Drinking is going through its biggest revolution since ice was invented.
Behold Barmini head mixologist Al Thompson’s Apollo, a vodka-based cocktail with ginger, lemon, St-Germain, Imbue (a bittersweet vermouth from Oregon) and mint. It arrives in a sleek, silver rocket ship, perched atop a bowl of dry ice that is dissolved dramatically upon serving, sending out billowing tendrils. When you put on the AR headset to drink it, it’s fair to say your experience takes off.
Professionals in the food and beverage industry are always looking for a way to bring an added dimension to their offerings. It’s a competitive landscape; technology is now enabling them to take the drinking experience to levels never seen before. Food has already seen implementations of molecular gastronomy, automation at every step, delivery robots, interactive tables and even robot wait staff. But what about beverages? Some of the most interesting creations in the world of craft cocktails are happening right here in Washington, DC.
Billing itself as the first AR/VR (augmented reality/virtual reality) cocktail bar in the country, Artechouse transforms your perception of the cocktail by adding on colorful surroundings that burst with vivid animations, leading to a fantastically futuristic sensory experience. While embellishing food and drinks has always been part of the creative culinary process, founder/art director Sandro Kereselidze intends to “truly transform the way visitors experience and indulge in drinks and food by creating unforgettable multisensory experiences.” The fact that you can also immerse yourself in 30-foot-tall interactive art and video installations is a nice perk, too.
Stop into Artechouse to sample its AR/ VR cocktails, which entails downloading its app, ordering a cocktail and then watching your drink evolve on your phone. Its newest rotating exhibition, “New Nature,” featuring digital creatures and interactions, begins Oct. 13.
At the innovative Barmini, ask for the Apollo and you’ll be handed a pair of gold virtual reality goggles along with your drink. Don them and find yourself at the base of a rocket launch at NASA during countdown, followed by takeoff into space and a view from Earth. The drink itself is served in a sleek silver rocket ship billowing smoke. This is not your grandfather’s gin and tonic. Miguel Lancha, cocktail innovator at Barmini, says he likes to use technology to “bring the joy of cocktails to another level” and elevate “the experience surrounding the drink, all while serving a delicious cocktail.” We say that this definitely elevates the drinking experience to atmospheric heights.
If space travel isn’t futuristic enough for you while you imbibe, how about time travel? Lead bartender Chris Mendenhall of the Quadrant Bar and Lounge in the West End Ritz Carlton is using technology to age spirits using ultrasound waves. The sound-aging technique allows him to mimic the effects that time would have in a traditional maturation process, but resulting in flavor similar to that of five- to 10-year-old spirits within just hours. Now, if only he could reverse that so drinking made us younger. Either way, we recommend the tasting at Quadrant, which is one of the establishments to try this cutting-edge technology in a public spirits program. Your drink comes with 2-ounce pairs of four bourbons and whiskeys: one tasting of the original spirit, called the “base,” and the “aged” variation, called the “change.” While you are at it, you could also discuss some of your favorite time travel films.
Technology is also changing presentation so that your order looks as great as it tastes. Enter Bourbon Steak, where the latest creations include graphic garnishes of edible rice paper, making for visually compelling cocktails. Made using a special printer with edible-ink cartridges to print the illusions on rice paper, the options are endless. As Bourbon Steak approaches 10 years in Washington, General Manager John Gilbert says they continue to “celebrate our past, but also look to the future” by constantly innovating their cocktail culture.
It’s a bold new world out there for the adventurous foodie—drink it up!
Photography by: BARMINI PHOTO BY JENNY DORSEY; ARTECHOUSE PHOTO COURTESY OF ARTECHOUSE