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Published on March 20th, 2024. 

Cocktail Clarification: A Straightforward Guide

It’s simple alchemy!

Bartenders, driven by a fascination for clarity, have meticulously blended traditional clarification methods with modern innovations to enhance cocktail aesthetics. In the vibrant world of cocktails, the visual appeal is just as captivating as the taste itself. From the vibrant colours of a Bloody Mary to the alluring opaqueness of a Pisco Sour and the sophisticated clarity of a Martini, each aspect enhances the enjoyment of serving and sipping these drinks.

What is cocktail clarification?


In mixology, clarifying a cocktail means removing impurities and suspended particles from the liquid to make it clear. This enhances the drinks visual appeal and can make it smoother by getting rid of any gritty texture.


Moreover, clarifying can improve the taste by removing any flavours that might be too strong, allowing the main ingredients to shine.



Best practices and techniques


Cocktail clarification techniques vary, with some being quite technical and requiring complex methods and rare ingredients, which can be challenging for beginners to access and understand.


Some of the most common methods of cocktail clarification used are gravity straining, agar clarification and centrifugation. In this article, we will focus on milk washing.


  • Milk Washing: In this technique, a cocktail is combined with milk, which causes the milk to curdle and capture impurities. Afterward, the mixture is strained, resulting in a clear liquid that maintains flavours while eliminating any colour or haziness. Milk washing can also soften harshness and impart a smooth texture to spirits.


Milk is a common bar ingredient, and this method is beginner friendly. It can be done in bars, or at home.

Do’s and Don’ts for milk washing cocktail clarification


DO: Clarify classic cocktails

Clarified Milk Punch stands out as the most renowned rendition of the clarified cocktail landscape. It involves a rum punch where milk is curdled with citrus, then strained to produce a clear beverage with a smooth mouthfeel. However, milk washing offers an opportunity to reimagine classic cocktails. For instance, a Tiki Jungle Bird, known for its robust flavours, or a Pina Colada, featuring tropical notes sans the creamy appearance, can be revitalized through milk washing techniques.


DON’T: Milk wash low-acidity cocktails

You can’t clarify every classic cocktail recipe. You need citrus in your base to curdle the milk effectively. While you might have originally wanted to make a clarified Irish Coffee, the whiskey, coffee, and Irish cream lack enough astringency to create the reaction needed. Also, be careful not to make the mistake of attempting to clarify a Manhattan and ending up with a creamy highball.


DO: Rinse your filter

When separating curds from cocktails, coffee filters are commonly used. Remember to rinse the paper first to avoid imparting a paper flavour. Alternatively, some opt for paper towels inside a fine mesh strainer to sidestep this issue. However, if you’re using a coffee filter, a quick rinse under the faucet will help prevent any off flavours in the final product.


DON’T: Use skim or vegan milk

Nut milks or low-fat milks won’t curdle effectively; you need full-fat milk for successful curdling. If you prefer to avoid using milk altogether, consider using an agar clarification technique for a similar effect.


DO: Serve with clarified ice

To maintain the clarity of your beautifully clear cocktail, use filtered or distilled water when making your ice. Otherwise, you risk muddying up the appearance with cloudy ice.


DON’T: Pour the milk into the cocktail

Advanced mixologists claim that pouring the cocktail into the milk, rather than the other way around, exposes the booze to the milk before it curdles, resulting in a greater depth of flavour.

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