This month’s MxMo theme, The Unknown, immediately prompted me to dig up ingredients I had collected but not used much in cocktails – Acids! A recent experiment with acid phosphate had showed me that a few drops could liven up a drink. Citric, malic, and tartaric acids were still uncharted territory for me. Since a visit to White Lyan in London a couple of weeks ago, I knew this was something I wanted to tackle. The bar is famous for not using any ice or citrus, although they are still able to offer a Daiquiri and other classic sours on their menu. How do they do it? Acids of course! By carefully blending different types of acids at carefully established concentrations levels, they are able to replicate the taste of lime or lemon and produce well-balanced cocktails.
For my first experiment, I prepared solutions with each of the acids and tasted them:
- Malic acid had a green apple/sour grape flavor, and was the most mellow of the group
- Tartaric acid tasted like tamarind/lime, with a harsh sourness
- Citric acid had a fresh lemon/gooseberry flavor
- Acid phosphate was so sour it seemed almost fizzy, and was quite dry
Then I proceeded to use these acids to make a Daiquiri. I mixed white rum and rich syrup in the Difford’s ratio, skipping the lime juice (10:(3):2 rum:(lime juice): rich syrup), and adding acid to taste. The malic acid Daiquiri was easily the most unpleasant, with the rum reduced to a rubbing alcohol flavor. The tartaric acid Daiquiri has a good acidity but the aftertaste was bitter. Lastly, the citric acid Daiquiri showed the most promise with a bright flavor, although the finish was a little short.
I did a little bit of a kitchen sink approach, adding a bit of each acid until I found the acidity level to be sufficient and the taste satisfactory. The final blend was mostly citric acid, which is the predominant acid in lime. At high doses, I found that the malic and tartaric acids gave artificial notes to the cocktail, sour candy-like, so I ended up using just a small amount. Overall I found the drink was quite hard to balance, because there are only three components in a Daiquiri, and therefore the sour component is very noticeable.
Using acid in small touches is another (easier) approach. I had read that acid could do wonderful things to a cognac Manhattan. So I decided to experiment with Pierre Ferrand 1840 and barolo chinato for the vermouth, as it has a bit of bitterness and would nicely balance the sweet and rich cognac. I followed my nose and went with pecan bitters to continue the theme of the barolo chinato with nuts and raisins. The drink was already quite fine as it was.I added a couple of drops of acid phosphate which did not work at all; the drink now had an unpleasant bitter finish.
Then I realized I had used the wrong acid! Malic was the acid recommended with cognac, which makes sense since it is one of the main acids found in grapes (with tartaric acid). I dumped the offensive cocktail in the sink and made another one. A few drops of malic acid added enhanced the grape notes in the cocktail and also lengthened the finish of the drink. This was a good addition.
Going back to the idea of replacing citrus juice with acid altogether in a cocktail, I remembered that Tristan Stephenson (Purl, The Worship Street Whistling Shop) had included such a Sidecar variation in his book, The Curious Bartender. The Sidecar is notoriously difficult to balance. Also, between the orange notes of the curaçao and the lemon juice, the delicate flavors of the cognac tend to disappear. Using an acid solution to replace the lemon juice therefore makes a lot of sense. With tartaric acid, the result is a clear cocktail, the Side Caress, which has a clean flavor and celebrates its key ingredient, cognac.
- White Lyan: the bar with no ice in diffords.com
- Animal, Vegetable, or Mineral Cocktail? Ask Mr. Lyan, an article about Ryan Chetiyawardana’s approach to cocktails at White Lyan
- The Product: The Incredible Neutral Pucker of Acid Phosphate on StarChefs.com
- Acid Phosphate by Darcy O’Neil
- Phosphate With a Twist by Wayne Curtis
- Using Citric Acid in Cocktails at A Bar Above (which includes this handy tip: 1.5 oz of fresh lemon juice = 1/4 tsp of citric acid dissolved into 1 1/2 oz of water)
- Hippy Rickey by Nicholas Quattroville of The Bling Pig
- Acidity in Wines, an article on winemaking discussing common organic acids found in fruit
- Improving the Flavor of Fruit Products with Acidulants