More on Sour Cocktails

I've posted before about sour cocktails, but I felt that the subject deserved a bit more elabouration. The material here, as before, is quite heavily inspired by (some might say stolen from) David Embury's classic taxonomy from The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks.

Embury's basic approach was to define a sour cocktail template. In his mind, a sour cocktail consisted of:

  • a spirit
  • a sweetener
  • lemon and/or lime juice

Different combinations of spirits and sweeteners lead, of course, to different cocktails. The exact ratios obviously depend on your personal taste and the actual ingredients you decide to use. My preferred ratio matches Embury's:

  • 4 cl base liquor
  • 1 cl lemon or lime juice
  • 0.5 cl (1 tsp) sugar(-like) syrup (see below for details)

This is an 8/2/1 ratio. It's not actually that sour, and the base liquor is the dominant flavour, so you need to use good quality ingredients here. Some drinks in this category include:

  • Whiskey sour - whiskey, sugar syrup, lemon juice
  • Daiquiri - rum, sugar syrup, lime juice
  • Tequila lime sour - tequila, sugar syrup, lime juice
  • Gin sour - gin, sugar syrup, lemon juice
  • Apple sour - calvados, sugar syrup, lemon juice

Changing the Sweetener

When sweetening with sugar, I use a homemade syrup made up of 2 parts sugar and 1 part water. This yields a syrup roughly equal in volume to the sugar you started with, which basically means that I can measure the syrup more or less like regular sugar, i.e. 1 tsp of syrup is about as sweet as 1 tsp of granulated sugar.

You can use other sweeteners as well, as long as you account for any variation in sweetness. For example, I make my own grenadine with 1/2 cup pomegranate juice, 3/4 cup sugar and a splash of orange blossom water. This results in a mixture that is approximately as sweet as the 2-1 sugar syrup I use.

Swapping the sugar syrup for grenadine leads to different cocktails. You get a Jack Rose, for example, by substituting grenadine for the sugar syrup in an Apple Sour (and by optionally changing the lemon juice for lime juice).

You can experiment with your own syrups, like ginger or mint.

Using Triple Sec

Using Triple Sec or Cointreau as the sweetener in a sour leads to an entirely different set of cocktails. People often say that Cointreau is better than generic Triple Sec, but I find Meagher's brand Triple Sec to be perfectly serviceable, especially when used as a mixer.

Using either one successfully is a bit tricky. In The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks, Embury infamously uses the same ratio for his Triple Sec based cocktails as he does for his syrup based ones:

  • 4 cl base liquor
  • 1 cl lemon or lime juice
  • 0.5 cl (1 tsp) Triple Sec

Since Triple Sec, however, is nowhere near as sweet as 2-1 sugar syrup, this leads to unpleasantly dry cocktails.

There are about 4.2 g of sugar in 1 tsp, so 1 tsp of syrup has roughly 4.2 grams of sugar (remember that the syrup measures like sugar). Since 1 tsp is about 0.5 cl, that means that 1 cl of syrup has roughly 8.4 g of sugar.

With Cointreau it's a bit more complicated. According to their website, it has 24 g of sugar per 10 cl (7.4 g per oz). This is about 2.4 g per cl.

So, per cl, sugar syrup has about 8.4 g of sugar while Cointreau has roughly 2.4 g. This means that you need roughly 3.5 times the amount of Cointreau to equal the sweetness of the same amount of syrup.

So when I make cocktails with the Embury ratio of 8/2/1 (4 cl liquor, 1 cl citrus, 1 tsp sugar syrup), then I can convert this to a Cointreau style drink by multiplying the sugar by 3.5, leading to a 16/4/7 ratio. To make it a bit simpler, you can use 16/4/8 or 4/1/2 (4 cl liquor, 1 cl citrus, 2 cl Cointreau).

Note, however, that this much Cointreau will dilute the citrus juice, so it makes sense to add more citrus at this point. Often people will double it, giving you a 4/2/2 drink, or 2/1/1, which is a classic sidecar or margarita recipe. This isn't a bad ratio, but I find that all this extra liquid dilutes the base liquor too much, causing me to up it slightly. So my final preferred ratio is usually:

  • 3 cl base liquor
  • 1 cl lemon or lime juice
  • 1 cl Cointreau or Triple Sec

There are several drinks is this category:

  • Margarita - tequila, triple sec, lime juice
  • Sidecar - brandy or cognac, triple sec, lemon juice
  • White Lady (AKA Chelsea sidecar) - Gin, triple sec, lemon juice
  • Bourbon sidecar - bourbon, triple sec, lemon juice
  • Apple Cart - calvados, triple sec, lemon juice

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