So far we’ve investigated the role that acidity and sugar play in the creation of craft cocktails. While sugar predates acidity in cocktail history, these building blocks can be thought of as a pair – acidity and sugar directly oppose each other. When sugar overpowers acidity, drinks become cloying and heavy. With the reverse, drinks are tart, thin, and unpleasant. It is only when sweetness and acidity balance each other that a cocktail takes on a savory deliciousness that I call tension.
The sweet-sour balance is not the only way to create a craft cocktail. Before the invention of the sour family, cocktails were merely spirit, sugar, water and bitters. This category of drinks, now best exemplified by the Old Fashioned derives their deliciousness through the mitigating effects of sugar on the bitterness of wood-aged spirits and bitters.
The previous articles have stayed clear of any serious chemistry. Unfortunately, bitter and alcohol have a lot going on that needs some explanations, and chemistry provides the language. [editor: Nerd warning. Suck it up.]