Bring your cocktails to the next level with this easy, at-home guide to clarification
World Best Bar
Jan 26, 2022
10 January 2019
You’ve probably come across this process, highlighted on many a progressive cocktail menu, and thought it impossible to replicate at home without the proper equipment.
To put it quite simply, clarification is the process by which you can capture and remove solid components from a given liquid. This non-soluble matter can have an impact on the taste, look and mouthfeel of your cocktail, so by clarifying, say, a Milk Punch, Rum Punch, Bloody Mary, Piña Colada, or Shaken Daiquiri, you can achieve a completely different, way more balanced result than what you’d expect with the classic recipe.
Cocktail bars now have access to modern, efficient techniques to accelerate the process (namely the centrifuge), but it’s actually not rocket science, and with just a bit of technique, you really don’t need much to reach the same result from the comfort of your kitchen.
For instance, you can get rid of all the solids that make cocktails cloudy by trapping them in a gel using gelatin or agar-agar, in one of two ways.
The first technique is the “freeze and thaw” method, where you blend your gelatin or agar-agar into your juice or whole cocktail, then place it into a freezer and wait until it’s completely solidified, ideally overnight. If you’re using agar-agar, make sure to activate its properties by letting your room temperature water and agar-agar mixture come to a very low boil, turning off the heat, and letting it sit for approximately 5 minutes before mixing into your drink and refrigerating. In terms of dosage, your activated agar-agar should represent 0.02 percent of the total liquid weight of your juice or cocktail. Once frozen, allow to slowly melt over a paper filter, at room temperature if using agar-agar, and in the fridge if using gelatin. Be careful as you don’t want to agitate the liquid. Another thing to keep in mind is that this method works best with low-ABV (under 21 percent) stirred cocktails or sours, seeing as alcohol has a lower freezing point.
The second technique, taken from Dave Arnold’s Liquid Intelligence: The Art and Science of the Perfect Cocktail, is the “quick gel” method, this time using agar-agar rather than gelatin. The advantage of this technique is that it doesn’t require freezing and works perfectly with higher-ABV cocktails as well as more delicate juices. Mix your activated agar-agar into your liquid and let it set into a gel, which should take about an hour after the mixture’s reached room temperature. Next you need to whisk the gel until it’s broken down, and simply allow the liquid to seep out of it over a paper filter. That’s it!
Which brings us to another way to obtain a clarified cocktail, albeit not as efficient or effective: simple filtration. In this process you basically run your liquid through successive filters of different widths, from a fine-mesh sieve to a muslin cloth to get the larger solid elements out, to the finest kind of filter you have, like a paper coffee filter, to eliminate the smallest particles. The advantage is that it works for any type of juice or cocktail, but you need to be aware that you won’t always obtain a crystal-clear result. It also takes quite a bit more time, and more often than not lowers your cocktail’s yield if you need to go through several filtration levels.
Finally, not unlike gelatin and agar-agar, protein clarification is the process by which proteins such as milk or egg whites trap the solid particles in your drink. Take the milk punch, for example. This classic drink can be traced back to the 1800s, when milk would be added to acidic cocktails in an attempt to make them easier to tolerate by the stomach. If you cook, then you already know that this not exactly work out as intended: adding milk to an acidic liquid makes its proteins coagulate, curdle, and separate from the mixture. However, this makes it very easy to strain as a result, allowing to obtain a crystal clear liquid in the end. As for egg white, it has been used by chefs for a long time to clarify stocks and consommés. The egg albumen (that’s the protein) can be coagulated using heat, as is the case when making a consommé, or acidity, in the same way as the milk punch.
There you have it! Do you feel ready to give it a try?