The major hurdle at the time, with respect to the menu, was interpreting a old recipe and creating a new one with our “classic” philosophy.  We had limited information.  Very few bars, don’t have the produce or equipment to make what we were looking for.  We really couldn’t go into many bars and work our way through drinks and see their “take” on a drink.  In other words, we had no real “baseline” from which to develop a style or standard for many cocktails.  Considering we were married to menu concept where we wanted guests to ask questions, interact with the staff, and have hand crafted drinks, we started to have a better comprehension of how ambitious opening a Tiki bar was becoming.  The omakase-style experience requires a lot of commitment, experience and explanation.  New York City can be unforgiving.  We did not want to come in and play it safe with a menu that had some carefully selected classics.  We wanted Tiki to be taken seriously.  We believed it could be done.  We did not want to make a small number of drinks and call it a day...  We wanted to be able to make them all.  Oh yea, we also wanted to make them all perfect.

    Hence, it was decided to head on through with a “FUCK IT” attitude and work through every drink we considered significant and pray that we developed enough experience where we wouldn’t struggle daily with our goal.  We knew that there were people out there waiting to experience the beauty of the Needless to say, there were a lot of “mistakes.”  Wrong glassware.  Wrong ice.  Wrong produce.  Wrong ratio of ingredients.  WRONG FUCKING COCKTAIL PERIOD (You get the point.)  We hoped the obstacles would start to diminish, the answers would present themselves more readily and things would start becoming easier.  And you know what?  That is exactly what happened.  

    This “journey” into the faux-polynesian would affect how I saw our craft.  However, I never knew to what degree it would change our perception on cocktail preparation as a whole.  The questions we asked ourselves went from being very broad to minutely specific.  Eventually, it all came back to a “problem” every cocktail bartender has had at the beginning of their career:  What is the proper dilution for a drink?  How much water is too much/too little?
 
    The question initially sounds simple but it is not.  Philosophies on proper dilutions continue to differentiate bars and bartenders all around the world (even if you don’t see it).  They have affected shaking styles, stirring techniques, bar equipment and ice preparation.  This srticle is an attempt to discuss what we have learned and challenge some of those pre-concepts that we hold dearly.  We ask that you use your imagination and bear with us.  Tiki cocktails had fallen into a hole where people were afraid to associate themselves with it due to the kitschiness stigma.  This will be a working theory and applicable to any kind of bartender you want to be or any kind of drink you want to make.  Let’s begin.

The Dilution Problem

    So our initial problems began when we first decided to incorporate blended/frozen cocktails.  We were excited.  We decided, quite easily, to bring them into our repertoire because the initial fear of cocktail bartenders to use them seemed unfounded.  The perception that they diminished a bar’s reputation seemed silly to us.  We knew we would were not going to make the “boat” drinks that used artificially ingredients, canned juice and inferior spirits that had diminished the reputation of the great frozen drinks.  We also wanted to follow in the footsteps of the great Cuban bartenders of the 1930‘s who were among the first to adopt the blender as a vital piece of drink making.  For example, the great “Papa Doble”, a cocktail named after one of America’s great ex-patriates Ernest Hemingway, is a frozen drink.  If Hemingway was drinking frozen Daiquiri variations, we wanted to make them.

    We began our journey in blended cocktails with making what is the mother of all Rum cocktails:  the Daiquiri.  A simple task we felt; an obvious no-brainer.  We were so wrong.  However, let me preface this with the following:  Initially, one of the concerns we were trying to take on, with respect to opening a Tiki bar, was to stay away from sugary cocktails.  Obviously, Tiki drinks had the reputation of being overly sweet, hence, in our minds, unbalanced.  We just assumed that bars were making these drinks to their clientele because that where the demand was.  There is very limited historical information on frozen drinks, let alone a cocktail book, dedicated to it.  We started with recipes we had been using for years and felt confident would work. (Let me say the recipes were chosen primarily because of personal experience and/or pedigree of the bar/bartender.  Any value judgements we derived are strictly with respect to frozen drinks.)

