Clarified cocktails have been around for years (some sources say as far back as the 1700s), but they’re currently experiencing a resurgence in popularity in some of the world's more discerning bars - delivering brand new flavours to some well-known, well- established drinks.
So whether you're an experienced bartender looking to brush up on techniques, or a cocktail enthusiast keen to know more about clarified cocktails, here’s a quick guide.
What is a clarified cocktail?
Clarifying a cocktail is the process of creating a clear, aromatic and well-balanced drink by removing any solid components. Getting rid of suspended particles and separating clear liquids from cloudy solids will make a drink as smooth as possible.
There are many ways of doing this, the process takes time (it can't just be knocked up in front of a punter) and is usually used for creating batch cocktails. But, essentially, it involves adding a protein into your cocktail, or elements of a cocktail, including juices, to bind any unwanted particles to it.
This will create a kind of curdle, get rid of the curdled material and the byproduct left is very pure that marries the cocktail flavours perfectly together.
Why clarify a cocktail?
The reasons for clarifying cocktails start with the flavour profile of a drink.
Clarification changes the flavour of ingredients. Yes, the particles floating around in your drink that make it cloudy also add to (or detract from) the flavour. So, when you strip the particles out, you alter the flavour of the remaining liquid, making it cleaner.
The second reason behind clarification is called balance. As with wine, the main objectives of clarified cocktails is to achieve flavour and aroma harmony with all the ingredients.
Straining all of the solids from a mixed drink also delivers a longer lasting cocktail which is important for mixed drinks that are made in large batches that might require a longer shelf life.
Also, if you want to carbonate a cocktail (think gin and tonic), it will work much better with a clarified drink, as less residue = more bubbles. And finally, appearance is the last reason bartenders clarify cocktails. A crystal clear transparent cocktail looks much more appealing on the bar than a cloudy one!
The best ways to clarify a cocktail
The key for any cocktail clarification processes is to achieve flavour balance, while delivering a powerfully tasty sensation to the taste buds. And there are many ways of doing it from the easy peasy to technically complicated, but we like these three:
Gelatin v agar-agar clarification
Considered one of the most effective clarification methods, introducing gelatin or agar-agar into a mixed drink traps all of the solids in the mixer, as well as any solids left over from the alcohol after the distillation process.
Although gelatin and agar-agar are often considered the same thing, the fact is gelatin is a collagen, while agar-agar is acquired from algae making it vegetarian. Agar-agar is better at gelling, which makes it ideal for cocktail clarification.
Whether it’s gelatin or agar-agar, you have two methods for clarification.
Freeze and thaw blends the clarifier of choice into the cocktail. The quick gel method is similar to the method used to clarify lime juice that is mentioned below.
Milk and egg whites possess the same capability to trap unwanted particles in cocktails as gelatin and agar-agar. One of the prime examples of the power of dairy is called the Milk Punch - that can also strip out the astringency and rougher edges from spirits.
Milk added to an acidic cocktail will separate particles from the cocktail by curdling and coagulating the particles. Egg whites, which have been used by chefs for centuries to clarify stocks, are effective in removing particles from cocktails as well.
Using a centrifuge will also give you a perfectly clarified cocktail. As the drink spins rapidly the difference in density between liquids and the particles floating are magnified, and the speed at which particles separate from the liquid is increased. It’s a very quick process, but the machines can cost the earth, which is why some bars prefer the old fashioned techniques.
As mentioned before, both whole cocktails can be clarified (to improve or modify mouthfeel or flavour) or just elements of it, for example, the pineapple juice in a Pina Colada.
When it comes to mixers, juice is the king of the cocktail world, for example, a Margarita is nothing without a fresh squeezed lime while making a Whiskey Sour without fresh squeezed lemon juice is an insult to aficionados of the classic mixed drink.
One of the keys to making a superior clarified cocktail involves clarifying juices. Here’s how to clarify one of the most important bar juices, lime:
Clarified lime juice
Juice from 8 limes
Ice water bath
The first step for making clarified lime juice involves ensuring the fresh squeezed lime juice is strained at room temperature to eliminate pulp.
For every 750ml of lime juice poured, measure out 250ml of water and place both liquids to the side. Measure out the Agar at two per cent of the entire volume of clarified lime juice you plan to make. For 300ml of lime juice and 100ml of water, you would need eight grams of Agar.
While whisking, add the agar to the water set by the side. Do not add the lime juice at this time. Make sure to whisk thoroughly so the agar completely dissolves in the water. Then, bring the Agar and Water mixture to a boil over a high heat source. You have to stir the mixture constantly the instant the liquid reaches the boiling point. Give the mixture about five minutes to boil, before taking it off the stove and covering it to prevent boiling the liquid too much.
It is important that you whisk the strained lime juice into the agar/water mixture, and not the other way around. Wait until the batch of the mixture cools to 95 degrees Fahrenheit. Then, place the mixture into the ice water bath and wait for it to become a gel-like substance.
Lightly break the gel up by using the same whisk. When the gel breaks into pieces that appear like curds, pour the mixture through a cheesecloth and squeeze the gel lightly to extract liquid for pouring into a container.
Use the clarified lime juice in every cocktail that calls for lime juice!
Common clarified cocktails