Rotovap – Centrifuge – Sonic Prep – YAY or NAY?? Part 1
When opening a world class bar, there are a number of costs to consider, some of which are more important to others. Tools of the trade used to produce your unique beverages, are one of these considerations. In todays competitive cocktail market, many bars are pushing the boundaries in terms of the product that they can deliver, by the use of some considerably high tech equipment. Centrifugal Juicers, Roto Evaporator Distillers, Centrifuges, Ultrasonic Homogenisers – sounds like something from a science fiction movie.
Well, to save you on having to spend between R 50 000 and R 150 000 (per unit) on high tech equipment, we thought it well to put 3 pieces of tech bar equipment to the test and figure out if their investment will ever churn a profit! We have decided to look at the Roto Evaporator, the Centrifuge and the Sonicprep™.
We think it is important to note that you may or may not agree with this review, but we have worked extensively with the above mentioned pieces of equipment and have tried to be fair weighing up the investment vs return by looking at the many uses of these individual pieces of machinery in this exercise.
The Roto Evaporator
The Roto Evaporator Still is a powerful tool to the Master Distiller. It is used to experiment with different types of spirit flavouring and to the gin distiller, it means that he can experiment with new gin recipes, without having to waste 500 to 100,000 litres (dependent on the size of his industrial still). We have in the past year visited the Sipsmith Distillery in the heart of London, where Master Distiller, Jared Brown swears by it – even if it’s mostly for fun. We have also visited around 5 bars in Hong Kong, Lebanon, Cyprus and London that use the Rotovap on a daily basis. But what does a bar do with a Rotovap?
Well there are a number of uses, but the most important uses are to create essences, tinctures, high ABV spirit (for use in bitters and for fortification of syrups) and new flavoured spirit – not to be confused with “new make spirit”. Of course one could create new make spirit using the Rotovap by distilling a fermented product, but beware – due to the fact there is no copper in the apparatus it will be hard to avoid “off” tastes and smells in your spirit and due to distilling of fermented fruit juice (apart from being highly illegal in South Africa without proper licensing) is very dangerous when one does not know what they are doing!
Due to the vacuum created inside the Rotovap, one is able to distil ingredients at lower temperatures than usual due to the fact that boiling points are influenced by altitude (aka atmospheric pressure). Imagine you are swimming in water. The deeper you go, the more pressure you feel because there is more water above you. Now imagine you are climbing a mountain. The higher you go, the more you struggle to breathe. Why? Atmospheric pressure is due to the air above you at any given point. At greater heights, there is less air above you and hence pressure decreases. The lesser the pressure, the lower the boiling points as you go higher. The vacuum in the rotovap works in exactly the same way, removing atmospheric pressure, thus lowering the boiling point and making it a more subtle/gentle process.
When we asked a certain bar owner of a certain World’s 50 Best Bar if the rotovap was worth the initial investment, his answer was no. But rest assured when asking Matt Whiley, founder of Peg & Patriot, London or Tony Conigliaro, owner operator from 69 Colebrooke Row they would definitely sing a very different tune. The key is the difference in these types of outlets. Lost and Found Drinkery in Cyprus – that use the system – is a high volume cocktail bar that produces great quality cocktails, but has limited time for over exaggerated and time consuming prep – apart from the standard fresh macerations, blends, juices, syrups and bitters.
Roto Evaporators are only worth the investment when your whole beverage program is leveraged on its use. When one of your bar’s main unique selling point (USP) to your customer is the fact that you produce your own flavoured spirits. During our last visit to Origin in Hong Kong their Rotovap never ceased to stop working for the 2 day visit, due to the fact that they were producing their own range of flavoured gin variations.
A couple more factors to consider… You really need to know the ins and outs of the Rotovap to start using it, so you will need a master to teach you how to use it – and there aren’t that many of them out there… Experimenting with a Rotovap is expensive, as you will waste a lot of alcohol during the process. Of course you can start experimenting with essences first, but alcohol reacts uniquely during the distillation process and it will take at the very least a number of tries to get a satisfactory new flavoured spirit. If the Liquor Board in South Africa walked into your bar and caught you rectifying existing spirits (without a valid license), you would have some serious explaining to do.
The review on the Centrifuge and Sonicprep™ to follow in Part 2.