When 7UP published Great Drinks Made Simple in 1964, the brand booklet included a recipe for a Ramos Gin Fizz with a peculiar twist. While the spec mostly stays true to the original, including using fresh lime and lemon juices, the beverage giant suggests, instead of the traditional club soda, topping the frothy finished product with—you guessed it—7UP.
That tweak may seem laughable in modern cocktail circles, where bartenders have staked their reputations on distancing themselves from the soda gun and artificially flavored backbar stalwarts, like sour mix, in favor of high quality, fresh ingredients. But within the past few years, there’s been a notable uptick of bars across the country using acid powders—including citric, malic and lactic, the same ingredients that give products like sour mix and yes, 7UP, their zesty tang—to acidify fresh juices, dial in particular flavor profiles and create alternatives to fresh juice. Against this backdrop, suddenly the 7UP Ramos doesn’t seem like such an outlandish prospect after all.
“[The 7UP Ramos sounds] like something you’d find in a cookbook from the ’60s, kind of microwave-cookbook vibes, but I’m sure it’s delicious,” says Maxwell Reis of Los Angeles’ Mírate restaurant and bar. 7UP is, in essence, little more than citric acid, sweetener and carbonated water, but that doesn’t mean Reis sees shared DNA between the ’60s-born drink and the way bartenders work today. Despite the growing use of acid powders, the dictum of “fresh is best” is still the reigning mantra. But a deeper understanding of the different acids’ capabilities has allowed bartenders to wield them with precision in conjunction with juices to create more flavorful, balanced and sustainable drinks in ways that weren’t done before the cocktail renaissance.
“I don’t think someone at a bar using a sour mix in the ’60s or ’70s was thinking about what type of acid went into it,” says Mike Capoferri of Los Angeles’ Thunderbolt of the shifting mentality around acid powders. “I think they were like, ‘This is how you add sour and tart flavor to a cocktail,’ because no one was really using fresh lemon or lime except for garnishes.”
Modern bartenders, in contrast, are able to use different acid powders to manipulate the fresh ingredients in their drinks, steering the profile in a particular direction that might be unachievable with fresh juice alone. “The focus on actually looking at how acidic the fruits are, and then transitioning them into a different category of acidity, that’s what’s innovative,” says Garret Richard, bar manager of Brooklyn’s Sunken Harbor Club and author of Tropical Standard: Cocktail Techniques & Reinvented Recipes. This measured approach allows Richard and other bartenders to adjust the sourness of juices like orange or grapefruit, which have low titratable acidity levels, to match that of lime or lemon, without losing their distinctive flavors or adding unnecessary dilution.
Capoferri, who uses lactic acid for added texture in his signature Tropipop cocktail at Thunderbolt, emphasizes that incorporating acid powders is in no way a stand-in for using fresh juices. “We’re making a different kind of drink with acid powders than we would with fresh lime juice,” he says. “It’s not a one-for-one replacement.” This understanding is perhaps the biggest departure from the reigning philosophy of the sour mix era, when highly pasteurized juices mixed with acid powders were “pumped out to replace fresh juice, not to create an alternative within a program for sustainability,” says Reis, who uses acids to brighten up a mixture of citrus juice and peels (that would’ve otherwise gone to waste) combined with sugar to make a true-to-life citrus cordial.
Reis warns that it can be easy to make the mistake of featuring acid powders as the star instead of having them play a supporting role to fresh juices. Even something like a 7UP Ramos can work with an adept hand. Since the soda is more sweet than sour, a little more acid could balance out the saccharine taste. With this understanding of how artificial flavors can work in tandem with natural ones, the 7UP Ramos is still fair game. As Reis explains, “You have to know the rules before you can break them.”