Much like the myraid of factors which go into food tasting, there are as many, if not more nuances in craft cocktail which separate the very good tipples from the very bad. With all the new bars popping up in Singapore, how you can tell which cocktail is worth your while?
Last month, Proof & Company hosted a special cocktail evaluation workshop as part of the Singapore Cocktail Week, called “Evaluating Cocktails: A Workshop for F&B Writers & Aficionados of Fine Drinking“, it was held in highly-acclaimed speakeasy cocktail bar 28 HongKong Street. Five panelists, which included Spencer Forhart, Joe Alessandroni, David Cordoba, Arijit Bose and Leo Tanemo summarised the basics of cocktail evaluation for us by boiling it all down into one simple equation: The experience of drinking a cocktail = Flavour (Taste + Aroma) + Mouth Feel + Sight + Thought + Feeling. Let’s break it down.
Just like in culinary dishes, taste is the hardest to get right in a craft cocktail. More than just adding one spirit after another, bartenders pride themselves in getting the taste just right.
The drink cannot be too sour, or it will cause heart burn, nor can it be too sweet, or it will cloy. Add too much bitters and the drink becomes unpleasant; add too much alcohol and it becomes too strong.
The very moment a drink touches your lips, ask yourself: Is the taste balanced? If done just right, cocktails should not be too sweet, sour, bitter or strong. Is it harmonious? There are thousands of combinations a bartender can use, and not all of them can work together.
Finally, ask yourself: Does it have depth? A good cocktail can be like a journey the bartender brings you through — it has a beginning, middle, and an end.
Did you know that our sense of smell can account for up to 95% of our decision-making process when it comes to telling flavours apart? Research has also shown that smell plays an integral role in memory recall and the influencing of human behavior. As such, bartenders sometimes use aroma as a method to connect to their customers and invoke certain thoughts or feelings in them.
As you bring up the glass to your lips, look out for anything the bartender may have added to the drink. Does the cocktail have rosemary in it? Are there any garnishes that are present?
How about any subtle scents that may have been added through smokes, hydrosols or oils? Bartenders have been known to express orange peels over an old fashioned (what is known in the craft cocktail world as a cocktail made by mixing sugars with bitters, followed by alcohol such as whiskey).
Most of the time, garnishes added are not used solely for the purpose of decoration. Bartenders tend to add little things to the drink that add to the cocktail’s balance and flavor.
3. Mouth Feel
We all know and love the feeling of biting into something and feeling its burst of flavor in your mouth. Similarly, while a mojito tastes fine by itself, some bartenders who want a more refreshing drink add soda water, which causes effervescence and makes the drink more refreshing.
Another method that bartenders may use to create texture is to increase the drink’s viscosity. Take note if it feels like it is too much. Viscosity, when not overdone, should feel pleasant on the palate, make the taste richer, and provoke savouring.
First impression is everything. And that is especially true in the world of craft cocktails. Besides enhancing the standards of the taste, attention to the details of presentation shows the level of care given by the bartender.
For instance, wouldn’t you be more excited to drink a cocktail placed in a stylishly-designed glass, as compared to, say, a plastic cup? While it’s true that looks aren’t everything, if we are going to separate the cream of the crop from the could-haves, presentation matters: it is as simple as that.
Cocktail evaluation isn’t something static. Much like how there are a million and one ways which affect the outcome of a culinary, there are many different ways one must consider before passing the final judgment on the cocktail. For instance, ask yourself if the price of the drink matches its inherent value.
Craftsmanship is another equally important factor which must be considered when partaking in the drink. Ask yourself: does the drink use homemade ingredients? Are those ingredients fresh? How about the thought that goes into choosing these ingredients? All these should count in your search to find the perfect cocktail.
Nobody can tell you how the drink made you feel, apart from yourself. Ask yourself if the drink you are holding fits the occasion and the location. Whether you are at the beach, at your favourite watering hole, celebrating your birthday or down in the dumps, good bartenders should be able to whip up cocktails that suit your mood and your location.
Photo Credit: Colossal Photos for Singapore Cocktail Week