Listen to this: a smooth, mellow, almost delicate whiskey poured out not of a handsome French former cognac barrel after 20 years of aging, but from a cupboard-sized machine that transforms the liquid through the use of sound waves. Instead of AI taking jobs, this machine represents a technology that creates a drink that used to take two decades to make in just a few minutes.
Earlier this summer, master and lead mixologist Chris Mendenhall of Quadrant Bar & Lounge at The Ritz-Carlton, Washington, D.C., began utilizing an apparatus that harnesses the power of sound-wave technology to change the notes and qualities of spirits to simulate those aged the traditional way.
Mendenhall is clear that he is not aging the spirits, nor is attempting to replace the time-honored process.
“We aren’t saying that this drink has been aged 15 years,” Mendenhall stated. “But we’re able to educate guests about the depth of whiskey in a fun and interesting way.”
Whiskey can be incredibly intimidating, Mendenhall states. It’s not approachable or inexpensive, like, say craft beer.
What Mendenhall can do is walk them through the process and story of the whiskey, displaying both the original spirit and sound-manipulated versions.
The tastings are proffered in two-ounce pairs; one of the original spirit, called the “base,” and the manipulated variation, called the “change,” for guests to compare.
Mendenhall stays mum in disclosing what the base whiskey is, to ensure customers don’t taste with preconceived notions; he also is quiet about the specific steps he takes. However, he’s pleased with the results, after more than year of experimentation.
“The end result is imparting the characteristics of time,” he said.
Take the Rye Style #1, one of four current options. The “base” is a 100-proof, four-year American rye whiskey. Mendenhall and his staff deposit cognac-soaked French Oak chips into the liquor, and then tuck the bottle into the sound-wave system. It departs, mere minutes later. The spirit is darker and velvetier, displayin hints of pepper, orange, and chocolate.
Mendenhall is passionate about whiskey, and this spirit has exploded in popularity of late. But its cost can still be prohibitive to try something completely new – one-ounce pours of some of Quadrant Bar’s whiskeys run to four figures. These pairings cost $18 to $20.
Unlike aged whiskeys, the drinks revert to their “original” states in less than a year, but they’ve resounded so well with customers that each bottle is used up well before that timeline.
Mendenhall hopes that he can offer an introduction and education with his program, so that people learn and better appreciate their cocktails.
“We’re not creating or bottling, we’re just offering a new experience,” he said.
Quadrant’s menu is about to undergo a major overhaul for the fall, and sound-aged liquors will play center stage. Mendenhall will broaden the offerings outside whiskey, moving to include options like tequila and even cocktails (think: sound-aged negronis).
Mendenhall speaks proudly of his concept but remains committed to what he wants to convey to customers at the end of the tasting.
“It’s to show people the craft, but really the stories behind what I serve,” he said. Stories that ring loud and true