What's on the Transcend cocktail menu at Panda & Sons - from 'switching' to cryo-concentration drinks

What to expect from the multi-award winning bar, as it launched a ground-breaking new menu.

Published 21st Jul 2023
Updated 18 th Sep 2023

“Alright now fellas - what’s cooler than being cool? Ice cold!” Iain McPherson of Panda & Sons seems to have taken this little Outkast lyric to heart. It’s a long-held truth that bars have often looked to the food world for inspiration. But what started as a passion for all things ice-cream has quickly morphed into a quest for a whole new deep-freeze-dedicated way of making drinks.

His revolutionary approach to cocktail preparation earned Iain the ‘Innovator Of The Year’ gong at the Class Bar Awards and Panda & Sons has numerous nominations at the Spirited Awards – also known as “the Oscars of the bar industry” – in New Orleans next month.

So The Scotsman decided to visit their prep-kitchen-stroke-science lab (aptly monikered the ‘Brain Melting Society’) where Iain eagerly demonstrated some of the methods the team have been developing over the last half-decade for Panda’s “Transcend” menu.

We then chilled with head bartender Nicky Craig as he deftly doled out a few of the cocktails for our consideration.

What's on the cocktail menu at Panda & Sons?

Panda and Sons cocktail menu

Each chapter of the menu is devoted to a separate sub-zero technique, showcased by a playful cartoon and a subsequent quartet of cocktails.

Compared to their previous menu this is a pared-down and much more approachable read for the layperson – though the discerning drinker can discover much more by using QR codes dotted throughout the pleasingly retro-style illustrations.

First up is “Switching”, a super-low-temperature technique that effectively removes the water from a spirit which can then be replaced by other liquids without over-diluting, adding extra flavour and texture.

Panda & Sons’ signature Coconut Daiquiri uses Bacardi Carta Blanca rum ‘switched’ with Thai coconut milk and lime which is then clarified like a milk punch. The result is luscious, zesty and dangerously drinkable.

This approach to altering liquid content through freezing is also applied in Panda’s “Cryo-Concentration” chapter. One might typically intensify or reduce a liquid by popping it in a pan and simmering it down – but even low heat can drastically alter the flavour of delicate ingredients like fruit juice.

Freezing the juice from the top down in insulated containers, however, causes the water to predominantly freeze first and leaves behind a sweeter, stronger and more flavourful product.

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This technique mimics the act of ripening so natural variations in fresh fruit can be honed for consistency. The Alteña Paloma demonstrates this with bags of bittersweet grapefruit tang but none of the mouth-puckering acidity – resulting
in a refreshing, quaffable tequila highball.

The latest method pioneered by Iain and his team is “Sous Pression”. An allusion to sous-vide (the culinary technique of cooking under vacuum) it embraces pressure rather than removing it, harnessing the usually-problematic pipe-bursting property of liquids expanding as they freeze.

Panda and Sons cocktail menu

Iain fills high-pressure steel mini beer kegs to the brim with prebatched cocktails and adds a fresh flavouring ingredient of choice – say sable grapes or cherries – and seals them tight.

Since the liquid has nowhere to expand into as it freezes, this force is instead directed into the ingredient and causes its flavour to percolate into the cocktail.

The technique also helps the cocktail constituents to ’marry’ (much like bottle-aging, which normally takes weeks or months rather than hours). This makes the lilac-hued Sability – a grape-led riff on the Tuxedo cocktail – as smooth as silk with bursts of the singular sable grapeskin flavour and lends the herbal and whisky-led Solasta the lively zest of lemon verbena.

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Finally “Freeze-Drying” – a process more readily associated with instant coffee or astronaut food – has become a major source of experimentation and inspiration for Panda & Sons.

Unlike simple dehydrating it removes water without ‘cooking’, leaving structure and flavour intact and allowing the ingredient to imbue drinks with a palpable depth and vibrancy.

The Seville Negroni uses local Height of Arrows Heavy Gin infused with freeze-dried bitter oranges for a burst of flavour, while a custom vermouth blend brings a herbal, chocolatey richness. Freeze-drying has also been used to significantly reduce waste at the bar.

The by-products from the coconut daiquiri clarification which would otherwise be discarded, for example, are cut with cocoa and freeze-dried for a delicious garnish.

The shelf lives of everything from seasonal fruits to leftover citrus juice can also be massively extended just by drying and storing – proof that even Pandas are concerned about conservation.

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Much like the average audience members of a fast-paced theatre show, most patrons of Panda & Sons will be blissfully unaware of just how much goes on behind-the-scenes as they sip on a delectable drink – but this doesn’t disappoint Iain.

He spends much of his time training bartenders in the versatile delights of the deep-freeze in the hope that these
methods will become part of many a bar’s preparation routines. And who knows – maybe soon it’ll be cocktails which inspire the food world for a change.

Panda & Sons, Queen Street, Edinburgh, UK
Panda & Sons, Queen Street, Edinburgh, UK, EH2 4NF
Iain Meldrum (aka Mixolosopher) has over a decade of experience at the top of the drinks industry as both a bartender and trainer. He is passionate about all things alcoholic - though in a responsible and philosophical way, of course.
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