12 February 2009

Rain Drop Moijto

The Old School of the Savoy: Ex head bartenders: Joe Gilmore, Peter Dorelli and Victor

Alchemy part 2 by Giles Gavin-Cowen

The philosophers stone is often described in beautifully paradoxical terms, it is seemingly the ultimate tautology of the alchemists world. The stone also represents the final hurdle of most ancient, and a few modern, western alchemists. Being able to attain such perfection was undoubtedly at the back of every alchemists mind. Although, within various cultures, the philosophers stone underwent a warping of interpretation, or was called by a different name, it's spirit or essence remained unchanged. I would ask of you, whilst reading this piece not to regard the stone as anything tangible or "real" but rather a concept or idea; as an ideal state which is a driving motivational force behind both practical alchemic process and its inherent philosophy.

The stone was the fuel behind many alchemical processes. It drove forty generations of alchemists to dizzying heights and discoveries, we would be lost without in modern chemistry. Perhaps also notable it has been the inspiration bestselling writers, granted in this respect, it is taken with an air of childishness and a hint of artistic licence.

To past alchemists the stone possessed a spiritual power much like a deity or God. It lay consistently out of arms reach but close enough for it to stimulate the imagination and the senses. It's, most famous, function being the transmutation of base metal into pure gold. Others believed it to be the elixir of life, granting renewed and prolonged health or even immortality of a sort. The immortality they spoke of was one regarding the spirit or metaphysical self as appose to the physical body. If sought after with a purity of mind and soul, if all aspects of the self are balanced, the stone would grant a man all that he wished for, wealth, immortality and no doubt power would soon follow.

There were, however, the few mercenary alchemists who sought the stone for no other purpose than that of self gain and selfish endeavour. These men would find nothing but folly in their search for the stone as it lay far out of the reach of the self obsessed mercenary. Finding the stone was a quest for perfection. Aristoleans held that:
"nature strives always towards perfection, it seems logical to suppose an agent promoting this process should exist"
To religious mystics it was mans imperfect nature striving towards perfections, in essence man striving to be more like their creator, God.

The stone was shrouded in paradox and contradiction. Some more subtle in language described these and "ambivalent ideas". What was beyond doubt was the difficulty in attaining the stone, yet it was always at hand, diffused throughout nature. All it required was a clarity of vision to piece it together. The Gloria Mundi an alchemical work of around 1526 stated:

"The stone is familiar to all men, both young and old, is found in the country, in the village, in the town, in all things created by God; yet it is despised by all. Rich and poor handle I everyday. It is cast into the street by servant maids. Children play with it. Yet no one prizes it, though, next to the human soul, it is the most beautiful and the most precious thing on earth, and has the power to pull down kings and princes. Nevertheless, it is esteemed the vilest and meanest of earthly things"

It is obvious that the stone was perhaps etched in the philosophies and religious aspects of the alchemists work, than it was a realistic goal that any of them would ever reach. It does act as a catalyst for insensitive pieces of science and discovery.

Just as alchemists attempted to harness and harmonise the elements to create perfection, so does the modern bartender attempt to create that elusive melding of ingredients. Which in years to come will still be remember and be considered a "classic"; one of those landmark drinks, many will kick themselves and curse for never having realised its simplicity but still be in awe of its complex, complimentary unity of flavour. Perfect harmony of the elements transmuted into a glass of liquid perfection.

Parallels and comparisons can be found with regard to the "classic" and the "stone". The classic no doubt lies at hand to any person working in a bar, or even a person with a well stocked drinks cabinet at home. The concept remains the same, it is always to hand, whether it be an old mans fridge or a young mans bedside table next to the cigarettes. It cannot be forced and if searched or sought with a tainted mind will only result in its own equivalency.

Perhaps a poignant question is "what is a classic"? By official definition it must have been created after Jerry Thomas' 1887 book and prior the prohibition in America. A modern cocktail is deemed to be one made post prohibition but before 1990. Where these definitions were decided I do not know. Personally I find these to be constrictive and unsatisfactory. Are all these recipes not subject to time, and so in 50 or 100 hundred years they could either be forgotten completely or actually considered to be a classic by a different definition. We should be striving to create new classics, influenced by science, discovery and experimentation. Unburdened, they should be, by the oppressions of the four flavour groups. With this is mind, a classic could be considered as something untouchable. Something more like a concept or ideal. A perfect drink, nothing needs to be added and nothing taken away.

The classic becomes the bartenders "philosophers stone". It is what drives us, gives us the perpetual motion of creating new and innovative ingredients and mixes. The quest for perfection whether it be alchemical, mixological or spiritual is no doubt fraught with both frustration and reward. Often the rewards are not what is expected, however, this does not de-value them in any way. Another question of intrigue could be what actually is perfection? Do we really want to achieve it in any work we undertake? By definition we will never be able to outdo a perfect piece of work. Perhaps creating the perfect "classic" cocktail is that crowning moment for any bartender. He will be renowned for an extension of himself and the group of flavours her created, rather than his actual self.

