Hack Your Drink: The Magic of “Citrus Stock”

Spent citrus and other fruits can be blended and cooked into “stocks” that provide another layer of flavor in drinks.

Over the past couple years, the conversation about how to build more sustainable cocktails has evolved from high-concept solutions, like seasonal ferments, to simple, more widely applicable techniques or tricks. The question isn’t just about how this can spawn creativity and waste reduction at craft cocktail bars, but how it can trickle down to home bartending, as well. 

Citrus in particular, undoubtedly one of the bar world’s biggest waste products, has been a primary focus of bartenders Kelsey Ramage and Iain Griffiths of the bar pop up and online platform, Trash Tiki. They’ve been calling on “citrus stocks,” an umbrella term for a liquid made by extracting flavor from juiced fruit, which can be used in place of fresh juice in a variety of drinks. These stocks can be used on their own in place of citrus, or incorporated into more cordial-like syrups for use in cocktails.

“About two years before we started Trash Tiki, we were standing at Dandelyan in London, where Kelsey was head bartender, as the trash was being taken out,” says Griffiths. “It was something like 20 kilos of lime, orange and grapefruit, so the room smelled amazing.” It inspired the pair to consider ways to extract those flavors and aromas: “As bartenders, we know that 80 percent of what we taste is what we smell,” he adds.

In its first iteration, Griffiths and Ramage came up with a recipe they dubbed “Pink Citrus,” which was less of a stock and more of a hot steep involving freshly-brewed hibiscus tea poured over blanched lime shells, adjusted with malic and citric acids. Using that base, the duo developed a fully fledged citrus stock, made with added sugar, which would offer both flavor and body to drink recipes and be shelf stable. 

The power of the citrus stock method lies in its adaptability. While its main purpose is to function as a stand-in for citrus, you can also mix it with fresh citrus juice (the Trash Tiki team calls on an equal-parts blend that they call “stuice”), which is particularly effective in highballs and frozen cocktails. Another option is to fortify the stock with sugar to make an ingredient that reads much like a cordial, and can be used in the same applications.

Today, plenty of other bartenders have begun to use the Trash Tiki specs and develop their own, which can each be used in a wide variety of cocktail applications, from sours to highballs. Here, four ways to extract that last bit of flavor from your citrus to create a stock—plus, what you can do with it after.

Trash Tiki’s Citrus Stock

This citrus stock formula was created with plenty of wiggle room and customization in mind. Griffiths suggests adjusting it based on the type of citrus you are using, as well as the drink you hope to make. More recently, the Trash Tiki duo has been cutting down the stock with fresh juice to make an ingredient they call “stuice.” “We’ve created this recipe to be totally scalable as venues for our pop-ups tend to vary a lot” write Griffiths and Ramage on their website. “Literally you could do a half batch, or times this by 10 and the only variable will be time it takes to reduce.”

Try it in: Winter MojitoSaigon LadyWhiskey Smash

Sour Lemon

Working closely with the Trash Tiki team,Pouring Ribbons’ Brooke Toscano uses their lime stock for the bar’s kegged cocktails. In addition, she’s developed a hybrid formula she calls Sour Lemon: “It is closer to an in-between of a stock and a cordial. We add more sugar to stabilize it and help with the viscosity of the cocktail. While the lime stock stays good longer than fresh lime, it still has a shelf life. Our Sour Lemon no longer has to be tossed in a certain amount of time.”

Try it in: Pins & Needles, Garden State Julep, Gin Sour

Sprite Syrup

Houston’s Michael Neff created this playful riff on a low-waste stock that also happens to taste something like classic Sprite. At Cottonmouth Club, Neff uses the Sprite syrup in their rye-based Long Lost Pal cocktail alongside dry vermouth and Bruto Americano. “Use this concentrate as you would simple syrup for a zesty, bright, and citrusy addition to cocktails,” says Neff. “Or, to make ‘Sprite,’ combine one part concentrate with two parts Topo Chico and enjoy over ice or in a highball.”

Try it in: Astral Plane, Seven Hills, It’s So Easy

Aaron Polsky’s Citrus Blend

For a no-heat version of flavor extraction, Los Angeles’ Aaron Polsky developed this formula that uses peels only (rather than husks). He’s worked with various iterations of the recipe to create a fresh-juice cocktail program for Coachella and other large music festivals, as well as for kegged cocktails prepared for Harvard & Stone

Try it in: Satan’s WhiskersBetween the SheetsKitty Highball

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Dan Q. Dao is a Houston-born, NYC-based writer covering spirits, travel, and culture for Food & Wine, GQ, Munchies and Paper Magazine among others. He has bartended at Middle Branch and Seaborne in New York.