The Balancing Act

In Uncategorized on November 24, 2009 at 5:19 pm

Cocktails – The Balancing Act
To me the first thing to recognize in making great cocktails is that balance is everything. Balance equals harmony. Or as defined by The Encarta World English Dictionary: “a state in which various elements form a satisfying and harmonious whole and nothing is out of proportion or unduly emphasized at the expense of the rest.” Great cocktails are the epitome of teamwork between the spirits, mixers and sweeteners.

When creating truly memorable cocktails, I believe that balance should be viewed as the proportion of acid to sweetness to alcoholic strength all integrated with appropriate dilution from the melted ice. When I teach my bar staffs how to create spectacular libations, I purposely make one that is low in acid and therefore taste “flabby,” or one that is too high in alcohol and therefore taste “hot” or medicinal, and one that is too high in sugar without enough acid or alcohol and therefore cloying and lastly one that is simply over or under diluted. Using the simple and classic Cosmopolitan as an example, too much vodka will cause the drink to taste hot and perhaps bitter, too much lime juice and it will taste overly acidic, too much triple sec and it will taste much too sweet. My personal martini is The Cartini a mixture of 2 oz Grey Goose Original, ½ oz Lillet Blanc, ¼ oz amontillado sherry and 4 dashes of Regan’s orange bitters. When stirred until the outside of the shaker is frosted and beaded with sweat (at least 50 turns of the spoon!) it is a sublime libation; stirred too little and it is simply a horrifically bitter pill to swallow. The appropriate stirring dilutes the drink to between 20% and 30% the perfect amount of water to integrate into the cocktail and allows it to be balanced as opposed to bitter.

When determining the balance of your drinks, it is also important to understand the style of liquors, cordials and mixers used. For example I am a particular fan of Nellie and Joe’s Organic Key Lime Juice. It is a wonderful juice but very, very acidic & with extremely concentrated lime flavor. When using it I need to use a bit less than either fresh squeezed or other bottled lime juices. To me some vodkas that are made with the addition fruits in their base spirit, tend to be a bit sweeter and obviously more fruity than those of 100% rye, potato or wheat and to my palate do not stand up well to the assertive & herbaceous flavors of vermouth in a classic martini yet they pair perfectly well in fruited or tart-sweet cocktails. Similar distinctions hold true for all categories of liquors and cordials.

I often find that cocktails I like the best are those where no one ingredient stands out above the rest but all are in equal harmony with each other. Those cocktails that I least enjoy are those where there is excessive alcohol or excessive bitterness. In future posts I will continue to discuss balance and focus on the other ingredients in the cocktail.

Next Post: Better Not Bitter

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