Introduction: Specimen Cocktails

About: I like to divert stuff from its intended use. Most of my crafting is based on re-use and recycling due to my urge to use resources consciously (and my small wallet). As I like to consume ideas rather than prod…

Got unexpected guests at your laboratory?
You want to feast them but the pantry is empty?
Be generous and take one of your wet specimen glasses out of the shelf and pop it open to cheer up your folks and get them tipsy at your cozy laboratory...

Follow me step by step to the preservation lab to show you the genesis of this drink. Don't be scared - all parts of this drink are food save and eat/drinkable. You can make a alcoholic mixture as well as a non-alcoholic concoction.

Wikipedia defines: "A zoological specimen is an animal or part of an animal preserved for scientific use. Various uses are : to verify the identity of a (species), to allow study, increase public knowledge of zoology."
I would like to add: "A homemade wet specimen is beneficial to contribute a decorative drink for your halloween party"

I want to credit caitlinsdad and DotatDabbled here.
Their instructables and were a huge inspiration for me. Thank you!


If you happen to own a real specimen you might already know: To drink the liquid of a real wet specimen is highly toxic due to the added Formaldehyde. Never ever drink the liquid of a real wet specimen!

And don't burn yourself with the hot water in steps 4 and 5
And don't cut yourself in step 4
And don't serve alcohol to kids

Step 1: Raw Materials and Apparatuses

To create your creatures you require:

For your big signature animal:
100 gram (about 1 cup) tapioca starch
100 gram (about 1 cup) cornstarch
about 9 tablespoons of boiling hot water
2 cloves (for the eyes)

For the smaller (serving size) animals:
100 gram (about 1 cup) tapioca starch
4 1/2 tablespoons of boiling hot water
flax seeds (for the eyes)

To process the creatures you require:

a big bowl to mix the dough
a smaller bowl to cover the dough
a silicone spatula for mixing
a clean surface to sculpt your animal
a knife and kitchen scissors
a spray bottle to humidify your hands and the creatures
parchment paper
a steaming vessel
a big pot
small heat resistant items to support the animal while cooking (I used corks)

To showcase your creatures you require:

mason jars in various sizes
I used a 2 liter (about 2 quarts) and a 1,5 liter (about 1,5 quarts) jar.
Wide mouth jars make it easier to put the creatures in...

The Ingredients for the liquid solutions:

You find the options for the concoction and the according ingredients in step 6.

Step 2: Mix the Compounds

This is the recipe for the big creature:

In order to get a well shapeable dough you have to use really boiling hot water (I recommend to measure the amount and heating it up in a small pot), add it in one go and mix mediately with your spatula to blend both.
On my first attempts I added the water spoon by spoon to find the right amount and ended up with a something between play dough and Oobleck ( ) This substance was almost impossible to work with.
So hurry up and mix fast.

Use 100 gram (1 cup) of tapioca starch and 100 gram (1 cup) of corn starch with 4 1/2 tablespoons of boiling water.

The mixture cools down pretty fast and as soon starch and water appear well mixed (it may look a little dry first - but that's okay) you can carefully use your hands to knead it until it feels dough like.
There is no need to knead a lot (as there is no gluten in this dough it wont develop further strength when you knead it) Kneading in this case is more for to check if there are lumps in the dough and to feel it is the right mixture ready for sculpting.

If your dough seems to be too liquid or to dry you can try to adjust it with a little bit more water or starch but only to a certain point, so go easy on this...

Your dough will feel more like clay than play dough, but it probably will be a little bit more brittle than clay.
As soon the dough is prepared you can start to assemble your creature.

Step 3: Choose a Creature

It's up to you which kind of creature you want to create.

I recommend amphibians, aquatic animals, mammals in embryonic stage or fantasy creatures.
(Birds and adult mammal specimens are usually conserved as dry study skins - Also they are much harder to make in dough... In order to get a believable specimen stick to animals i mentioned first...)

When I made my test batches I formed a frog, a baby dragon and a embryo of something like a seal. The frog came out well while the baby dragon (a mixture of snake and lizard with eight legs) didn't appear so great. The baby seal worked pretty well but doesn't show nice on the pictures.

I took a look at my encyclopedia of animals to get inspiration - and to get an idea of proportions and details.

Step 4: Embodiment of Big Creatures

I decided to go for a axolotl as my signature specimen (more about this choice in step 8).

Use a clean surface for the forming process and place your spray bottle nearby. The dough tends to dry rather quickly and so do your hands. To keep things smooth use the spray bottle to moisten both.

I recommend to keep the dedicated mason jar nearby to keep the size of the animal in relation to it.

Take most of your dough to form the basic shape of your animal, keep a smaller amount for the legs and other details nearby.
Determine how big the head is supposed to be and where the legs should become attached.
Form important details ( like the external gills ) and attach them meticulous.
To attach the legs poke little holes in the body, stick the legs in and mold the connection. (If your chosen animal has rather short legs just form them out of the body.)
For the eyes just plug two cloves at the desired spot. Cover them with a very thin layer of dough so they'll look much more natural.
Cut the mouth of your creature open and slip a piece of parchment paper in between so it won't stick closed.

