For their annual Fall Ball, NYC-based arts production organization Creative Time hosted a slumber party. Andsince it was created by the people who brought Kara Walker’s epic Domino Sugar Factory exhibition to Brooklynthis was no ordinary sleepover. Rather, it was an event with cots and noise-canceling headphones, art experiences and extraordinary performance programming across the floors of Neuehouse. There, with Absolut Elyx, they hosted an informative class on mixing cocktails with celebrated biochemist and bartender Alex Ott. The mastermind crafted three and a half cocktails for the event, each one with a clear mission and distinct profile.
Ott’s background is quite varied, and includes time spent developing 300 new cocktail menus at globally renowned establishments, scent profiles for famous perfume brands such as Tom Ford, and eight years with NASA as a scientist. He studied biochemistry in Germany, but became interested in food and drink while making jams with his grandmother. His parents taught him about plants and botanics. And, while he initially shied away from booze for its perceived negative impact, he realized the power and potential of reimagining the way drinks were madeif science was utilizied. Fortunately, Ott thinks of neurotransmitters when crafting cocktailsbecause the results are unprecedented and have been for over 16 years in NYC alone.
Ott further approaches mixing drinks with curiosity, passion and a clear understanding of scent and flavor and their impact. “Each drink was chosen for tonight to provide a plethora of functional cocktails that people could relate to when it comes to every day life. One was for if you’re stressed out, another if you need to wake up. The third was for a cleanse and detox,” he shares with CH. “This is how my strategy normally works for events. Get people to a certain level, so that everybody feels the same way.”
And each cocktail did exactly as promised. All three employed one and a half ounces of Absolut vodka. The rest were the result of years of experimentation. Ott refers to his first offeringa stand out, The Little Deathas a mental health elixir and anti-anxiety potion. In conjunction with Absolut Smokey Tea, Ott blended fresh chamomile, Damiana tea, passion flower extract, kava kava, fresh raspberry and Sicilian lemon. It was all topped with a rose petal. Combined, a delicate sweetness coupled with herbs and florals for an even cocktail of ease. Ott’s upper, the Intergalactic Peace Pipe, employed ginger and lime, as well as tamarind and anis among other components. It packed a punch. As for his Fountain of Youth, a cucumber martini, bitters and cranberry provided a replenishing element.
But it was Ott’s Molecular Cocktail Caviar that truly reigned supreme. He turned Absolut Elyx into a powdered iteration (made via his own process) and incorporated pure sandalwood essence and pear. By dripping the concoction through salt water, tiny gelatinous spheres formed and were served on pear slices. The work harkens to Ferran Adri, someone Ott cites as an inspiration. For such tiny little spheres, the flavor shines through.
Cocktails could be healthy. It is obvious in the way that chemistry works.
As a kicker, he notes, “These all are directly very hungover preventative, incorporating vitamins and amino acid compounds. Cocktails could be healthy. It is obvious in the way that chemistry works. A lot of people underestimate the potency of spices and herbs and teas.” All of these items factor into his drinks. “Yummy cocktails are not the way things should be done. Because drinking is a very social thing to do, you should be able to sit there with your friends without being annihilated and hungover the next day.” He does so by employing all-natural ingredients, with a deep understanding of their impact on the body and how they can counteract the effects of inebriation.
When constructing a cocktail, Ott begins with its story: “Every cocktail has to have a history as to why it was created. I always say, ‘What is this cocktail going to do to you?’ Then, ‘How is constructed?’ I don’t experiment with flavors anymore. After a lot of experience, you just know in your mind when you put three ingredients together how it will taste on your tongue.” Ott chooses certain spirits to elicit specific moodsbe that their sedative effects or their ability to energy. He also wants to change peoples’ minds about how alcohol must taste. “I’ve worked with many spirits people dislike because I want to convert them back to the good stuff. It’s a story, it’s history.” And in doing so, Ott delivered three (and a half) wildly imaginative options, built with knowledge from history and chemistry.
Lead image by Guillermo Cano Perez for Creative Time, second image by Luis Ruiz for Neuehouse, all other images by Karen Day