Sunday, July 1, 2018

:: the art of blending frozen drinks ::

One of the valuable technique talks at Tiki by the Sea was entitled "The Art of Blending Frozen Drinks" by Jon Arroyo, the beverage director at the Farmers Restaurant Group. The talk's subtitle was "A little bit of Science, a little bit of Technique, and a little bit of B.S." The topics ranged from styles of blended drinks to equipment and ice type needs to ice ratios; moreover, he wrapped things up with a discussion of frozen drink machines. The first thing Jon did was to divide up the drink styles into 3 classes:
1. All Juice: only spirit, juice, modifier, and sweetener. No herbs or fruit chunks.
2. Fruit, Herb, and Vegetable: Add in botanical chunks or leaves that need to be processed in the blender to group 1.
3. Cream and Dairy: This is group 1 plus dairy, coconut cream, nut cream, etc. Basically, any ingredient that adds a fat component to the mix.
Jon also divided the genre up into two concepts. The first was the flash blend where cocktails require little ice and minimal blending time; this is where the goal is to get the drink cold with minimum dilution such as with a Daiquiri. The utility blend required greater ice as well as included more difficult ingredients that perhaps need to be rendered.

In terms of ice, he rated things as follows:
• Kold Draft or Hoshizaki: Will kill your blender!
• Crescent or Half Cube "Hotel Ice": Not bad, not good.
• Flake or Pebble Ice: The go-to choice!
Jon also broke blender speeds into three categories:
1. Flash Blending: blending or pulsing at high speed for 13 seconds or less.
2. Utility Blending: Ramping up to high speed for 20-25 seconds.
3. Ramp Blending (or "Smoothie Blending"): works in three steps with the first being to render the ingredients, next to integrate the ice, and lastly to freeze the drink. A programmable blender will allow you to set this; works over the course of 30 seconds or more to get the appropriate texture.
The enemy of the frozen drink is water, for if there is too much, it will separate into frozen clumps of ice. Certain ingredients can hold things together as a binder such as sweeteners. The general ratio for a blender drink is listed below. To get the drink correct, make the drink the normal way, reduce the sweetener by half, add ice, and blend.
2.5 oz - 3 oz Spirit
1.5 - 2 oz Juice
1 oz Sweetener
2 cup Pebble Ice
Considerations here include the texture such as how you want the cocktail to feel on the palate; this can include slushie, frothy, smoothie, etc. Next, do you want the spirit to shine through or not? For the juice, it really depends on what type you are using such as lemon, lime, grapefruit, or pineapple; some things like pineapple can have or lack a lot of acid or can vary greatly in sweetness and need to be assessed each time. For fruits and vegetables, the water content in some such as cucumber can greatly effect things in ways that herbs, roots, and many fruits will not. Frozen fruits can be utilized to replace some of the ice needs in the equation. To reduce water content, concentrated sweeteners such as 2:1 syrups are preferred. In addition, do not neglect the value of salt which can also act as a binder and will help to intensify flavor in the otherwise cold-deadening mix. And for ice, weight is the best measure; however, weighing is not appropriate for service conditions so marking a line on a measuring cup is preferable. Lastly, blender drinks do separate as they sit out, so serving them in opaque Tiki mugs can help hide this occurrence from guests.

During the question and answer session, the topic of frozen drink machines was brought up. Jon explained that most models were designed to get rather cold to accommodate very sweet mixtures. To determine the proper water amount, weigh the drink before and after blending with ice to get it to right consistency. Moreover, add your batch in cold (i.e.: refrigerate overnight) to help things along. If possible, design your bar around the machine since they do take up space and require good ventilation and shade. Refractometers are key for determining the sugar content of the final mix which should be 13-15° Brix.

Adding in things I learned at a recent "Frozen Drinks 101" class held by Daren Swisher here in Boston, besides hitting 12-15° Brix (his preferred range), he also shoots for 12-15% ABV. Too low on either of those, and the drink will be icy with large crystals due to the fast freezing. Heavy syrups or pectin rich jams and jellies will help to alleviate these texture problems. Daren also suggested substituting ice for water (by weight) and whisking it in to chill the mix for use.

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