Perhaps you can relate to this: I had hit a wall in my cocktail creation strategy, because I wanted to combine the flavors of liqueurs and spirits without ending up with a sugary mess. The specific drink that started my mental wheels turning is the Alaska Cocktail, which can be found in various proportions around the internet, but it’s somewhere in the vicinity of:
1.5 oz Gin
.5 oz Yellow Chartreuse
Dash of Orange Bitters
Stir and Garnish with a lemon peel.
The problem with this drink, which I hope is immediately obvious to everyone, is that it is very sweet, and has a syrupy mouthfeel. How do we know this, without mixing it? Simple, look at what is missing. There is no fortified wine, there is no citrus juice, and there is no soda water. It seems obvious in retrospect, but I asked myself, what do all of those things have in common?
They are all sources of acid; citric, malic, and carbonic, respectively. I had mixed an Alaska earlier that day, and although I can recognize it as a kind of fancy old-fashioned cocktail with gin as the base and yellow chartreuse as the modifier, it was not satisfying to me. I wanted more chartreuse flavor without more sugar.
I could add a vermouth bianco to try to balance it while minimally impacting flavor, but that’s still a different, albeit a better sounding drink. The question became, how can I make vermouth more sour, so that I can play it off of a larger quantity of liqueur? The answer was to bolster the natural acidity of vermouth.
As luck would have it, winemakers already use powdered tartaric and malic acids to fine-tune the acidity of theirs wines, and such acids are easy to procure. Wines, even fortified wines, are balanced to be consumed on their own, but as a mixological reagent, we often want things to cleave to extremes. We add more sugar and alcohol, but we never think to add more acid.
I am not the first cocktail enthusiast to have this idea. Since I had this realization, I have found that most books on molecular mixology will have at least one drink that uses a powdered acid to find balance, but they never place enough emphasis on the power of this technique. Using powdered acids to precisely calibrate the “dryness/sweetness” of a drink is THE key to liberation from traditional mixology.
And don’t get me wrong: I love traditional mixology, but I think by now we have fully explored the space of pouring old liqueurs into brown spirits and fortified wines. It’s not that every possible combination has been explored, but certainly, there are no surprises. If we want truly new and creative cocktail ideas, we must be able to break away from the monopoly that the classic punch formula has on the world of craft cocktails. Between the Manhattan and the Whiskey Sour, you have the structure of virtually all prohibition era drinks*.
(*Yes, I know about possets and flips and milk punches and hot toddies and old-fashioned cocktails etc. etc. etc.)
So I bought some acid powders: citric, tartaric, and malic.
AND UNTO THIS, THE ACID TRIP SERIES WAS BORN.
Wheated Bourbon, Peanut Orgeat, Kyoho (or Concord) Grape Juice, Cinnamon
Brandy, Muddled Kyoho (or Concord) Grape, Lavender Bitters
Fresh-pressed apple juice, Demerara Rum, Caramel Sauce, Absinthe
Acidity is life.