Top Bartender Alan Walter’s Current Obsession: Sous Vide Cocktails
The creative director of New Orleans bar Loa has found a way to use unusual ingredients, like mushrooms and herbs, in cocktails.
Alan Walter has a habit of pushing the envelope with his cocktails.
The creative director of New Orleans’ bar Loa, which is located inside the boutique International House Hotel, favors using hyper-local and foraged Louisiana ingredients—everything from blackberries to Spanish moss. But to take his cocktails to a new and funky level, he had to find a way to work with ingredients that were just too finicky for traditional methods.
That’s when he and a colleague started considering using a sous vide system to quickly extract flavors from unusual ingredients.
Traditionally, chefs use the technique to cook everything from vegetables to steak to tender perfection—the food (or, in this case, liquor) is sealed in an airtight container and submerged in a warm bath.
“I realized that I could let pecans sit in vodka for three weeks or I could spend one hour doing it,” says Walter. “The sous vide is amazing—it’s probably the most intense tool I’ve used.”
Walter adds that there are two big reasons this has become his go-to infusion method. For one, you don’t lose any alcohol during the process and secondly, he’s able to extract a more intense, concentrated flavor from an ingredient.
“It has been really useful to me and it’s funny how it’s made some things possible,” says Walter. “It encourages me to make more complex things. It gives you a lot more access to getting to the place you want to be. It’s more time to make mistakes and figure out your mistakes quicker, too.”
Walter actually built his own sous vide system in what he calls “poor Southern fashion.” That is, he uses Ziplock freezer bags, a good thermometer and “a real big gumbo pot.”
“It works as well as a fancy [machine],” says Walter. “I wouldn’t mind having the fancy stuff, but it’s kind of fun to pretend those things weren’t invented.”
And so far, the method has worked wonders. He’s found success with fresh herbs that, in a more traditional infusion might be “disappointing,” but in a sous vide yield nice, clean savory notes. One particularly exciting result Walter had is with fresh mushrooms, which he uses in a shiitake and honey liqueur made with a vodka base.
Sous vide has also allowed Walter to infuse a spirit with multiple ingredients at once. “If you can get up to four ingredients at a time to infuse straight into a liquor, you can almost pass a lot of cocktail making that way,” says Walter. “It’s like a one-pot meal.”
This is how he made the Bobby Charles cocktail, which was on a recent Loa menu. The base of the cocktail was a house-made, sous vide-infused blueberry aquavit that also was flavored with caraway, anise and fennel. The concoction was then mixed with elements of lemongrass, celery and dill.
“That drink was just a smashing success,” says Walter. “It had savory notes. The blueberry and caraway play off each other great and the sous vide allowed the blueberries to give up their fruit. It was a bright, gorgeous rosy blue color. After a few times doing it, I knew my measurements well enough to do the caraway, anise, fennel and blueberries all in the same bag.”
For his new fall menu, Walter, of course, included a couple sous vide infusion drinks. The Greater New Orleans French 75 features a Cognac infused with peaches.
“It’s a simple idea, but is really delicious,” says Walter.
- 1.5 oz Peach-infused Cognac Park VS
- .75 oz Fresh lemon juice
- .5 oz Peach syrup
- 1 Dash Angostura Bitters
- 3 oz Sparkling rosé
- Glass: Champagne flute
- Garnish: Lemon twist
For the Cognac-Infused with Peach: Slice the peaches thinly and dehydrate. Add the peaches to the Cognac and submerge in a sous vide bath at 155 degrees Fahrenheit for two-and-a-half hours.
For the Peach Syrup: Slice the peaches in half and press flat. Allow the peaches to simmer in a simple syrup (one part sugar, one part water) for 30 minutes.
Add all the ingredients, except the sparkling wine, to a cocktail shaker and fill with ice. Shake and strain into a Champagne glass. Top with the sparkling rosé and garnish with a lemon twist.