When it comes to alcohol, different tastes please different palates. Some like sweet drinks, others like sour, and many like alcohol straight up. In a perfect world, a completely balanced cocktail would celebrate the best of all these flavors. Not too sugary or tangy – just right. However, a perfectly balanced cocktail does not exist. That’s not to say there aren’t amazing cocktails available. Iconic drinks like Old Fashioneds, Piña Coladas, and Mai Tais have withstood the test of time, but their flavor profiles are far from balanced.
Aiming for Flavor
A perfectly balanced cocktail should have all the crucial flavor profiles: sweet, sour, salty, and bitter. While reaching this standard for a dinner plate may be simple, finding the perfect balance in a drink is much more difficult.
What makes iconic drinks so great is their simplicity. All of the drinks mentioned above have very few ingredients in them. The downfall is they tend to lean to one side of the flavor totem pole – either sweet or sour. When bartenders or mixologists try to culminate all of those intense flavors into one drink, it tends to fall flat. It takes too many ingredients, so the customers become overwhelmed. Although the drink may be aiming for balance, it will likely still lean to hard on one of the flavor profiles, leaving the customer feeling unsettled.
Sweet or Sour
Just because it is difficult to find the perfect balance, that doesn’t mean balance is totally unimportant. Instead of focusing on the perfect cocktail that mixes all the essential flavor profiles, it is better to pick a side – either sweet or sour – and balance that flavor really well.
Sweet cocktails are typically the easier of the two to nail. Alcohol is naturally slightly bitter. Many people do not like the taste of strong alcohol, so many bartenders and mixologists hide the strong flavor with sweetness. Sugar-based syrups and fruit are a great starting point for sweet drinks. A great example is a Melon Ball. This drink is just three main ingredients – Midori, vodka, and orange juice. To hide the strength of the vodka, you use the sweet Midori. Round out the sweetness with a slightly tart orange juice. The cocktail has simple ingredients, but is a very balanced sweet drink.
Another example of an iconic sweet drink is a Strawberry Daiquiri. This summery drink utilizes fresh strawberries, lime juice, and white rum blended with ice to make a sweet drink perfect for poolside. In a Strawberry Daiquiri, the fresh berries provide ample amounts of sweetness; however, it is balanced by the slightly sour flavor of the lime. Is it a perfectly balanced cocktail? Of course not, but it is wonderfully balanced for a sweet drink.
The sour side of the spectrum is more difficult to nail. While some people love sour flavors, many people pucker their lips and twist their face when dealt too sour of a drink. Similar to the sweet drinks that are balanced with a touch of sour, sour drinks needs to be balanced with a touch of sweetness. Arguably, the most iconic sour drink is a Whisky Sour. While some recipes call for egg whites, the most basic recipes call for whisky, simple syrup, and citrus. The whisky and citrus give the drink its strong sour taste; however, adding the syrup gives it a slightly sweet taste. This allows customers to enjoy the punch of a sour drink, without hurting their taste buds.
Live on the Edge
Although equally combining different flavor profiles would create a perfectly balanced drink, having equal parts sour, sweet, salty and bitter is not exciting. That’s why most alcohol enthusiasts will tell you it’s better to drink on the edge. You can compare the feeling to everyday life. Balancing work, life, and home into a perfect harmony is supposed to make you feel content. However, sometimes you want to ignore the balance and enjoy life a little more. Living on the edge is exciting. Skipping work for a hockey game feels really great for some people. Ignoring chores to work towards a promotion can create a rush too. Sure these events don’t meet the standard of a “perfectly balanced life,” but nothing can be perfectly balanced.
When choosing the perfect cocktail for your tastebuds, imagine which flavor edge you’d prefer to live on. If you love fruits and sugar, then a sweeter cocktail is right for you. However, if you love strong citrus, then a sour cocktail will be more your style. These drinks will ride different edges, but they will still be balanced in their own right.
If you still aren’t sure which side of the flavor isle is best for you, our trained bartenders can help you decide. Whether you have a wedding coming up, holiday party, or just want to host a great home-bar, Rent-A-Bartender has you covered. You can find out more at rentabartender.ca.