Citrus is one of the most essential ingredients for any cocktail. In one form of another, a mixologist (or bartender, frankly its semantics) needs to introduce acidity (sourness by another name) in one form and another (vinegar, Balsamic, Kokum) and citrus fruits are a good and abundant source.
The fruit used to be a sailing essential on long voyages, ensuring the sailor remained scurvy-free, also called the ‘Sailor’s Sickness’. The seamen, in an effort to ensure a healthy intake of the sour juice, would often mix it with their spirit rations (why not?) and the alcohol helped ward off a host of other infections too. Do keep in mind that back then, alcohol was harsh. Rum, whisky, vodka or gin were not as delicious as they are today. They left a distinct burning sensation in their wake and citrus helped mask it thanks to acids like malic acid, succinic acid, and citric acid which are palatable and have the property of burying odd smells and tastes.
As the habit of mixing lime in their drinks stuck, sailors continued do the same when frequenting bars on ports which eventually inspired the bar-keeps to start incorporating it into their other recipes too. And so it came to be that many a drink was perked up with a squeeze of the sour fruit.
Today the citrus fruit family remains as indispensable although the usage and type have changed; from a simple Lime, Lemon or Orange to unusual Buddha’s hand, Yuzu or Bergamot, there are thousands of varieties present on the market. We love the home-grown version from the East, Kolkata’s Gondhuraj which, although scant on the juice, has a distinctly perfumed rind.
Another factor which makes citrus more appealing in our cocktails is fat. Present in sugar and malt, fat gets cut by acidity, leaving a refreshing and cleansing sensation in mouth. This is a rule of thumb in classic food and beverage pairing as well. Robust and pungent citrus usually goes well with sharper, strong and un-aged spirits. Whereas sweeter citrus goes well with mellower and softer spirits.
Choosing the Right One
Always opt for fresh citrus juice. Most bars in India squeeze and store lemon juice in advance before every shift as part of their pre-preparations. Unfortunately, this is not the best plan as although a few minutes after being squeezed, lime juice is at its best, right after that it starts deteriorating, and fast! Forty-five minutes down, this refreshing juice has become a nightmare, tasting bitter and stale. Similarly, oranges, grapefruits, lemons and other citrus fruits have a limited time window when they work best.
The texture of the citrus also makes the difference as pulpier (more juicy) citrus can be used in shaken/mulled cocktails whereas the less juicy types are better exploited for their rinds and oils present in their peel. While the former results in frothier and smoother style, the latter works well as a garnish.
So, in a lemon sized nutshell, this was small note on the importance of this ubiquitous fruit. Hope it made for a fun read. Do leave us a comment.