San Francisco, USA
Rotary Evaporators (rotovap) look like they are straight out of a mad scientist’s laboratory. Rotovaps were essentially designed to be used in chemical laboratories to remove solvents gently using the method of evaporation. The restaurant and bar industry uses this to distill a solvent or to concentrate food essences. What is this rotovap and how is it a game-changer in the beverage industry?
The rotovap has one key offering which makes it a bartender’s favorite tool. Doubling down on the flavor and intensifying it is made easy through the rotovap which wouldn’t be possible otherwise. Taking existing subtle flavors from the drinks and elevating them is one of the prime functions that make it an intriguing tool. One step ahead of that is the ability to fuse newer flavors into existing spirits.
This process begins by adding a solution to a starting flask. Parallelly, a water bath is prepped. Both the solution and water bath are retained at the same temperature and the vacuum pump is switched on to put the system under pressure. As the solution evaporates, the evaporation travels to the condenser chamber, and the coils in there chill the gases turning them into liquid. The liquid is collected in a receiving flask and that completes the process. No oxidation happens in this process. The final product is an extract unaffected by too much heat that could potentially kill flavors, especially the delicate and layered ones. The rotovap is a leap beyond traditional distillation methods as it can accurately capture the essences and flavors. Due to evaporation, liquids can be separated from solids which can also be used to remove the tannins that spirits acquire during the aging process. The process can also be used to remove color, spice, bitterness, or any allied ingredients to achieve the desired effect.
The Rotovap can separate food compounds from one another without altering their original essence. This is one of its many benefits. Many bars around the world are incorporating this technology in their establishments to create cocktails rich with flavor. The vacuum distillation has also proven to be beneficial for spirit makers, breweries, and distilleries. It allows adding flavor or removing undesirable flavors without letting the whole of the drink be impacted by heat. The heat would’ve otherwise impacted delicate ingredients negatively or just dried them out. The rotovap can also be used to create distillates, tinctures, and bitters that are rare and exquisite. These can be used in making drinks on the go. It can also be used to remove the color and tannins from drinks but retain a full range of their flavor profile. Redistilling a spirit is also possible using the rotovap. The evaporated solvent is of prime importance to bartenders and spirit makers.
However, it is also an expensive affair. It costs upwards of $11,000 for the full rotovap setup. But many bars are ready to take the plunge to enhance the drinks experience for their consumers. It definitely seems like a cost that will pay off in serving the best beverages with intense flavors and exciting fusions. Some great uses of the rotovap can now be sampled at bars around the world.
At Artesian, located in The Langham hotel in London, a minimalist menu was created. This menu depends highly on the rotovap. One such iconic drink of theirs is a cognac blended with green coffee. This drink once through the rotovap becomes a crystal-clear extract as the colors and tannins from the ingredients are removed but the coffee and cognac flavors are retained. This crystal-clear extract is then served on a clear ice cube, in line with the minimalist spirit. While this is one menu, there are also distilleries that dedicate themselves to flavors and distillation. Copenhagen-based microdistillery Empirical Spirits is one such example. They use large-scale low-temperature distillation to extract the flavors and essences of ingredients they source. One of their celebrated spirits is the Ayuuk which involves the use of the rare Pasilla Mixe Mexican chile from which smoke, earthiness, and darkness are distilled and the spice is left out.
While the rotovap seems irresistible, there exists a grey area regarding ownership and usage of the same across different premises. Distillation at home or at a bar is illegal without a license and many bars currently prefer water distillation since that helps them escape the legal tightrope of alcohol distillation. It is therefore recommended that one should consult users of rotovaps before deciding on buying one. That being said, the rotovap does open up an entire realm of combinations possible by experimenting with vapors, flavors, and more. The key to the successful usage of a rotovap lies in using it to make great experiences happen.
Article Written By: Prithvi Nagpal, Editor & Sommelier
Header Image Source: Australian Bartender