We judge food not only based on flavor, but texture. The experience of eating a dish as simple as a salad can depend on the texture of its ingredients—hence the utility, and ubiquity, of the crouton. Or bread crumbs dusted over a bowl of pasta. Or simply using corn starch to thicken a sauce.
Texture, however, is often overlooked when it comes to cocktails.
It’s no surprise, of course, that the egg white is one of the best-known texture modifiers; it traps air in the liquid and gives your drink that light and silky smooth texture. But there are plenty of more experimental alternatives—from soy lecithin to leftover chickpea water, to a technique called “wax-washing.” Each offers a different textural complexity, letting you play with the sensory perception of a drink. Here, a look at some of the techniques and ingredients we used to achieve textural complexity in drinks at White Lyan.
Soy lecithin is a phospholipid that acts as an emulsifier, much like an egg yolk. Granulated and employed by way of a 10 percent solution in water, soy lecithin (which is available at most health food stores or via Amazon) can smooth out mixtures of oil and water (think, egg yolks in mayo), but it can also work as a stabilizer; if you were to blitz a soy lecithin-infused drink with an emulsion blender (or shaker), it would stabilize the water-air interface to create a silkier foam than you’d get from employing egg white. How? Parts of soy lecithin molecules are hydrophilic, which means they are attracted to water and will blend with it. But other parts of the lecithin molecules are also hydrophobic, which means they actually hate water. The hydrophobic ends of the molecule will coat the inside of the air bubbles to stay as far as possible from water, while the hydrophilic ends of the soy lecithin molecule will buddy up with water, coating the outside of the air bubble. This combo is what yields a particularly silken texture in our Hibiscus Gin Sour 1.0.
Need to add a little extra froth to your drink? Use the water leftover from a can of chickpeas. Known in the vegan community as “aquafaba,” chickpea water’s magical foaming properties have been discovered quite recently. Much like soy lecithin, aquafaba is an amphiphatic substance (meaning that it contains both hydrophilic and hydrophobic molecules) made up of proteins, starches, free sugars and traces of saponins (the stuff that makes soap foam). You don’t need a lot of it to create foam on a drink like Whisky Sour or a Gin Fizz; about a quarter to a third of an ounce will give your drink a fluffier texture.
Fat- and Wax-Washing Tips
Fat-Washing at Home
- Heat up any oil or butter of your choice and mix it with a room temperature spirit in a freeze-proof container.
- Leave it covered to infuse for few hours; the length of infusion depends on intensity you are after.
- Once done, transfer it into a freezer so the fat can turn solid.
- Skim the fat from the top and filter the spirit through a coffee filter.
Wax-Washing at Home
- Heat up the wax of your choice in a jug immersed in a pot of boiling water (i.e. a makeshift bain-marie).
- While the wax is still hot pour a bit into any glass bottle and then roll the hot wax around to coat the inside of the bottle.
- Pour the spirit of your choice into the bottle and leave to infuse at room temperature for a week (or longer if you fancy). You can reuse the same bottle many times.
Though its often called upon to impart unconventional flavors, fat-washing—infusing a spirit with a fatty substance—is also a relatively easy way to add a richer, heavier texture to a drink. There are plenty of fats to choose from. Good old butter pairs beautifully with bourbon (brown it first to add toasty and malty flavors to your infusion, or switch it up by working with sheep or goat butter). Meanwhile, coconut oil and cacao butter, my two favorite infusion fats, offer even more decadent results. Coconut oil gives a spirit a very creamy texture with a slight tinge of coconut flavor, while cacao butter gives off a chocolate aroma without being overly heavy. At White Lyan, we employed cacao butter in our Southside Royale (Mr Lyan Gin, lemon, cacao butter, sparkling wine), while I’ve combined coconut oil and cacao butter with gin for my Monkey Fizz.
While wax-washing may seem out-there, it very much follows the same principles of fat-washing: like fats, most waxes will partly dissolve in alcohol. At White Lyan, our appropriately named Beeswax Old Fashioned called on a beeswax “wash” to add a smooth and velvety texture and a honeyed aroma. We’ve also used candelilla wax, a plant-based wax derived from a Mexican desert shrub that is widely used in the cosmetics industry. When infused into a spirit like bourbon, it adds an intense waxy texture with a touch of bitterness. Edible paraffin wax (the same wax candles are made from) can also be used to introduce an almost marshmallow-like mouthfeel to a cocktail; we use it in the Candlelit Manhattan, which is part of Mr Lyan’s line of pre-bottled cocktails.
The use of hydrocolloids—like xanthan gum, guar gum, tapioca, gelatin or pectin, which all form gels when in contact with water—are an easy way to add viscosity to a drink, and each substance will provide different results. For very light yet stable foams, we use a combination of gelatin, agar agar and xanthan gum dissolved into boiling water (agar agar needs to be activated at 212 degrees Fahrenheit). If you’re simply looking to thicken a fruit syrup, try pectin, which is widely used as a gelling agent in jams. We added it to blackcurrant juice to create a “paint,” which we then used to coat the inside rim of the glass for our Purple Paint (Mr Lyan Aquavit, lemon, aronia, blackcurrant paint). It not only provided an aroma, but also allowed the drink to sweeten as it diluted.