Acid. No, I’m not talking about the late 1990’s dance music craze that started in a little club in London and spread around the world. I’m talking about the vital component of every balanced cocktail. The ever present battle between sweet and sour.
In this part of the world, the natural go-to food and drink taste is on the sweet side to say the least. The refreshing street drink called nuoc mia is essentially pure sugarcane juice with ice.
Sweet things make the medicine go down better, and long before Mary Poppins was popping sugar coated pills down the throats of the children in her care, bartenders had developed an understanding of the customers in their care.
What’s happening in the bar these days however, is that we are borrowing from the kitchen, not just in technique, but in the ingredients used in making cocktails. So, with that in mind, it’s vitally important to achieve balanced drinks. Nowadays we on the bar learn how to use herbs and spices in cocktails, combining these tastes and flavors to perfection.
In the same way as taste has opposite sensations, these sensations are then broken down into flavors, and eventually ingredients in cocktail recipes that work well together by complimenting each other.
What is taste? Taste is considered one of the five senses that we as humans all possess, though there is no judge for good or bad taste, everyone is different. Along with sight, hearing, smell and touch, we are constantly monitoring situations, people, environments and the food and drink we consume. The foundation for all these senses working together is to ensure that we will survive.
Back in the Paleolithic times early humans relied on their sense of taste to guide them to what to eat. Sweet generally meant safe. Sour and bitter would mean not safe. That said, Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble would guzzle pints of sweet honeyed beer at the bedrock bar before going home to the sour wives putting the dinner in the bin.
For a long time, probably around the last 2000 years or so, it was commonly accepted that there is a finite and small number of basic tastes of which the seemingly complex tastes are ultimately composed. In the same way as in art, there are the primary colors which go to make up the secondary’s and so on. The four basics tastes are Sweet, Sour, Bitter and Salty. We touched on Sour and Sweet already.
Salt is naturally present in seafood due to the proximity to the sea. Salt is a flavor enhancer and helps to quench thirst. While not all cocktails need salt, however cocktails with added salt do have a heightened flavor because of this.
Bitter is an acquired taste. Probably the least popular taste for good reason. Most plants in nature are poisonous. There are a few exceptions, such as coffee and dark chocolate, hops and bitter melon.
Shri Restaurant and Lounge manager Richie Fawcett is an artist who sits on Asia’s 50 best bars voting panel.