This week we investigate the effect of temperature and oxidation on cocktails. We had noticed that some cocktails seem to change in flavor, often for the better, after sitting a short while (on those rare occasions where we don’t just gulp them down ;)). We were curious as to whether this was due to the drink warming up, oxidizing, or both. So we went back to our notes to find a couple of drinks where we had noted this phenomenon, and started our experiment. Read on to see what we found.
We wanted to try both a drink with citrus and one without, to see if that made any difference. We thought we would start with the spirit-forward cocktail as being less tiring on the palate. We had notes that the darker, richer flavors of a Robert Burns stood out with a bit of sit time, so we mixed up a couple of those.
- Nose: Anise, barrel notes, little bit of chocolate, sweet nutmeg-y ginger bread.
- Palate: Flavor tracks to the nose. Sweet ginger bread flavor and chocolate to start, followed by a sharp hit of anise. The scotch kicks in on the mid-palate with rich, woody flavors. There’s a slightly sour orange underpinning with a hint of herbal notes from the mid-palate into a bitter finish.
- Nose: Nose is more subdued. Little bit more of the scotch, notably a hint of caramel. Touch of floral orange too. Ginger bread and anise are still there, just muted.
- Palate: Very similar to the cold/covered version. Stronger green herbals notes towards the end of the mid-palate and into the finish. Finish is substantially more bitter than the cold/covered version.
- Nose: Largely the same nose as the first two but even more subdued than either of the cold ones. The biggest difference is some toffee notes with a hint of anise.
- Palate: Mouth feel is more viscous and smoother. Flavor profile is different. Toffee, dark chocolate /cocoa on the front. Chocolate notes are much more pronounced than the cold versions. Anise and spicy caramel barrel notes on the mid-palate. Lightly bitter finish, also slightly nutty like hazelnut. More spicy notes vs. bitter notes. Richest of the four.
- Nose: Has a stronger nose than the covered/warm one, interestingly, though still more subdued than the cold ones. Similar to the warm/covered version, but with a touch of milk chocolate.
- Palate: Almost identical to the warm/covered, but lacking a certain brightness. Same flavors and progression, but slightly less sweet and acidic, which made it less balanced.
We both liked the third variation best. It still had some brightness, but the darker flavors had time to develop and the warmth had brought out a nice heavy texture. Yum!
Next, we wanted to try something using citrus, and we thought of the Black Lily (which if you haven’t tried one, you really should. They’re kind of brilliant).
- Nose: Sweet orange, lime, pine resin, root beer.
- Palate: Sweet lime and orange to start. Root beer and syrupy sweet orange in the middle. Bitter resin-y menthol finish.
- Nose: More muted than the cold/covered version.
- Palate: Orange is stronger and more acidic, lime is more muted than the cold/covered version. Same progression of flavors, but more acidic throughout the drink. Strong orange on the mid-palate, but bitter orange peel rather than juice. Root beer notes are more subdued. The peel notes continue into the finish.
- Nose: Similar to the first two. Lime and resin are more muted, root beer notes are more earthy.
- Palate: More viscous, richer mouth feel. More of the lime than the orange on the start, though still plenty of orange throughout. Good sweet/acid balance, with earthy notes the others lack. Resin notes are more integrated.
- Nose: Really strong citrus peel notes. Root beer notes are very subdued. Light fruity vanilla smell combined with the resin.
- Palate: Very sweet, syrupy sweet lime and orange on the front. Sour orange and pine resin are very strong on the mid-palate. Bitter sweet but with some perfume notes on the finish. Mouth feel has fine-textured tannins, with a slight bite like black tea. Subtle coffee and chocolate notes when compared directly to the other three.
The cold/covered version of the Black Lily was our favorite. The acid and bright citrus balanced the other strong flavors of the drink, but everything was well-balanced and had a chance to speak.
The inclusion of citrus seems to make both warmth and oxidation less influential. There was more acidity and a lighter mouth feel for the cold drinks, less acidity and a smoother/heavier mouth feel for the warm ones. The warm drinks expressed darker flavors like chocolate or coffee better, whereas as brighter flavors like citrus show up more in the colder drinks. Oxidation in both cases seemed to have a negligible or slightly negative effect, whereas warmth seemed good for spirit-forward drinks and not bad but not better for drinks that used citrus.
We came into this post wondering if the differences we had noted previously was simply us imagining things or if there was actually something real going one. What we found with this experiment was that there were very definite differences between drinks that had aged a bit covered vs. aging uncovered vs. keeping them cold or letting them warm up. We’re not exactly sure what the mechanism is, but there are some very definite differences in all 4 cases. As always we recommend that you noodle around with the timing of serving your drinks to see if you have a preference or not.