A Flash-Infused Cocktail to Celebrate Nuclear Fusion

Posted by Ken Walczak

nuclear reactor
Every Wednesday, GOOD’s cocktail columnist proposes a toast to worthy public figures. This week: a science-enhanced cocktail to honor the pioneers ushering in the upcoming age of nuclear fusion.

As a child of the '80s, I tried to keep a healthy distance from science. For every Anthony Michael Hall who improved his lot in life via (weird) science, the pop culture of my youth produced two science victims: Think Jeff Goldblum (fly’d), or Thomas Dolby (straight-up blinded!). I did a quick teenage risk/reward analysis, and became a lit major.

I’ve since reversed my stance on science as a thirsty adult, thanks to 21st-century drinking technology like dehydration, spherification, and whatever you call high-tech Jello shots. (Jellification?) And a recent Guardian piece gave me the best reason yet to throw on a lab coat and some old-school Guided by Voices: OMG nuclear fusion!

I love absolutely everything about this news, from the stunning details—fusion “far sooner” than 30 years from now, via a machine cheap enough “to construct in industrializing nations,” and built by a badass Secret Wars team of scientists from New Jersey and Iran—to the gorgeous, sci-fi-paperback-worthy reactor photo accompanying the story. Reading about this fusion initiative, I felt like if you'd told a 10-year-old version of myself that the U.S. and the Soviets were collaborating on a working prototype of the McFly Delorean.

Needless to say, I went straight to the lab to work on an appropriate celebratory libation.

The Call: Better Living Through Chemistry

I usually learn best via a combination of printed text and gin, but that killer reactor photo triggered the tiny graphic-association part of my brain and I recalled a plastic figurine of Blinky, the Simpsons’ three-eyed fish, blithely bobbing in a Martini glass as the garnish in a David Wondrich drink. Ah, there it is: The Atomic Cocktail. As Wondrich writes in Killer Cocktails, “[The Atomic] was created in a Vegas joint in the early ‘50s, back when A-bomb tests were giving the mob-financed, Okie-staffed casinos a run for their money as tourist attractions.” Perfect.

The original Atomic starts with equal parts vodka (very '50s chic) and brandy (Wondrich likes VSOP Cognac, or a sweeter Spanish number), adds a teaspoon of sherry, then tops everything off with brut Champagne (plus Blinky). A pleasant-sounding tipple to be sure, but the revolutionary prospect of Limitless Clean Energy In Our Time calls for something more current, more intense, and most of all, more scientific.

Enter flash infusion, a technique that sounds like the DC Comics equivalent of Secret Wars, but is actually simple enough for us lit majors to handle at home. Flash infusion expands the bartender’s palette of available flavors in a small fraction of the time it would take to, say, soak a pineapple in a jar of rum. More importantly, it allows us to bring an element of fusion cuisine to our nuclear fusion cocktail.

I learned to flash infuse from the French Culinary Institute—by which I mean I read this article on their blog. For the FCI method, you’ll need a cream whipper of the sort available at your local Target or Sur La Table, and a few of the nitrous oxide chargers coveted by your local juvenile delinquents. Chop up the ingredient you wish to infuse and pour room-temperature booze over it. Seal the whipper, and charge it with the N2O. Swirl gently for 30 seconds, and let stand for 30 seconds more. Repeat the swirling/standing process until you arrive at the desired proliferation of flavor.         

After confirming, by assiduous research, that flash infusion has never caused Goldblum-style metamorphosis in humans, and carries no risk of ending the universe, I used the technique to celebrate this new U.S./Iranian collaboration. I infused brandy with apples (the most American of all the fruits) and vodka with fennel (an herb featured in contemporary Persian/Iranian cuisine, and a natural companion for apples). I let each mixture sit for a total of about 90 seconds—swirled 30 seconds, waited 30 seconds, then swirled again. Your mileage may vary. Bison-grass vodka worked even better than the plain stuff, as the soft vanilla notes of the Polish herb played well against both the apple infusion and the licorice-tinged fennel.

Double-Infusion Fusion Confusion:

1 ½ oz. fennel-infused vodka, or fennel-infused Żubrówka
1 ½ oz. apple-infused brandy (or for a drier cocktail that better reps New Jersey, Laird’s 100 proof apple brandy)
1 ½ tsp. sherry (I used a Pedro Ximenez, but Oloroso sherry is probably better—Wondrich recommends that in his Atomic Cocktail recipe, and Wondrich is usually right)
½ to 2 oz. sparkling wine

Pour first three ingredients into an ice-filled shaker and stir. Pour into a chilled cocktail glass and top with the bubbly. Garnish with a sprig of the fennel you used to infuse the vodka. If anyone asks about its yellowish tinge, tell them it’s radioactive.

The DIFC adds fruit and herb layers to a cocktail that once tasted primarily of bread (from the sparkling wine) and nuts (from the sherry). While sipping it, I thought of the old distiller’s axiom: “There’s no substitute for Mother Nature, or Father Time.” But when it comes to infusions, the flash method actually foils Father Time. If this new nuclear fusion process is half as successful at circumventing the limited resources Mother Nature left us, we’ll all have an excuse to break out the bubbly.

Send your lab reports, or suggestions for future drink recipients, to mixologymailbag@gmail.com.