    Our initial test recipe for the classic Daiquiri is the oldest recipe we knew on the Daiquiri: Constantino Ribalaigua’s “La Floridita” in Cuba (quite possibly the still the World’s most famous Daiquiri bar):

2 oz. white rum
1/2 oz. lime
1 tsp. granulated sugar
Shake and Strain.  Garnish with a lime wheel
(Ribalaigua 1935)

This cocktail was not sweet but strong.  It was the most Rum-forward and was actually quite interesting when made with aged Rum (Old Fashion-like).  However, it lacked the acidic component that was vital to it even being considered a viable classic Daiquiri.  Shaken the recipe was good.  Frozen, however, it was somewhat undrinkable.  It also was short for the glass we had chosen.  A more substantial recipe would also need to be chosen.

We then proceeded to use Milk & Honey’s recipe for this drink:

2 oz. white rum
1 oz. lime
3/4 oz. simple syrup
Shake and Strain.  Garnish with a lime wheel
(Milk & Honey 2000)

Saying our recipe did not “cooperate” with us would be euphemistic.  This was also somewhat undrinkable.  In all honesty, their Daiquiri, when shaken, is hands down our favorite.  Years of going there and having them, I had never even had an “OK” one.  They were always perfect (a term I do not use lightly).  However, when frozen, it had none of the characteristics that made me love this drink.  It was unrecognizable.  Two major problems were identified.  First, the drink tasted watery and overly tart.  There was no character.  The drink tasted like acidic alcohol.  (The Cosmopolitan, for some reason, comes to mind).  Secondly, it could have been vodka, gin or silver rum (we actually experimented with all three).  We couldn’t tell them apart consistently.  The drink was so cold that it was devoid of any of the aromatic attributes that distinguish rum from other spirits.

    We proceeded to follow a recipe used at Pegu Club, another amazing bar where I also had never had a Daiquiri that was not amazing:

2 oz. white rum
3/4 oz. lime
3/4 oz. simple syrup
Shake and Strain.  Garnish with a lime wheel
(Pegu Club 2005)

Results were similar, but still not sufficient.  Drink was still watery but there was definitely character present.  However, we recognized almost immediately, after multiple attempts, the frozen texture was improved significantly and was consistent (almost smoother).  After a few cocktails, we felt It was most likely the reason, along with the reduced lime juice, the flavors were coming together more harmonious.  Still, in our opinion, not a good drink.  It needed more work.

    We, unintentionally, had realized we were going chronologically forward with recipes.  Hence, we proceeded to go backward in cocktail time. I proceeded with what we personally call the “Degroff Ratio” (Dale Degroff’s ratio for Sours-style drinks, like the Daiquiri, in his seminal “Craft of the Cocktail”):

1 1/2 oz. white rum
3/4 oz. lime
1 oz. simple syrup
Shake and Strain.  Garnish with a lime wheel
(Degroff 2002)

Not perfect, but when compared to all of our previous attempts, the overall winner easily so far.  We knew we were getting closer. Consistency was there.  Texture was coming out perfect.  The acidity was clean.  However, the balance was slightly off.  It needed to be sweeter.  Significantly sweeter.

    Hence, we proceeded with a similar frozen cocktail made with rich demerara sugar syrup (2 part demerara to 1 water):

1 1/2 oz. white rum
3/4 oz. lime
1 oz. rich demerara syrup
Shake and Strain.  Garnish with a lime wheel

Hands down the best one we had tried.  It had all the elements that reminded of of the classic shaken Daiquiri but with a beautiful frozen texture we wanted.  It worked.  We found it.  A few days of hard work had payed off.  The recipe is not like anything we would have intuitively came up with but it worked.  However, we were not happy about it.  

    Herein, begins the crux of our problem.  We hated admitting it.  We did not want to do it.  However, we encountered a major fucking obstacle.  Philosophically, we had no desire to ever make any kind of drink that called for more than one ounce of simple syrup.  We had never needed to do it before. There are very few reputable classic cocktails that call for almost equal parts of spirit component to sweet. We never had to do it at any of the other establishments we had tended bar at before.  We started out believing we were going to make less “sugary” drinks and now found ourselves having a discussion entertaining the thought of actually having to make the most sugary drinks of our careers. We began to believe that we had made some kind of error in our process somewhere and decided to remake everything.  Same results.  At the time, this was quite disheartening.   However, things get worse.     