Another question worthy of asking is does the classic or the work of perfection actually appeal to the many or will it's nature be recognisable only to the enlightened or knowledgeable few? We can be sure that some of the greatest most creative and original pieces of art, or music, or flavour pairing went unnoticed or was shunned for its originality. It is only in later years that it can be recognised for as something so far ahead of it's time that it was misunderstood and thus unappreciated. Is it easier to make something that appeals the to already informed masses or make something that the few who understand it complexities will appreciate but then teach the blind the folly of their ways. Granted the latter is no doubt a harder body of work to tackle but should in its own way offer much greater rewards.

I have tried to ask a few, what I believe to be, poignant questions. In this ever growing and evolving world of bartending, we are constantly pushing the boundaries between science, psychology and drinking experience. Should the cocktail not move with us in a similar manner? I would be glad to invite anyone with an interesting view point on the matter to join the debate and see where we end up.

10 February 2009

Molarity Article by Steffi Holt

Glucose diagram: Fig 1
Sucrose diagram: Fig. 2

Periodic Table:

Molarity is a unit used to measure the concentration of a solution. It is based on the molecular weight of 1 molecule of the solute (calculated from the periodic table) in a certain volume of solvent & relates to how many molecules of solute are contained within that volume of solvent.

Solute = thing being dissolved
Solvent = liquid doing the dissolving
Solutoin = Solute + Solvent mixed together

The most relevant solution for bartending is sugar syrup, so we shall work with that as an example of how to calculate the molar strength of a solution.
The solute in sugar syrup is normal sugar, or said in a chemical way, sucrose. The molecular weight is calculated by adding up the weights of all the atoms in one molecule, so to do this you need to know the structure of the solute & the weights of the atoms. This can be found on the periodic table of elements – each atom has its weight displayed below its letter. There also has to be only 1 solute being dissolved in the pure solvent (usually water).

For the structure of Sucrose see fig 1

The chemical structure of sucrose is C12H22O11 meaning its molecular weight is 12 x molecular weight of Carbon(12) added to 22 x the molecular weight of Hydrogen(1) added to 11 x the molecular weight of Oxygen(16). This totals 342, which is the molecular weight of sucrose.
Handily enough, the scientists who came up with Molarity decided that 1 mole of any substance should be the molecular weight in grams. Meaning you have 1 Mole of sucrose when you have 342 grams of it.

To make a 1 molar solution of sucrose, you would measure out 342g of sucrose and add enough pure water to make the total volume of liquid 1 litre. It is important that you don’t just add 1 litre of water as the total volume would be too much – it needs to total 1 litre with the solute in it. You also need to make sure the water is the same temperature every time as liquids change volume with temperature – I think for making sugar syrup hot, but not boiling water is the most efficient.

This all doesn’t sound too relevant until you look at bars that make their own sugar syrup. Can they guarantee that it is exactly the same concentration every day? A lot of drinks depend on their sweet-sour balance being just right, so everything should be done to ensure the sugar syrup is always at the same strength as even a small difference could change a drink.

Some bars that make their own syrup use either a 1:1 ratio or a 2:1 ratio, but they measure the amount of sugar & water in the mixing bottle by eye which is of course different depending who does it.
Some other bars get the chefs to heat water with some sugar in it – even if you use the same amount of water & sugar each time, the water will evaporate a different amount every day depending on the surrounding temperature/humidity/size of pan etc.

We get around this by tasting every drink we make to check the balance, & as everyone’s palate is different there can be no quick fix to ensuring a perfectly balanced drink every time, but I do believe that the more constant our sugar syrup is, the less things we have to keep an eye on that could alter the flavour of a drink.

A factor that makes Molarity difficult to use in real-life situations is the water. If anything is already dissolved in the water then the Molarity of the solution changes & not many of us have access to distilled water in our bars!
If we were doing scientific experiments with the solution, this would be unacceptable, but as we are using drinking water which should have the same ‘other solutes’ in it pretty constantly, then this shouldn’t affect our syrups on a day to day basis. Obviously filtered water is preferable to stuff just out of the tab as well.

We also can’t really calculate a more complicated solution. There has to be only 1 thing to be dissolved each time – as soon as you have more than 1 solute then you have to make up pure solutions of each one & then mix them together. You can’t calculate a 1M solution of say powdered coffee as there are many molecules making up that coffee & we don’t know what most (or any!) of them are to calculate the molecular weight.

This does become helpful when you look at other sweeteners however. Glucose has a molecular weight of 180 as it is much smaller, so you need only 180g in a 1L solution to have a 1M solution. A 1M solution of glucose and a 1M solution of sucrose have exactly the same amount of ‘sweet’ molecules in it, so they taste as sweet as each other, but you need to dissolve much less glucose to get the same concentration. You can buy glucose powder to use instead of using ‘table sugar’ which is sucrose.

So maybe next time you make up some sugar syrup, try making a 1M and 2M solution of it to see how it compares to your regular solution & maybe calculate the Molarity of the solution you usually make.

Grams of sucrose used = Moles of sucrose
342 (no of grams in 1 mole)

Moles of sucrose = Molarity of solution.
Litres of solution when made up