Evan Wallace Talks Bubbles
Many bartenders who work in venues where lots of Champagne is served probably use or at least know of the Perlini method, a way to preserve sparkling wine with carbon dioxide (CO2) that helped spur the growth of quality by-the-glass sparkling-wine service. Even Dom Perignon is a customer. Now, Evan Wallace, the man behind the Perlage Champagne Preservation System, is rolling out his next device, the Perlini Cocktail Carbonating System, which is vying to become the next big thing in professional drink carbonation and bar equipment.
Mix: The Perlini is just entering the market: How does it improve on what's available now?
Evan Wallace: There are really no good options for carbonating cocktails at this time — prior to Perlini, of course. To the extent that mixologists are trying to carbonate cocktails, they are typically using some variant of a soda siphon. These products work fine for carbonating water, but not so well for other liquids. They are cumbersome and difficult to use in a commercial environment. Perlini solves these problems.
Mix: The Perlini arrives at a time when bartenders are increasingly looking for ways to carbonate beverages when serving. Have they had an impact on the development?
Wallace: Yes, very much so. The idea for Perlini was born in a bar, and the Perlini Cocktail Carbonating System is the first and only carbonation system designed by and for bartenders. Perlini has been in development for over six years, and every step of the way, noted bartenders have used the various prototypes and shaped the direction of the development arc. Perlini prototypes have been in hard commercial use in bars for five years, and every bit of feedback has been folded back into the development process.
Mix: How is it distinguished from other bar carbonation methods?
Wallace: There are two key characteristics that distinguish Perlini, one technical and one functional. The key technical difference between Perlini and other methods has to do with temperature. The absorption rate of CO2 in water is strongly temperature dependent: The colder the liquid, the more CO2 will dissolve, and the more bubbly the drink. If you try to carbonate room-temperature liquid, the result is a lifeless, barely fizzy drink; ice-cold liquids, however, will carbonate vigorously. Perlini is the only product that separates into two halves, like a Boston shaker, which allows you to put ice in the shaker. The ice cools the liquid and allows for the production of vigorously carbonated drinks, without having to pre-chill the ingredients. There are many other technical advantages to Perlini, but this is the most important and the hardest to engineer! But perhaps the biggest point of differentiation from other products is function: Perlini was designed from the very beginning with the principle that it should have as little impact as possible on the workflow of a busy bar, and on the culture and tradition of cocktail preparation and service. I spent many hundreds of hours observing bartenders and timing their activities, and set as a design principle that Perlini should add no more than five seconds to the process of making a cocktail. We designed Perlini to look and feel like a cocktail shaker and to be used like a cocktail shaker. It is, for example, almost exactly the same weight and volume as the typical pint glass/shaker cup that nearly every bar in the United States uses. Perlini also can be used in two modes: with disposable cartridges supplying the pressurized CO2 or with a pressurizing system that connects to a stand-alone CO2 tank or splices into a bar’s existing soda-gun system. All existing products to date only use disposable cartridges. Put simply, a cartridge-based system is a non-starter for a busy bar. Fine for home use or travel use, but not practical for a busy bar. With the commercial pressurizer, Perlini is a solid, sturdy professional system suited for the chaotic environment of a busy bar.
Mix: Are there some types of cocktails you think work better with the Perlini than others?
Wallace: In general, clear spirits tend to lend themselves most easily to carbonation better than the heavy wood-aged spirits. Vodka is the easiest to design sparkling recipes around, but vodka is less interesting for serious cocktail people. Heavy wood-aged spirits are the most challenging to design recipes around, especially Scotch. We’ve found that the extra acidity from the carbonic acid created by dissolved CO2 can interact with the tannins in a way that emphasizes acerbic notes in the flavor profile, and this requires extra care in tweaking the recipe. The resulting cocktails can be amazing, but it takes a little practice to balance the cocktail correctly. That being said, my favorite carbonated cocktail is bourbon based.
Mix: As someone who develops products for the beverage business, what do you think about current cocktail trends?
Wallace: When I first started working on Perlage and Perlini 10 years ago, there were only a handful of bars in Seattle where you could get a great Manhattan, say. With the return of interest in classic cocktails and the rise of modern mixology and its attention to quality ingredients and new processes, there now are a half-dozen bars within a block of me where I can get a Manhattan made with a great single-barrel bourbon, handmade local bitters and some exotic strain of house-brandied cherry (and stirred, not shaken). The dark side of this trend is that there is sometimes too much attention on the drink itself, instead of where the attention should be: on the customer. In other words, there is a rise of great mixologists and a decline of great bartenders. In general, I love the expansion of choices. I love the rise of local distilleries. In the last several decades, we have seen similar trends with regional wines, then local breweries, and now — finally — with spirits.
Mix: First Perlage, now the Perlini — what's next?
Wallace: There are a couple of other things in the works, all CO2 related, that I can’t talk in detail about just yet. Our main focus right now is that Perlini is nearly on the market, is on horizontal product development; e.g., localization in different countries where the CO2 tank fittings are different, different configurations of the product for different market segments, etc., and on improving and evolving our existing products.
Mix: What's your favorite drink now?
Wallace: I love bubbles; I drink Champagne most of the time when I am at a bar. When I’m feeling like something in the spirits family, it is usually a neat bourbon or a Manhattan (I always order a Manhattan when I go to a new bar as a benchmark). So imagine my delight when I discovered the Seelbach, a bourbon-based cocktail topped with Champagne. This cocktail is amazing carbonated: Jaime Boudreau at Rob Roy puts all the ingredients, including the Champagne, into Perlini and this cocktail just comes to life with a light effervescence. I also love the Crux, introduced to me by the great Murray Stenson. The Crux is equal parts Cognac, Cointreau, Dubonnet and lemon juice, shaken and served up. Perhaps the most versatile cocktail on the planet, it's good in summer or winter, late or early in the evening and appeals equally to men and women. This is another cocktail that is absolutely transcendent when carbonated.