Will alcoholic vapour ever be a thing? We caught up with Sam Bompas of Bompas & Parr to find out

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Image: Meet the man who helped create breathable alcohol

Via: PR | Marcus Peel

It’s 7pm on a bank holiday Monday. I'm one of the many excited punters heading through a dimly lit corridor into the basement of a Borough Market building. We shuffle down a flight of stairs and I notice the air begins to feel humid, smelling of sweet botanicals.


Leading the group is a man dressed in a cream monk-like cloak who directs us into a small room. We’re instructed to leave our coats and bags in pegged cubbyholes, and we're handed deeply unflattering disposable ponchos to wear.  


Fully waterproofed, we’re ready to enter the next room. Eerie sounds are playing through the speakers and bar staff are itching to get started. But we’re not here to queue up, order and drink the usual round of post-bank holiday work doom G&Ts. We’re here to breathe them.


In a dark room to the side of the bar, a neon light encourages the group to ‘breath responsibly’, and after stopping for an obligatory selfie, I step in. It takes a matter of seconds for my vision to get misted up; I can barely see more than a couple of steps in front. I'm told that vapourised gin and tonic is being pumped into the room. With every breath and tentative step forward, alcohol is bypassing my liver and entering my bloodstream through my mucous membrane. My lungs and my eyeballs are soaking up the boozy cloud that completely engulfs the space.


I’m at Alcoholic Architecture, the brainchild of real-life Willy Wonka duo Sam Bompas and Harry Parr, AKA Bompas & Parr. They're the men who have made a reputation for taking taste experience to a whole different level: their past projects include the Guinness tasting rooms in Dublin, Truvia’s Voyage of Discovery lake on the roof of London's Selfridges, and a pop-up chewing gum factory in Dubai that creates more than 40,000 flavours. They've also been busy publishing five books, exploring their weird and wonderful obsession with all things edible. 

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Credit: Ann Charlott Ommedal

Photo: PR | Ann Charlott Ommedal

The waterproof ponchos

Alcoholic Architecture is an interactive, culinary celebration where customers hang out in a room full of boozy vapour for 50 minutes. In this time, participants breathe around the equivalent of a double gin and tonic.


Punters can drink at the same time too, ordering from a list of spirits and beers all inspired by a monastic theme (the location was once an ancient monastery). Tipples include the notorious Buckfast – the fortified wine created in the 1880s by Benedictine monks. It would be accurate to say that Bompas & Parr’s latest creation pushes booze boundaries at every opportunity.


I caught up with co-creator, Sam Bompas, to find out more …


Breathable booze is a mad idea. Where did it come from?

"We started making booze jelly, which is essentially taking a cocktail and making it semi-solid, and then we became interested in what would happen if you took the process the other way. We wanted to make an epic architectural scale, but obviously this was something that had never been done before …"


How does it work exactly?

"The alcohol enters the bloodstream through the body’s mucous membrane, primarily the lungs when breathed in, but also the eyeballs."

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Credit: Ann Charlott Ommedal

Photo: PR | Ann Charlott Ommedal

Entering the room …

Does that mean it’s better than drinking alcohol?

"The vapour has 40% fewer calories and bypasses your liver by going straight into your bloodstream. After about an hour of breathing the vapour you’ll feel [as though you've drank] the equivalent of a double gin and tonic. In reality, after an hour in the pub you’d probably drink more than that, so it’s a different experience."


The gin and tonic tasted sweet and almost botanical. Why is that?

"Because you’re inhaling the alcohol rather than drinking it, you’re able to taste more of the flavours; the vapour room is gin and tonic, but it tastes and smells sweet. Think of how sickeningly sweet ice-cream is when it’s no longer frozen – ice takes away sweetness and without it, the flavour is heightened." 


Tell us about the inspiration behind the theme?

"We were a little bemused and frustrated by the wave of restaurant openings in the UK that followed a trend of US dining – the deep south stuff, the Brooklyn retro and now all the Miami trends. People like it because of the escapism I guess, but there are many eras that have a very English connection, which provide that same sense of escapism and wonder.


"So we researched the local history of our bar’s location and discovered loads of information about ancient monasteries in the area. We thought it would be interesting to channel this in a modern fashion. People still want a fun night out so we kept modern music, but we also have a magical playlist – one that's not necessarily conducive to partying."

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Credit: Stefan Braun

Photo: PR | Stefan Braun

(l-r) Harry Parr and Sam Bompas, from Bompas & Parr

What crazy plans do you guys have next?

"Alcoholic Architecture is the first step in a much grander project. It’s helping to fund the first national museum of food. Details are top secret right now but it’ll be in London two floors above the Alcoholic Architecture bar. We can curate normal exhibitions but the thing we’re much better at doing is creating interactive experiences. That’s the important thing. That’s when you can deliver something extraordinary and get people talking. I’m pretty excited about it."


Alcoholic Architecture is open at 1 Cathedral Street, Borough Market, London, SE1 9DE until 2016. It is strictly for over 18 year olds, and tickets cost from £10. They are available here. The Bompas & Parr food museum will be open in October 2015.

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