In the limelight this week is a Purple Cabbage Infused Mezcal.
Our spotlight ingredient that transforms beverage director Maxwell Reis’ Purple Cabbage Mezcal cocktail on the menu at Gracias Madre, West Hollywood and Newport, California.
Maxwell Reis was always surrounded by a food and beverage-focused community in his hometown of Napa, CA. Max fell in love with agave spirits during the decade spent working behind bars in Los Angeles and solidified that love by taking every opportunity to experience mezcal first-hand. “I became obsessed with Mezcal and perused a job at Gracias Madre, eventually leaving to elevate my knowledge of spirits and cocktails with Shawn Lickliter, the bar director at Republique. After a few years, I returned to Gracias Madre to run the program full-time in hopes to pursue Mezcal at a much greater depth.”
Gracias Madre prides themselves on providing an intimate and educational experience if you’re looking for it, no matter how busy they are. The program Max has curated here surely makes this so, as it focuses exclusively on ethically sourced, additive-free agave spirits. Max highlights his obsession with creating vibrantly colored cocktails out of unique ingredients, which includes the Purple Cabbage Mezcal, which was inspired by white-washed Baja Fish Tacos. “Purple Cabbage juice smells—well, like farts—after it oxidizes. To eliminate that factor, we use a centrifugal technique Dave Arnold pioneered called a ‘Justino:’ the integration of low-water content products (usually fruits and vegetables) into alcohol using a blender, naturally derived chemical treatments, and a centrifuge, to integrate the cabbage with our house Mezcal batch #5. What we’re left with is a beautiful deep purple mezcal, where the earthiness and fruitiness of the mezcal and the earthy vegetal notes of the purple cabbage combine beautifully.”
Max notes that the technique requires patience for the proper yield, but going the extra mile is worth it. “The creation gets gasps every time guests see it being made at the bar top.” No garnish needed. We asked Max to tell us more about this fascinating technique and cocktail.
Purple Cabbage Justino (Purple Cabbage infused Mezcal)
- 1 1/2 oz. Purple Cabbage Mezcal*
- 1/2 oz. Rhinehall Mango Brandy
- 1 oz. lime juice
- 1/2 oz. 1:1 simple syrup
- 1/2 oz. Giffard Pineapple
Preparation: Shake with ice. Fine strain into Nick and Nora glass.
Add 4ml Pectinex and x Kieselsol and 100mg dried purple cabbage to 1L Mal Bien Espadin in blender. Blend on high until physically warm to the touch- if completed early, at least 15 minutes. Add 4ml Chitosan. Stir and wait 15 minutes.
Add 4ml Kieselsol. Stir, then pour in batches to fill line of Spinzall Centrifuge bowl. Spin in Batch Mode. (The longer you wait after final chemical treatment, the harder the liquid will break, but it can be spun after 15 minutes if time is short). Then (rewetting) place solids from centrifuge in blender with 250ml water and 1-2 ml Pectinex and blend. Spin until separated. Strain and combine with main batch. Store.
Tell us more about Purple Cabbage Infused Mezcal.
I’m obsessed with creating vibrantly colored and approachably delicious cocktails out of weird ingredients. Cocktails that guests see go by, and order one without knowing what’s in it because it’s so beautiful, love it, then are shocked to find out what’s in it. Purple Cabbage brings many of those things to the table, but it can be very hard to work with. To eliminate the smell factor, we use a centrifugal technique Dave Arnold pioneered called a ‘Justino’ to integrate the cabbage with our house Mezcal batch #5 (private batch well imported by Mal Bien). What we’re left with is a beautiful deep purple mezcal, where the earthiness and fruitiness of the mezcal and the earthy vegetal notes of the purple cabbage combine beautifully, and it doesn’t develop over time. This is an altered recipe from the Purple Cabbage Gin from Liquid Intelligence, a highly recommended read.
Tell us about the “Justino” technique.
The Justino technique is the integration of low water content products (usually fruits and vegetables) into alcohol using a blender, naturally derived chemical treatments, and a centrifuge. You essentially combine the product with your chosen alcohol until it’s fully integrated, then separate it back out using centrifugal techniques. The result is immensely flavorful. Dave Arnold who innovated the technique used to just serve some Justinos chilled for casual sipping. You can use low water content fruit like a banana, or dehydrate the product first then integrate it. The dehydrated Justino technique is how I introduce the purple cabbage to Mezcal without juice entering the alcohol and oxidizing over time. It’s incredibly fun to play with and I use the technique all the time with fruit and veggies that have been notoriously hard to integrate into a cocktail, like persimmon.