Place the whole thing on a piece of parchment paper and place this in your steaming vessel.
To give the animal a less flat appearance and a therefore more natural look put small heat resistant items (like corks) underneath its belly and neck.
Take the steaming vessel to your pot, add boiling water to the bottom of the pot, turn on the heat and put the lid closed.
Steam the creature for about 30 minutes (rather bulky animal shapes like the baby seal take a little bit longer)

When you open the lid you'll have a pleasant surprise: the steam evens out the surface of the animal a little - also it makes the skin of your creature slightly translucent and therefore much more believable!

Let it sit for 5 to 10 minutes, then wash it with cold water to get rid of the sticky parchment paper.
I recommend to place the animal in the dedicated jar and fill this up with some spare water to give the creature a adequate environment. Put the glass in the fridge, it's a cozy place for your axolotl...

Step 5: Embodyment of Small Creatures

I've decided the smaller creatures (which are supposed to end up in your guests glasses and are more likely to be eaten) should consist only of tapioca starch. So they are basically like the tapioca pearls in bubble tea.
If you like bubble tea you may like to eat them. (I personally don't like bubble tea but would eat them for the show...)

The procedure of the smaller animals is almost the same as for the big one:

Mix 100 gram tapioca starch with 4 1/2 Tablespoons boiling water. Mix the dough in the same manner as you did in step 4.

Form the animals according to the photos:
- form a little ball
- roll it with your flat hand to give it a longish shape
- pinch the "spine" of the worm with two fingers
- pinch the head a little to give it some shape
- use the flax seeds as eyes, push them in the worms heads - they'll stick well.

While you are forming the worms: I recommend to put your future cocktail glasses nearby in order to form your creatures respective the size of your glasses. I didn't do so and ended up with some worms being slightly to big...

Always keep the remaining dough covered with a smaller bowl to keep it soft and moist.
Mist your fingers from time to time to keep things smooth.

Proceed the steaming process like in the former step (you don't need supporting corks this time).
Let them cook for about 15 minutes.
When done you can put the whole parchment paper in water to cool them down and to make it easier to remove the worms.

You can proceed by putting the worms into their dedicated jar, cover them with water and let them chill in the fridge till the the final concoction is ready.
You could also take a look at DotatDabbled's instructable about soaking tapioca pearls in different liquids (alcohol) and try one of her suggestions.

I have to confess the worms I made don't really resemble the look of real baby axolotls. But I choose this shape to make them easier to catch with the "laboratory tweezers" and also to make them easy to shape as there are many of them to be made...

Step 6: Preparation of the Conserving Sollution

I like to keep the animals in "decorative liquids" and serve the actual drink from a labeled bottle.
This way it is easier to find a good looking tan for the animal liquid and to serve a tasty / dark drink at the same time. But if you like so you can let the animals swim in the real stuff aswell...
The recipes I give here are more for inspiration, adjust them to your likings or even make different ones.

The basic guidelines for the drinks are:
- keep it clear (nothing like orange juice etc...)
- no sparkling stuff (no carbonated sodas etc...)
- transparent or brownish are the most authentic looking colors in my opinion (but you can go wild if you like so...)

For the "decorative liquid":
Just brew one cup of your tea separately (make it strong) and add this tea to the water your animal is swimming in.

Kids-friendly non-alcoholic Version:
Make a strong non-caffein-containing tea like Rooibos or Lemongrass or Apple tea. (Hibiscus based tea may give a too reddish color to look authentic, but you can use it if you like that)
Add clear (unfiltered will spoil the look) apple juice to the tea. (Ratio is up to your taste, I recommend 1:1 or less juice)
Add (flavored) syrup to your taste.
For a kids party it's probably less messy to have a ready to go concoction.
But if you are adventurous and not afraid of sugar-high children you can let the children mix their own drinks...
(To do so keep the syrup separately and add a little measuring cup)

Adult-friendly non-alcoholic Version:
Basically the same recipe as for the kids but you can also use black tea, green tea and yerba mate.
If you are adventurous and not afraid of sugar-high adults let them mix their own drinks...
(To do so serve syrup separately)

Alcoholic Version:
Make tea from 7 cups of water and 6 bags of black tea.
Remove the tea bags.
Add 1 1/2 cups of sugar and the thinly peeled skin of a lemon (preferably organic and well washed beforehand)
Let it cool down to room temperature, then put it in your fridge over night.
Add the juice of the naked lemon (or even more, according to your taste)
Adjust sugar to your taste.
Fill it in a bottle by using a fine strainer.
You can add the alcohol (about 1 cup of dark rum) directly into the bottle to get a ready made concoction.
If you are adventurous and not afraid of drunk adults let them mix their own drinks...
(To do so place the alcohol bottle nearby.)

