‘Shaken, not stirred’ is more bond than you think!

Since HMNS is one of the featured charities at Okra Charity Saloon in September (read about it here), we’re doing a series of blog posts about cocktail chemistry this month. Get to know your drinks on a more molecular level. We’ll explore acids and bases, surface area, density, and fluorescence. It’s going to be elemental.

 

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Photo Couresy of Didriks

It’s the signature drink of Sir Ian Fleming’s James Bond: dry vodka martini, shaken, not stirred.

Vodka must be at least 40% alcohol by volume (ABV) to actually be called “vodka” in the United States, according to the standards of identity section of U.S. federal codes. Since most traditional vodkas are almost entirely ethanol and water, that means for every liter of vodka, a whopping 400 milliliters are ethanol.

The vodka martini is six parts vodka, one part dry vermouth; garnishes can range far and wide, from an olive to a lemon peel (a “twist”). Most of the flavor of the martini comes from the vermouth‒specifically the ester chains that are part of the overall organic compound.
An ester is a chemical compound that begins as a carboxylic acid, which looks like this:

 

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In this diagram, a carbon atom is double-bonded with an oxygen atom, single-bonded with a hydroxyl group (OH), and single-bonded with the rest of the atomic chain (R). This pattern is what is defined as a carboxylic acid.

To become an ester, the hydrogen atom in the hydroxyl group must be replaced with something else, like more carbon atoms:

 

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In this diagram, a carbon atom is double-bonded with an oxygen atom, single-bonded with an oxygen atom that is bonded to another compound, and single-bonded to yet another compound. This is the definition of an ester.

Before the martini is served, it is mixed with ice, and this ice serves two purposes. First, it’s important to note that chemically, ice is just H2O. When H2O is added to an ester, the ester starts to become more polarized and saturates out into what is called a micelle. In this context, the micelle is a tiny drop of esters clustered in one spot (micelles are also used in things like laundry detergent and medication, but more on that another time). Cooling the martini down releases the esters from the micelle and adds flavor to the drink. Luckily enough, ice is also pretty cold.


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Photo courtesy of rick

So why get your martini shaken, not stirred? Shaking the cocktail with ice lowers the temperature more effectively than stirring with ice does, producing better flavor! Shaking a liquid is inherently more violent than stirring it. As a result, the individual molecules are bouncing around much more quickly when shaken. When the molecules are moving quickly, the liquid is covering more ground and has more inherent surface area. And since ice melts from the outside in, greater surface area of the liquid means greater contact with the melting ice, which will cool the drink down more quickly.

The flipside of cooling the drink down more quickly is that, as the ice melts, it waters down the drink. Stirring a martini gives it a slightly higher ABV, as there will be less melted water when the cocktail is poured into a chilled glass. But doing so sacrifices the flavor of the esters, something not even James Bond was willing to do.

Stop by Okra Charity Saloon to try a vodka martini, shaken, not stirred, during the month of September, and support your Museum! Don’t forget to check back next week when we discover density differences in beverages.

Cocktail Chemistry: A Balancing Act

Since HMNS is one of the featured charities at Okra Charity Saloon in September (read about it here), we’re doing a series of blog posts about cocktail chemistry this month. Get to know your drinks on a more molecular level. We’ll explore acids and bases, surface area, density, and fluorescence. It’s going to be elemental.

Life is all about balance. Sorry, did I say life? I meant cocktails. As any experienced bartender will tell you, concocting the perfect drink has everything to do with balance. Bartenders are charged with making sure the basic components of their drinks will play well together in the glass and dance on your taste buds. Understanding and balancing flavors is a critical part of being a cocktail chemist.
When you’re talking about the fundamentals of chemistry, you turn to the periodic table.

 

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Image: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Periodic_table#/media/File:14LaAc_periodic_table_IIb.jpg

Every element is neatly organized and laid out according to their atomic number, electron configurations, and chemical properties. There are currently 118 elements that make up our entire universe. The periodic table of cocktail chemistry would look a little different, a little more basic (not literally). Instead of 118 elements, the world of cocktail chemistry has only four: alcohol, sugar, acidity, and bitterness. We’re going to focus on the acidity element.

Let’s revisit high school chemistry for a moment with Acids and Bases: 101. When molecules break down in water, some release hydrogen ions (H+), while others release hydroxide ions (OH-). The pH scale measures the concentration of these hydrogen ions and hydroxide ions and tells us how acidic or basic a liquid is. Acids fall between 0 and 7, and bases fall between 7 and 14. The more acidic a liquid is, the lower its pH; the more basic a liquid is, the higher its pH. When acids and bases are mixed, they react with one another in what’s called a neutralization reaction. Think back to when you made your first science fair volcano. The combination of baking soda and vinegar was an explosive, bubbling demonstration of an acid-base reaction.

When we’re talking about cocktail chemistry, we’re more concerned with the way these solutions taste. Acids are characteristically sour, while bases are bitter. Remember the whole balance thing? This is where it comes into play.

Bartenders typically rely on the citrus genus for the acidic component of a cocktail. Oranges, lemons, limes, and grapefruit are frequently used to counteract the sugars and bitters in their concoctions. Understanding the chemical composition of these citric elements is critical.

