If you’ve heard or read the term “switching” over the past few days, you probably have questions.
Likely, you’re first question is, “What’s switching?” The odds are good that your next question is, “Should I or my bar team be switching?”
We have some answers for you.
What is Switching?
Switching is the process of separating the water from a spirit through freezing, then “switching” it with something else. Practically speaking, the switch should be something that enhances the original spirit’s flavors and mouthfeel, such as juice or clarified juice.
The frozen water may also be used to modify another liquid as it can retain characteristics of the spirit from which it was separated. This is called “switch-finishing.”
Who Came up with Switching and Switch-Finishing?
A Scotsman named Iain McPherson who operates a bar called Panda & Sons in Edinburgh. As he explains in a blog post, “I have always been fascinated by sub zero temperatures. I’m basically an over qualified ice cream lover.”
You may think you love ice cream but McPherson went through an ice cream program at a university in Reading in England. He then attended a gelato university in Bologna, Italy. Neither of those sentences are jokes.
McPherson has explained that this was no accident—he was intentionally seeking to create a bar technique. In his opinion, the bar world has watched the culinary world innovate and borrowed their discoveries and creations. McPherson felt it was long past due for true innovation behind the bar.
“I was getting more frustrated with myself and the general bar industry, that we weren’t coming up with more of our own techniques,” McPherson writes.
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It seems only natural that he would pursue a process that involved freezing since, by his own admission, he finds sub-zero temperatures enthralling.
How was Switching Created?
Before turning his focus to individual spirits, McPherson writes that he experimented on a Negroni. That experiment resulted in a Negroni Slushy because he didn’t take differing alcohol and sugar levels into account.
McPherson switched things up (yep, that just happened) and focused on spirits. He has explained that he targeted spirits that didn’t have any added sugar, noting in particular that rums without added sugar are easier to switch than their counterparts.
The intrepid bar professional chose a 47% ABV gin for what he calls phase one of developing this new technique, weighed it, and froze it for 24 hours at -30 degrees Celsius. McPherson defrosted the water, weighed its volume, and then switched it with a blend of orange juice and clarified pink grapefruit.
For phase two, McPherson switched the water from a rum with clarified pineapple juice. He then made a Hotel Nacional cocktail with the switched rum. This showed him the potential to play with and enhance the flavors of cocktails.
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Switch-finishing was created during phase three of McPherson’s research. He created a smoky rum by separating the water from an Islay Scotch, separating the water from a rum from South America, and switching the water from the Scotch into the rum.
Okay, But Why Switching?
The nearly endless possibilities of enhancing classic cocktails and creating new drinks, for one. The ability to get creative and enhance or otherwise change the flavor of individual spirits as another.
As far as trends go, this one is truly intriguing and essentially fully owned by the bar world, thanks to McPherson. There’s also not much barrier to entry: McPherson says bar owners and teams who want to get in on switching really just need a commercial-grade chest freezer, and those can be had for well under $1,000.
More technique than trend, bar pros should be excited about the potential for switched cocktails and pours on their menus. It’s not difficult to envision menu sections with titles like “Switched Classics, “Switched Signatures,” “Switched Drafts,” and “Switch-Finished Sips” in the very near future.
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Guests always want what’s new, and switching and switch-finishing certainly scratch that itch. These techniques can refresh menus, reinvigorate bar teams, and re-engage guests in person and on social media.
Cocktails for You. (2019, July). “Switching” the Cocktail Technique you’ve never heard of.... Nevsky, Danil. McPherson, Iain.