Bitterness, sweetness and everything in between… What is it that makes a drink blossom? And how can you ensure you get a great drink rather than just a drink? Douglas Anasagasti, an expert in the field of flavours, has the answers.
How does one generate that unforgettable taste experience? In recent years we’ve been bombarded by TV chefs who have been happy to share their “secrets” with us, and this has spread to the world of drinks. The market is exploding with new brands and flavours in both the alcohol department and the sphere of soft drinks. So what is it that makes a drink truly come alive? As with everything in life, it’s all about balance. A good drink has tension – between the elements, such as sweetness, sourness, bitterness, saltiness, temperature, texture and, of course, the alcohol.
Douglas Anasagasti is a mixologist and an expert in the terrain of taste. He even helps companies position themselves according to their core values through flavours – often in co-operation with renowned master chefs. But mainly he works with Schweppes, where he is involved in the creation of enchanting new flavours, created to make drinks really bloom.
“The word mixologist can sometimes put people off, but we work with flavours and how to adapt them. A bartender is someone who makes the recipe. Someone once said that mixologists care about the drink, while bartenders care about the customer,” he says with a smile.
A mixologist like Anasagasti is obsessed with finding the perfect equilibrium. Often people put too much alcohol in an otherwise-pleasant drink. The importance of balance is essential in creating the perfect taste experience, but one should also remember Dorothy Parker’s words: “I like to have a martini, but two at the very most. After three I’m under the table, after four I’m under my host.”
Temperature is also key – if a drink is allowed to get warm, it can affect the taste. “[For the perfect gin and tonic] it’s important to fill the glass to the top with big ice cubes, double-frozen if possible, so they don’t melt easily. You don’t want any more non-alcoholic liquid in your drink – you already have the tonic. Its high-quality carbonation is also important in bringing out the flavours. It makes drinks last longer.”
The garnish is something that is often given too little attention, but it’s where you’re able to enhance the flavours of the product you’re using. Look on the label to find out what the spirit is made of. If the gin, for instance, has been made with basil, use some basil. Just think of Hendrick’s gin, which is distilled with cucumber – this is where cucumber becomes the perfect garnish. A gin such as Gin Mare, made with thyme and rosemary, gives you two interesting options. Both of them make the drink very different, using the same original product. Also, look at the tonic you’re using and see if there are any flavours you could pick up, such as those found in the Schweppes Premium Mixers series. Or try using a complementary taste, but this is of course a more demanding challenge. Instead of using large slices or chunks of fruit, try using the peel. Often, there is more taste in the peel than in the fruit itself – the taste is what you are after, nothing else. “Take orange peel, for instance,” says Anasagasti. “You get the sweetness but also the light bitterness. And the scent… Remember, 90% of our taste is in our nose. If you close your nostrils, you will not taste anything. Just think of kids holding their noses when eating something they don’t like.” When using a leaf of mint or basil, be careful not to squeeze it too much. If you do, the oil will produce too much bitterness. Just “slap” it a bit, as Anasagasti says – this will give you a hint of that accent you’re after.
“For some years there has been a trend towards a more bitter taste in drinks around Europe,” he says. “Italian bitters and ginger beer, sourness and more herbal experiences – all due to the kind of food we’re eating these days. People are also more demanding – we tend to prefer one good glass of wine rather than three less-interesting ones. And when you have started to appreciate a good glass of wine, your taste actually changes. It’s about complexity from then on, and it’s hard to go back.” There is a drink for every occasion, some say, and you can, of course, make a drink any way you like it. After a few gin and tonics we’re not always so fuzzy. Still, there are some tricks that can turn a drink from being just a drink into a really great one – small but important things that make the flavours come alive.
Together with Schweppes Premium Mixers, Douglas Anasagasti (pictured above) has created four drinks. Cheers.
FLAVOUR: Schweppes Premium Mixer Tonic & Touch of Lime
HONEYED COFFEE TONIC (virgin)
Ingredients: 50ml cold-brew coffee, 15ml honey syrup,
2 dashes chocolate bitters, 150ml Schweppes Premium
Mixer Tonic & Touch of Lime, ice cubes.
Ingredients: 50ml limoncello, lime, 150ml Schweppes
Premium Mixer Tonic & Touch of Lime, ice cubes.
FLAVOUR: Schweppes Premium Mixer Ginger Beer
RUBY RUBY (virgin)
Ingredients: 30ml grapefruit juice, 15ml rhubarb syrup,
150ml Schweppes Premium Mixer Ginger Beer, 8 mint
leaves, ice cubes.
DARK & STORMY
Ingredients: 50ml dark rum, 20ml lime juice, 2 dashes
Angostura bitters, 150ml Schweppes Premium Mixer
Ginger Beer, ice cubes.
FLAVOUR: Schweppes Premium Mixer Hibiscus
LOVE POTION (virgin)
Ingredients: 40ml cranberry juice, 20ml lime juice, 15ml
rose syrup, 150ml Schweppes Premium Mixer Hibiscus,
Ingredients: 50ml white vermouth, 150ml Schweppes
Premium Mixer Hibiscus, 1 slice of orange, 2 basil leaves,
2 slices of lime, ice cubes.