 

cocktail 2https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Citrus#/media/File:Citrus_fruits.jpg

Lemons and limes are the most acidic with a pH between 2.0-2.6. Limes have slightly less sugar than lemons. This is why lemons pair well with gins and rye whiskies, while limes pair well with rum and tequila. Grapefruit and orange both have a higher sugar content and slightly lower pH than their citrus cousins. With this knowledge, you can figure how much citric acid you need to counteract the sugar in a cocktail. Since grapefruit and orange have an inherently higher sugar content, they don’t require as much sugar to counter their acidity. Not too sweet, not too sour. You can use science to make sure it’s just right.
Chemists have also found that acids help the flavors of a cocktail combine more evenly, so each sip contains the full flavors of the drink. (We’ll talk more about density and separation of liquids in one of our upcoming cocktail chemistry blog posts, but there’s no separation here!)

If you’re looking to try out a few acidic cocktails, try ordering sours, smashes, or any citric-based drink. Here are a few of my favorites:

1) Screwdriver: A classic combination of orange juice and vodka. Since orange has a high sugar content compared to its acidity, it acts as both the sugar and acid. Paired with vodka, this is a simple, refreshing drink.
2) Lemon drop martini: Lemon drops use fresh lemon juice for a strong, tart acidic component. The intense acidity is balanced with simple syrup and triple sec. These flavors pair well with vodka for a crisp, refined cocktail.

cocktail 3https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Lemon_Drop_cocktails.jpg

3) Paloma: This drink balances two acidic components with both grapefruit juice and lime juice. Since limes have an extremely low sugar content, palomas contain additional sugar or simple syrup to balance their intense tartness. This combination goes perfectly with mescal or tequila. It’s topped off with club soda for a cool, bubbly finish.

 

Stop by Okra Charity Saloon to try one of these acidic cocktails during the month of September, and support your Museum! Don’t forget to check back next week when we explore the surface area of cocktails.

Mixers remixed: Introducing LaB 5555, our new after-hours, adults-only scientific shindig

Missing Mixers & Elixirs? Well, we’ve given it a makeover. It’s gotten in shape, revamped its wardrobe, learned to two-step and is a brand new event: LaB 5555.

Our new after-hours, adults-only scientific shindig launches this Friday and we want you there geeking responsibly right along with us.

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LaB 5555 will have the same cash bars and awesome live entertainment as Mixers did, but it’s committed to bringing you scintillating science, food truck fare and local entertainment all year long. Each month is centered around a scientific theme, with the launch being all about Skin & Bones. Attendees will hear about the highlights of our new Hall of Paleontology in the Grand Hall and have access to tour the new paleo exhibit throughout the night.

Highlights include classy yet sassy music by string quartet/DJ ensemble Collide; food from It’s a Wrap, Big Happy’s Ice Cream & Treats, Pi Pizza and Luchi & Joey’s; cash bars and a sweet giveaway for the first 200 smarty pants to show up.

And you’ll want to get here early. Get your learn on in the Grand Hall from 8 to 9 p.m. before you get your drink on and hear straight from our staff about the skin and bones in our new paleontology hall that have everyone talking.

Here are the deets:

WHAT: LaB 5555 launch
WHEN: Friday, June 22 from 8 to 11 p.m.
WHERE: The Houston Museum of Natural Science main campus at 5555 Hermann Park Dr.

Click here for tickets: $20 for the general public; $12 for members. Tickets grant attendees access to the new Hall of Paleontology throughout the night, live entertainment and free planetarium showings of Dark Side of the Moon and Led Zeppelin at 8:15, 9:15 and 9:45 p.m. Click here for a full schedule of events.

Salsa Sharks

Mixers, Elixirs & IMAX

If you’ve stepped outside in the past couple of days you must have noticed that it’s officially summer in Houston. Take off that blanket of humidity and show off those cute new capris and tiny tanks, grab a pair of heels and get out the door to HMNS! Mixers, Elixirs & IMAX begins THIS FRIDAY. That’s right! Three months of parties every Friday night with the most entertainment for the best value in Houston.

What do you get with your Mixers ticket? Free hors d’oeuvres, free IMAX, free DJ, free live band, and a cash bar. $15 for non-members, $13 for members.  How many places can you go in Houston and spend less than $20 on a Friday night?!? HMNS has it all starting this Friday.

Our VIPs get an even better deal, believe it or not; access to our exclusive VIP room, private hors d’oeuvres, Houston’s own DJ Sun spinning original beats, top shelf cash bar, seating areas, wait staff, and access to the Geopalooza! A Hard Rock Anthology exhibit. All of this for $30.

And, since this is Mixers 5th anniversary, we’re celebrating! Turn in your first four Mixers ticket stubs and get into your fifth for free!  OR you can text “MEI” to 777111 and get special offers and band updates about each individual party. 

Mango Punch will be here this Friday for you salsa sharks; with white sangria to quench your thirst and sliders to stop that growl in your tummy. You’ll need your energy for this dance floor!

See you at 6 pm, this Friday!