    After a few days, and lots of discussion with various colleagues, we found out that there was another issue`.  The frozen cocktail usually calls about 6-8 ounces of ice.  Being a blended cocktail, frozen drinks have a very high water content.  We had determined that not only were we making the most sugary drinks of our careers but also the most diluted.  Attempts to add less ice or pre-chilled ingredients ended in quite unsatisfactory results.  In other words, we found a solution that went contrary to everything we held in esteem for years:  Controlled water content, balanced sweetness, limited ice...  All out the window.

    We tried for a while to see if we could control the water content and go back to safer, more familiar pastures.  The issues were primarily with respect to mis-en-place. Initially, we froze the lime and sugar into 1.5 oz cubes but then we would have had to consider with freshness of our juice.  It did directly assuage the water content issue, but who wants a drink made with pre-made cubes of frozen “limeade?”  How do we assure freshness?  Its not like we can taste the cubes to make sure it is still good. However, during the StarChefs International Chefs Congress, Chef Johnny Iuzzini actually presented a pretty clever solution.  The water content of any frozen drink can actually be easily fixed to any level you prefer using liquid nitrogen, combined with constant agitation, to freeze cocktails.   The textures are almost like pudding-like.  The results were quite delicious. 

    Sadly, we had to abandon the idea of freezing cocktails this way.  Primarily, because Painkiller is a small, narrow space with limited air circulation.  Personal nightmares of the bar being filled with high concentrations nitrogen gas and suffocating our guests and staff made me lean on the side of caution.  One or two LN-frozen drinks on a random weekday would be more than safe.  On Friday, however, when we are easily making close to 200 frozen drinks in a small space that is usually packed all night, the variables become much less predictable.  It can be done though is more the point.  More importantly, we weren’t going to abandon the blender behind the bar because we had kept failing to understand the underlying mechanisms of making proper frozen drinks using it.  We were not going to quit.  That would have been cowardly.  (We are considering some kind of combination of techniques using smaller amounts of LN to start a pre-chilling of the cocktail combined with use of crushed ice in a blender.  Seems like the combination of the two would work quite well.)

    However, I have significantly digressed.  We knew we were stuck with cocktails that had high water content.  After some thought, it all kind of made sense.  We accepted what was happening and began to embrace it.  We recognized, through the help of Dave Arnold and his website cookingissues.com, that crushed ice (what we were using for the cocktail experiments), due to amount of higher amounts of water trapped on the surface than the typically larger ice we were used to using, begins diluting right away.  After this initial dilution, the chilling power remains about the same than that of larger ice.  However, it was leading to higher amounts of dilution, combined with the fact that the blender was increasing the surface area of the ice every second of its use, also increased dilution.   In order to achieve the textural components we were looking for, we discovered that the liquid needed to reach an equilibrate temperature.  When its reached this equilibrium, that is when actual “ice blending” not “ice melting” occurred.  The faster it did this, the better the results when making frozen drinks.  The textural components were something we had to seriously consider now.  It had become just as important as the water content level and temperature with respect to classic cocktails.

    At this point, we were beginning to understand what was happening.  We we learning how to make consistently good quality frozen drinks and our understanding helped us comprehend on how to always do it.  There was no more guessing on what the recipe.  We would not need a fortune teller to share with us the results of what would happen the second we turned on the blender.  The high water content we had determined was vital to the textural component and could defend it with a better understanding of the processes that were going on the second we began to build any frozen drink.  So now we are left with our initial problem:  

Why do these drinks need to be so “sweet?”

Resulting Theories

    How do I begin?  I really have no idea.  Let me start, I guess, by saying this is a question that has perplexed me my entire career.  Cocktail bartenders talk about the “ideal dilution” of a drink and typically those values are closer to figures that mirror the smallest amount of water content we can have in drink.  Larger amounts of water in cocktails carry a stigma of being poor quality (and on the vast majority of cocktails, rightfully so).  Smaller amounts usually represent and require control, technique and skill.   However, what is that “ideal” amount?  Is it a fixed?  Is it variable?  Can we determine a fixed number and standardize the proper dilution in ALL of our cocktails? (Too many fucking questions I know.)  

