Clarifying Is The Best Way To Preserve Citrus Cocktails

So many of our favorite classic cocktails use some kind of citrus to liven them up. A little bit of lemon or lime juice adds an acidic note to balance out the boozy punch of whatever spirit you're using, as well as the sugary elements like simple syrup or some kind of sweet liqueur that make a perfect cocktail. The margarita, greyhound, and gimlet all owe their iconic status to citrus.

Unfortunately, lemon, lime, and other citrus juices have a tendency to oxidize quickly once exposed to the air, which affects both the taste and, sometimes, even the color of your drink. This is the reason why cocktails with citrus in them are difficult to batch, and don't store well for very long after being mixed. In fact, it's generally recommended that you drink citrus-based cocktails the same day you make them, or you risk them losing their flavor and wasting all your effort and ingredients. But there's a handy method out there to help preserve your citrus cocktails, so they can survive past last call. All you need to do is clarify them.

What are clarified cocktails?

Clarified cocktails have become a staple of the craft cocktail scene, in part because of their labor-intensive process, which requires a fair bit of culinary chemistry. Animal proteins like egg whites or milk, as well as gelatin and its plant-based cousin agar-agar, can be used to clarify cocktails.

Historically, milk was used to do this at least as far back as the 19th century (and possibly earlier) when it was thought to make the contents of the cocktail more digestible. These milk punches were popular among sailors because they would keep without spoiling nearly indefinitely, and contained spirits (often rum), citrus (which was used to drive off scurvy), sugar, bitters, and water. Adding milk to the citrusy cocktail causes the drink to curdle and separate, and the resulting mixture can then be strained out, resulting in a clear drink with a creamy mouthfeel. Citric acid is also commonly used to achieve this result.

Clarify your own cocktails

Part of the appeal of a clarified cocktail is the tendency of the clarification process to mellow out the drink, melding the more intense elements of the drink into the other ingredients to create something that is easy to sip on and effortlessly balanced. Clarification also takes the color out of cocktails, meaning you can make something as bright and colorful as a Bloody Mary, and then clarify it to be as crystal clear as water. It also lends the drink a creaminess without making it necessarily milky or overly rich.

To clarify your own cocktails, first make sure you're only trying to make ones with a lot of citrus in them, or they won't properly clarify. Craft your cocktail, then mix it with full-fat milk, and allow it to sit overnight. Once it has properly curdled, allow the mixture to strain for several hours. You can use a simple disposable coffee filter. Once it's been filtered, your cocktail should be shelf-stable for years — though it probably won't take you that long to finish it.