Craft Cocktails From a Soda Gun

I have been a bit hard on Eben Freeman in the past, and I just ran across a story on him, about which you’d pretty much expect me to tee up and take a rip at.
See, the reason I’ve taken shots at Eben in the past isn’t that he so richly deserves it. He doesn’t. He’s one of the Boss mixologists out there, with great feel for ingredients, a wealth of knowledge of food, cocktails, and chemistry, and an adventurous, avante garde mind. And a bit of ego. Combine all that in one man, and from time to time he’s going to take an idea, puff it up and stretch it from intelligent to ridiculous. Get ridiculous, and snarky critics like me will be there to ridicule you.

But not this time.

See, this time, Eben’s got a idea that’s both ridiculous on its face, and guaranteed to piss off a bunch of purists I could link. But I’m here to praise, not bury, because the drink sounds cool, Eben’s not puffing it or himself up, and the method is both ingenious and appropriate.

He’s shooting a finished cocktail out of a soda gun. It’s called the Waylon, and while I’ve never heard of it, he’s been making it for a while.
The Waylon is a highball, with Buffalo Trace bourbon and smoke infused Coca Cola. To produce it, Eben smoke-infuses the pure Coke syrup, then mixes in the whiskey. Add the right amount of water, and you have a mix that will likely last months. Or hours, if it’s a busy night and the drinks geeks know it’s there to be tried.
Plug in the CO2 tank and hook up the gun. Eben runs the output tube through a chilled aluminum block to produce a cocktail that is already drinking temp. I have no idea if this is something that most soda fountains do, but I doubt it. I can see the value, even though this is a rocks drink, of the chilling. There will be less, and more reliable melting, leaving a drink that is reliably strong, no matter what ice you end up using.

Yes, it uses a soda gun, but the blasted mechanism is put to good use here. The drink’s also fun, different, and not at all pretentious. OK, it’s a little pretentious, but with a wink. And if you’re on a mission to shut down all winking pretension, you’re going to have to shut down the whole craft bar industry. So piss off.

I imagine that this is a method most anyone could use themselves at home for all sorts of jiggery pokery. I’m thinking it’ll be fun with Cuba Libré variants. All you’d need is a soda siphon, which you hopefully have, and if not, shame on you. The drink won’t be pre-chilled, but some things just can’t be helped. And depending on what ingredients you play with in your own efforts, the batch should last quite a while.

The serious ingredient you’ll need is the Coke syrup itself. You could go all Darcy and make it yourself. Or you could pick up any of the scores of knockoff syrups out there for use in home soda machines, like the bottle that came with my SodaStream.
But back in the day, you could just go to your pharmacy’s antacid aisle and buy a bottle of pure, genuine Coca Cola syrup. It’s a lot harder to find today, which is a shame since it does the job on nausea. Still, here’s at least one source where you can buy small bottles of the stuff. And you can even buy five gallon bags of Essence of the Real Thing™ right from Amazon. That’s a bit much for the home mixer, I suppose.

Regardless, Eben is serving up his Waylons tonight (I believe) at a bar called Fatty Johnson’s in New York. I’ll miss out because I am here, but if you can chip your way through the ice encasing your door in New York, tell Eben I said hello, and come back and tell me how the Waylon tastes. (Via The Feast, H/T: Gizmodo)


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  1. Matt R.

    27 January

    There are some cocktails where I can see no problem with this. I mean, it FEELS wrong on the surface, but if we can barrel-age cocktails and then serve them – essentially premaking and then storing a cocktail before service – then why not take the next step and attach them to a dispenser.

    Actually, I’ll tell you why: Because of places like TGIFridays that will be pushing “Daiquiris” made with rum and sweet & sour or “Mai Tais” that are mostly OJ through their guns.

    But again, from a technical standpoint, I could see this being just fine. Part of the allure of a cocktail bar though is the show – getting to see the artistry and craftsmanship that goes into a great cocktail.

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  2. Doug

    27 January

    Wow, fastest comment EVAR.

