It’s always interesting when an ordinary event imparts extraordinary insight. Like when Sir Isaac Newton watched an apple fall out of a tree and he formulated his theory of gravitation as a result.
Todd Hullinger experienced something similar.
A bartender at BakerStreet, a fine-dining establishment located in Fort Wayne, IN, Hullinger was invited to participate in a competition sponsored by GQ Magazine and Bombay Sapphire aimed at finding the nation’s “Most Inspired Bartender.” The ultimate goal is to advance through each stage of judging to the finals in Las Vegas where the nation’s “Most Inspired Bartender” will be crowned. Hullinger advanced through the first stage of judging, held at Club Soda last month, and will be travelling to Indianapolis on Sunday hoping to punch his ticket to Vegas.
Upon entering the contest Hullinger started tossing around ideas for what he wanted his entry to be.
“I just was really thinking about, ‘What could I do for this contest to throw it over the top?’” he said. “And I thought it’d be really cool if we could get the drink in the ice instead of on the ice. Because of all the drinks that I’ve ever had, they’ve either been on the ice or shaken in the ice and then poured into a glass, but I’ve never had anything that was actually in the ice and I just thought it would be kind of unique.”
Though his concept was strong, he was soon faced with the challenge of how to create a reproducible ice receptacle that would work for his purposes.
“I put about two weeks into that, just going through various things,” Hullinger said. “First, I had a sphere and I took it and I cut it in half and I hollowed it out and tried to fuse it back together to see if that would work, and that didn’t really work very well. I didn’t know if maybe I could put something in the middle of something and freeze it and then … pop it out, I wasn’t really sure.”
Facing a dead end, Hullinger and his two sons were having a water balloon fight in their backyard one day. And that’s when his Newton moment occurred.
“My youngest son … hit me in the shoulder with a water balloon and it splashed,” Hullinger said. “And then my oldest son, Peyton, he threw one and I caught it. And when I caught it, it was in my hand, and it was gelling around, and I just looked at it (and thought) ‘I bet that would be the way to do this.’”
Hullinger started experimenting with water balloons shortly thereafter. In time, he deduced how long they needed to be left in the freezer and where their structural integrity was weakest. Currently, Hullinger’s process involves filling the balloons up, tying them off, and placing them in the freezer in special casts that preserve their shape. After they freeze, he strips off the balloons and applies dry ice to the base of each newly-formed “egg” to ensure that they’ll hold liquid and not leak.
“Ideally, what I want to do is present the drink in that form – in the ice – to the guests,” Hullinger said. “And then they’re going to look at it and then they can either put a straw in it and drink it, or they can break it. It’s like, it was in the rocks – now it’s on the rocks.”
Hullinger has titled his entry “Love in the Rocks.” He confesses to still having a few kinks to work out with the water balloons – mainly, getting the dry ice to successfully prevent leaks – but he is grateful that his sons helped him get to a point where he could see his idea become a reality.
“Thanks to my sons Peyton and Dylan for playing water balloons with me and helping me figure out how to do this,” Hullinger said. “Because if it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t have figured it out on my own.”
Somewhere, Newton is nodding in approval.
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Making “Love in the Rocks”
Hullinger begins by cutting a lemon in half, scooping out one half, and placing it in the bottom of the cocktail glass to serve as a base for the ice egg.
Being one of the competition’s sponsors, Bombay Sapphire is the centerpiece for each entry, including Hullinger’s.
“The cocktail itself is four basil leaves, one ounce of agave nectar, three ounces of Bombay Sapphire gin, and just a little splash of blue curacao, to make it blue,” Hullinger said.
After adding a scoop of ice to the mixture, Hullinger gives it a few shakes. It’s at this point he places the ice egg into the cocktail glass, creates a hole at the top, and then injects the cocktail into the ice.
After that, as Hullinger said, one can either stick a straw in the ice and drink it or break it.
(Photos by Tony Frantz)