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Pretty much every serious cocktail bar in the city makes their own sodas these day, but none do it quite like Daikaya. Using technology developed by home brewers to quickly carbonate their beer, Beverage Director Lukas Smith is able to give his cocktails the kind of sharp fizz and fine bubbles you’d normally find in Champagne.
The system involves feeding gas from a regulated carbon dioxide tank into juice or cocktail-filled plastic bottles with special carbonation caps. Daikaya chef Katsuya Fukushima first saw the set-up at New York’s Booker and Dax (of the Momofuku family) and brought the idea to Smith. As far as Smith is personally aware, no other cocktail bar in D.C. is carbonating its drinks this way.
Most bars that make their own sodas use soda siphons. But the problem with those is that they aren’t as efficient, Smith says, and can be unwieldy to work with if you use high CO2 levels. “People tend to use lower amounts of CO2 in their siphon sodas, which is why siphon sodas are comparatively flat,” Smith says.
One of the greatest creations to come out of Daikaya’s bar with this method so far (I can personally attest) is Smith’s take on a Negroni Sbagliato, which he calls Sba World (see above). The cocktail includes Beefeater Gin, Gran Classico, Cocchi Vermouth di Torino, and old rosé—all of which are carbonated together. It’s $8 on the happy hour menu and $12 on the regular menu.
Smith has also experimented with a number of sodas, including green apple, rhubarb, and wild cherry, but the flavors will rotate with the seasons. Another advantage of the carbonation system is that Smith can preserve things that would normally decay really quickly. “I can make a green apple soda green, because as soon as I juice the apple, I can put the juice under carbonation and it blows out out the oxygen so they don’t oxidize and they stay green.”
The system also makes the drinks extra refreshing because of the carbonic acid, a side effect of the CO2. “That’s why flat Coca-Cola tastes so sweet and gross,” Smith says. “We’re getting into the science of what makes some of the great beverages of the world what they are, and applying it to beverages that hitherto we never had the means to test out in this fashion.”
Smith plans to invite fellow local bartenders—like Bar Pilar’s Jonathan Fain and Rogue 24’s Bryan Tetorakis, among others—to come in and put their recipes through Daikaya’s system. He’s also looking into parts developed by Boston bartender Stephen Shellenberger that would allow him to carbonate liquids in Champagne-like glass bottles. He’s working on a French 75 recipe that diners could buy this way. “It looks nice, and it also is completely different from what anyone has ever had before,” he says.
Photo by Brian Oh