Up in a remote room at the Mission Inn on Tuesday, Feb. 21, blenders churned and pans sizzled away. Seltzers, vegetables, alcohols, sweeteners and plenty of oranges lined the walls of this meeting room, as it has temporarily been converted into a bartending lab. Inside, bartenders were engaged in competition to create their own creative mixes, hosted by a collaboration between the UCR Citrus Variety Collection and Givaudan Flavors, a Swiss flavor and fragrance manufacturer.
The Citrus Variety Collection, started in 1910 as a part of the original UC Citrus Experiment Station and later incorporated into the UCR campus, hosts an expansive array of “over 1000 different kinds of citrus and related genera.” These citrus varieties come from a multitude of backgrounds — from international locations to original hybridizations introduced at UCR. Tracy Kahn, curator for the collection, describes it as a “living museum,” as she helps to hold and maintain at least two living samples of every type. More than a museum, however, these specimens are of special interest for research and teaching and are regularly studied by companies like Givaudan.
Recognizing UCR as “the epicenter for citrus” and the collection’s need for support, Givaudan became a generous donor and partner for UCR over 10 years ago, which allows them greater proximity to use the collection’s citrus for flavor sampling and for regular outings for focused events called TasteTreks.
For this year’s TasteTrek, organized with the help of Kahn (also the UCR Givaudan citrus variety collection endowed chair) and Amber Cartwright (Givaudan citrus product manager), eight leading bartenders from around the country were invited to tour and sample the collection. After some tours and workshops, the group worked with over 25 select citrus types to create interesting and original ingredients for their choice of beverage in a series of competitions.
Typically in the beverage industry, trends start in on-premise bars and then those trends filter into non-alcohol, then ready-to-drink beverages or the commercial industry and retail.
The point of this TasteTrek was to provide inspiration for Givaudan’s scientists and innovators, and as citrus flavors are nearly universally cherished, UCR was the most appropriate partner. Cartwright added, “Typically in the beverage industry, trends start in on-premise bars and then those trends filter into non-alcohol, then ready-to-drink beverages or the commercial industry and retail. Looking at the people who are on the leading edge of beverage trends, we can then create products that we can go talk to our customers about. We can shed light on what are some innovative products, ingredients or materials. If you want to differentiate your products in the future, here’s what you should look to.”
Throughout the day, this talented group, which included UCR’s very own Sierra LaPoint, a fifth-year religious studies, art history and philosophy major, produced many creative drinks, such as a “honey-infused matcha gin pina colada,” a “chocolatey cold brew topped with hand-whipped cream and lemon zest” and a “salty, slightly spicy bright sour orange cocktail.” Each item showcased the versatility of the citrus flavor and what great range the UCR Citrus Variety Collection really has to offer.
The collection once again shines as a hallmark at UCR even in this day and age, and it is remarkable to see how it, in Kahn’s words, “ties together our past roots with our present roles and gives it (UCR) something unique.” Also, the Citrus Collection could always use a bit more support and recognition by UCR students. LaPoint, who also bartends at W. Wolfskill in downtown Riverside and utilizes unique UCR citrus there, heartedly commented, “UCR students, you hear me? Come out and check out what you have while you’re here, because the rest of the world wishes they had this!”