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Cocktails

Clarify the Classics

February 26, 2021

Story: Punch Staff

photo: Lizzie Munro

Cocktails

Clarify the Classics

February 26, 2021

Story: Punch Staff

photo: Lizzie Munro

How to transform the Jungle Bird, Cuba Libre, White Russian and more into crystal clear cocktails.

There’s something undeniably enticing about a clarified cocktail. As Jack Schramm notes in a recent story on the topic, “crystal-clear cocktails with only a transparent whisper of color command attention on a bar top and captivate our senses with unexpected flavor combinations.” 

This is especially true when applied to cocktails familiar to us in their unclarified form, say, a Piña Colada or Rum & Coke. While clarification can be achieved by many different methods—a centrifuge, agar-agar or curdled milk, as often seen in historic milk punches—in each case the result is a novel take on familiar flavors. 

The milk punch approach typically entails straining an entire cocktail—spirits, juices and all—through milk curds, a technique that can render our favorite shaken cocktails in a softer format. Take, for example, the Piña Colada Milk Punch. The beachside blender classic retains its tropical edge courtesy of coconut water, pineapple juice and rum, but mixed with scalded milk and strained through a cheesecloth, the result is more fireside than poolside. Paul McGee’s Clarified Corn ’n’ Oil likewise transforms the tropical mixture of aged rum, falernum and lime juice from its typical petroleum color to a crystal-clear amber for a drink that likewise has a softer touch than the original. 

Recipe

Piña Colada Milk Punch

More fireside than poolside.

Recipe

Clarified Corn ‘n’ Oil

This crystal-clear version has a softer touch than the original.

Recipe

Sex Panther

The spirit of a Cuba Libre in milk punch format.

In Chris Amirault’s clarified homage to the White Russian, he similarly combines all his ingredients with a measure of whole milk, letting it sit before spinning it in a centrifuge (or straining it through a cheesecloth) for a drink that nods to the creaminess of the original without adding any actual cream. Will Wyatt’s Sex Panther, meanwhile, gives the milk punch treatment to the Cuba Libre with a few updates that Wyatt maintains share the same “heart and soul” as its nonclarified counterpart.

Other bartenders opt to clarify only particular ingredients instead of an entire classic cocktail. Such is the case with Ryan Chetiyawardana’s Mexican Firing Squad 2.0, a postmodern take on the famed spicy Margarita variation. For the citrus component, Chetiyawardana leans on what he calls “fake lime juice,” i.e., citric acid solution, and a clarified “tomato grenadine,” which teams up with Ancho Reyes chile liqueur for the requisite spicy hit. Then there’s the Stirred Bird, a clarified Jungle Bird that uses both clarified lime and pineapple juices for a silky, stirred spin on the classic. But these are just suggestions; the technique can be used to transform countless cocktails. As Schramm notes, “Remember that clarification is an opportunity—push it to the outer limits and create something new.”

Recipe

El Duderino

A White Russian crossed with a clarified milk punch.

Recipe

Mexican Firing Squad 2.0

A postmodern take on the spicy Margarita.

Recipe

Stirred Bird

A stirred spin on the Jungle Bird.

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