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What’s all the buzz about?
Szechuan flower sparks mixologist’s innovative taste sensation
This story first appeared in the Winter 2020 issue of rjmagazine, a quarterly published inside the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Inventor of Las Vegas’ famous Verbena drink launches buzzy new business

Updated November 20, 2020 - 12:06 pm

They look like treats purchased for a child’s unicorn-themed birthday party — or perhaps an adult weekend at Electric Daisy Carnival.

Electrapop lollipops’ flavor enhancer puts your taste buds on overdrive. (L.E. Baskow)
Electrapop lollipops’ flavor enhancer puts your taste buds on overdrive. (L.E. Baskow)

Mariena Mercer Boarini’s Electrapop lollipops shimmer in their translucent wrapping — glittery blue powder shining through rainbow-tinted foil, wrapped with a silver tie. The real wow factor, however, comes when you put one in your mouth.

Everyone experiences the unique phenomenon differently, but the first thing many notice as the powdery blue coating engulfs the palate is their mouth watering like Pavlov’s dog at a bell choir recital. Or perhaps it’s the tingling sensation, which spreads in waves throughout the mouth. As those sensations pass, your taste buds may feel a bit on edge: cleared of any distinct flavor, but acutely sensitive as they await the next taste.

Those are some of the most notable effects of Electra: a “revolutionary flavor and sensation enhancer” created by local entrepreneur Boarini.

“It speeds up your salivary glands and makes you into what they call a super-taster,” Boarini says. “Then, anything you consume after, you taste different nuances and flavors.”

On a simple lemon lollipop, Electra enhances the tart citrus taste and the sugary candy sweetness as separate, coexisting components. That process is a bit more complicated, and a lot more fun, when Boarini shares a champagne truffle rolled in Electra. Then there are the cocktails. Boarini likes to mix Electra powder into an adult beverage, or rim a glass with it.

“It works really well with citrus,” Boarini tells home bartenders. “So anything in the sour family would be a great first start — like a margarita.”

She speaks from experience. Boarini is a veteran mixologist, whose bartending has earned her a Silver State Award, and a place on The Drink Business’ list of the world’s Top 10 Female Bartenders. While designing the cocktail menu for The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas’ Chandelier Bar, she discovered Electra’s main ingredient.

The Szechuan flower also is known as a “buzz button.” (Getty Images)
The Szechuan flower also is known as a “buzz button.” (Getty Images)

In 2010, when we were opening The Cosmopolitan, I had this really amazing beverage director, and he just kind of got me. And he said ‘Hey, I tried this flower years ago, it’s called a Szechuan flower, and it makes your tongue tingle. It’s just a wacky experience, and I really think you’ll like it.’ ”

It took her awhile to track down the flower, nicknamed the “buzz button” by some fans for the way it reacts in the mouth. When she did, she was so enthralled by the experience that she designed Chandelier’s signature cocktail, the Verbena, around it. Guests were encouraged to sip the drink before biting down on the flower, then to take another sip to note how the experience had changed.

The Verbena quickly became a Las Vegas phenomenon, and The Cosmopolitan’s most popular cocktail. So when some ingredients went out of season, and its creator attempted to rotate it off the menu, there was more than a little backlash.

“I thought people were going to come riot at my house, they were so upset about it,” Boarini jokes. “So I said, ‘OK, we’ll tweak the cocktail and make it with the ingredients available. It’s just not going to be on the menu, and people will forget about it in a few weeks.’ ”

Nearly a decade later, Chandelier Bar has sold more than 800,000 of them, despite it remaining an off-menu “secret.” That runaway success inspired imitators on the cocktail menus of competitors and fans alike, in Las Vegas and around the world.

Mariena Mercer Boarini also likes to mix Electra powder into an adult beverage, or rim a glass ...
Mariena Mercer Boarini also likes to mix Electra powder into an adult beverage, or rim a glass with it. (L.E. Baskow)

When Boarini left The Cosmopolitan to focus on her consulting company, Wanderlush, she was determined to find other ways to bring her signature “buzz button” to the masses. She just needed to figure out how to do it.

“I’ve always been super-fascinated with science and chemistry, and recently, neurogastronomy has been one of my favorite things,” the mixologist says. “So, we got some fancy lab equipment and just started trying to figure out the process.”

She eventually found a way to reduce the Szechuan flower to a glittery blue powder that retained all of its sensory impact in a form that encourages creativity among chefs and bartenders. She and her husband, Jonathan Boarini, a professor of digital and graphic design at the College of Southern Nevada, then focused on bringing it to market. It was a family affair, with Jonathan creating the eye-catching packaging, and the pair writing their own patent application.

“We just knew we wanted to do everything ourselves,” Boarini says. “It’s just our personalities.”

This month, as Boarini introduces Electra powder and Electrapops to the world, she’s excited to step out from behind someone else’s bar and present something that’s all hers.

“I’ve always created for other people — and happily,” she says. “But as I’ve gotten older and I’m just more seasoned in my career, I kind of wanted to have a little ownership of things I was proud of.” electradust.com

The Electric Elephant cocktail created by Mariena Mercer Boarini for the holidays. (L.E. Baskow)
The Electric Elephant cocktail created by Mariena Mercer Boarini for the holidays. (L.E. Baskow)

Want to have some boozy fun with a pack of Electra? Mariena Mercer Boarini created this holiday-themed cocktail inspired by The White Elephant gift exchange.

Electric Elephant

1 1/2 ounce Coconut Vodka

1/2 ounce Solerno Blood Orange Liqueur

1 1/2 ounce White Cranberry Juice

1/2 ounce Douglas Fir Syrup

3/4 ounce lemon juice

Pinch of Electra

Garnish with Electra-rimmed straw, rosemary, star anise, pink peppercorns, coconut flakes

Add all ingredients (except garnishes) to mixing glass and shake with ice.

Rim the end of a straw with lemon juice and roll in Electra to coat.

Strain cocktail over fresh cubed ice in a globe-shaped glass or the kitchiest glass you own.

Make it festive with lots of garnishes. Let it snow (coconut flakes), add some stars (star anise), Christmas trees (rosemary sprigs), and holly berries (pink peppercorns).

Makes one cocktail.

Contact Al Mancini at amancini@reviewjournal.com. Follow @AlManciniVegas on Twitter and Instagram.

Editor’s note: Since publication of this story, Mariena Mercer Boarini has changed the name of her product to Electricdust.

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