    Dave Arnold, food and cocktail genius, along with a panel of some the country’s best bartenders had already tried to determine a preferred measure of dilution.  No general consensus was agreed upon.  After experiencing first hand our “frozen Daiquiri” dilemma (drinks made with an intentionally high water content), we began to think that perhaps a different approach was needed.  Trends we noticed were somewhat obvious although very debatable.  However, that did not detract us from coming up with a few theories.  A few of them are leaps of faith, but mostly, even if they were incorrect, can still be used as working tools on how to approach a classic recipes that are not working for you.  This is merely a thought experiment.  At the end of the day, you have to just trust in what you think is good and hope that it translates into the glass.

    Let’s take another look at each of these recipes individually, examine what it is that is happening and see what trends emerge.  It goes without saying, which is why I am saying it, to keep in mind that these written recipes do not include fixed measures of the ingredient we are here trying to determine: water.  The “correct” water content has always been an assumed value left to the experienced bartender to figure out.  As many of us have continued in our careers, we realized that the drinks that had a higher proportion of sweetness needed to be diluted more.  Hence, we finally get to the fucking point of everything I have written so far:  

Since recipes vary, with respect to proportions of their inherent ingredients, its should not also be a ridiculous assumption to assume the amount of water that each recipe should have would need to vary also.  

So how do we show that?  Well, you have already seen the recipes we chose to help us determine the “Painkiller Frozen Daiquiri.”  When working through this initial “frozen” conundrum, we primarily chose recipes that we knew quite well were delicious when shaken.  Although initially the frozen results did not mirror their shaken counterparts, albeit disheartening, this was not unexpected (after a while).  These recipes are not lone representations of a specific bartender’s style.  Bartenders rarely work in a vacuum (especially when working through a classic recipe).  So when choosing a recipe, like Audrey’s “Pegu Club” Daiquiri, we know that this particular Daiquiri, its ratios, varying spirits, shaking styles, dilution, etc. have been exhaustively tested and determined through a myriad of talented bartenders to represent the best Daiquiri possible.  I personally know that a classic recipe at Pegu Club is sometimes prepared dozens upon dozens of times, in unimaginably different ways to determine what is the working spec for that particular cocktail.  Sasha and Dale also employ similar methods of meticulousness. You can also add upon that the number of times their drinks have been made for guests and you end up with a working recipe that has served satisfactorily countless numbers of people.  Why do I mention this?  Because from this point forward, for purely “scientific” purposes, I will work under the assumption that each recipe used is the MOST balanced representation of the Daiquiri.  How can EACH of these drinks be the best representation of the Daiquiri?  They are so radically different.  The answer is lies somewhere in understanding the history of the cocktail, the bartender creating the recipe, and dilution.

Initially, we started with a Constanino’s recipe because it was the oldest spec and he is the only bartender in the bunch that actually used a working blender behind his bar.  For all intents and purposes, that Daiquiri, in our estimation, was his drink.  To help validate wacky assumption, we have determined the ABV (alcohol by volume) without the addition of water, for the following recipes:

1935 Floridita:  66.6% spirit
Pegu Club:  57% spirit
Milk and Honey:  54% spirit
Degroff:  47% spirit

    The 1935 Floridita Daiquiri appears to come in the highest in alcohol.  It appears to be an anomaly.  At initial inspection, the drink has a flavor profile that is strong and dry.  We personally found it to be unbalanced.  Experience with similar cocktails leads us to think that we might need a significant push towards dilution and/or sweetness.  We also might be led to believe that this was perhaps his intent.  Many might also assume that the palates of previous generations differ significantly from our own present day flavor preferences.  However, we are skeptics.  As skeptics, we would argue that Constantino’s recipe not the lone anomaly.  Although it appears to be a departure from our own present taste we are missing a few key pieces of information.  Let’s take into account a few things.  First, where we used silver rum, La Floridita most likely used Bacardi Gold rum, which had added sugar for coloring, being sweeter.  Also, I am tempted to guess that the ABV of 1935 Bacardi was not at 40%.  In all honesty though, I am not sure of this.  The 80 proof requirement is strictly American standard that I can’t imagine the Cubans needing to adopt in 1935.  Havana Club comes in at 37.5 percent alcohol all around the world, except the United States.  If they were to become available to us, they would have to up their proof, just like the Mexicans have to do with their Tequilas (which also float around the same 37.5 percent).  So considering the rum he used in his recipe is BOTH sweeter and lower in proof, we can also assume that the strong, rum-forward drink that we initially prepared, is not a representation of what Constantino had in mind.    The dilution of his Daiquiri can MAYBE fall within the same parameters we are following presently.  However, I am just guessing here.  That’s a debate for another time.  If the written recipe we have on record is not a clear representation of what we would hope to expect, how do we figure out what is?

