This month, VinePair is exploring how drinks pros are taking on old trends with modern innovations. In Old Skills, New Tricks, we examine contemporary approaches to classic cocktails and clever techniques behind the bar — plus convention-breaking practices in wine, beer, whiskey, and more.
The importance of using fresh juice in a cocktail can’t be overemphasized. Sure, employing a mass-produced canned juice mix provides convenience, but the trade off is usually a bunch of chemical additives, an overabundance of sugar, and flavors as fake as a narcissist’s empathy.
“Fresh juice is utterly foundational to a drink,” says Mariena Mercer Boarini, resort mixologist for the Wynn Resort in Las Vegas. “If you’re using an artificial replacement, you’re going to lose the drink’s integrity.”
“Fresh juice means so much because it supports the spirit, which is the cocktail’s shining star,” adds Kacie Lambert, head bartender at Pie Society Bar in Costa Mesa, Calif. “By using a garden variety mix, you’re not doing justice to the spirit or its creators.”
You — and your homemade drink — deserve better than something prefab. The good news here is juicing fruit for cocktails is usually a fast and easy process. That said, getting the most drops possible from a piece of nature’s candy isn’t necessarily as simple as squeezing, say, a lime wedge over a Daiquiri build. There are a few basics to know about, so VinePair consulted a few industry pros who swear by fresh juice to find out how you can get the most liquid from your fruit.
Start With Citrus
Your home fruit bowl should never be lacking lemons and limes. Plenty of classic cocktails like Margaritas, Mai Tais, and Sidecars call for one of the two. Both are easy to work with, even though the pros give a slight preference to lemons because they offer such little resistance when pressed. If you’re getting into juicing, these fruits will put you in the comfort zone quickly. Once you get the hang of it, you can graduate to tougher forms of citrus, such as oranges for Ward 8s or grapefruits for Palomas.
There are a couple of pre-game tricks you can deploy to make juicing citrus even easier. One trick involves simply rolling the fruit back and forth on a flat surface. “When you roll citrus fruit around, you’re moving the juice from its inside to its outside,” explains Luis Del Pozo, bar supervisor at Joann’s Fine Foods in Austin, Texas. “This will allow the juices to get expressed more evenly, making it easier to juice. It’s a technique that’s a lot like kneading dough in baking.”
Zapping your fruit in the microwave for a few seconds can also draw its juices away from its core. It will soften the fruit’s peel as well, making it easier to squeeze. If you use this tactic, keep things brief. “If you heat the citrus too long, the juice will taste differently,” Mercer Boarini says. “Fifteen seconds should be all the time you need.”
The Tools of the Trade
You can’t properly juice fruit for cocktails without a juicer. Hand-squeezing may seem like a viable option — particularly if you’re cocktailing for one — but it’s a messy process that won’t maximize the fruit’s juice yield.
The type of juicer you need largely depends on your cocktailing plans. An electric juicer will save you time if you’re frequently whipping up and pre-batching drinks for large parties, but that’s the only time you should consider using one (and even that may be iffy). If you’re just looking to make a drink or two on the daily, a hand-held citrus press for smaller citrus and a reamer for larger citrus is all you need — just make sure they’re not flimsy. “It’s essential that your [manual juicing equipment] is metal,” Del Pozo says. “There are plastic ones on the market, but if you plan on using them all the time, they may start to wear out on you quickly.”
A sharp knife is also important, but not just for slicing your fruit in half. If you’re using a hand-held squeezer to juice a lime or lemon, chop off the pointy end of the fruit. This gives the device a greater surface area to press into, which allows it to express the juice more efficiently. When the juice comes out, be sure to have a jigger or a measuring tool nearby to make sure what you’ve squeezed matches what’s needed for a given recipe. “Juice is the single most important ingredient to measure,” Mercer Boarini says. “If a drink’s recipe calls for a quarter-ounce of juice, going over that threshold will change your drink’s flavor and knock it out of balance.”
Advanced Juicing Fruits
Once you’ve mastered juicing citrus, don’t be afraid to try your hand at juicing other fruits that are more challenging to juice due to size, shape, and texture — like pineapples, watermelons, peaches, or small berries. Fair warning: They’re more time consuming to utilize. However, their juice leads to beloved drinks like Jungle Birds and watermelon Margaritas, so it’s worth the effort.
A high-quality blender makes juicing these fruits easy once you get past their skin and slice out their bright, vibrant flesh. But there is a workaround if you don’t own one and don’t want to shell out money to bring one into your kitchen. “Muddling a pineapple or watermelon will still provide you the fresh juice you want,” Lambert says. “You may have bits of fruit left over, but those can be collected by pouring your drink through a fine strainer, which you can find at any local grocery store for a few bucks.”
Learning to get the most juice from a piece of fruit is a process of trial and error, but nailing down the process over time is its own reward. When you do, you’ll never be tempted by an artificial shortcut again.