A sweet and sour mix that beats the bad rap
Sweet and sour mix gets a bad rap. People often order so-called “scratch margaritas” to avoid it, but those drinks really are just regular margaritas, albeit hand made. Both have sweet and sour, just one has sweet and sour (a combination of lime juice and simple syrup, or agave) made on the spot.
The sweet and sour identity problem stems from pre-made bottled sweet and sour mixes. Almost all mass produced sweet and sour utilizes citric acid as an ingredient. And although citrus fruit certainly contains citric acid (both words derive from the Latin word: citrus), the artificial citric acid most often used in food production comes from Aspergillus niger, a type of black mold. It is also what causes that scratchy sensation in the back of your throat and the tingling along the sides of your tongue. There are some studies that suggest black mold derived citric acid may lead to allergic reactions, but these studies are few and incomplete. Natural citric acid has many known health benefits. Artificial citric acid is also often used as a disinfectant and lime scale remover.
Sheltering-in-place cocktails are now starting to look a lot like just regular cocktails, because it has become apparent that this pandemic is not going to be over any time soon. One way to make your shelter-in-place/regular cocktail experience better is to double or triple up on the types of cocktails you can make utilizing just one ingredient. Homemade sweet and sour is a great way to do this. With one mix you can make dozens of different cocktails. Everything from margaritas to lemon drops to Tom Collins to whiskey sours, can all be made with the same mix, just by using different base liquors or liqueurs.
Furthermore, since many classic cocktail recipes come from Spanish speaking countries (margaritas, daiquiris, caipirinhas, Pisco Sours etc.) there is some confusion over whether lemons or limes are used, partly because the Spanish word limon is not specific without adding a color modifier. Limon verde (green lemon), is a lime, and limon amarillo (yellow lemon), is a lemon. We will get around this problem by using both lemons and limes for our sweet and sour. That combination is a winning one, just ask 7-Up or Sprite.
SIP All Purpose Homemade Sweet and Sour
½ cup sugar
½ cup warm water
Cold water to taste
Juice the limes and lemons retaining some pulp. Combined juices should yield about 3 cups (you might need more fruit depending upon the Season). In a separate container mix warm water with sugar until completely dissolved. In a gallon container (glass preferred) combine juices and sugar/water mixture. Taste. Mixture will be strong but should still exhibit a balance of sweet and tart. Adjust flavor. Once that balance is achieved dilute with water to about 50/50. It should taste like a slightly too strong to drink on its own limeade/lemonade. Cover and refrigerate. This mix will last up to 10 days.
Classic Cocktail (daiquiri, whiskey sour, sidecar, margarita, etc. etc. etc.)
2 ounces base spirit: whisky, gin, rum, brandy, tequila, mezcal etc.
¾ ounce good quality triple sec (Cointreau, Combier, Naranja)*
2 ounces homemade sweet and sour.
Combine all three ingredients in a mixing glass with ice and shake until ice cold. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with the citrus rind zest of your choice or brandy soaked cherries. For some extra fizz add a raw egg white (or aqua fava**). Alternately you may serve over ice and top with soda water, rendering the drink either a fizz, a Collins, or a sling, depending upon the base spirit used.
*If using liqueurs or amaro, eliminate triple sec
**aqua fava is the liquid that canned white beans are stored in. Flavorless and colorless in cocktails, aqua fava provides a nice foamy head when shaken.