That’s the spirit

Published 15 December 2011 05:02, Updated 05 January 2012 05:17

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For much of the year, a beer or a pinot gris will hit the spot for many but at this time of the year, why not experiment a touch?

Among the big influences on this summer’s cocktails are expected to be international chefs Ferran Adrià and Heston Blumenthal as food trends and drinks trends tend to follow parallels.

“Food trends are simplicity and sourcing the best ingredients,” says international bar consultant and mixologist at the Hilton Sydney’s Zeta Bar, Grant Collins .

Chefs such as Blumenthal hunt out the finest components for their recipes then use modern technology and an understanding of how flavours work to update dishes.

Collins says that when it comes to what goes in a glass, among the trends is “deconstructing vintage classic cocktails to make them more approachable”.

He is applying a modern twist to some cocktail classics. In one, he is experimenting with the Old Fashioned, turning it into more of a “New Fashioned”, created with alcohol served inside a sphere of ice. Crack the ice and it turns into a drink on the rocks.

Collins also softens old recipes for today’s palate. “The Manhattan is a very stiff drink,” he says.

Another hot trend is Asian influences, says Tom Gibson, mixologist and founder of events management agency Sydney Bartenders .

A key one is aloe vera. This works best as a foam, Gibson says. Places such as Ms. G’s in Sydney’s Potts Point which have an Asian influence have been experimenting with this.

Aloe vera has a sweet flavour and it’s best employed as foam on a martini, he says, “you pair that with a sour-style martini”.

Gibson keeps an eye on balancing flavours to make lip-smacking cocktails: “It’s always about the balance of sweet and sour, bitter and dry.”

Gibson also recommends a number of fruity flavour combinations.

“Things like sangria are perfect on a summer’s day,” he says. Gibson makes sangria with red, white and rose wines, coupling fruit flavours that work with the wines.

Another popular fruity number has been ruby red grapefruits. Gibson finds frozen raspberries work well to take the sour edge off the grapefruit and muddles them with the grapefruit, adding 50 millilitres of gin to an average serving and topping it off with soda water.

Another route is to tantalise the palate harnessing techniques used by business.

Jane Murray , a director of insight2market , a sensory and consumer science consultancy, is an expert on why people like certain tastes and other sensations and how to improve products accordingly.

She advocates using flavour pairing, which takes into account the chemical structure of the ingredients, and will help pick certain flavours that go well together.

These might be predictable, more orthodox combinations such as chocolate and orange, or some combinations that seem a bit more challenging, such as salmon and coffee.

Murray recommends a cocktail called Russian Roulette (see recipe) that uses flavour pairing with ingredients that have a similar chemical composition.

With a contrast between the orange-yellow colour of the mango and the black olive, it scores on visual perception. Murray refers to the saying, “We taste with our eyes.”

The ginger in the cocktail provides heat, giving a lift, body and overall background flavour enhancement to the cocktail, she says.

“The ginger is perceived through stimulation of the trigeminal nerve endings in the mouth, nose or eyes ... these chemically induced sensations do not fit neatly into the traditional classifications of tastes and smells,” Murray says.

“In general, signals transmitted by these nerves are responsible for the pungency of foods, as exemplified in carbonated drinks, chilli, ginger, mustard and horseradish.”

From a taste perspective, the cocktail has a combination of sweet, sour and salty, which offers contrast and engages different taste receptors.

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