Posted on April 15th, 2011
I didn’t know anything about Fizz drinks until a friend assembled all of the ingredients for a Ramos Gin Fizz and invited me over for the frothy ambrosia in August of 2009. I paid little attention to what she was doing to create the drink at the time, but I did raise an eyebrow when I saw some heavy cream go into the mix. I had always assumed that gin and dairy should conduct their potentially curdlesome affair in shameful darkness, if at all, and I asked her if she was sure about this. She just looked at me, decided not to mention the egg white, and receded into the kitchen with the shaker. Shortly thereafter, a victorious “WHOOP!” had me peeping over her shoulder as she strained the silky mixture into a tall glass, topping it off with soda water she’d made using a tank of CO2, the equation PV=nRT and the mechanics of her SodaStreamтм .
As a life-long unaffected licker of mixing spoons, I fear no strain of Salmonella and could have easily drained three of these glorious beverages leaving behind only the haze of dried, proteinaceous residue on the inside of the glasses. Not only does the egg white form a satisfying foam layer, but its emulsifying properties generate a truly smooth beverage. The citrus and the gin denature the egg white protein and the added cream binds it all together, while the scent of orange blossoms is carried on a prickly wave of soda bubbles. My friend had even added some lavender simple syrup. It was an instant hit in my reptilian brain, but I never really ended up making it for myself or subjecting bartenders to the bicep-rattling request.
But just a couple of weeks ago, I found myself in a great cocktail bar in Boston by the name of Drink knowing that I wanted a Fizz. Drink is the kind of cocktail bar where you are encouraged to describe your vague sensory desires to the bartender and he or she will whip something up along those lines.
“I’m feeling like a drink that tastes like the smell of a honey bee fart.”
And you’ll be handed a slender Collins glass containing a cocktail with a golden brown honey and bourbon base brought up to volume with something like a St. Germain sour.
But sometimes you really do end up sounding like a jerk when describing the kind of tastes and smells you prefer– I’ve seen it happen, and I’ve definitely done it myself. The process of deciding on and verbalizing what you’d like to taste without a menu can be grueling for all parties involved, so I was pleased to be able to simply state that “I’d like a Gin Fizz” after settling down at the bar. And soon a pearly white cocktail with about 4 inches of egg white fizz was gracing the napkin in front of me. It was a Silver Fizz made of gin, lemon juice, sugar, egg white and soda. Without the cream and orange flower water of the Ramos, the egg white is the star of the Silver Fizz. If you use the whole egg it’s called a Royal Fizz, and the addition of only egg yolk gets you a Golden Fizz– although I’d be tempted to call it a Hollandaze.
Days later, having been deeply affected by my elegant Fizz, I tried my hand at recreating the drink in my own home. I added 2 oz of Tanqueray to my shaker, along with a tablespoon of powdered sugar, about 1 oz of lemon juice, a splash of grappa & chamomile liqueur for a personal touch, and the all-important egg white. Various Internet sources instructed me to shake these ingredients for at least one minute before adding ice and shaking further, so I got down to business.
My first attempt is barely worth mentioning, but since one word sums it up nicely I’ll go on. The word is “flaccid.” After one minute of Primary Emulsification (PE) my arms were starting to weaken and the dented top to my shaker was leaking out liquid slippery with albumin. Feeling shamefully weak and kind of grossed out, I quickly added the ice, wrapped the shaker in a towel, and gave it about another minute. Adding soda to the mixture I strained into the glass created a rheumy beverage with no hint of egg white fizz. I drank this strange soda in its entirety, hoping that the protein would help to build up my clearly feeble biceps. The taste was great but it simply wasn’t a Fizz, so once my arms stopped burning I went back to the drawing board.
Two minutes of vigorous shaking hadn’t cut it, so this time I went for endurance. Wrapped in a towel from the start, I adopted a sustainable pace for the PE and shook the ingredients sans ice for two whole minutes. At this point I started pacing around my apartment chanting repetitive nonsense in rhythm with my shaking.
“Fruit BAT, fruit BAT– why you gotta do THAT?” got me through minute three. I added ice and intensified my shaking, probably being very close to entering a trance-like state by the time lactic acid buildup forced me to stop. I strained, added soda, and suppressed an eyelid twitch as a meager half-inch of fizz materialized at the surface. Sure it was still tasty, but as I wiped a practically pre-pubescent fizzstache from my upper lip I started to get suspicious. The bartender at Drink hadn’t paced around in circles rattling the shaker for 30 minutes while babbling like a freak in order to generate such a formidable Fizz. Come to think of it, my drink had shown up swiftly and silently in under 10 minutes.
What was the secret? Cornstarch? Robots? “Yes,” my gin-addled brain told me, “it has to be some kind of machine.” I brought my drink to the kitchen and stood in front of our SodaStreamтм the way Mozart stands in front of his father’s portrait in Amadeus before blowing a huge, disrespectful raspberry at it. I had just about hit a similar level with this whole Fizz thing. A nearby orchestra struck up the overture to “The Magic Flute” and I jigged over to my fridge and retrieved a carton of whole milk. I poured some into the soda bottle, along with gin and some elderflower cordial I’d made last summer, and attached it to the carbon dioxide source. I didn’t need any egg whites! This carbonated gin-based milk punch would be better than a Fizz!
I was wrong. It was discomfiting and weird. Adding soda to an already carbonated liquid made for a painful drink, and the denatured milk protein sank to the bottom leaving a layer of clear soda at the top. Still, I drank my Inverse Milk Fizz. Days later, when I summoned the courage to try the same carbonation technique after slipping a beaten egg white into the soda bottle instead of milk, the result turned out to be similarly disappointing.
Ultimately, the most successful technique I found was to subject the ingredients to my KitchenAid, whisking them with increasing intensity over the course of about 5 minutes. I shook the frothy mixture on ice for about a minute and was rewarded with almost 3 inches of sturdy Fizz upon adding soda. Victory was finally mine, but I still didn’t believe that bartenders were running off to find a mixing bowl whenever someone ordered this cocktail. So the next time I was in bar, I asked our bartender if he had any tricks for making a good Fizz. He said “Oh, yeah!” and then proudly identified himself as a molecular mixologist. He brought out one of those whipped cream dispensers and said that you can just put in all the ingredients and charge it with nitrous oxide. Instant Fizz.
“Oh,” I thought. “I was kind of close…” Then he told me a more mechanical trick, which is to add a few Hawthorne strainer coils to the shaker to act as internal whisks and facilitate the incorporation of air into the fizz. Having now experimented with both chemical and physical methodology, I like the sound of the strainer coils and good, honest hard work. I don’t want to have to consider Boyle’s law and what effect a high concentration of CO2 might have on the pH of my cocktail. Personally, I drink to forget about chemistry– but in the end, it’s whatever floats your fizz.