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Getting proportions right: sweet & sour

By Miguel Figueredo

Familiar methodology like “1 part SOUR, 2 parts SWEET, 3 parts STRONG and 4 parts WEAK”, which is more of a rhymed formula than a recipe itself, are sometimes useful, but in general memorizing lists rather than understanding the reason behind them is not the best way to do it.

I mean, drink compositions are not mere dictations of their exact ingredients and quantities. For most of us (exceptagave-syrup.jpg some singers with song lyrics) memorizing 150 recipes as if they were poems is a crazy idea. Like when we were taught the multiplication tables just by reciting them over and over again. In regard to this I will just say: (1) At that age our brain was a lot more efficient in terms of memorizing, with fewer responsibilities and more space in our brains for the info (2) It —reciting the times tables— certainly didn’t work for some of us, right? What’s important when making a simple drink like a Daiquiri, for instance, once basic taste reactions are understood, is to MAINTAIN CORRECT PROPORTIONS in order to achieve a balance. This is mostly between sour, sweet, alcohol and water, basically due to the fact that our taste buds don’t care about TV/magazines and don’t understand what categories of drinks are, or brands or caster sugar, or sponsorship agreements. Instead, what they do understand are levels of sweetness, acidity, and alcohol and water dilution, regardless of their source or format. Daiquiri is just an example, but take the whole range of sours for that matter. More families would be: collins, cobblers, tropical cocktails in general, long drinks…

With different types of cocktails, there are different approaches, true, but for now let’s stick a large-ranged category: those consisting of spirit, sweetener and citrus juice. Names range from the super-known Daiquiri to its relative (in terms of composition) the Caipirinha. Among many others are: Margarita, Pisco/Whiskey Sour, Collins, Gin Fizz, Side Car, Mojito and all the variations. Based on these types of cocktails changes can be made by substituting simple syrup for cinnamon syrup, or lime for grapefruit, or switching spirits and adding aromatic garnishes or muddled spices are effective options. They all respond well by applying a general formula.

As usual suspects, you may have heard of simple syrups made 1:1 (equal parts sugar and water) or 2:1 (two parts sugar by 1 part water). But then we can employ other sweeteners like honey, maple syrup, agave néctar, agave syrup… Suddenly, we’re dancing in a wild party with plenty of flavour hints or totally different flavour profiles. But remember, starting from a simple formula that works well for the majority is always a sensible way to please your crowd when you’re the one making drinks for the party. One tip: it is advisable not to use more than 1 oz (30 ml) of lemon juice in one single cocktail.

Here are some Sweet & Sour formulas I’ve been playing with and you can use as a starting point, then find the perfect PROPORTION that suits you the best. These are just kick-off guides. Feel free to switch spirits, citrus, syrup flavours and even combine syrups with liqueurs (see Daisy Santiago). Here I’m using lemon juice and spirits in all cases, so I can focus on comparing sweeteners, but it works pretty much the same way for lime juice:

REGULAR (sugar) SIMPLE SYRUP (1:1)

50 ml ml spirit

22,5 ml lemon juice

22,5 ml sweetener

RICH (sugar) SIMPLE SYRUP (2:1)

50 ml spirit

22,5 ml lemon juice

12 ml sweetener

AGAVE NECTAR (straight)

45 ml spirit

22,5 ml lemon juice

15 ml sweetener

In my opinion, very good balance

AGAVE SYRUP (2:1 with water)

45 ml spirit

22,5 ml lemon juice

30 ml sweetener

In my opinion, too acidic

HONEY SYRUP (2:1 with water)

45 ml spirit

22,5 ml lemon juice

30 ml sweetener

In my opinion, too sweet and too much honey flavour


I find my personal favourite, in general terms, to be the following:

45-50 ml spirit

22,5 ml lime juice

15 ml syrup (1:1)

Have fun finding yours and salud!

‘The views expressed above are the opinions of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of WIRSPA Inc.’

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