Let’s go on to compare drinks.  In particular, the Pegu Club Daiquiri and Floridita’s Daiquiri:

2 oz. white rum
1/2 oz. lime
1 tsp. granulated sugar
Shake and Strain.  Garnish with a lime wheel
(Ribalaigua 1935)

2 oz. white rum
3/4 oz. lime
3/4 oz. simple syrup
Shake and Strain.  Garnish with a lime wheel
(Pegu Club 2005)

Now let’s look at the them a bit differently.  Let’s have the recipes demonstrate the amount of alcohol by actually showing the breakdown of water to alcohol in spirit.:

.75 oz. alcohol
1.25 oz. water in spirit
1/2 oz. lime
1 tsp. granulated sugar
Shake and Strain.  Garnish with a lime wheel
(Ribalaigua 1935 using spirit 37.5% ABV)

.8 oz. white rum
1.2 oz. white rum
3/4 oz. lime
3/4 oz. simple syrup
Shake and Strain.  Garnish with a lime wheel
(Pegu Club 2005 using spirit 40% ABV)

Constantino’s recipe, at first, appeared to be strongest cocktail of the bunch from the four we had chosen.  His recipe contained 66% spirit, as opposed to Pegu’s 57% spirit .  However, when adjusting for the probable spirits that he actually called for, we notice something quite extraordinary.  Constantino’s drink come in about at 25% alcohol and Pegu’s come in at 23%.  They also have roughly identical amounts of sweetness and acidity. They are virtually identical.  It is most likely that these cocktails had roughly the same amount of dilution.

Before I continue, maybe it’s the inner cocktail geek in me, but let me say when I see two recipes created by two of the greatest bars in historical existence approximately 70 years apart from one another, both independent of the other, one of of which has been tested repeatedly by bartenders around the globe, and, for some unknown reason, they both come in at about the same alcohol level, I get a hard on.  The amounts of acidity and sweetness are also eerily similar.   It makes me wonder about pre-conceived beliefs I had before about approaching older cocktail recipes, the palate of previous generations and, in this case, about balance.  So here we have clear demonstration of past and present coming together to show us the following:

Certain classic recipes should be considered as correctly stated.  Our understanding of balance is not much different, if at all, than bartenders from yesteryear.
   
    Sounds like an obvious assumption to make...  It really is not.  When opening old cocktail manuals, I personally have been faced with having to adjust recipes to what I thought were my personal tastes.   I was not recognizing that I do not have a clear understanding and that perhaps the older recipe is closer to my own style than it would frst appear.  I cannot help but recall the number of times I have had to adjust a recipe because it was either too boozy, sweet, tart OR not boozy, sweet or tart enough.  Imagine a scenario, where you had to keep the ratios fixed and all you could change were the ingredients.  In that same scenario, you would have to adjust things that are much tougher to control, like the proof of your spirit, the sweetness of your syrup, and the acidity of your citrus.  This was somewhat easy to demonstrate with a drink that is approximately 70 years old and the differences are apparent and adjustable.  How about a drink recipe that is 10 years old?

    Let’s look at Dale’s Daiquiri:

1 1/2 oz. white rum
3/4 oz. lime
1 oz. simple syrup
Shake and Strain.  Garnish with a lime wheel
(Degroff 2002)

Once again, we see a recipe that “appears” to be dramatically different from the others.  Although the recipe states 2002, it most likely invented in the early nineties (which I only mention because pre-dates it to Milk and Honey’s recipe).  It also appears to be the sweetest and weakest in alcohol content.  How is it that this recipe came to be one of the most well known and recognizable recipes for the Daiquiri?

