TONIC WATER

Mary Pellettieri

The skinny on the sweet – Why sugar is added to cocktails and what to watch for

The Cocktail: You order one, you hear the bartender shake, watch them stir and pour, strain and tipple some magic into a glass. It is a sensory experience from the start. But the taste is where it all comes together. Sugar as a cocktail ingredient has long been used to mask or hide the harsh side of alcohol. A well-crafted cocktail will balance the amount of sweetness to sour and bitter. However, the consumer has to be mindful of the use and type of sugar in the cocktail. Inferior sweeteners or too high of a sugar concentration will alter the experience and make for a lack-luster cocktail. If you want to savor the moment, as you should, ask your bartender about these things.

Simple Sugar:
"How much simple sugar is being added to my drink?"

Usually a mix of powdered sugar and water, simple is exactly what it says. It has long been used as a way to add sweetness to the drink. Natural cane sugar is normally what simple sugar is made from, however some simples are corn sugar based. Watch the level of simple sugar being used in your drink. One ounce (30 ml) can contain close to 36 grams of sugar, more than the amount of sugar found in can of regular cola. A bartender that uses ½ oz in a cocktail, is effectively adding the equivalent of a 1/2 can of soda in sugar content to the drink. That can add up in a smaller volume coupe or small glass cocktail.

Traditional mixers:

"What mixer are you using?"

And

"How much sugar is in it?"

Mixers are sweetened, carbonated and flavored beverages made for cocktail mixing. They provide a source of dilution (carbonated water), sour (citrus juices and acids), sugar and sometimes bitter, all in one bottle or can. As prohibition hit in the United States, illegally made spirits had to be cut with higher sugar-based mixers. That is because the spirit itself was low quality. Higher quality spirits do not need and shouldn’t be hidden with sugar. Commercial versions of traditional cola, and tonic normally have high fructose corn sugar (HFCS), and a lot of sweetness. Even if the mixer has cane sugar, check the sweetness levels. They vary, and can alter the cocktail experience.

Top Note uses US grown and GMO free pure cane sugar as the primary sweetener in our mixers. We do not use artificial or highly concentrated sweeteners because they don’t mix well with spirits. A drink made with Top Note mixers will only add 7 – 10 grams of sugar in the cocktail. This allows for a creative use of liqueurs or other sweetened spirits to be layered onto a drink without over sweetening. Alternatively, a lower sugar cocktail can be made. This style of cocktail will lift the flavors and essences of the spirit that the maker infused or crafted.

Alternate Sugars:
"What type of sugar is being used?"

"Where is it sourced?"

Sugar cubes, syrups made from date sugar, or unrefined sugars such as Turbinado are also used in modern craft cocktails. These can enhance darker spirits barrel aging, or make a drink more savory. We use date sugar from California to enhance the complex flavor profile of our ginger beer. It provides a slight amount of sour character too, that balances nicely in any Mule style cocktail, cane sugar based spirits like Rum and Cachaca, or the darker barrel aged spirits. We particularly like our ginger beer mixed with rye based vodkas.