A long, and unfortunately pictureless weekend has passed. Many drinks were made, cocktails concocted, and such.
After this experimentation, I’ve come to the following conclusion regarding the functional differences between the Top-Down Mixer, and the Glass Bottom-Blender.
The Top-Down Mixer has some great advantages. From a non-mixological standpoint, it draws a lower wattage (cheaper to run), is quieter, simpler to clean, and, for my sense of aesthetic, just looks classy. A metal shaker can be used to blend, as opposed to the device-specific pitcher used for the blender, which means less equipment. Using a metal shaker as well allows the bartender to, just as when shaking, use the temperature of the shaker on the hand to indicate when the drink is sufficiently chilled, and offers a bit of a speed of service advantage in using a lidless device that doesn’t have to align with the base.
From a mixology perspective, the blender is advantageous in that the aeration of the drink is superior, leading to a large frothy head on the drink, and, if using a thickened syrup or other texture addition, can get more air trapped in the drink for a creamier texture. As well, since there are no cutting blades, smaller bits of crushed ice will dilute with the energy put into blending, but the larger chunks will not be cut and melted, leading to a bit less dilution in the initial pour of the drink.
There are as well some distinct disadvantages. The Primary being, no blended drinks! Yes, Don the Beachcomber (or at least a few of his later establishments) would have had a blender behind the bar. Not in the original Beachcomber (which opened in 1934, and the bottom-blender as we know it wasn’t patented or produced until the late 1930s… read more at cocktaildb), but certainly he had a few drinks on the menu that required a blender, such as the Missionary’s Downfall.
The two devices meet on an even level as far as temperature goes, and both are able to aerate the drink (though, advantage mixer).
The blender has some distinct advantages as well, primarily being… well, blended drinks! Can’t make a Cocoanaut or Chi-Chi without one! Secondly, good consumer and professional models are more readily available, and in many, many different models, shapes, sizes and colors. There is a bit of a resurgence in top-down blenders as “retroware“, but the 70-watt motors just don’t kick as well as the old models, and there are only a handful of top-down blenders being manufactured now.
A quick rerun of the blender’s disadvantages though, are more power-usage (with the model I use, at least), easier to over-dilute, specialized container, more parts to clean.
Overall, I would conclude after a good week’s experiments (and what a week!), and some input from those in the know, that for tropical drinks, unless desperate for new hardware and a nice foam, you’ll do just fine with a 3-5 second blend in a good, powerful blender, such as the Oster Classic Beehive Blender. The mixer is more of an option than a necessity.
I’m still open for opinions, input, and experiment ideas.
Sven Kirsten, author of The Book Of Tiki and Tiki Modern, offers these snippets from the Mikes at the Tiki-Ti, a place started many years ago by a bartender at Don the Beachcomber’s… read Ray Buhen’s story at the Bum’s Grog Blog.
From Tiki Central:
Mike Sr.: “The blenders are stronger and make the ice too slushy, the mixers are more gentle and give the ice the perfect consistency” (he conceded that that might be a function of the TIME spent blending) and “We would not get the same frothy texture that our drinks always had”
Mike Jr. agreed and added to that: “Top mixers are the best way for OUR style of cocktails. I guess it is a matter of preference”
As [Sven] thought, the reasons for the Bum not insisting on the top mixer were complex, one being that he felt it was too much to ask to get the old ones, he feels the new remakes are too flimsy. The PROS are that it aerates the cocktail more, and makes it frothier. But then he shared his observation that at any of the Trader Vic’s he had been to, including the Beverly Hills one, he had only seen BLENDERS being used. -And those cocktails were some of the best I ever had! So it seems that it is part of the mixologist’s personal style. Tony Ramos of Don The Beachcomber and Madame Wu’s only used Hamilton Beach mixers.
Thanks Sven and Beachbum Berry for chiming in on this!
In these two challenges, a few wrenches are thrown into the works. The wrenches are in the form of hand-torn mint, and the notorious thick and delicious good Coco Lopez. Lets see how each fares!
