Second attempt. This recipe seemed like a very simple matter, especially since I’ve done a lot of carbonating in recent months after reading Dave Arnold’s Liquid Intelligence. I chose it specifically because I‘ve been an assortment of bottled cocktails as a Christmas gift for my friend, Jim. I’ve already purchased the bottles, the caps, the capper, and have been looking for one more unique preparation to add to the Manhattan, Carbonated Negroni, and Milk Punch I’ve already made and bottled. I was very excited when I came across this recipe in the book because I already had the carbonation equipment on hand, and the ingredients were a snap to find: Ruby Port, which was easily available at the corner liquor store, Luxardo Amaro, which I was able to easily order online, Coca-Cola, and a homemade cinnamon a syrup, with some cayenne pepper added (this, by the way, is outrageously delicious, and I’ve been using it in tiki drinks – mixed with grapefruit juice it creates the famed “Don’s mix”).
In thinking through the execution, I ran into one rather significant obstacle: the lime juice. See, lime juice oxidizes rapidly. It really only lasts for a few hours, and after that the taste changes significantly, and not in a good way. Bottling lime juice is a risky proposition. I considered leaving it out entirely, and instructing my friend to add a squeeze of lime when he served the cocktail. However, the “gunk” (pulp, etc.) in lime juice is an enemy of carbonation as it creates many nucleation points, which encourage the carbon dioxide to bubble and leave the drink, leaving your supposed-to-be-fizzy drink flat. I’m surprised this issue wasn’t addressed in the recipe, come to think of it. According to Dave Arnold, the appropriate way to leave with this issue would be to clarify the lime juice using agar-agar (a topic for another day). I wasn’t opposed to doing that, but that would lead right back to my oxidation issue. Oh, what to do?
Then I was struck by a thought. What if I could simulate lime juice? Well, in fact, you can. Arnold mentioned this a few times in his book, and I’d seen other articles online about it. I experimented with a few approaches, and settled on this:
“Fake” Lime Juice:
9 grams citric acid powder
6 grams malic acid powder
0.2 grams tartaric acid powder
4.7 grams phosphoric acid (10%)
306 grams water
1 gram salt
Important Note: In order to measure such minute amounts you will need a scale like this one.
Dissolve and store in a bottle in the fridge. I would imagine this will last for a LONG time. Guess what? It tastes A LOT like lime juice. And, fake lime juice would solve both the anti-fizz concern and the oxidation concern. This idea was really shaping up!
So before bottling the cocktail for my friend, my wife and I volunteered to be test subjects. I prepared a batch (enough for two servings) of this, which was very quick and easy, but left out the lime juice. I chilled and carbonated it. Then I split the batch into two glasses and added lime juice to one glass and “fake” lime juice to the other. Using post-it notes I labeled one glass “A” and the other glass “B”. Jennifer had no knowledge of that the label meant, or which glass contained real or fake lime juice. She created a key – something like this: blue dot equals A, red dot equals B. She held on to the key. Now we had a real blind split test. Results? We were pretty sure about which one contained the real lime juice, but the difference between the two was pretty subtle, and the one we thought was “fake” really tasted no worse than the one we thought was real. The only problem was that we didn’t like either of them! Shucks. And the problem was NOT the lime juice.
For my taste, the Fernet-Branca was way too strong. It has a very heavy herbal/licorice flavor that dominated and over powered all the other ingredients. I realize this was the point of the cocktail – Argentina is apparently obsessed with Fernet-Branca. But it just didn’t work for us. The Luxardo Amaro it contains is truly delicious on its own, but it didn’t shine through at all. The cinnamon syrup was hardly detectable. On top of it all, the drink tasted too sweet and lacked the crispness and refreshment that I was hoping for.
So, on only my second appearance in the project I tempted the fates and altered the recipe. I realize this is blasphemous and arrogant and contemptuous. But I believe The Aviary wizards would support my creative tinkering, even if they disagreed with my assessment. In the end we need to cater to our tastes and the tastes of our guests.
What did I do? I halved the amount of Fernet-Branca, doubled the amount of Luxardo Amaro, doubled the amount of “lime,” and increase the amount of cinnamon syrup by 50 percent. I decreased the amount of Coca-Cola by 90 grams and added 90 grams of water in its place. I made a second batch, and I felt the result was much better. So I prepared a full batch, enough to fill six small bottles, chilled it in the freezer, carbonated it in a 2-liter bottle, then split it up between the small bottles and capped them off. That’s the last I tasted of this.
What did my friend think? It wasn’t his favorite of the four cocktails I made. I don’t think he liked the taste of the Fernet-Branca, either. I guess that’s a bit of a deal killer!
Final assessment? Who knows? I really like the idea of this cocktail, but I really dislike its primary component. I may revisit this one day to see how I can reimagine this, without the Fernet-Branca, and create something wholly unique and delicious. Maybe that would make a great Christmas gift next year.