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Acid is one of the most important elements in creating a balanced cocktail. Traditionally, acid in cocktails comes in the form of citrus or vermouth, but many bartenders are starting to experiment with other sources. Ryan Chetiyawardana, aka Mr Lyan, shares knowledge and inspiration to ensure your cocktails please your guests and also consider the environment.

Diageo Bar Academy | Bar owner and innovative bartender Ryan Chetiyawardana

A Balancing Act

Creating structure in your drinks requires balance. Depending on the profile, this is usually seen as a ‘yin and yang’ seesaw contrasting strong and weak, and sweet and sour. This blueprint forms the backbone of many of the classic cocktail families and formulae and has guided many drink innovations for centuries.

Using these old drink structures, you’ll find that the most common form of acidity comes from citrus fruits. This reliance on citrus fruits has not only limited some of the opportunities for innovation, but it has also clouded the role (and possibilities) that acidity can play in our drinks.

Citrus Alternatives

Through the Molecular Mixology revolution that has swept the bartending world, bartenders have started to experiment with citric, malic, tartaric and ascorbic acids frequently.

White Lyan was launched in 2013 in part to highlight this point. Not as a vendetta against using citrus acid in cocktails, but to highlight that there were other options – in terms of variety of acidulating sources, use of our ingredients from a sustainability and focus point of view, and understanding their role more (like we did at Dandelyan).

Diageo Bar Academy | Chilli and other spices that can create acidity in cocktails.

Different Forms of Acidity

The other part that I like to highlight is that the language we use limits our application; there is not one form of sweetness, of bitterness, and certainly not of acidity. A tangible example is the sensation of biting into a very green apple compared to a lemon. Citric acid (dominant in the lemon) is a big punch – it almost borders on being bitter it’s so punchy – and it makes your mouth pucker with the astringency.

Whereas the malic acid-dominated apple is lighter, zippier, and gives a more refreshing profile. Neither is better, but it is clear they behave differently. Of course, these are combined with different levels or acidity, sweetness, water and aromatic properties, but the difference is clear and is something you can play to in your drinks.

Thinking of balance in this way, rather than simply as a way of equaling out the sweetness will allow you to highlight different aspects of your drinks. It is not simply about replacing fresh fruit, but about creating new profiles and widening your toolbox for drinks creation.

Diageo Bar Academy | Citrus fruits that are acidic surrounding a gin and tonic.


A simple starting point is a 10% solution. This works well for the powdered organic acids you can buy – citric, malic and tartaric are all good building blocks.

This concentration will allow for a pretty close substitution for fresh citrus (albeit without the other components citrus juice will add), but what is more interesting is when you start to combine these acids.

Most fruits will have a complex blend, and manipulating these will allow you to layer in brightness (acidity) as well as texture and a different presentation and hierarchy of your other flavors.

Diageo Bar Academy | A martini with a citric garnish

Effects of Using Acids in Cocktails

A great example of some of the textural effects is using acids such as lactic and phosphoric acids. Lactic acid is produced by lactobacillus and gives the creamy tang to wines, yogurts and pickles. . Think of a martini – not a drink where you’d associate acidity per se, but the sharpness the vermouth brings is a crucial aspect of the drink.

In a similar manner, if you wanted to omit vermouth – perhaps in a vodka martini where you want to highlight the texture of the spirit – you can use a very low level of lactic acid to give a bright, creamy profile.

Phosphoric acid is an aggressive inorganic acid (as with all these elements, be careful storing and handling them, and do research to ensure you’re using a safe application – but especially so if working with phosphoric acid!). As it’s not associated with anything you will have tasted in nature, you find a suggestion of zippy effervescence that comes from the most common occurrence of it – in fizzy drinks.

Using it in a much lower concentration (1% – and ensuring its food grade), it can bring a surprising lift to a variety of drinks. Famously, the ‘Bone Dry Martini’ at White Lyan used phosphoric acid to break down roasted chicken bone for a mineral-led Martini where the zip of the acid helped dry out the drink. But using it in a sour will help add an extra layer of sherbet-y fizz like using a (vinegar-based) shrub does. Again, an example of how acidity can shape the profile of the flavors and textures that surround it.

Mastering alternative acidulates in this way will give you a much wider base to create a whole host of new drinks.

Mojito | Classic Cocktail Recipe - Diageo Bar Academy

Five Key Takeaways