These days, it seems like anything that passes between our lips must not only please the palate, but also meet an exceedingly stiff criteria of dietary responsibility. Our favorite cocktails should be no exception. Sugar has been a staple of mixology for hundreds of years, and at Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans last week, Claire Smith hosted a seminar focusing on both the uplifting effects and damaging consequences of your bartender's sweet little friend.
Scientifically known as sucrose, basic table sugar is a disaccharide mainly comprised of two primary components: fructose and glucose. While these two simple sugars both occur naturally and are indiscernible to our taste buds, there is a stark contrast between their effects on the rest of our body. At one end of the spectrum is glucose, a vital building block of life and the preferred energy source for human metabolism. It is abundant in nature and can even be created by our own cells when needed. Simply stated, it is essential for survival. On the other end is fructose, the enemy. Unusable to the vast majority of our internal organs, fructose can only be processed and expelled by the liver, with any surplus being converted exclusively to body fat. It is used as fuel only by the bacteria in our mouth which damage the gums and teeth, and it weakens the lining of our stomachs, raising sensitivity to things such as gluten. It is directly linked to the onset of Type II Diabetes, and a recent explosion in the number of people diagnosed with gout. Despite these and a myriad of other negative health consequences, fructose is being consumed at an alarming rate, especially during Happy Hour.
Sweet cocktails are popular; there is no getting around that. Many people would much rather enjoy the buzz of alcohol without the burn, and for centuries sugar has been used to complement or outright mask the sting and bitterness of countless concoctions. This inevitable desire for a tasty drink has led many of our most trusted barkeeps to load up their cocktails with what we now realize are hazardous amounts of the sweet stuff. But fear not, a new day is dawning in the world of mixology, and navigating that line between a happy mouth and healthy body is becoming easier than ever.
Artificial sweeteners are everywhere and have been synthesized for over 100 years, but the current trends in sensible sugar consumption originate in the farmhouse, not the chem lab. Fresh, cold-pressed fruit juices are leaps and bounds ahead of any syrupy “juice” concentrate, and today's finest craft bartenders are leading the charge to mixing with Nature's pantry. On top of the indisputable health benefits, such as consuming its fibrous pulp, raw fruit juice is also bursting with flavor and can turn even the simplest of cocktails into an eye-opening experience. It does still contain a significant amount of naturally occurring sugar however, and in order to omit that completely, one man is looking back even further, to the ancient art of tinctures.
According to bartender extraordinaire, Ben Carlotto, tinctures are an ideal solution to flavoring cocktails without worrying about the quantity and quality of added sugar. The process is a simple one, merely steeping various herbs, roots and flowers in different concentrations of alcohol and allowing their characteristics to infuse the liquid. Using this technique, Mr. Carlotto has created a veritable home library of flavor. With row after row of small jars and bottles at his disposal, the possible combinations of tincture and spirit seem endless, creating a system to satisfy any palate while leaving sugar off the table.
An experienced bartender, Ian has appeared in the Where Y'at Best Bartenders of New Orleans Guide on 3 separate occasions. Now testing the waters of freelance writing as a contributor for MicroShiner, he doesn't have a twitter handle, but feel free to find him on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/ian.