If only high school chemistry class was this much fun. At Southington's new Ideal Tavern, the cocktails come with a side of science.
Liquid nitrogen is a staple of the Center Street restaurant's bar, as its bartenders use the technique to instantly chill glasses, flash-freeze herbs for muddling and even transform liquors and juices into boozy sorbets.
General manager Ryan Tunnacliffe brings years of mixology experience to the bar, including proficiency with molecular techniques. His flavor combinations may seem unorthodox, but there's a specific method to his recipes, he said. He often consults "The Flavor Bible" by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg, which was the winner of the 2009 James Beard Award for Reference and Scholarship.
"That really tells you whether these flavors work together or not," he said of the resource. "It gives you at least a good foundation to start thinking about whether what would work. I don't just sit and mix things together and hope for the best."
Thai chili and pumpkin seed oil, for example, are a "level one match" in the book, he said, and he uses these two components as integral parts of the "Dazed & Confused" drink ($12) with Avua Oro cachaça, fresh lime and Thai basil, the herb flash-frozen with liquid nitrogen before it's muddled and double-strained.
"I approach it the exact same way as a chef would approach it; what's seasonal, what's new and the best combinations of each flavor," Tunnacliffe said.
The new fall cocktail menu features flavors of the season, like the Purple Haze ($12), melding Serrano-pepper infused tequila with beet juice, fennel seed and fresh lime; the Snow White's Revenge ($12) with St. George green chile vodka, Cocchi Americano, chartreuse, lime and Downeast apple cider and the Bramble On ($11), with Beefeater 24 gin, blackberries, rosemary, fresh lemon and flamed rosemary aromatics.
For those who prefer things a little more traditional, the "cocktails of yesteryear" ($10 to $12) feature plenty of classics: an Old Fashioned with large rock ice, a Bee's Knees with Barr Hill honey-infused gin, a Queen's Park swizzle with layers of rum, mint, fresh lime and soda and a Moscow Mule with house spicy ginger beer.
Ideal Tavern is also a destination for craft beer, with a dozen tap lines, often spotlighting the rapidly-expanding Connecticut beer scene and highlighting other unique and varied drafts from regional and national breweries.
Ideal Tavern, 142 Center St., Southington, is open Tuesday and Wednesday, 4 to 10 p.m.; Thursday, noon to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, noon to 11 p.m.; and Sunday, 12 to 9 p.m. The bar is open later. Closed Monday. 860-863-5444, idealtavern.com.