A PRACTICAL GUIDE TO COCKTAIL CLARIFICATION
Clarifying a liquid is a technique that appeals to cocktail nerds for good reason – it can change its appearance, texture, flavor and add a whole new dimension to your serve. But what exactly is clarification? And how can you use the technique to create better drinks? Today, we explore the murky world of clear drinks.
WHAT EXACTLY IS CLARIFICATION?
Clarification is the process of removing suspended particles from ‘unclear’ liquids that reflect and distribute light, making the substance appear ‘clear’.
As pointed out in the Cocktail Codex, consider the differences between filtered coffee and coffee prepared in a French press. The coffee is lighter in color, 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 is a useful analogy when considering the process when clarifying cocktails.
It’s important to note that clarifying liquids can affect their flavor, too. The particles that are removed from the liquid carry flavors, so by subtracting them you’ll be affecting the overall flavor and balance – for good or for bad. – for good or for bad.
HOW TO CLARIFY COCKTAILS
For modern cocktail creators, there are three central methods for clarifying the liquids in your cocktail:
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.
MILK WASHING: GREAT HISTORICAL NUGGETS
Did you know that clarification in drinks is a technique popularized as far back as the 1700s? A famous proponent of the process was one of America’s founding fathers and celebrated thinker, Benjamin Franklin. A funny coincidence is that Franklin was born on Milk Street! 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 milk washing is still utilized by bartenders who seek to introduce an intriguing twist to classic cocktails or create innovative flavor combinations…
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HOW & WHY IS MILK WASHING USED TODAY?
Milk washing can provide an added dimension in terms of flavor or textures – and, as an older technique with a nice backstory, it has the ‘wow factor’ for storytelling to customers.
Milk washing results 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.
If you desire a specific texture, Milk washing can be used as an alternative method for achieving bubbles in a cocktail 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, pre-batching 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.
Ready to have a go yourself? Try this incredible Milk Washing recipe.
MILK-WASHING RECIPE - SCOTCH & SODA
Today, we’ll be building a Scotch & soda riff that’s big on flavors, 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)
- 13.5 oz. Johnnie Walker Black Label
- 12.5 oz. Whole milk
- 3 Tsp citric acid
- 1 Dash vanilla extract
- 3 oz. fresh lemon juice
- Soda water
- Add 10 oz. 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, 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 3.5 oz. of Johnnie Walker Black Label, vanilla extract and citric acid for flavoring – 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 flavor of the liquid – for better or worse – and alters the texture.
- There are several methods to create clarified cocktails including: filter clarification and gel clarification.
- Milk washing 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)