High-Tech Drinks for Amateurs and Pros: 3 Techniques, 7 Recipes



Nils pouring shots of rotovapped liquor.

Rotary evaporators are laboratory vacuum stills. They operate at low temperatures in a low-oxygen environment. They can preserve flavors that might be damaged during ordinary distillation. Rotovaps are also very efficient at recovering all the flavors in a distillation rather than letting them boil into the ether. Walk into a room with a properly running rotovap and you smell nothing—all the aroma is in the booze. For a full explanation, see the Rotovap primer.

Even though it is illegal to distill alcohol (even for personal consumption, even if you don't sell it) I always distill alcohol-based mixtures because I have found water-based distillations weak and disappointing, until now. I recently developed a technique for legal distillation using water—see my post on legal distillation [link to previous post we ran by him]. I'm not yet 100-percent satisfied with the technique, but Star Chefs was the first time I have demoed legal distillation in public, and people seemed to enjoyed it. I made a legal Thai basil and orange peel liquor so folks could compare it to the Bangkok Daiquiri (instructive, even though the spirit base was different).

Lastly, we presented a rotovap concept piece—definitely not feasible for a bar:

Beaumes de Venise Mutant Sidecar


Nils making Beaumes de Venise sorbet.

Beaumes de Venise (BdV) is a sweet Muscat wine from the Rhône Valley. We like it a lot. We also like the brandy that we make from it in our rotary evaporator. Since one of the main flavor notes of the traditional Sidecar is orange, we thought the Muscat-redolent BdV-brandy would be great in a Sidecar. We had two problems—the Sidecar needs the oak flavor of an aged brandy to be balanced properly (which our BdV brandy didn't have), and distilling the alcohol off the BdV left us with a lot of leftover nonalcoholic wine that we didn't want to waste. Normally, we would reduce the leftover wine at around 45 C in the rotary evaporator to syrup. BdV syrup is nectar of the gods, but it takes a long time to make. I didn't have five hours of constant attention to devote, so instead we made the leftover wine into a fantastic sorbet using liquid nitrogen. We served the sorbet as a sidecar to the Sidecar.

For the missing oak, I distilled some VSOP cognac in the rotovap and was left with a clear cognac distillate that retained a lot of the cognac's character, but didn't have any of the non-volatile oak notes that characterize an aged spirit. What was left over was a reduced solution of aged oak essence. We served the clear cognac as-is and added the oak to our BdV brandy to make "aged" BdV brandy with which we made a traditional Sidecar.


2 parts mutant BdV brandy
1 part Cointreau
1/2 part strained lemon juice
pinch salt

Shake and drink.

We finished only five minutes over our allotted time, after which we caught a breath—and a drink.

This post also appears on CookingIssues.com. All photos courtesy of Cooking Issues.

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As Director of Culinary Technology of The French Culinary Institute at The International Culinary Center, Dave Arnold helps chefs achieve their most ambitious goals using new technologies, techniques, and ingredients. He also writes for the FCI's Cooking Issues blog. More

Dave Arnold began tinkering with restaurant equipment after earning his MFA from Columbia University's School of the Arts. After meeting chef Wylie Dufresne, Arnold became even more passionate about all things culinary (the high-tech cooking movement in particular) and focused his engineering and inventing skills on professional and home cooking.

Arnold is an award-winning food writer and contributing editor for equipment and food science at Food Arts, and he lectures around the country at universities and industry conferences. He has been featured in Food & Wine, TIME, The New York Times, The New York Times Magazine, Esquire, The Economist, and Popular Science, among other publications. He lives in New York City with his wife and two sons, and he received a bachelor's degree in philosophy from Yale University.

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