It looks like any other Martini. But at Los Angeles’s Thunderbolt, the classically dry cocktail is transformed into a complex umami bomb with one sleeper ingredient: tomato water.
“Reads like a salad, drinks like a Martini,” states the menu description of The Liquid Picnic, a mixture of gin, vermouth, salt, pepper and the aforementioned clarified tomato water.
Working from the now-familiar technique of pre-diluting, pre-batching and freezing cocktails ahead of service, Thunderbolt bar manager Mike Capoferri takes the process a step further. Rather than dilute the pre-batched mixture with filtered water, he opts instead for clarified tomato water, which adds texture and subtle savory notes to the drink while working double-time as the drink’s only form of dilution. The drink is then stored in a freezer that has been custom-calibrated to 20 degrees Fahrenheit (“well below the freezing point of water”), ready to pour when ordered. “[It] looks like a cold bowl of gin, but has surprising flavors and mouthfeel,” he says.
To make the clarified tomato water, Capoferri starts with fresh tomato, blanched and chopped, then blends it in a Vitamix, adding enzymes to break down the pectin in the fruit. After the mixture is spun in a centrifuge, a clear liquid emerges. The unexpected ingredient acts as a way to “sneak umami richness” into a drink, he says.
For a more home-friendly variation, he suggests making traditional tomato water by blanching tomatoes, then straining them through cheesecloth overnight to drain the tomato water, which will provide a similar flavor, but with a subtle tinge of color. Capoferri also recommends mixing at least a double serving of the drink, then setting it in the freezer for about five hours—“as cold as you can before ice crystals start forming.” At that point, it’s ready to drink, save for a quick lemon twist over the surface.
In addition to the Liquid Picnic or other Martini-style drinks, Capoferri suggests trying out tomato water in plays on the Bloody Mary, creating a clarified drink by swapping out tomato juice, or the Paloma, replacing or supplementing grapefruit juice. In general, any drink made with white spirits could benefit from tomato’s “vegetal brightness” and natural sweetness. “It’s a way to add an unctuous umami note,” he says, though he draws the line at stirred-style drinks made with dark spirits. “A nightcap-style drink is probably not your friend with a tomato cocktail,” he adds.
Yet for so many other cocktail formulas, tomato water has the potential to add complexity— even an air of mystery.
“It adds a question mark—what is that?” Capoferri says. “If you don’t know what you’re drinking, it doesn’t read as tomato right off the bat.”