When James Bond famously ordered his martini “shaken and not stirred,” he was only telling two-thirds of the story. Because those aren’t the only bartending techniques available. Throwing is another option, where a drink cascades from one vessel to the next.
Throwing is a method that aerates drinks, according to advocates. This results in delicately textured cocktails. The process is entertaining and makes for a memorable show. It’s flair bartending with a real purpose.
This technique is not new. However, the technique had almost vanished by the 20th Century. It was used primarily in Barcelona’s old-school bars. However, in the last few decades, it has been making a comeback to many bars in the United States.
The martini or Bloody Mary are two of the most popular drinks. Nowadays, however, nearly any drink can be thrown. At Milady’sIn SoHo, they offer Long Island iced coffee and appletini. You can find them at El QuijoteVariations on the El Presidente or the Tuxedo are given the treatment. At Nubeluz, José Andrés’s new rooftop bar in the Ritz-Carlton hotel on Central Park, they throw a riff on the Hanky Panky, while at Thyme Bar in Chelsea, a peanut-butter-flavored old-fashioned gets tossed about. People may be familiar with the practice. the 1988 Tom Cruise movie “Cocktail,” but the bartenders in the film threw bar hardware, not liquids.)
It can be very satisfying to watch a bartender make your drink. But if you want a show with the price of your drink, you’d better choose carefully. The technique is usually used in only a few cocktails. This is not a bad thing.
“If I want lots of water and lots of air, I shake,” said Miguel Lancha, the “cocktail innovator” at Mr. Andrés’s restaurant group. “If you want little water and no air, then we stir. If I want a hybrid, combining as much air from shaking, and as little water from stirred, I throw.”
Brian Evans, the bar director at El Quijote, thinks any drink with pineapple juice is “heavenly with throwing.” For Natasha Mesa — who practiced throwing at the bars she worked at in Portland, Ore., and brought it to New York when she became beverage director of Milady’s — throwing is good for any drink containing wine or vermouth.
Most drinks thrown are cold. But Milady’s plans to begin throwing flaming hot toddies. This trick is reminiscent of the O.G. Of all the thrown cocktails, the Blue Blazer is the most famous. This 19th-century whiskey drink is lit on fire and tossed amongst tankards.
“I like to throw them on fire because it caramelizes all the sugar,” Ms. Mesa said. “It gives it more texture than a regular toddy.”
This technique has been used to make everything from tea to cider over the centuries. The Havana bar El Floridita was the most famous example of mixology. Miguel Boadas, a bartender at El Floridita, brought the skill back home to Spain where he opened a Barcelona bar in 1933. It’s still the epicenter for throwing culture. Boadas Cocktails.
The art of throwing cocktails might not have survived in Barcelona had Boadas’ bartender not visited New York in 2006 to find out more about cocktail history from Anastatia Miller and Jared Brown. They followed him to Barcelona where they were taught and asked to revive the technique.
“As far as we knew, no one outside Boadas and their local influence was throwing,” Mr. Brown wrote in an email. “We took it on the international bar-show circuit.” He estimated that he and Ms. Miller have taught thousands of bartenders to throw over the years.
While Ms. Mesa’s reasons for employing the technique are “10 percent for the show, 90 percent for the taste,” her customers might invert those numbers. “The customers love it,” she said. “The cocktail nerds, they get it. They’re familiar with the texture of the drink and how it affects it. But the average consumer just thinks it looks cool, and you get to show off a little bit.”
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