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With cocktails increasingly involving scientific geekery, how do bars keep consumers interested in technical drinks? Shay Waterworth polls the lab pioneers


DEXTER HAD DEE DEE, the Brain had Pinky and now Rick has Morty. Top-end bartenders are fast becoming geeky lab technicians familiar with the equipment seen in cartoon laboratories. But they have always been one step ahead of their dipsy, less informed sidekick – the consumer.

The bar and cocktail industry is currently at the highest level of technicality and sophistication in history, with no signs of slowing down. Every time the bar geeks take a step forward, consumers play catch-up. Terminology such as ‘infusion’ and ‘fermented’ is now accepted on cocktail lists globally, but how long will it be until crystallised, homogenised and emulsified become the norm and what do consumers need to understand about the modern science behind their £10 cocktails?

Even high-volume bars are now endowed with the use of infusion tanks, water baths and slow-freezing ice machines. But what about a centrifuge, incubator or vacuum rotary evaporator? Modern bars, such as Scout in London, are pioneering the ‘lab movement’ and raising the bar for followers. Owner and bartender Matt Whiley showed DI around the bar’s basement laboratory – £60,000 worth of secondhand equipment sourced from scientific laboratories. For example, the centrifuge which is now used by Scout to alter and mix liquid ingredients was previously used to separate blood samples.

“One of the guys I get our kit from always asks what it’s for. He thinks we’re nuts,” says Whiley.

Whiley is no stranger to this level of technical drinks making. He is now using his third centrifuge, and during the visit to the lab the bar-scientist on duty was in the process of dehydrating garnishes, checking pressure gauges and doing general sciency things. “Everyone always likes to talk about the rotary evaporators and fancy looking stuff, but for anyone starting out with equipment I would suggest getting a centrifuge first. You can do a lot with them.”

In fact, at the time of writing, Whiley was in the process of making a British rye whisky – using his lab to transform a barrel of rye vodka without waiting for it to age.

However, unless the bar’s audience is actively interested in the processes of the drinks, it would be difficult to throw science jargon on a menu.

“We usually get one or two people on a busy night who are interested in seeing the lab,” adds Whiley. “I have no official lab training – it’s all self-taught, I just liked chemistry at school with the bunsen burners.”


In order to grow people’s interest in technical drinks, exposure is needed. But how can independent bars afford to spend thousands of pounds on equipment to access the next level? Crucible is one answer. The ‘bar makerspace’ in east London provides a platform for bartenders to use some of the latest available equipment and collaborate with different professionals within the drinks industry.