Round three, Cobra’s Fang
The Ice: Coarse, Machine-grind
Technique 5-second count blend/mix
The drink was a Cobra’s Fang, which adds the element of mint flakes (next time, doing a chiffonade) within the drinks. The blender had a huge advantage here, and chopped up the mint eagerly, while the mixer still had mint in the same chunks I had ripped the leaves into.
The ice levels were very different tonight, which may be attributed to varying levels in ice… a scoop isn’t always a 100% accurate measuring tool.
Again, the mixture seems to keep the intensity of the citrus and alcohol flavors. This may be attributed to very minute variations in measurement (same jiggers used for each), and slightly varying levels of ice. In a perfect world, I’d be able to work in alternate dimensions where the exact same scoop of ice was used with each, but, since I still haven’t picked up a Quantum Physics textbook yet, parallel worlds are still outside of my scope.
I did a temperature measurement as well, and found that both drinks settled at a reasonably chilly 28F after two minutes.
Overall, I’m feeling that both pieces of equipment are earning their place in my bar. Of course, if I’m going to serve another pitcher of Cocoanauts, you’re damned right that blender’s staying.
Round four, Painkiller
The Ice: Coarse, Machine-grind
Technique 10-second count blend/mix
I tried this with two methods, poured over ice and blended/mixed with ice. I have to say that in both, the mixer definitely came up on top. The thick Coco Lopez stood no chance against the four-fold aerator, creating a smoothly textured drink. The Blender-made drink came out a bit looser and more watery.
The froth on top for the mixed drink was a LOT thicker, and somewhat more uniform, where the froth on the mixed drink was still just slightly more viscous than the rest of the drink. The blender made drink was still a fantastic drink, it just had a few slight differences that made the mixer made drink just that touch more…. precise.
Tonight’s winner is definitely the mixer. I love the froth on top of a good Painkiller, and this froth, as well as the texture of the drink, was absolutely top notch as made by the Drinkmaster.
Oh, and a fun note after reading the patent notice for the Drinkmaster; High speed is for dairy-based drinks (milkshake), and Low speed for “mixing other drinks, such as those which contain chipped ice, flavoring material, and powder”. But I don’t think the Drinkmaster will be doing anything with powders in the near future (unless, of course, the Bum starts endorsing a flavor of kool-aid).
I think I’ve put these machines on some pretty good tests so far. If you’ve got something you’d like to see tested, by all means drop me a note in the comments. I’m a bit idea free for tomorrow night… what could it be? A modern classic? Add a Shaken drink to the mix? Name it and I’ll put the results up!
Recently, on Tiki Central, there has been some discussion as to the use of a Blender, vs. the use of a Top-Down Mixer, and what difference they might make in recreating the classic tiki cocktails. I recently had the luck to happen upon a classic Hamilton Beach Drinkmaster, and have been testing it the past few nights. Testing must continue, of course, but I thought I would share my results so far, as posted on the Tiki Central Food and Drink boards.
- Hamilton Beach DRINKMASTER NUMBER THIRTY, with 4-fold Aerator, circa 1930
- Power: 125 Watts
- Oster Osterizer, circa 2005
- Power: 500 Watts
Round the first, Navy Grog.
The Ice: Fine, Machine-grind
Technique 5-second count blend/mix
Use of the machine ground fine ice was a bit of a mistake, as the drinks were a touch watery, with a only about 1/4 of the glass containing ice in the served cocktail.
At first sip, the drinks were fairly similar, except for a bit of large bubbling on the top of the mixer-made drink. The visuals of the drink are noticeably different, in that the mixer made drink is slightly less transparent, and the ice has a more natural iceberg shape, with variations in the ice-chunk size. The blender made drink is more of a solid band around the top of the drink.
After 10 minutes or so, the drinks were becoming different. The blender made drink was a bit colder, with smaller condensation droplets, and seemed to be lasting in its initial flavors longer, not succumbing to the melting ice.