Step 7: Final Touches and Serving Suggestions

I made labels for the glasses and bottles.
To give them an old fashioned appearance I treated the paper like I did when I was a child (trying to prepare a convincing treasure map for my little brother):
I put a piece of paper in strong brewed black tea, let it sit there for a few minutes and voilà, the paper looks antique.
I was impatient and dried the labels in between layers of parchment paper I with my iron. It worked very well.
I wrote stuff like "Ethanol", "Formalin"," Axolotl Specimen" on the labels - but maybe you come up with even funnier labeling...

To give the hole serving ceremony a laboratory like appearance I made large tweezers (I learned how to do them here: )
and a gigantic eyedropper.
The huge eyedropper works somehow but isn't perfect (It doesn't hold the water very well, so you have to be quick to get the liquid into your glass). I had an rubber ball on hand and used a piece of aquarium piping that fitted the ball. But as I'm not really sure if this construction is food safe for anyone else but aquatic animals I wouldn't use it for my guests...but It looks nice on the photo : )
If I have had a real eyedropper on hand I would have used that.
A big syringe would be nice and functional as well - and is maybe easier and cheaper to get...

The hole eyedropper thing is mostly for the show effect. I like to assemble the drinks like this:
Take a worm with your tweezers and add it to your glass.
Use the eyedropper / syringe to add some of the worms swimmingpoolwater (this is not for taste but for enhanced grossness).
Fill up your glass with the prepared tea solution.
Add the desired amount of liqueur to the drink (for the picture I just poured it, but i would strongly recommend a measuring cup for this step. Not only it helps to keep track of the alcohol consumed in your drink, it also enhances the laboratory style).
I also recommend to offer ice cubes to add to the drinks.

I really like the idea of assembling the drinks separately. It's a nice icebreaker and starting point for a conversation. (Just like eating fondue or hot pot - while your hands are busy it's much easier to talk...)
If you don't want do the cocktail preparation yourself all the time - just write down a instruction sheet, explaining the several steps, and place it near the specimen and the bottles so everybody can do their drinks by themselves.

You could as well prepare glasses with worms and concoction beforehand. But in my opinion you'll miss the funny part if you do so...

Step 8: Extended Serving Suggestions

The drink you just created not only serves physical needs like thirst and hunger. It's also a miraculous concoction in terms of social needs.
The mixture in your hand is like a glass brimmed with interesting party conversation topics:

If you are into artsy stuff:
Take a look at Damien Hirst. He is reportedly Britain's richest living artist. Besides covering skulls with diamonds (to make the most expensive piece of contemporary art so far) he's doing specimen (just like you!)
Take a look at his piece The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living to get inspiration for your next cocktail party...

If you are more interested in biology than in art:
I strongly recommend you to read the wikipedia article about axolotls. There you will learn a lot about these interesting animals with their characteristic gills.
This creatures have super powers, they are capable of the regeneration of entire lost appendages!
They can also readily accept transplants from other individuals, including eyes and parts of the brain - restoring these alien organs to full functionality!
Unfortunately wild axolotls are near extinction today - but they used to be a staple in the Aztec diet (which makes your drink immediately a lot more reasonable...)

Also axolotls actually keep stuck in larval stage their whole life, they never really grow up (something you probably can relate to - as you decided to serve such a childish cocktail ;) ...)

Step 9: Alternatives

I just want to mention that you can also use other things than homemade tapioca worms as little specimens.

First of all you can use big tapioka pearls and prepare them as DotatDabbled describes in her instructable. Label them as axolotl eggs, frog spawn or whatever you are up for.

I also found these konjak vermicelli at the asian supermarket, I think they look strange enough to go as unknown creature.
Just put them in hot water for 2 minutes (like described on the package), They'll look funny and are tasteless.

At the asian store I also saw really thick noodles which look like instant worms. Those may work too but I haven't tried them myself...

So if you are discouraged by how laborious this instructable is, you could take a shortcut here (Although I wouldn't skip the signature animal, it's like the main ingredient in this punch...)

Step 10: Corresponding Decoration and Costume Ideas

A nice thing about this drink is: it serves not only as a quencher - it's as well as a nice decoration for your house.
You can make several different creatures and place them in different spots to give your room a laboratory / museum like look.
An electric tea candle placed in a teapot warmer underneath the jar enhances the look (don't use a real candle - you don't want to warm up your specimen.)

And if you are searching for a costume to accompany your cocktail creation just put on a lab coat, prepare a specimen in a handy size, put a straw inside and take a sip from time to time -> instant crazy professor / wet taxidermist / Frankensteins descendant costume!

Tips for your time management:

You can prepare the animals the day before you want to serve them. Keep them in their dedicated jars in spare water in the fridge.

I recommend to prepare the tea for the cocktail as well one day in advance so it can chill.

I wouldn't make the creatures more than one day in advance and I think they wouldn't survive the freezer - so this cocktail needs some time and preparation the day before you party... But I think it's worth it : )

If you spot confusing expressions or crazy phrases in this instructable, please tell me - english is my second language...

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