If Jason Sherman said “lucky” once in a recent interview, he said it half a dozen times. The Miami inventor couldn’t be happier that he and his partners have landed in Louisville. Or more thankful. Why’s that?
Well, where better to be than the “capital of the spirits world,” as he calls it, for the guy who wants to change the way people drink cocktails? But it’s not just that we’re the center of the bourbon universe. Sherman’s invention, a stainless steel, glowing machine called Beyond Zero
does the (so we thought!) impossible: it freezes alcohol into ice. And to pull off the manufacturing behind that kind of modern-day alchemy, entrepreneurs need some serious resources.
“I thought I’d have to go to California or New York to build and then go through China,” Sherman says. Then he learned about GE Appliances
. And UPS Worldport. And that the number one industry in Kentucky is aerospace
. “It’s second only to Houston,” Sherman marvels.
And then he met Barry Yates, director of innovation at Winston Industries
; that’s the company that developed the Collectramatic Fryer, the revolutionary pressure fryer used by Colonel Harland Sanders for KFC.
“It’s mind blowing what’s going on here,” Sherman says. “All these things really provide opportunity for someone like me who’s an inventor. It’s unbelievable. Between bourbon and the manufacturing component we found the perfect spot to do this. We feel really lucky.”
Ordering “In The Rocks”
The alpha Beyond Zero machine, manufactured at Winston, rolled out Derby weekend at Charr’d Bourbon Kitchen and Lounge at the Louisville Marriott East in Jeffersontown. From its perch at the end of the bar, it glows enticingly, drawing curious onlookers who follow the same cycle: intrigue, bafflement, awe. And then they order a drink “in the rocks” and as room temperature spirit hits the -20° cubes and smoke rises, their eyes light up.
“It’s that surprise factor,” business partner Tim Couch says. We all thought you couldn’t freeze alcohol, so “when you break that barrier, you rock someone’s world.” And from there, the wheels start turning. “They become a mixologist. They feel they created something.”
Entering a New Frontier
While there are plans for a home version of the machine, in the meantime the guys are looking for top professional mixologists
at Louisville bars for beta testing. They believe they’re creating a new category of drinks, and want to see what the creative minds here in bourbon country can dream up. If nothing else, the possibilities for cocktail names are endless; one early fan of the machine is Fred Noe, master distiller for Jim Beam
. What do you pour for this guy? Devil’s Cut, in the rocks – and call it When Hell Freezes over.
The team is headed to the National Restaurant Association show in Chicago later this month, where, in 1937, the blender was introduced. And this new creation is just the latest in a long line of inventions that have changed the way we drink, Sherman says. Thinks kegs, think refrigerators, and imagine your local happy hour without them.
The ability to freeze alcohol is a new frontier. (The machine can freeze bourbon into four cubes in about three to five minutes). And it’s beyond just saying goodbye to watered down drinks. “Basically you get a drink that’s about between 20 and 30 degrees below zero,” Sherman says. “This much colder drink ... removes the mouthful of burn and we get a smoother beverage.”
In the name of science, of course, I tried it, with a pour of Four Roses Single Barrel. Smoother, yes – at its coldest it lost some of its character for me. To be fair, I rarely take bourbon on the rocks so I’m more accustomed to my drink at Kentucky room temperature. Then I found a sweet spot at about 45 degrees (noted through Sherman’s enthusiastic wielding of the digital thermometer.) At that point the spice returned, the bold flavors reemerged, but it was still pleasingly cold. It was fascinating to note the changes in flavors as the drink gradually warmed. The real fun, however, came with the Old Fashioned served in the rocks. Sipping and talking as I held the drink in my warm hand, the drink stayed marvelously cold – and consistent. Like the curious imbibers at the bar, my own eyes lit up at the thought of never wasting a half-finished, watered down cocktail again.
Lucky in Kentucky
As happy as I was contemplating life beyond watered down drinks, the Beyond Zero guys looked happier still. Sherman couldn’t have stopped smiling if he’d tried. And frozen liquor at bars is just the beginning. From culinary implications – think mignonette cubes on oysters – to addressing the massive waste from traditional commercial ice makers, there’s a world of possibility awaiting them. And it starts here.
“If you’d told me six months ago I’d be living in Kentucky I wouldn’t believe it,” Couch says as the other guys nod. “But you couldn’t do this anywhere else.”