Now let’s consider the following train of thought.  We conceptually can (and have) argued that the palates of generations past has been significantly driven to be sweeter.  For example, a great majority of people would say Jerry Thomas cocktails, if exact specifications are followed have a tendency to be sweet, therefore, unbalanced.  This is obviously a personal opinion, but with respect to the other recipes we have noted, this is a fact.  Given that these cocktail recipes are over a century old, we could assume that this was his intent.  That intent could have been personal or could have been to suit the needs of his clientele.  This may have been the case and its incredibly valid argument to think so.  However, after seeing after similarity between PC’s and Floridita’s Daiquiri, could we also make the alternate assumption that we are not fully exploring the possibility that these drinks are being prepared incorrectly?  The difference between Dale’s Daiquiri and Milk & Honey’s is less than a decade.  Both historically accurate and served to thousands upon thousands of people.  Can we really assume that the palates of bartenders and guests alike have made a move towards a drier style Daiquiri?  Its a bit non-sensical.

    The simple answer is no.  We should always assume that concept of “balance” is the same now as it was 10 years ago (or even 100 years ago).  If we make it our way, and it doesn’t taste good, we are most likely missing some vital piece of information.  The most obvious omission in all cocktail recipes is the amount of water.  Although we can argue that dilution and balance are a matter of style, craft and personal taste, perhaps we should also consider the possibility that balance appears to be a more universal quality then we had previously thought.  

    Historically, we know the major shift in cocktail preparation from the early nineties to the present has been the shift on the surface area of ice.  Dale was using ice that was higher in surface area, machine ice, as compared to Milk and Honey’s low surface area ice, block ice.  Not trying to be too scientific, we know that the amount of dilution within each are significantly different.  The greater the surface area of your ice, the greater the amount of surface water also, which leads to a greater initial dilution.  We have been arguing the differences in temperature larger ice brings into cocktails for years.  However, its pretty safe to assume that larger ice melts more slowly then smaller ice.  If you shake the same drink with different kinds of ice for the same period of time, the drink made with more surface water on it ice is usually more diluted than the cocktail made with less surface water.

    Duh?  Why does this matter?  It matters because certain cocktails need higher dilution.  Frozen drinks, for example, have an incredibly high amount of surface water.  If we had taken into account the phenemona were seeing now, it only makes sense that frozen drinks would resemble cocktails that parallel similar values of surface water when being prepared.  We end up with a somewhat simple explanation on trends we have seen in historical manuals and styles of bartenders.  If we were to evaluate what we have seen and taste:  the best Daiquiri made with nineties machine ice would have to be Dale’s.  The best Daiquiri recipe made with Kold Draft would have to be Pegu’s.  The best Daiquiri made with block ice would have to be Milk and Honey’s.  The recipes themselves demonstrate a shift from sweeter, less alcoholic to drier, more alcoholic.  Dilution and Ice size explain everything.


Conclusions

What does any of this prove?  Nothing.  Duh?  Range and balance change from bartender to bartender.  There is no correct amount of water in drinks.  In the end, people are going to do have an opinion and style.  David Embury cocktails, for example, seem to need an around different approach.  However, we could make the following conclusions:

1.    Balance appears to be a universal quality than we had previously expected.

We saw examples of this with the REMARKABLE similarities between Pegu Club’s and La Floridita’s Daiquiri.  Also, when you take dilution into account and style of ice being used, the trend from sweeter to drier becomes pretty self explanatory.  Adding sweetener to a cocktail that is higher dilution, become vital to achieving balance.  

1.    The amount of dilution in cocktails, although rarely stated in a recipe, is not an intuitive amount. 

Had we initially looked at all of our recipes and seen exact amounts of water, we could have avoided all the unnecessary headache we went through.  Without knowing those amounts, we just assumed they were all the same.  Now we know that dilution, is something we should try to state in all of our drinks if we want them correctly represented.  Daiquiris are a somewhat simplistic representation of this and can be debated.  Let’s look at a less, in my opinion, debatable example:  The 1934 Zombie Punch.

1 1/2 oz Smith & Cross
1 1/2 oz Ron del Barrilito 3 star
1 oz Lemon Heart 151
1 dash Angostura bitters
1/2 oz Donn’s mix #2*
3/4 oz lime juice
3/4 oz Zombie mix**
Build into a tiki mug.  Top with crushed ice.
Garnish with a mint sprig
* Don’s Mix #2:  2 parts Grapefruit: 1 part cinnamon bark syrup
** Zombie Mix:  4 falernum: 2 grenadine: 1 absinthe
(Donn Beach 1934)

We have a single cocktail that calls for 4 oz. of spirit and approximately 1 oz. each of citrus and sweetener (which is also alcoholic).  Its like no other cocktail I have ever seen.  How do we even begin to know what the proper dilution of it is?  Initially, we gave it a very high dilution because of how spiritous it was.  We served them balanced and knew that the high dilution made them more palatable and delicious.  However, presently our philosophy has changed and we decided to not do that anymore.  We don’t even swizzle it or bring it to as cold as it could be.    We literally add crushed ice and let it be.  We know it does not make sense.  Why offer guests a less harmonious cocktail?  

