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A Guide to Cocktail Clarification

Cocktail clarification has become a quest for many mixologists. Explore this technique and the best tools for clarified cocktails. 

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

In the vast world of cocktails, the allure isn't only in the taste but also in the presentation. The vibrancy of a Bloody Mary, the haziness of a Pisco Sour, and the clarity of a Martini all play a part in our drinking experience. Among these, clarity has become a quest for many mixologists, leading to a renewed interest in the age-old clarification technique. As bartenders blend the traditional with the innovative, clarification emerges as an aesthetic and transformative technique.  

Let’s explore this crystalline world of clarified cocktails. 

Understanding Clarification

At its core, clarification is removing impurities and suspended particles from a liquid, making it clear. In mixology, this enhances the visual appeal and can refine the texture and taste of a cocktail, removing any lingering grittiness or overpowering elements. Remember that clear also doesn’t necessarily mean colourless (Arnold, 2014).

Essential Tools for Clarification

  1. Fine Strainers: These can remove larger particles from a liquid. Coffee filters are also helpful for finer particles.  
  2. Cheesecloth: A versatile tool that captures medium-sized particles.  
  3. Superbag or Nut Milk Bag: These fine-mesh bags can filter out even smaller particles.  
  4. Centrifuge: A machine that uses high-speed rotation to separate particles from liquids, ideal for achieving a high level of clarity. 

Techniques and Best Practices 

Clarification can be achieved in many ways; however, many can be highly technical and involve hard-to-source ingredients and complex techniques.  

Below is a selection of the most common methods used in bars. For a more extensive look at the subject, Dave Arnold’s Liquid Intelligence is an excellent look at this and many other modern bar techniques. 

  1. Gravity Straining: The simplest method is passing the liquid through a series of strainers, each finer than the last, using gravity alone.  
  2. Agar Clarification: Agar, a gelatinous substance derived from seaweed, is combined with the cocktail. As it sets, the agar traps impurities, which can be easily separated once solidified. Gelatine can also be used; however, Agar Clarification is generally less time consuming and demanding. It also has the added benefit of being vegan, so suitable for guests with dietary requests. 
  3. Milk Washing: A cocktail is mixed with milk, causing the milk to curdle. As it does, the curds trap impurities. The mix is then strained, producing a clear liquid that retains flavours but loses any colours or haziness. Milk Washing can also remove harshness and add a silky texture to spirits.   
  4. Centrifugation: The most technologically advanced method, a centrifuge, spins the cocktail at high speeds. The force pushes out all suspended particles, resulting in a crystal-clear beverage. Centrifuges are, however, prohibitively expensive for many bars. 

Clarification Transformations

With clarification, cocktails transform appearance, mouthfeel, and possibly even flavour. It is up to you as a bartender to decide if these changes are beneficial to the drink or not:  

  • Clarified Bloody Mary: Retains the spiciness and savoury depth but loses its signature red hue, making for a surprising and delightful twist.   
  • Clear Piña Colada: All the tropical flavours without the creamy appearance, perfect for a summer's day.  
  • Transparent Espresso Martini: Imagine the robustness of coffee in a cocktail. Instead of the typical rich brown of coffee, we have a clear liquid with only a light amber tint.  

While rooted in age-old practices, clarity is finding renewed significance in contemporary mixology. As bartenders push boundaries, the clear and the pure become canvases upon which they paint bold flavours and surprising contrasts. It’s a technique that demands patience, precision, and a touch of science. Yet, when done right, the result is more than just a transparent drink—its clarity of flavour combined with a unique presentation that provides a unique and exciting experience for our guests.

Milk Washed Scotch & Soda

Try building a Scotch & Soda riff that’s big on flavours, mouthfeel and nostalgia.  

Stick with the recipe – it’s a bit of work but worth it. The recipe will yield a whole bottle of milk-washed whisky, perfect for batching before service and offering a quick, unique take on the classic Scotch & Soda combo.

Key Takeaways

  • Clarification enhances the visual appeal and refines the texture and taste of a cocktail, removing any lingering grittiness or overpowering elements. 
  • Fine strainers, cheesecloth, Superbag (or Nut Milk Bag) and Centrifuge are all different tools for clarification. 
  • Techniques then include Gravity Straining, Agar Clarification, Milk Washing and Centrifugation – all with different methods of clarification to suit various preferences including budget or guest dietary needs. 
  • Clarified cocktails can bring a new dimension of taste that can impact the cocktail mouthfeel, texture and flavour.  
  • It is up to the bartender to decide if clarification is beneficial to the drink as it’s a technique that demands patience, precision and a touch of science. 

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