    As I said, this one is sure to piss off the purists. And yes, there is the danger of this method causing the Mai Tai and Daiquiri to lose some of the ground we’ve fought to recover these last few years. (That said, is “I’m sorry, Guv, we don’t have any in our gun,” any worse than, “Sorry, Dood. We don’t have a blender here”?)

    But with this, he’s just having fun. Thank God It’s Houligan Tuesdays all over will wreck any decent drink they decide to put their mitts on, anyway. This one would actually take more work to mess up, not less.

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  3. Michael Dietsch

    27 January

    I think he might have had this rig at Tales. I can’t remember, I was drunk the entire time. But I remember he had a couple of tricknology cocktails going on down there, and I liked them both.

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  4. Jordan

    27 January

    Yeah. Seems like a totally reasonable idea for any drink that is composed entirely of shelf-stable ingredients. Probably not so good for a drink with fruit juices or fresh herbs, but whatever. Still a cool concept.

    Plus, you can probably pre-chill drinks pretty well by leaving them in the back of the fridge. On average it’s about 4º C in there and a bit chillier in the back, as anyone who’s accidentally frozen stuff in there (I recently pulled a rather distended can of soda out of the back of mine).

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  5. Andrew Hall

    27 January

    I have played with the Waylon a bunch. Really easy to do and a great trick to bust out for guests. Below is what I wrote up about doing it. I experimented with other bourbon and spirits. A lighter spirit worked best. I thought Eben initially used Woodford Reserve and I think Buffalo Trace is a way better option.


    Eben Freeman is one of the main gurus of technical mixology tricks and one of his signature drinks is the “Waylon,” a spin on the staple of Jack-and-Coke. I loved Eben’s cocktails when he was at WD-50 and always follow with fascination what he is doing. (You can thank him for the rage of fat-washing , a classic perfumery technique, to make items like bacon Bourbon.) When I can, I experiment along the lines he has pioneered. So when I saw a fancy cola syrup at Williams and Sonoma last weekend, I knew I had to make the Waylon which relies on smoked cola syrup.
    I smoked the cola syrup in by igniting a cherry wood chunk and then putting in an enclosed bin made of two mixing bowls w/ the syrup in a ramekin. I let it until the smoke exhausted itself and then repeated four more time. Ideally one would do this in larger batches in a smoker, but I was interested in a single serving (1/4 cup). When finished, the syrup had a faint but clear scent of smoke.
    The Waylon (borrowed liberally from Eben Freeman) – for two people
    1/4 cup smoked cola syrup
    1 1/4 cups water, chilled
    1 1/2 oz Tuthilltown Baby Bourbon / drink
    Put the syrup and water in soda siphon and charge w/ 2 CO2 canisters. Put Bourbon in old fashioned glasses and add evenly between glasses. Finish with a single 2″ ice cube. (Ideally, garnish with preserved lemon – didn’t have it last night.)
    This was a seriously good drink. The smoke just sits at the edge of perception, providing a complexity and savory-reference that the typical Bourbon and Coke lacks. Needs a little tweaking – up the Bourbon next time – but is truly a great highball.

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  6. Cris

    28 January

    If this wasn’t Eben Freeman’s idea it would immediately piss me off…however, he is THE MAN and I have had the unique opportunity to work side by side with him. If he thinks it works it probably does. But I don’t want to do it in my bar. 🙂

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  7. Doug

    28 January

    Cris,

    I agree, Eben’s The Man. But who comes up with the idea is irrelevant, or should be, to whether you bust out the tar and feathers.

    I guess the reason I find this interesting and a little charming is that he doesn’t present the Waylon-method as some kind of New Thing to be emulated. It is, as Dietsch so cooly refers to it, “Tricknology”.

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  8. SeanMike

    2 February

    I will say that I tried the Waylon back at his old place in NYC (Taylor? Or was it Tailor? Or something else?) and it was a delicious drink.

    This method, for this drink, makes perfect sense to me.

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