It simple.  It comes after our first few weeks being open and seeing people guzzle these down UNPREPARED for the amount of alcohol they were actually drinking.  Now, our approach is treat the Zombie like “rite of passage” and let it evolve in the glass.  The complexity at low dilution stands out more and certain flavors really stick out.  More importantly, we wanted the guest to treat the cocktail like a “journey.”  It begins spiritous/aromatic and finishes into something completely different.  That first sip makes you respect it.  It slows you down.  At low dilution, all of those beautiful flavors inside the rums stick out.  It makes you take notice IMMEDIATELY that what you have is to be savored and strong.  We want the drink to be almost a “gut check.”  At higher dilutions, you could almost imagine yourself drinking 3 of these and not getting completely inebriated.  Everything else comes into play.  The progressive melting of ice brings more and more to the palate.  

This is not something you can anticipate.  It comes through experience, the quality of your ingredients and what you want your guest to perceive.   

1.    Certain classic recipes should be considered as “correctly stated.”  Our understanding of balance is not much different, if at all, than bartenders from yesteryear.

If we treated the recipes like formulas, a lot of what we have seen would have become apparent sooner.  Adjusting ratios is SIGNIFICANTLY easier than controlling proof or acidity.    However, after working through several classics that appear to be sweet, we realized that we just need to make the appropriate dilution adjustments.  Certain classic cocktails need a “healthy plant”  approach.  Just add more water.  

1.    Since recipes vary, with respect to proportions of their inherent ingredients, its should not also be a ridiculous assumption to assume the amount of water that each recipe should have would need to vary also.  

What does this mean?  Let me illustrate.  Let’s say we are making 3 Daiquiris.  

Daiquiri #1:  Havana Club (37.5% abv)
Daiquiri #2:  Smith and Cross (57% abv)
Daiquiri #3:  Lemonhart Overproof Demerara (75.5% abv)

The significant variable we are noting here is proof.  Can we honestly argue that the same recipe AND the same dilution would offer the same balanced cocktail?  No.  There needs to be some kind of adjustment.  You could make them all the same (and that would be cool) but to say that they are equally balanced would be incorrect.  We all know that anyone that orders a 151-Daiquiri is expecting something strong.  However, if I am using a recipe I know brings harmony at one proof, I should not assume it does at others.  In case you are wondering, Painkiller uses (shaking on block ice):

Daiquiri #1- Denizen or Starr African Rum (We do not have HC at the bar so do not ask):  2 oz., 1 oz. .75 oz.
Daiquiri #2- Smith and Cross:  2 oz., .75 oz. .75 oz., 
Daiquiri #3- Lemonhart 151: 1 1/2 oz., .75 oz. .75 oz.

But, this is just a matter of opinion.  Honestly, I have not tasted a “Smith and Cross” Daiquiri using any of the recipes that I never thought was awesome.  It works at pretty much any range.  Go figure.

1.    The surface area of your ice is not a good indicator of the quality of your cocktail.  

Through our discussion we have demonstrated that the kind of ice you use appears to directly determine the ratio of your ingredients in particular cocktails. Certain drinks needs higher dilution.  Shaking with larger ice does not facilitate that.  However, an easier demonstration of what I am saying is to imagine a situation where you are using incredibly high surface area; for example, working a private event offsite or your ice machine breaks down and you have to “their” ice.  Do you continue using the same recipe even though you know the drinks are going to be a bit more watered?  No.  Great drinks can be made using any style ice if you make the appropriate adjustments and change certain techniques.    Ingredients and cocktail manuals do not make the great bartender...  thinking and experience do.

We hope this exercise in our failures and successes was helpful to you.  I am going to sleep for a few weeks now.

Yours in Service, 

Giuseppe

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