What are some tips and trips to using this technique?
Don’t rush it. Time is your friend if you want proper yield. My buddy, Mike Capoferri, who uses these techniques all the time at his bar, Thunderbolt, turned me on to integrating the products in the blender until it’s hot to the touch, which has been a serious game changer for me. Also, if you have the time, let the products sit for a while post treatment so they better separate before spinning in the centrifuge. People also often skip the ‘rewetting’ technique mentioned in liquid intelligence, where you integrate the leftover pulp removed from the centrifuge with a little water, treat it, and spin it again to get additional alcohol out. It works wonders, and I highly recommend going the extra mile for additional incredibly flavorful yield.
What else should bartenders know about using this technique with cocktail ingredients?
There is serious rabbit hole of research that should be done. But be patient. This isn’t a plug and play device. It takes practice and research to function properly. A lot of the resources that are available haven’t been updated in a long time, so be open to exploring techniques beyond just the surface level and find what works best for you. Also, clarification isn’t just a gimmick. It has serious applications, especially if you’re attempting techniques like force carbonation or you want to stir a juice-based cocktail instead of shaking it. Don’t just clarify because it seems cool; utilize the potential of the technique to its fullest if you want to feel the reward of your time and efforts.
Tell us about mixing with cabbage.
Cabbage has a beautiful almost surreal color when integrated into a cocktail, but it can be a little hard to navigate. Fresh juice oxidizes and gets some serious kimchee vibes very quickly, so you have to figure out a solution, whether it be expressed aromatics to hide the smell or using other techniques. I often find that, like with most earthy veggies, you need to brighten up the drink with fruity flavors to make it palatable for most guests. Think about how most Oaxacan mezcal is served with a piece of orange and Sal de Gusano (worm salt); the earthiness of the mezcal from Oaxaca needs a sweet fruity flavor to complement and cleanse the palate. I treat cabbage the same by complementing it with something vibrant and juicy such as Dons Mix, pineapple, etc. It’s a fun ingredient once you hit your stride with it.
Talk to us about the inspiration for the drink.
Hilariously enough—whitewashed Baja fish tacos! I wanted to integrate cabbage Justino in a culinary sense with Mexican cuisine and thought recreating a purple cabbage and fruit-based salsa such as a Daquiri was a fun idea, and it 100% panned out. The purple cabbage mezcal plays amazingly well with fruit-based Eau-de-vie and lime exactly as it would on a plated dish. The color sealed the deal for me. No garnish necessary. It gets gasps every time guests see it being made at the bar top.
Tell us 4-5 things a bartender can do right now to level-up their drink creations.
Believe in yourself: Take the leap when you can. So many talented bartenders just assume they’re under qualified to do things like run programs, but you’ll never know unless you try. Being scared just means you actually care, and you’ll do a kickass job.
Educate yourself: Go down the rabbit hole. Advancing is all about learning and evolving; the second you’re not learning from a job and you’re going through the motions, means it’s time to either self-motivate and use the resources the job offers to educate yourself or explore other options. Don’t allow yourself to be stagnant. The second you stop learning is on you.
Be realistic: To be successful, be realistic and know your space. Just because everyone has a million beautiful garnishes on Instagram doesn’t mean any of those people have had to make hundreds of those cocktails for guests on a busy night. Impress with your knowledge of ingredients, making them sing, not adding more and more until it reads like a novella and putting a whole flower shop on top.
Compartmentalize your creativity: It’s okay to have a million ideas and not use them all in one space. Most new beverage directors, I included, can be too eager to impress and will put out cocktails that are hard to execute and honestly don’t speak to the space its being served in. Slow down, imagine being a guest, and fulfill those expectations. No one wants a million-ingredient tiki drink at an Irish pub. Save that for later.
Be Selective: You don’t have to say yes to everyone. Alcohol brands hire very well, and that doesn’t mean you have to climb to the top of the social ladder bringing on every product under the sun. Be discerning, develop select relationships that make sense to you, and have the community be proud to work with you and be a part of your program. Developing relationships with meaning create meaningful opportunities down the road you’ll be proud to take.