One look around the Funkin Innovation Lab, and it’s clear that the session is slated for some high-quality drinks geekery. The Funkin Cocktails team has transformed east London bar The Resident of Paradise Row into a bartender’s dream classroom: each table is equipped with an array of Funkin products and a guide outlining the main lessons of the day. Tanks of CO2 and kegs of cocktails wait in the wings, and Shaun Hall, Funkin Innovation Champion 2018, shakes up welcome drinks for the bartender students taking their seats.
It’s the third-annual Funkin Innovation Lab, and this one is set to be the best yet – not just because Funkin is celebrating 20 years of cocktail innovation.
The fruit purée and mixer brand is once again partnering with Crucible’s drinks pioneers to run a bartender training programme across the UK. Like the 2018 edition, this year’s session equips bartenders with the skills they need to succeed in the forthcoming Funkin Innovation Champion competition. But the day will also build on last year thanks to the expertise of the three standout bartenders running the show – Stu Bale and Romeo de Wit of Crucible, and Rosey Mitchell of London’s Three Sheets.
Bale kicks off his MC duties with introductions. ‘Rosey and Romeo really bounce off each other, so I wanted to get them involved,’ he says. And, as it turns out, the pair really know their stuff…
Gettin’ fizzy with it
De Wit takes the floor first. As an expert in kegged cocktails, he educates us on the science of carbonation.
The Fifth Exotic
By Shaun Hall, Funkin Innovation Champion 2018
Glass: Small Martini
Garnish: Orange peel and rosemary sprig
Method: Add all ingredients except the Lagavulin to a shaker and shake with ice. Rinse or spray the Martini glass with the Lagavulin. Strain and serve, garnished with the orange peel and sprig of rosemary, oils aromatised.
25ml Bulleit Bourbon
25ml FunkinPro Apricot Purée
12.5ml crème de banane
12.5ml FunkinPro Lime Juice
2 dashes cardamom bitters
1 barspoon Lagavulin 16yo
‘Basically what you do when you carbonate something is force a lot of carbon dioxide into a liquid,’ he explains. ‘There are a few ways to make sure you get better carbonated liquids in a shorter amount of time, and those are through temperature, time, pressure and density.’
De Wit highlights how carbonating an entire cocktail – rather than just topping it up with a fizzy element – can benefit the drink. ‘Liquids at cooler temperatures can hold more carbon dioxide, so they’ll be fizzier.’ He notes that you can chill alcoholic cocktails down even further because of alcohol’s lower freezing point, resulting in more and longer-lasting carbonation.
To illustrate this point, Mitchell serves up the Funkin 75, a riff on the French 75 she slings at Three Sheets. Rather than making a classic French 75 with gin, lemon, sugar and champagne, she prebatches gin, FunkinPro Rhubarb Syrup, rosewater and white wine, then carbonates the whole thing.
The result proves the advantage of this method: it’s a beautifully tart, dry, light-as-air drink. It also demonstrates the benefits of working with products like Funkin’s.
‘At Three Sheets we prebatch everything because we don’t have a lot of space,’ says Mitchell. ‘We also spend a lot of time talking to our customers, but that takes up time we’d spend making drinks. The Funkin rhubarb syrup is fantastic because of that – and you can guarantee consistency.’
Sugars and acids
Next, we compare a range of sugars and acids, and the topic of discussion turns to sustainability. ‘People talk about using the freshest ingredients possible,’ says de Wit. ‘That’s cool, but limes are shipped from Brazil – do you know how big the carbon footprint of shipping a load of limes from Brazil to the UK is? It’s not sustainable at all.’
He recommends a more sustainable method: using an acid with the same base as a lime, combined with lime essence, to create an artificial lime juice.
‘It relates back to Funkin products,’ Bale adds. ‘If you know the balance of acids and sugars you need, you don’t have to rely on seasonality and availability.’
De Wit soon passes out Nitro Cherry Cream Sodas as evidence. The kegged cocktail uses FunkinPro Morello Cherry Purée, FunkinPro Vanilla Syrup and tartaric acid for a punch of bold, fresh flavour – not to mention an incredibly rich, silky texture from the nitrogen.
With a solid understanding of acids and sugars under our belts, it’s time to put our newfound knowledge into action.
We craft our own cocktails using Funkin products and hand them off to de Wit to witness the carbonation first-hand.
The consensus? The bartender students have created some well-balanced cocktails. They’ve taken part in a day of useful competition prep. But even more, they’ve learned a set of skills that they can apply to their cocktails every day – now that’s something worth geeking out over.
Funkin Innovation Champion 2019
The Funkin Innovation Labs are a prequel to the Funkin Innovation Champion competition, a challenge that seeks bartenders at the cutting edge of creativity. This year’s competition asks participants to craft an original cocktail using at least two Funkin ingredients and taking inspiration from the 90s,
the decade in which Funkin Cocktails was first established.
The prize? A one-year, part-time contract with Funkin Cocktails, plus £1,000 cash and an immersive, all-expenses-paid trip to Bar Convent Berlin.
For more details, visit funkincocktails.co.uk.