Round the second, Zombie
The Ice: Coarse, Machine-grind
Technique 5-second count blend/mix
I’ve settled on the coarse, machine ground ice for testing. I’m very satisfied with tonight’s results.
Tonight, I threw together Don the Beachcomber’s classic Zombie. May I just reiterate, what a fine damned drink. If you haven’t put together the recipe from Intoxica yet, just do it… go buy the book now (I’ve got links on the site), and make the damn “thing”.
Same recipe, same amount of ice, same mix/blend time.
The glass was notably chillier in the blender-made drink this evening, with the liquid inside just a touch more transparent. The ice was pretty much the same in both. The blended drink had a damned decent amount of froth to it. That 4-fold aerator is no joke, and whips a LOT of bubbles into the drink. I’d imagine if my Passion Fruit Syrup had anything to trap that air (maltodextrin, gum arabic, or some other thickening agent) it’d make a LOT more difference, but the froth stayed on top for a good 8 minutes.
The texture of the drinks themselves were not noticeably different, but the mixer-made drink seemed to keep the sharper edges of the Demerara 151. My wife has a keener palate than mine, and she noticed some more depth in the blender made drink.
My thoughts so far…
So far, I’m concluding that the Drinkmaster has some superior connotations for a few reasons. The first, being that it gets hand-hurtingly cold, like a good Ramos Fizz, within SECONDS. The second being that instead of the specialized fitting and cleaning of the glass bottom-blender, even a standard shaker can be used in the Drinkmaster. It is also quieter, and if you can get the triple-capacity model (as at the Chin-Tiki), just looks damned cool behind the bar. The blender doesn’t seem to be any bit more sluggish, I just have the natural fear that the difference of one second of the ice in those sharp blades can turn a Mai Tai into a blended drink within seconds. However, I can’t honestly say there’s a wide gap in difference as far as the end product is concerned. Both drinks are coming out as fine as they were ever meant to be.
Much further testing must ensue. Tonight, I’m thinking Cobra’s Fang. If you’re in the area, drop me a line for an invite!
Attention Portland, OR locals and visiting Ohana!
I am proud to announce, in partnership with Teardrop Lounge, February 19th will be Tiki Third Tuesday at Teardrop!
Trader Vic and Don the Beachcomber’s classic drinks will be served all night on Tuesday, February 19th. The fine folks at Teardrop Lounge and I have been working together developing a repertoire of traditional syrups & mixers to recreate classic Tiki Cocktails for the evening’s menu.
Teardrop’s skilled bartenders will be slinging the booze for the special menu, while I prattle on about the history, legend & lore behind the drinks. Be prepared to set sail with Don the Beachcomber’s classic Navy Grog, or become the living dead with the Zombie, classically limited to two per customer. You may also find yourself lost in one of Trader Vic’s famed Fog Cutters, to quote the Trader “Fog Cutter, hell. After two of these, you won’t even see the stuff”.
Island garb is welcome, but most certainly not required.
Teardrop Lounge is located at 1015 NW Everett Street, Portland, OR 97209.
Oy, another week like the one prior and I’d be fine and happy sitting in a cask of rum and sit adrift on the open sea.
It’s been a fantastic week for the Kleenex and Ricola, but not so much for mixing and drinking, so I’m going to have to advise on some of the comings and goings of interest around the internet.
There is a great thread at Tiki Central regarding the use of top-down mixers vs. blenders in Tiki Drinks. Top-down mixers had been (and in many cases still are) the method of choice for getting a level of pleasingly frothy texture, but mixers went the way of the Dodo at all places but the malt shop once slushy drinks became all the rage. Blenders can work fine and dandy, but one fraction of a second too much can be the difference between perfection and slushy, nigh-undrinkable mess. Particularly of note is Sven Kirsten’s post, assisted by some research at the Tiki-Ti.
At What Does John Know, the blog of Malt Advocate Publisher and Editor John Hansell, John has word that Buffalo Trace has been working on an aged white rum. This is not the first distiller I’ve heard of (or sampled from) that is working on a white rum product. I have a feeling 2008 is going to be a fine year for rum indeed.