I’M IAIN MCPHERSON AND I AM AN OWNER OF 3 BARS IN EDINBURGH AND AN ALCOHOLIC ICE-CREAM RANGE,
BUT I REMAIN A BARTENDER AT HEART.
In recent years me and my bar Panda & Sons have gotten some attention for new techniques which have taken me around the world, sharing my ideas. I’ve never tried to come up with new stuff for the sake of it. A streak of obsessiveness in my personality leads me to wanting to learn new things. I need to push my brain at all times. Not in an intense, creepy way. I just love what I do.
I always like to keep things moving which comes down to a curiosity that I think I’ve always had. I want to champion the drinks industry and all the great work that goes on in it, but in previous years the danger was just following current chef and food trends which could be very frustrating.
So for inspiration I started looking further afield, playing with things I have no right to be playing with and then once I’ve cracked something, integrate it into my drinks menu. Then I’m on to the next thing!
My most recent discovery is a technique I called ‘Switching’. Here was the inspiration: There is a style of beer in Germany called Eisbock. Traditionally the brewers would put their beer out during the Winter so to freeze off some of the water in it, so they would be left with a stronger beer. This was fascinating to me, so I started off understanding this technique by chucking beer into a freezer at a temperature of around -2c. What I found was the ‘beer water’ had a lot of flavour. This triggered my mind to replace this flavour with another flavour. So that’s basically how Switching came about.
So back in the cocktail world I translate and build on this technique, using freezing temperatures to separate the water in spirits and switch out the lost liquid with an expertly-matched non-alcoholic replacement. This allows you to play with flavour in a whole new way, giving the bartender more freedom to be creative and more control over the end result. A simple concept but pretty crafty.
I’ve discovered that Switching is great for adding texture to a spirit, too. For example, I’ve added coconut milk to a white rum. Then with our ‘switched’ coconut white rum we have made a coconut daiquiri. We’re using the same building blocks of flavour but in a different way and with added texture, which I believe is a crucial cornerstone when you’re tasting a drink.
It’s also a great technique for emphasising existing flavours. For example, with a Scotch that had been aged in IPA casks. Here we switch the water with a non-alcoholic IPA, and thus called it a ‘Switched Double IPA’. The results were pretty special.
In Panda & Sons we’ve been most excited about utilising the Switching technique in tiki drinks. Tiki cocktails tend to be the big fruity ones made up with a lot of juice. So through Switching we create a shorter (less liquid) and boozier tiki drink more synonymous with a tropical rum negroni, which sounds good right? Again this showcases the same flavours but rejigging it all around with the use of switching.
The idea came about because I was keen to look deeper into the spirits’ make-up but I have always been fascinated by sub-zero temperatures, which is what drove me towards Señor Scoop, my alcoholic ice-cream brand.
My Dad was in the ice cream business when I was small, so from a young age I have always loved ice cream and any frozen treat. Then, a couple of years ago my friend recommended I leave a notepad and pen next to my bed so I could write down my lucid dreams. I thought ‘cool, maybe I can get some kicks out of this’. So one night I dreamt of being in a funfair but this time it was all turned on its head and everything was in some form of adult version. One specific thing was the ice cream had alcohol in it. I loved this idea so decided to just run with it and learn the craft of ice cream.
I dived straight in and went to the University of Reading to do their course called “Science of Ice Cream”. I wasn’t satisfied because I wanted to learn about gelato making so I jumped on a plane and trained at the Gelato University in Bologna, Italy for the summer. I enjoyed blending the flavours and adding the alcohol – I absolutely loved the process and I still do. Of our different flavours, my favourite scoops are ‘Oreos Over Dublin’ (Oreos, Baileys, Guinness Syrup, dark chocolate and vanilla) and ‘Edinburgh Rocks (salted caramel, Scotch and honeycomb). I continue to run Senõr Scoop with my mum and sister as my overqualified assistants. These ice creams are the USP for my bar Hoot The Redeemer.
And from there I went on to explore freeze-drying. You know that weird space food you normally get in foil packets? It’s so unusual, I knew I had to have a go! So I bought a freeze-drying machine from America and started messing with all sorts of stuff. First on my list was could you freeze-dry Haribo sweeties? The answer is yes and it’s mad. They go brittle and crunchy! So then I work with these new materials and see where it takes me. Check out my Instagram Stories where I have a lot of fun posting my results. The other day we tried freeze-drying different types of ice-cream. It’s fascinating how different brands turn out so differently based on the manufacturing processes they employ.
This again was a pretty new idea and I’ve enjoyed travelling and visiting bars all over the world and sharing my freeze-drying tips and techniques, and how we can adapt it as an alternative to previous techniques in our bars. Of course there were and are people who think I’m nuts. But thankfully now people see the merits in what I’m doing and they come along for the ride.
THEY’VE GONE FROM SAYING ‘YOU’RE WEIRD’ TO ‘THAT’S AWESOME!’
Recently I have been enjoying more time at home and in my lab and more time to try out new techniques – there is still lots more to be explored with Switching, and that almost always comes through trial and error. We have an operational lab in one of my bars, Panda & Sons, but I now do all my research in my own personal creative space, called the “Brain Melting Society”.
My advice to anyone playing with the unknown is you need a bit of courage to follow your inspiration and to stay focused. But most importantly though is not being afraid to fail. I actually quite like failing during projects as I find you learn so much more from your mistakes then if you get it right at the first attempt.
Switching is something that you can absolutely try yourself so give it a go – all you need is an “ultra low” freezer that gets below -25c. It’s an investment but worth it. Either that or make the trip to Edinburgh and visit us at Panda & Sons (and ask for the Silent Menu).