THE most effective science fiction creates an entire world you can imagine living in – and a world I want to live in needs delicious drinks.
Think of the Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster, created by Douglas Adams in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and described as the best drink in existence. No matter that drinking it is said to be “like having your brains smashed out by a slice of lemon wrapped round a large gold brick”, I want to try it. Same with the intoxicating ambrosia enjoyed by the ragtag fleet of surviving humans in Battlestar Galactica.
Then there is the frothy blue Bantha milk served in the wretched hive of scum and villainy that is the Mos Eisley cantina in Star Wars, possibly the most famous bar in the universe. And what about the warm beer served on the frozen planet Gethen in Ursula Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness? It comes with a spoon to crack the layer of ice that forms on the surface between sips, making it a truly multisensory experience.
At New Scientist, we aren’t content with merely imagining what these drinks taste like. We have teamed up with cocktail-designer Zoe Burgess at award-winning Atelier PIP in London to bring them to life. Burgess and her team use the techniques of molecular mixology to investigate taste. “We love to explore how the best flavour can be extracted from ingredients,” she says. “This is where science comes into play. Our centrifuge and vacuum distillation units are the heart of our lab. They allow us to work precisely and achieve our flavour goals.”
The Atelier PIP team has tested a range of flavour and alcohol combinations to recreate these science fiction drinks – in their signature style – and, in an act of supreme altruism, we at New Scientist have volunteered to test them. When our little embassy of three crosses interstellar space to visit the firm’s kitchen, I am delighted to see that the vacuum distillation units are named Pris and Rachael after two of the replicants in Blade Runner. We have clearly come to the right place.
While some technical kit can be used to prepare these drinks, they can all be recreated at home, and Burgess has avoided the use of exotic ingredients such as liquid nitrogen. They can also all be made alcohol-free: either leave the alcohol out altogether, or use a non-alcoholic substitute for the spirit or beer.
In retrospect, that may be a wiser choice. Stumbling out after sampling all four high-strength concoctions, I feel like I’m on a planet with a different gravity than ours.
Bantha milk (Star Wars: A New Hope)
Description: A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, a species of huge, hairy mammal evolved on a desert planet. The bantha of Tatooine produces a rich, blue milk that is said to be nutritious and to boost intelligence. In the absence of a milkable bantha, Zoe Burgess includes electrolytes such as sodium and potassium in her recipe and uses red cabbage for its antioxidants, vitamin K content and natural dyeing properties.
Ingredients (serves 4):
500g caster sugar
25g yogurt powder
250ml tap water
50g sliced red cabbage
Black Cow milk vodka
100ml mineral water with added electrolytes
Method: Make a yogurt syrup by combining the sugar, yogurt powder and tap water in a pan and gently heating while stirring to dissolve the sugar. Allow to cool. In a blender, whizz up the cabbage and 30ml of vodka. Strain through a coffee filter and store the liquid in a sealed bottle in the fridge. The cabbage will oxidise, so make this tincture fresh for each batch. Add neat vodka (we suggest 35ml) and yogurt syrup to a highball glass and stir to combine. Add a dash of red cabbage tincture to colour the drink. Top with chilled electrolyte water and serve.
Tasting notes: “Comforting”, “Sweet but not too cloying”, “Surprisingly non-alcoholic tasting”
Ambrosia (Battlestar Galactica)
Description: What is left of the human race is scuttling through space in search of the mythical planet Earth, chased by murderous, technologically advanced androids called Cylons. Only the protection of the ageing military Battlestar Galactica stands between the humans and certain death. It isn’t surprising that the fugitives need a drink. The fictional ambrosia is green, with a slightly sulphurous smell, which led Burgess to use Derrumbes San Luis Potosí mescal as the base spirit.
Ingredients (serves 4):
300g cored green apples, sliced with skin on
140g caster sugar
1g malic acid
10g fresh chives
1g spirulina powder
100ml filtered water
30ml Derrumbes San Luis Potosí mescal
Method: Combine the sliced apples, sugar and verjuice in a jug, cover and allow to infuse overnight. Add this mix to a blender along with the fresh chives and malic acid, then blend to a pulp. Strain through a muslin cloth, retaining the liquid. Keep this green juice in an airtight bottle in the fridge until needed. Combine the spirulina powder with the water and stir well. Strain this solution through a coffee filter, retaining the liquid. Add the mescal, 20ml of the green juice and 2ml of the spirulina solution into the desired short glass and serve.
Tasting notes: “Complex and savoury”, “Grassy”, “Smooth”, “Delicious”
Pan galactic gargle blaster (The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy)
Description: As might be expected from a drink invented by Galactic President Zaphod Beeblebrox, this is a complex concoction with many components, not all available in this universe. To make it easier to work with at home, Burgess has distilled the recipe down into a delicious and punchy gin and tonic. Patchouli shares flavour compounds with mint, making it the perfect choice to give extra impact to the mint notes.
Ingredients (serves 4):
4 patchouli ice cubes (made from water and 10 microlitres of food-grade patchouli oil) or 4 ice cubes infused with lemon juice
50ml gin such as Hayman’s Old Tom
120ml tonic water
1.25ml hypermint float (combine 50ml Fernet Branca Menta with 100 microlitres of food-grade birch oil)
Almonds pickled overnight with lemons (if Algolian suntiger teeth remain unavailable)
Method: To make the ice cubes, combine the two ingredients in a centrifuge flask. Spin at 4500rpm for 10 minutes, then strain using a coffee filter to remove the oil from the water. The resulting water will now be flavoured with the patchouli oil. Add this to an ice cube tray and freeze. For those sadly lacking a home centrifuge, substitute this with an ice cube infused with lemon juice. Add the ice cube to a highball glass, followed by the gin, then tonic, and stir gently. Add the hypermint float and serve with pickled almonds on the side.
Tasting notes: “Wow”, “My god”, “That’s a beast”, “Feels like my brain’s been smashed out by a bottle of Listerine”
Gethen beer (The Left Hand of Darkness)
Description: To mimic the drinking habits of the inhabitants of Gethen, Burgess has created a crème brûlée-style drink, with a malty beer-soup under a crust of sugar sealed by gently heating with a blowtorch. The drink itself isn’t hot, but a paprika tincture provides a warming sensation.
Ingredients (serves 4):
300g double cream
36g full fat milk
7g black treacle
2 egg yolks
60g caster sugar
200ml beer, choose something with a good malty flavour
0.5ml per glass of hot paprika tincture
20g isomalt sugar
Method: Add the cream, milk and treacle to a pan and bring to a simmer. In a bowl, whisk the egg yolks with the caster sugar to form a paste. Slowly add the hot cream mixture to the egg sugar, stirring constantly. Add the beer and stir to combine. Pour the mixture into a glass, adding the paprika tincture. Put in the fridge to chill; the liquid will be semi-set. To finish the drink, sprinkle isomalt sugar on the surface of the liquid and melt very gently with a blowtorch. You want the sugar to liquify and set, but ideally not to brown.
Tasting notes: “Heavenly”, “Amazing”, “I’m definitely making this one at home”, “More of a pudding than a drink”