In the canon of classic cocktails, there are a number of recipes, like the Jack Rose or Ramos Gin Fizz, that call on both lemon and lime juice. But bartender Tom Macy takes this logic a step further, applying it to recipes that don’t typically call on two types of citrus.
Macy’s version of The Last Word, for example, splits the citrus component of the cocktail between equal amounts of lemon and lime, for a brighter expression of a classic recipe that typically uses only lime juice.
“There was just this sharpness to it,” recalls Macy, partner and head bartender at Brooklyn’s Clover Club, of his decision to tweak the specs. His solution was to lighten it by adding lemon. “It just eased off,” Macy says. “It was not as sharp, but still had the dynamic bite of the lime.”
Why does it work? While it doesn’t radically alter the drink since both lemon and lime offer similar acidity, the type of citrus used affects the perception of how the drink tastes, says Macy. “Lime causes things to be perceived as more dry; lemon causes things to be perceived as more sweet.”
It can also be a matter of texture: a measure of lemon can help break up the density of lime, while lime can add extra edge to softer lemon juice.
For the 50/50 citrus hack to work best, save it for cocktails with relatively straightforward flavors, Macy advises, so the nuance of half-lemon-half-lime doesn’t get lost or fight with stronger flavors. For example, try it in a Pisco Sour riff, but skip it for a cocktail that showcases smoky Scotch, or a tiki drink made with bold spiced syrups and pineapple juice, which might overshadow the more delicate citrus flavors.
Similarly, this trick will have a more noticeable impact in drinks built with white spirits, “because they are more of a blank canvas,” compared to the bold caramel notes of barrel-aged brown spirits, says Macy.
In addition, consider pairing up similar citrus juices, such as Meyer lemon or finger lime, for additional nuance. Masa Urushido’s Melon-Lime, for example, balances lime juice with extra-tart Japanese sudachi limes, while Bobby Heugel’s take on the Margarita includes both Key and Persian lime juices.
However, this hack has its limits: it won’t work well with orange or grapefruit—neither has enough acidity to stand in for lemon or lime juice. But Macy gives carte blanche to mixing lemon and lime in just about any recipe.
“Splitting the difference didn’t ruin any of the drinks I tried,” Macy notes. “Maybe the biggest takeaway is that they’re very similar; you can use both.”