A PRACTICAL GUIDE TO COCKTAIL CLARIFICATION
‘Clarifying’ a liquid, or removing all of its cloudy particles, isn’t always going to affect the flavour of the modified solution – it will however, add another layer to your cocktail and be infinitely cooler than the ‘not clarified’ version.
The process can, however, alter states of flavour, yield different textures or amend the molecular composition of drinks. But what is clarification? And how can you use the technique to create better drinks? Today, we explore the murky world of clear drinks.
SOME CLARITY PLEASE, SIR
Clarification is the process of removing suspended particles from ‘unclear’ liquids that reflect and distribute light, making the substance appear ‘clear’. There are several methods to achieve this, but today we’ll mainly look at filter clarification and share a recipe that uses milk washing for you to test out.
As Death & Co. pointed out in the superb Cocktail Codex, consider the differences between filtered coffee and coffee prepared in a French press. The coffee is lighter in colour, more transparent and lighter in body/ mouthfeel after passing through the filter. Whereas, by contrast, the French press delivers a much denser, bold cup of coffee that’s noticeably more opaque. This a useful analogy when considering the clarification process when used with cocktails.
It’s important to note that clarifying liquids will affect their flavour, too. The particles that are removed from the liquid carry flavours, so by subtracting them you’ll be affecting the overall flavour – for good or for bad.
TYPES OF CLARIFICATION
For modern cocktail creators, there are three central methods for clarifying liquids:
- Filter clarification: this uses filters to block particles, allowing clear liquid to pass through to give you the desired result.
- Gel clarification: particles are isolated and trapped in a gel, with clear ones induced to leak through a process called syneresis and cloudy ones left in the gel.
- Gravitational clarification: separating by density, using racking or tools like a centrifuge, gravity is used to allow particles to separate out of the liquid.
This time around, we’ll be examining filter clarification and how to use it for clearly great results in your bar.
I CAN SEE CLEARLY NOW (THE MILK HAS GONE)
Clarification in drinks is a technique popularised as far back as the 1700s. A famous proponent of the process was one of America’s founding fathers and celebrated thinker, Benjamin Franklin.
There may have been some coincidence for a man that was born on Milk Street, but Franklin and many of his peers used milk washing as a means to mitigate the rawness from the spirits they were imbibing – typically brandy and rum, as called for in Ben’s recipe.
This is achieved by manipulating milk proteins (particularly, casein) to bind with the astringent components of liquids. When the acid curdles the milk, the casein is trapped and then removed.
Today’s technique is evolved and more centred on using in cocktail ingredients, but the original format would see people drink the milk-treated spirit as it is.
CLEAR WINS FOR YOUR BAR
The process we’re considering today is milk washing. We’ll use this to craft one of our favourite riffs on the classic Scotch & soda, borrowing heavily from a recipe in the wonderful Batched and Bottled (link at bottom).
Milk washing is a technique that’ll appeal to cocktail nerds, but it’s a process that has survived, and indeed evolved, over time because the results it yields are so unique and appealing to drinkers. But what does this mean at your bar?
Well, milk washing can provide an added dimension in terms of flavour or textures – and, as an older technique with a nice backstory, it has the ‘wow factor’ for storytelling to customers. It can be refrigerated and stored easily for long periods. But, as Dave Arnolds points out, there’s a fantastical foam and froth that can be teased out when a milk washed spirit is shaken.
Aeration creates a wonderful texture to milk washed drinks, but it can lose its vitality – as Arnolds says: it doesn’t go bad, it just loses its awesomeness.
CLEAR DRINKS, FULL HEARTS
Texture is a big thing here – milk washing can be used as an alternative method for achieving bubbles in a drink if you desire a specific texture and don’t have the tools or ingredients to get there.
Now, naturally, it’s not a hugely practical process to be rolling out during service at the bar – but when treated at volume, prebatching before shifts, it provides a unique, altered ingredient that can be responsible for an interesting conversation with a customer or a few extra bucks on the bill.
MILKWASHING RECIPE – SCOTCH & SODA
Today, we’ll be building a Scotch & soda riff that’s big on flavours, mouthfeel and nostalgia. Stick with the recipe – it’s a bit of work but totally worth it.
The recipe will yield a full bottle of milk washed whisky, perfect for batching before service and offering a quick, very unique take on the classic Scotch & soda combo.
RECIPE (yields 1L)
- 400ml Johnnie Walker Black Label
- 375ml Whole milk
- 3 Tsp citric acid
- 1 Dash vanilla extract
- 90ml fresh lemon juice
- Soda water
- Add 300ml Johnnie Walker Black Label to the lemon juice in a mixing glass or bowl
- Add the milk to a separate bowl
- Slowly add the whisky and lemon mixture to the milk, lightly stirring to mix
- The milk will begin to curdle, don’t panic – this is the plan
- With both solutions mixed together, cover the bowl and refrigerate for 4 – 5 hours
- Remove the mixture and begin the filtration process: pass it through a coffee filter and muslin cloth to remove the curdle excess
- If the first pass doesn’t give you a crystal clear liquid, pass it through a coffee filter again to remove finer particles
- Add the remaining 100ml of Johnnie Walker Black Label, vanilla extract and citric acid for flavouring – stir to mix
- Bottle and refrigerate (shelf life – 6 months)
- Serve in a rocks glass over a large ice cube with a splash of soda water and lemon peel to garnish.
- Clarification is the process of removing suspended particles from ‘unclear’ liquids.
- Using clarification will undoubtedly affect the flavour of the liquid – for better or worse – and alters the texture.
- There are several methods of this technique; the primary methods used for cocktail or cooking purposes are: filter clarification, gel clarification and gel clarification.
- Milk washing dates back as far at the 1700s, with famed US thinker, Benjamin Franklin, a noted fan of using the process.
- The method was used to soften popular spirits of that era, which were much harsher than what we are accustomed to today.
BOOKS TO READ
The Cocktail Codex (Alex Day, Nick Fauchald & David Kaplan; 2018)
Liquid Intelligence (Dave Arnold; 2014)
Batched & Bottled (Noel & Max Venning; 2018)
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