Cocktails

Sink Your Drink

October 28, 2020

Story: Kara Newman

Photo: Lizzie Munro

Cocktails

Sink Your Drink

October 28, 2020

Story: Kara Newman

Art: Lizzie Munro

Layering an ingredient at the bottom of a glass, rather than floating it on top, offers concentrated bursts of flavor in every sip.

If a “float” adorns the top of a cocktail, then a “sink,” well, sinks to the bottom, where it can add a surprising burst of flavor.

“It’s a technique you don’t see used regularly, but it can work so well,” says Jelani Johnson, bartender at Brooklyn’s Clover Club. In addition to the visual impact of a stripe at the bottom of the glass, sunken ingredients likewise pop on the palate. “Anything you don’t add to the shaker, at the end it will inevitably stand out.”

The technique isn’t entirely new. The Tequila Sunrise and the Bramble number among several classics and modern classics that encourage viscous syrups or liqueurs, from grenadine to blue Curaçao, to settle at the bottom of a glass. Yet, bartenders are using it in novel ways. For example, Johnson sinks a measure of lemon juice, as opposed to a liqueur or syrup, to the bottom of his tropical Black Bolt cocktail. The drink, developed for a tiki night at Fort Defiance (now closed), features three kinds of rum, lemon juice and grapefruit. But the spotlight ingredient is a flavorful demerara syrup made with grilled pineapple and maple.

“It has such heavy, concentrated flavors,” he recalls. “I could not get the balance of citrus to syrup right.” After about 10 iterations of the drink, he found the solution: Leave the lemon juice out of the cocktail shaker, and add it to the glass separately—either first or last. As long as it stays out of the shaker, it won’t integrate with the rest of the drink, and will settle to the bottom in undiluted form. As a result, “the lemon is brighter and shines more,” says Johnson.

The “sink” technique also allows a drink to transform as it’s consumed. For his Daiquiri-Negroni mashup at Atlanta’s Ticonderoga Club, head bartender Alec Bales found that sinking a quarter-ounce of a house red bitter blend to the bottom of a rhum agricole–based Daiquiri meant that the first sips would be refreshing and bright, evolving to a surprising, grapefruit-like last sip. “It’s a funky, savory Daiquiri that finishes bitter,” says Bales.

To ensure it drops to the bottom of the glass, Bales recommends pouring the red bitter into a jigger first, then setting it aside while the rest of the drink is prepared. He then pours it gently down the side of the glass. “It doesn’t disturb the drink,” he explains. A similar effect can be achieved by drizzling the ingredient of choice along the handle of a spiraled barspoon. But some bartenders take a reverse approach—“floating” most of a drink rather than “sinking” a single ingredient. The end result, however, is the same.

The Red Light, created by Jessica Gonzalez for New York’s NoMad, opts for this latter approach, starting with a pour of Campari, followed by a two-inch ice cube centered in a rocks glass. The rest of the drink—a mixture of rum, aquavit, citrus and falernum—is then poured over the flat of the cube so the liquid cascades over the edges like a fountain, settling gently over the red bitter to create an ombre effect. Natasha David’s Samarian Sunset also uses this method.

Although bartenders tend to favor this technique in shaken drinks where aeration offers a slight advantage in allowing the mixture to float above the sunken ingredient, it can work with stirred drinks too. As with any layered cocktail, the weight and viscosity of the sunken ingredient simply need to be taken into consideration to ensure it will, in fact, sink.

No matter how that liquid finds its way to the bottom of the glass, it’s a useful tool for delivering small pops of flavor.  The key, however, is not to disturb the layers once the drink has settled. “If you sit there with a straw and stir it, that defeats the purpose,” says Johnson. “You might as well shake it up.”

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