiyawardana’s preference for esoteric—and downright weird—ingredients like bone, ambergris, wax, snails and koji stems from his passion for the natural world. His emphasis on hospitality, meanwhile, fuels his sustainability initiatives; his bygone White Lyan in London offered a menu that included no perishables, not even ice, and entirely pre-batched cocktails that were ready to drink immediately upon ordering. Chetiyawardana prefers, instead, to maximize efficiency to better facilitate staff interactions with guests.

Following this principle, Chetiyawardana introduced the Nuked Negroni in his 2015 book, Good Things to Drink with Mr Lyan and Friends, as a batched cocktail prepared in the microwave for near-instantaneous flavor infusion. “The idea came about from two perspectives: the geekery I’ve done at work and at home, and my research for our ‘time travel’ series,” he says, referencing a project that attempted to replicate, via accelerated methods, the flavors, texture and depth of aged products. “I was seeking ways to cheat time and mimic the flavors that come from extensive aging, for use as a time-saving bar technique.”

A microwave, which produces an intense blast of heat by utilizing electromagnetic radiation, proved to be a useful tool in this pursuit. Rather than cooking the alcohol in the Negroni and other similar recipes, Chetiyawardana says it “softens and integrates the mix, harmonizing the flavors on the spot.”

Much of his insight into flavor development came courtesy of conversations with Compass Box master whiskymaker John Glaser, who discussed how flavors change and evolve in barrel-aged spirits, and Harold McGee, author of On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen. “I learned that alcohol doesn’t fully homogenize when instantly mixed, and how time and temperature affect and change flavor,” says Chetiyawardana. While conducting initial trials in his own kitchen, Chetiyawardana realized how helpful a microwave could be for the home bar. Not everyone cooks regularly—or at all—and nuking eliminates the need to watch a timer or adjust temperature, once the power perimeters are established. Microwaves also don’t add residual heat once an item is cooked. “You just combine the ingredients, close the door, program the time and forget about it,” says Chetiyawardana.

At the Lyan family of bars, an industrial microwave (which has three times more power than home models) is used to soften a set of flavors. “We’ve made vermouths this way, and we sometimes do side-by-side comparisons to see if we prefer the microwaved version or the classic preparation,” says Chetiyawardana. “It tends to work on drinks we would age, rather than ones where a brighter, punchier flavor is desired.”

For the scale of his bars, the drink ingredients are poured into vacuum-sealable, microwave-proof bags; for home use, Chetiyawardana notes that you can substitute a glass bowl with a plate on top. “You want to be careful with potential transference of materials, which can affect flavor. It’s also critical to avoid cooking off the alcohol, so make sure the vessel is closed.”

For this story, Chetiyawardana adapted three recipes for the home bar, emphasizing mellow, rounded flavors. The Project Manhattan combines Westward Whiskey, selected for its “cacao, red berry, herbal and piney notes,” with Applejack, a blend of vermouths and blackcurrant cordial. “The other ingredients lift the sides of the drink,” says Chetiyawardana, “while still allowing the whiskey to shine.” An improvised “sloe gin” is created using Campari and vermouth instead, to extract maximum depth and flavor from the fresh berries, while the classic Vieux Carré swaps fragrant Tasmanian Leatherwood honey and fresh and dried aromatics in place of Bénédictine.

Part of Chetiyawardana’s fascination with the microwave as a bar tool comes down to the fact that, at heart, he’s a pragmatist. “I understand the controversy,” he says. “But everything needs to have a function and reasoning for me—it’s never about gimmick . . . This method is really about allowing home and professional bartenders to take back control.”

Project Manhattan (Duck and Cover Edition)

The name is a tongue-in-cheek reference to the “nuking” methodology in this update of the boozy classic. Microwaving lends itself best to batched cocktails with softer flavor profiles; here, Chetiyawardana selected Westward Whiskey for its bold “cacao, red berry, herbal and piney notes.” Applejack, a blend of vermouths and blackcurrant cordial “lift the sides of the drink, while still allowing the whiskey to shine.”

Sloe & Fast Americano

Chetiyawardana notes that sloe gin is best when made with enough time to allow the flavors to develop, as the tart fruit infuses with the botanical spirit base. A microwave and sweeter, lower-proof Campari and vermouth are his way of “cheating the process,” to extract depth and add fruitiness and a sour pop to the batched cocktail.

Vieux Carré

“The beauty of microwave infusion is that the application of intense heat for a short time teases out flavors without overcooking,” says Chetiyawardana. The method works well for a batched variation on this popular classic, with fragrant, delicately spiced Tasmanian Leatherwood honey and fresh and dried aromatics replacing the traditional Bénédictine.

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