How to Stabilize Alcohol

TL;DR: Use Gelatin.

I became obsessed with the idea of alcoholic desserts about six years ago in 2009.

I was absolutely devastated from a long distance relationship that ended when the summer did, so I immersed myself in my studies as I entered my senior year in college (all while listening to It Don’t Move Me by Peter Bjorn and John on repeat) to stay distracted, and positive.

I was living in Houston, Texas in my early 20’s about to move into my first apartment, working in a restaurant both in the kitchen and front-of-house, interning at the farmer’s market, studying for my Certified Sommelier exam, going to school full-time, and serving as director of events within my sorority.

Safe to say, though I did not know it at the time, but my passion would heal all my wounds.

I had a bottle of Riesling I wanted to enjoy in my new apartment after I finished studying, so I put it in my freezer and got down to business. Well, I ended up studying a lot longer than I intended, fell asleep (books on top of me, and all), until a POP awoke me in the middle of the night. Instantly, I turned into this emoji emoji_set_29 and rushed to my freezer, expecting to see a giant mess of glass, and wine.

When I took the bottle out, the cut was clean, and the Riesling looked like shaved ice or a slush-ee.

Any normal person would of thrown this out, but I really wanted that Riesling, so I took a spoon and grabbed a bite…and another… and another. It was the perfect balance of texture, sweetness, acidity, and tartness. I ended up tossing some mixed berries on top, and had a small bowl before bed. I moved the icy frozen wine into a new container and kept it in my freezer for dessert.

My obsession was born, and I became consumed with the idea of eating something and getting buzzed… Very Alice in Wonderland-like. I was absolutely hooked.

I immediately told someone who was in my life, a chef, and he told me to hold on to it dearly, and write down everything that came to me. From that day forward, I kept a binder that I still have to this day, where I would jot down all my proposed recipes, combinations, and ideas.

To set the scene on exactly when this seed was planted, THIS is what my binder looks like – and I will always keep it for nostalgia purposes. (I was obsessed with Ed Hardy / Christian Audigier – RIP – at the time)

THE Binder // champagne at shannons

Now, let’s dive into this a bit deeper…

Some of you may be wondering, why did the wine freeze? This doesn’t happen with vodka, or any other hard spirit. And hell, why are we even wondering this if water freezes?

The answer is simple:

talking science at champagne at shannon's

Let’s cut to the basics.

First, let’s understand the terminology:

–   Ethanol = alcohol found in alcoholic beverages: liquor, wine, beer
–   Alcoholic beverages = extremely simply put: water + ethanol
–   Stabilize = in food speak, the preservation of structure thanks to an additive
–   Freezing Point = the temperature that transforms a liquid to a solid
–   Melting Point = the temperature that transforms a solid to a liquid
–   ABV = alcohol by volume aka alcohol content, usually represented as a percentage.

Here is an awesome reference from Wine Folly with ABV of various beverages.

Now, let’s understand the relationship between these:

Water’s freezing/melting point is 0°C/32°F. That means anything < 0°C/32°F will start to solidify or remain solid, but anything > 0°C/32°F will start to liquefy until it is melted completely.

Ethanol’s freezing melting point is -114°C/-173.2°F. This is much lower than water. Keep in mind, we are talking pure 100% ethanol right now. So the lower the ABV, the warmer the freezing point, and the higher the ABV the colder the freezing point.

That being said, most commercial freezers are kept between a range of -18°C/0°F at a minimum, to as cold as -23°C/-18°F, which is much warmer than ethanol’s freezing and melting point. The Riesling above had about an 8% ABV. That is low in wine-speak (most wines average 12%), so it was able to freeze into a Riesling Sno-Cone, however, it was not completely frozen, since it never got to it’s freezing point.

Okay, cool, let’s apply all of the above in the kitchen.

It is not uncommon to add alcohol to dessert. A little bourbon can elevate buttered pecan or an apple pie, a little rum soaked raisins in vanilla makes the classic rum raisin, and then of course, there is the simple amaretto ice cream.

However, the amount of alcohol is very small. If you apply what I said in the above to this, this makes total sense.

You are either getting alcohol-flavoured (aka no booze) or the amount of alcohol is so minimal, that it is there to elevate both flavour (because, yum), and structure (you are now manipulating the freezing point, so the ice cream will stay creamy rather than icy frozen, since the freezing point is now lower – make sense?) – and you won’t get a buzz unless you’re into the placebo effect.

Now, since you read the above, you recognize that we cannot simply just add more alcohol. The more alcohol added, the lower the freezing point, so too much will prevent the ice cream from freezing at all in a -23°C/-18°F environment.

This is great if you are looking to make a boozy milkshake or Bourbon Coke Floats (in Dallas, I used to love pouring bourbon and diet coke over cinnamon custard from Wild About Harry’s! #memories), but what about if you want to freeze it?

Let’s go back to college.

Jello-shots! How do we make them?

Gelatin + Water + Alcohol.

This article explains it much better than I ever could {P.S.-Serious Eats is regular read for me} and Mr. Kevin Liu nails it with this one sentence alone as he describes what gelatin is:

“Heat [collagen] in the presence of water, and you get gelatin, a material that is equally versatile, with applications in everything from panna cotta to body armor.”

Now, by adding alcohol to gelatin, you have alcohol that is extremely versatile to work with.

Just ask Valerie Lum and Jenise Addison of Ice Cream Happy Hour – these two geniuses took this, ran with it and now easily have the raddest ice creams on the planet. In fact, watch them stabilize (and make!) White Russian ice cream: HERE
In their ice cream recipe, they dissolved 1 tablespoon of gelatin in 1/3 cup water over low heat, and then whisked in cold alcohol. They used 2/3 vodka and 2/3 Kahlua.

If we break that down into a ratio: 1 package of gelatin : 1 water : 3 alcohol

** I reduced the ratio with this example since Kahlua’s abv is 20% and Vodka on the average is 40%.

DIRECTIONS: Add one package of gelatin to one part of cold water. Apply low heat and constantly stir until dissolve. Strain through a fine mesh strainer to a new container to ensure nothing solidifies.  Add in 3 parts of the cold alcohol of your choice, then add it to whatever you are trying to spike. The colder, the better, for the alcohol. The water/gelatin mixture will be roughly 225°F to 249° F, so you want to evaporate as little of the alcohol as possible. 🙂

Okay, so now what all can you do with the stabilized alcohol?

The answers are honestly endless depending how creative you want to get. Not only does the gelatin allow you to freeze alcohol, but it will also allow you to add alcohol to warm desserts to take the alcohol level to the next level without cooking the alcohol off, or making the dessert too liquid.

Now, you can spike anything from whipped creams, to panna cotta, to pie fillings, to cobblers, to frosting, to butters, to foams, to glazes, to name a few

What would you like to see spiked? Do you have an interesting way to utilize cooking and alcohol? Please let me know in the comments, I would LOVE to know and play!


>>> DISCLAIMER: Not Vegetarian. Sorry. I will play with agar agar in the near future for a vegetarian alternative. Open to other options – let me know. Also, I’ve had that penguin image saved on my desktop – if you are the owner, please let me know so I can credit you!