Throughout this blog a great deal of attention has been paid to the concepts of Sweet and Sour. In my Axes of Taste model I have generally portrayed them as opposites on a single scale. A scale running from sugar syrup on one extreme to lemon/lime juice on the other. And I have established how the two sides can be used to counter one another, to achieve the correct Balance of Sour for the cocktail you are trying to create.
But now we’re going to look at a more advanced topic. Cocktails which somehow defy the Balance of Sour to become both Sweet and Sour. That is, that when you drink them you do not taste a single, blended level of sweetness which lies at a discrete point along the Sweet vs Sour axis. Instead you experience the Sweet element of the cocktail and the Sour element separately.
Sweet and Sour – Why Bother?
So the first question we have to ask is why bother? If you have read much of my blog you’ll understand the incredible value of being able to achieve the correct Balance of Sour within cocktails. Getting this balance right for any given cocktail opens up many of its flavours to our palates in an optimal manner.
Or moving towards the sweet side, as for a Brandy Alexander, Nutella Martini or Chocolate Orange.
So what reason might we have for deliberately upsetting the Balance of Sour? Knowing that in doing so we may negatively impact the expression of flavours within a cocktail?
Well, the main reason is as an alternate method of adding layers of complexity to a cocktail’s taste. The best cocktails don’t just taste of one thing all the time. Instead they impart layers of subtlety into their flavour. A foretaste juxtaposed by a different main taste and then further altered by an interesting aftertaste, for example.
This same affect can be achieved by playing around with the Sweet and Sour elements as well. Perhaps by making marginal drinks amazing. Or by making otherwise pretty bland drinks interesting. The Lemon Drop is a good example of this.
So, assuming you want to try separating a cocktail’s Sweet and Sour elements to impact your palate at different times, how do you go about achieving this?
There are three methods:
This is the most simple concept to achieve. Physically separating the Sweet and Sour elements of a cocktail. Specifically, by creating a main body of a cocktail which is on the sour side, and then serving it in a glass rimmed with sugar. As you sip, the Sweet and Sour elements mix in your mouth, making for a highly interesting drink.
This is the method used by classics such as the Sidecar and the Lemon Drop. While the Brandy Crusta is also served in a sugar rimmed glass, the main body of it is not nearly as sour as for the others and slightly on the dry side too. So while the effect is present, it is not quite the same. Obviously it is also not the same for a Margarita, which is traditionally served in a salt rimmed glass. This cocktail is already balanced between Sweet and Sour. The salt is used to achieve a similar juxtaposition of taste, but between different taste components.
When using loose sugar in cocktails I traditionally use muscovado or something similar. This unrefined sugar dissolves easily in minimal liquid at room temperature, unlike the granulated sugar you might add to your tea. But this very property which typically makes it so useful is counterproductive in this case. Instead you want a grainy sugar which will stay crystalline until it dissolves in your mouth. So a granulated white sugar works best.
To create the rim, simply rub a slice of lemon/lime (recipe specific) around the rim of an otherwise dry glass. Then press this rim into a saucer of sugar, and pat the base to shrug off any sugar which hasn’t stuck properly.
The main part of the cocktail should be on the sour side, but generally speaking shouldn’t be an actual Sour. It shouldn’t have an egg white froth as this will interfere with your Sweet and Sour mixing aim.
The second method used is to once again physically separate the cocktail’s Sweet and Sour components, but this time by layering them on top of each other. While this works in the same manner as serving a somewhat sour drink in a sugar rimmed glass, it is more difficult to pull off correctly.
The reason for this is volume. To understand this, consider the photo of a Lemon-Cassis Martini, a House cocktail from a previous bar. It is effectively a slightly sour lemon flavoured Neo-Martini floating upon a layer of Crème de Cassis – a sweet, blackcurrant liqueur.
Now the idea is to drink it so that you imbibe some liquid from each layer with each sip. But practically speaking that’s not likely to happen. Not at first, anyway. You’ll likely have already drunk a third to a half of the cocktail before you begin tipping the glass to an angle at which you start tasting the heavier, sweeter layer.
What this means is that you’re not applying the juxtaposition of Sweet and Sour to the drinker during every sip, as for a sugar rimmed cocktails. But instead you’re applying it over the course of the whole cocktail. The drink will start off sour, slowly become balanced; and then end up sweet.
However, there is a way to use a layered effect in a single sip. In Shooters. These are layered, single shot sized drinks which you drink in one go, the various flavours mixing in your mouth. By using a sweeter layer and a sour layer you can achieve this Sweet and Sour effect. A good example of this is a shooter I came across early in my bartending career called a Little Lemon Fella. This Fella consisted of layers of Chambord, Midori and lemon juice, and needed knocking back in one go.
As noted above, many cocktails are interesting because they don’t taste exactly the same all the way down. In these, the foretaste may be radically different from the aftertaste. The final option for introducing separate Sweet and Sour aspects to a cocktail is to use this method.
So the first two methods achieve the goal by a physical separation of Sweet and Sour elements. The final method achieves it by a temporal separation of these elements. They co-exist in a cocktail of uniform consistency, yet impact our taste buds at different moments.
As you might expect, this is the hardest method to pull off, and is largely dependent upon the use of specific ingredients. These ingredients are those which you naturally taste as an aftertaste, and also impart a certain sweetness at the same time. The only one that I regularly use in cocktails is Frangelico, a hazelnut flavoured liqueur. The nutty taste comes through as an aftertaste, bringing a slight sweetness along with it.
I have made use of this in a couple of my creations – the Nutbuster and the New York Tart. Both rank among my top creations.