Cocktail Review

Craft Cocktail Making: Theory and Structure of Bitterness

So far we’ve investigated the role that acidity and sugar play in the creation of craft cocktails. While sugar predates acidity in cocktail history, these building blocks can be thought of as a pair – acidity and sugar directly oppose each other. When sugar overpowers acidity, drinks become cloying and heavy. With the reverse, drinks are tart, thin, and unpleasant.

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Craft Cocktail Making: Theory and Structure of Sugar

Our first installment discussed acidity, one of the primary building blocks of modern cocktails. Acidity can come from many different sources: citrus fruit, milk, wine, and vinegar. All have significant acidity, which helps balance out sweetness in a drink. One of the challenges of working with acidity is that often times the quantity of acidity in a drink is right, but the flavor profile is wrong. A drink that is perfect with ½ ounce of lemon juice will be significantly different with ½ ounce of lime juice, even though their pH are similar.

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Craft Cocktail Making: Theory and Structure of Acidity

The dividing line between a cocktail enthusiast and a craft cocktail aficionado is knowledge. Anyone can enjoy a cocktail, and with enough time spent at or behind a bar, attain a good enough working knowledge of brands and flavors of alcohol. Some of these people go on to create a new cocktail, usually starting with a common drink or ratio of spirits to other ingredients and tweaking them to make something pleasant.

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Bitters non-potable? Pshaw.

Cocktails with Lots of Non-potable Bitters

Many of the definitive cocktails from both vintage and modern times are held together by non-potable bitters - infusions of various barks, roots, spices, and other flavoring agents that were traditionally developed as medicine. Before Prohibition (but after the cocktail had been well-established), this usually meant Angostura, Peychaud's, Boker's, or orange bitters, which were key ingredients in drinks like the Manhattan, the Sazerac, and - despite what Winston Churchill said - the Martini.

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