How To Balance A Cocktail

Whether you’re a home bartender making a simple classic or a seasoned professional crafting a molecular masterpiece, you’re still constrained by the same rules when it comes to making great drinks.

That key constraint? Balance

You can spend hours infusing, clarifying, carbonating or whatever process you can dream of, but if the final drink that ends up in the glass in front of you is out of balance, it’s all for nothing. It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve made it before, nor the perceived simplicity of the recipe, you have to take care each and every time you make it. The rule is the same on your first day of bartending as it is on day 5000…you must get the ingredients to balance.

Balancing a three ingredient classic like a Daiquiri is just as tricky as any other cocktail, no matter what process or ingredients are being used. So much time and effort can be put into ingredients for a drink to then be ruined at the last moment by missing this most fundamental of concepts.

What does balance mean?

It’s probably easier to describe what it’s not. When a drink is out of balance it means that it’s either dominated by a single flavour profile. When a drink is in perfect balance you can pick out all the different flavours as you drink it, they’re in harmony with each other and fully unlocked.

A recipe can be thrown out of balance for a number of different reasons:

  • Not measuring ingredients accurately.
  • Poor technique, this can especially affect the balance of the drink in terms of adding the right amount of dilution and temperature.
  • Differences in fresh ingredients that vary in both sweetness and acidity.
  • Using a different brand that has a different alcohol strength or sugar content.
  • Poor quality ice

Tasting

It sounds like there are a lot of ways to throw your cocktail out of balance, and yes, there are. However, they can all be mitigated by one very simple maneuver, tasting. Before you garnish and serve any cocktail, you taste it. This simple act will ensure you never serve another bad drink. If you taste and detect a drink is out of balance, you can then adjust into balance before serving, or if it’s beyond help, you can dump it down the sink like it never happened. 

Tasting, then adjusting your drinks where needed, not only ensures the quality of your cocktails but also makes you more aware of how the different factors like the reasons listed above, can throw your drink out of balance. This also means that you’ll begin to recognise and preempt these issues, which in turn means you’ll need to adjust your drinks less often. 

“How can I know a drink is in balance if I’ve never made it before?”

What makes a balanced cocktail?

When you understand that a well balanced drink allows you to taste every ingredient, it doesn’t matter if you’ve made a drink for the first or the thousandth time, you can make it at its best.

What is a bartender’s golden ratio?

A lot of your the most known and loved recipes like the Margarita, Gimlet or Daiquiri follow same basic ratio: 2:1:1. That’s two parts spirit, one part sour, and one part sweet. If you are using a rich simple syrup, which we recommend using when making cocktails, this ratio is 2:1:1/2.

The Daiquiri

Let’s break down a recipe to illustrate what we’re talking about here. The Daiquiri, one of Cuba’s most famous cocktails, is a delicious three ingredient recipe that requires perfect balance to elevate it to one of drinking’s great joys. However, get it just a little wrong, and it’ll be quite undrinkable. 

This is because the Daiquiri, with only three ingredients, has no room for errors. A broad misconception is that simple sounding recipes are easy to make, when in fact they’re often the hardest. 

The Daiquiri calls for rum, lime juice and sugar. If we break these elements up into their categories, we can see how this process applies to other recipes too:

Strong

The spirit base is the ‘strong’ element of a cocktail. Alcohol is an excellent carrier of flavour, aroma and mouthfeel, important characteristics to any cocktail. Alcohol also brings a degree of structure and form to a cocktail. 

Weak

Dilution gives the cocktail its ‘weak’ element. Don’t misunderstand its name though, it’s as important as any of the other elements. It’s also probably the one that’s most regularly mishandled and the reason for a cocktail being out of balance. 

This is often because dilution or the ‘weak’ element can be added via stirring or shaking ingredients with ice. The ice that melts during the process being the ever so important ‘weak’ element. 

Dilution can also be in the form of sparkling water / soda water, like in the case of the Collins or Rickey. However, recipes are often written to say ‘top with soda’, rather than giving a precise measurement. This leaves the amount required somewhat of a mystery, and also undermines the importance of it as an ingredient. 

Remember, if alcohol carries flavour and aroma, then dilution is the key used to unlock it whilst simultaneously softening the heat and numbing effect of alcohol on the palate. So ya, it’s important! 

Tart

A common question people ask is how to balance citrus in cocktail, which is balanced by ‘sweet’. The ‘tart’ element is, simply put, acidity. Not necessarily just from citrus fruit, but from any ingredient that brings a sharp or acidic character to a recipe.

The ‘tart’ element also brings structure to a drink, off which all other flavours can play. Without it, a cocktail can become soft and flabby on the palate with flavours unable to shine.

Sweet

The ‘sweet’ element may be sugar, but it could also be a liqueur, honey, or a flavoured syrup. It could even be sweet fruit. Anything that brings sweetness to the drink, and can bring balance to the acidity of the ‘tart’ element.

So there we have it, two sets of opposing pairs that must balance each other then come together to balance the drink as a whole. 

Master this concept and you can make any drink at its very best 

There is one issue that we’ve not discussed as to why a drink might be out of balance. A badly written recipe! Now, this really doesn’t apply to most tried and tested classics. However, some old obscure classics do need to be tweaked to balance with modern ingredients and modern tastes. 

When it comes to writing your own recipes or playing with classics, just remember it’s all in the balance. 


As always, don’t forget to show us what you made by tagging us!
@Candra_Drinks  #MakeBetterDrinks  #CandraDrinks

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