Juan Coronado, cocktail innovator for Jose Andres’ Think Food Group, has done some pretty crazy things with cocktails. For a NASA corporate event, he made a layered, frozen Negroni that he put into a pulverizing machine and turned into snow for a specialty drink called the Saturn.
He’s also used a rotary evaporator to extract the aroma and flavor of roasted peanuts to make a peanut rum—the key ingredient in his Veruka Salt cocktail. And Coronado has spun Angostura bitters-flavored sugar in a cotton candy machine to make a fluffy substitute for simple syrup in his specialty drinks.
Coronado is also principal bartender at Barmini cocktail lab in Washington D.C., which opened in March 2013 in a space adjacent to Andres’ Minibar. Barmini has 113 drinks on its list, and they change all the time.
But speaking at the recent Thirst Boston cocktail convention, Coronado reminded attendees that while a killer cocktail menu is great, remember that it’s all about the guest. He said that bartenders always have to be aware of “who is here with us, and how we can make their experience the best ever.”
Make sure your customers feel comfortable right from the start–people going out for a drink don’t want to feel intimidated or rushed. “Putting guests under pressure is not a good experience” for them, Coronado said.
How you greet the guest, the way you mix the drinks and even the glassware you use sets the stage for the guest experience, Coronado said. Barmini believes in using vintage glassware that goes with the theme of the drink.
Consider the way the glass feels in your hand, “and the position of the garnish,” Coronado said. “If it doesn’t look good, it won’t taste good.”
Pay attention to details, like the ice and fresh fruit and vegetable used in the drink or as garnishes, he said. For instance, Barmini uses hand-carved ice, and Coronado tastes the lime juice constantly “because the PH changes.”
And don’t neglect non-alcoholic drinks, he said, since people planning to enjoy a few cocktails will likely opt to have some alcohol-free sips in between to pace themselves. It’s actually harder to make non-alcoholic drinks than conventional cocktails, he said. “You still need that ‘wow’ factor, so you have to put more thought into them.”
But keep in mind that modern mixology “is not about creating crazy things–anyone can do that,” Coronado said. “It’s about creating crazy things that work.”
For more from Coronado on molecular mixology, look for our upcoming feature in the March issue of Cheers.