Depth of Flavor:
What do we mean when we refer to “Depth of flavor”? It’s a fairly subjective term, but it’s intended to capture the degree of flavor that a cocktail brings. Water has zero depth of flavor, but a rich chocolate cheesecake has tons of flavor. Likewise, a vodka soda has very little flavor but a Vieux Carre is quite the opposite.
It’s All Subjective:
Like most of this course unit, “balancing” depth of flavor is a matter of personal preference. One person may prefer lighter flavored drinks, and another may not. The purpose of this section is to give you the tools to adjust depth of flavor so you can attain the outcome that you are looking for in your own cocktails.
The Spectrum of Depth of Flavor:
In the rest of the tabs of this section, we’ll use the following spectrum to help illustrate Depth of flavor.
- The left side represents low depth of flavor. Cocktails on this side would be less powerful, complex and may taste watered down.
- The right side represents high depth of flavor. Cocktails on this side would be extremely intense, rich and overpowering.
Adjusting the water content in your cocktails is one of the “low hanging fruit” of flavor depth adjustment. I’m not referring to adding water as an ingredient to your drinks, but rather understanding what ingredients bring water and choosing those ingredients carefully.
To Increase Flavor Depth:
Not surprisingly, if you’re looking to increase the depth of flavor in your drink, you’re going to want to reduce the amount of water that’s getting into your cocktail. Here are some potential ways to reduce the water content:
- Use lemon juice with citric acid to increase sourness without using as much lemon juice (which contains water)
- Swap out simple syrups for Rich simple syrup – that will cut water content in half.
- Look for opportunities to replace mixers with higher intensity options. You could replace ginger ale with ginger beer and reduce syrups & juices over heat to evaporate some of the water.
To Decrease Flavor Depth:
If your cocktail is extremely rich to an extent that is overwhelming, you may need to consider reducing the depth of flavor to make it palatable. Adding water is always easier than removing it, (though you may need to adjust for volume.)
- Adding water to the drink by using less concentrated ingredients
- Increasing the water proportion in your simple (or other) syrups
Varying Alcohol Flavor
As we discussed at length in the spirits & alcohols section, there is a wide spectrum of how much flavor a spirit can bring. The purest vodka will bring almost no flavor whatsoever, but a Scotch Whisky can be powerful enough to flavor a cocktail just by coating the glass.
To Adjust Flavor Depth:
Consider exchanging lower or higher flavored versions of the spirits in your cocktail to increase or decrease the flavor depth.
- Want more flavor, and you’re currently using Canadian Whiskey? Switch it out for an American Bourbon.
- Too much flavor, and you’re using a full-flavored Jamaican rum? Consider replacing it with a lighter styled Puerto Rican rum.
Tinctures & Bitters:
Tinctures & Bitters are a great way to add depth of flavor without having to adjust for volume. These highly concentrated ingredients can make a big difference to a drink without adding a lot of volume.
To Increase Flavor Depth:
- Add (or increase) tinctures and / or bittering ingredients in the drink.
- Exchange ingredients for their more-bitter counterparts. This means consider replacing tinctures or Vermouths with bitters or Amari, for example.
To Decrease Flavor Depth, do the opposite of what’s suggested above:
- Remove or decrease the use of tinctures and / or bittering ingredients in the drink
- Exchange bitter ingredients for less-bitter counterparts, like exchanging bitters for tinctures or Vermouths.
One last option to consider for some cocktails is egg whites. Adding egg whites to a cocktail has two effects: it changes the consistency & mouthfeel of the cocktail dramatically, and it smooths over all of the flavor – sweet, sour, bitter and alcohol.
- Adding egg whites to a drink will “calm” an intense drink. However, only some cocktails work well with egg whites (and we’ll discuss this more in the next course unit on cocktail families.)
- Similarly, if a cocktail recipe has an egg white in it but is just not flavorful enough, one option to “kick up” the flavor would be to remove the egg whites – but again, this will drastically change the overall texture of the drink.