I still remember the first time I saw a bartender flame an orange peel over my drink. I thought it was magic. At the time, I didn’t realize that the fire helped release the oils. As I’ve gotten more into home bartending, I have been trying out and reading up on new techniques. I came across one of my favorite cocktail photographer’s tutorial on expressing citrus peels. I wanted to try capturing the “zest shot” trick on camera. While I am not a professional photographer, my friend Brandon is. We worked on some fun shots, as I created some delicious citrus cocktails. Since winter can get dark and gloomy, I have included a range of citrus options for all tastes. I also picked up some sexy, clear ice from Fountain City Ice. The ice really enhances the look of the drinks.
I have always gravitated towards drinks with citrus in them. The way the sweet and sour flavors work with spirits is another kind of magic. Not to mention the health benefits of citrus fruits. Even people who prefer something more subtle than something like a margarita, likely enjoy flavors of citrus in their drinks. Maybe it’s the expression of an orange peel over an Old Fashioned. Or a dash of Angostura bitters in a Manhattan. Whatever your taste preference, I think these four citrus cocktails will have you covered.
Pompelmo Sour (featuring grapefruit oleo saccharum)
How to Make Oleo Saccharum
As I said, I’ve been experimenting a lot in my home bar. One quick and easy technique I’ve really grown to love is to make an oleo saccharum. While it sounds fancy, and is a little hard to pronounce, it’s very easy to make. Before juicing your citrus fruits, peel them into a jar that seals. Then add a cup of sugar and muddle to fully release the oils. Leave at room temperature for 24 hours and you should see a liquid forming. That liquid is the oleo saccharum. You can strain the fruit from the liquid. It will be quite sweet, so you don’t need to use much to bring big flavors to your citrus cocktails. Some recipes suggest diluting the oleo saccharum with water, but I don’t see the point of that. You can make oleo saccharum from any citrus peels, as well as pineapple rind or banana peels.
For this cocktail, I chose a Spanish gin that I have become quite fond of over the past few months. Not only is the bottle gorgeous, but Gin Mare is also a bit salty. (You may recognize the bottle from my Gift Guide.) It really compliments the flavors from the oleo saccharum, the bitters, and the lemon juice. Plus, an egg white cocktail is always a treat. If you prefer a vegan option, you can read more about aquafaba in this post. To balance the flavors, I used a little bit of an amaro called Cocchi Americano. It’s an aperitif wine from Italy. I think you’ll find this drink very pleasant to sip.
- 1.5 oz gin (I suggest Gin Mare)
- 0.75 oz lemon juice
- 0.5 oz Cocchi Americano
- 0.25 oz grapefruit oleo saccharum
- 2 dashes Angostura bitters
- 1 egg white
- Add all ingredients to a shaker. Dry shake for 20 seconds, being mindful of the pressure building up in the tin.
- Add ice to the tin and shake for another 20 seconds.
- Double strain into a Nick & Nora glass and garnish with an orange peel twist.
Latin Trifecta (featuring flamed orange peel)
While working on citrus cocktail recipes for this post, I found a recipe by Jamie Boudreau from canon in Seattle. Since Santa brought me a bottle of Cynar for Christmas, I was ready to make this drink. Plus, I really wanted the chance to catch a citrus peel flame on camera. Even if that meant too many tries and slightly burned fingers. Worth it! Best of all, this drink is a real banger and was a favorite among my taste testers. The cocktail also celebrates spirits from Spain, Italy, and Mexico, which I love. In addition to the Cynar, I used Tequila Ocho Plata and La Gitana Manzanilla sherry. It looks gorgeous over the “Truman” clear ice spheres from Fountain City Ice.
- 1 oz tequila
- 1 oz Cynar
- 0.5 oz dry sherry
- 3 dashes orange bitters
- 1 orange peel (for flaming garnish)
- Add all ingredients to a mixing glass with ice, except orange peel.
- Stir until well diluted and chilled.
- Strain into a coupe glass with a large ice cube.
- Using a match and a thick orange peel round, point the shiny peel side towards your drink. Light the match, get the peel in a comfortable position to squeeze over your drink. Warm the peel slightly, while being careful not to burn yourself, and squeeze towards the flame when ready. Be sure to tie back long hair before lighting, etc. Safety first!
Lavender Vodka Gimlet (featuring citrus juice)
Hands down, my favorite citrus cocktail is a gimlet. Gimlets can be made with gin or vodka. For the sake of mixing things up for this post, I made a vodka version. I don’t use vodka very often but I really like the Lost Trail Rye Vodka from Westslope Distillery. Since I like to mix things up, I have honed this lavender version over the years. I like using a locally grown culinary lavender from Shelti Farms. Finally, while lavender is purple, it doesn’t really boost the color of the drink that much. I wanted a brighter and slightly floral balance to the drink, so I muddled in a few pea flower blossoms. The color is quite stunning.
- 0.5 tsp dried culinary lavender
- 1 Tbs agave
- 1 oz lime juice
- 2 oz vodka
- 3 dried pea flower blossoms (for color)
- Add lavender and pea flower blossoms to a mixing tin and crush with muddler.
- Add vodka to the lavender and blossoms in the shaker and let sit for 5 minutes to infuse and color the vodka slightly.
- Add the agave, lime juice, and ice to the shaker. Shake for 20 seconds.
- Double strain into a Nick & Nora or coupe glass. Garnish with a lime wheel.
Mojito (featuring finger lime “caviar”)
Last, but certainly not least, I bring you a mojito. The twist here is the use of finger limes. My husband bought me some finger limes for Christmas from Shanley Farms. They are slightly more sour than a regular lime and the texture of the fruit is like caviar. You can see the insides in the photo above. This drink is simple and delicious. Topped with Topo Chico, the “Grand” Ice Cubes from Fountain City Ice just disappear. Sipping on this, I almost feel like I’m back in Cuba.
Mojito with Finger Limes
- 2 finger limes
- 2 oz unaged rum
- 0.5 oz simple syrup
- 8 mint leaves
- 4 oz Topo Chico (or other sparkling mineral water)
- Cut the finger limes in half and squeeze the lime caviar into a collins glass. Add mint leaves and muddle together.
- Add rum and simple syrup and stir. Add ice and Topo Chico to the mix in the glass and stir.
- Garnish with a sprig of mint and enjoy!
I hope one of these citrus cocktails turns out to be something you love. If you close your eyes as you sip, you could be walking through a tropical citrus grove. If you need more ideas, I have you covered. Try a spicy umami riff on a margarita or something featuring Batavia Arrack. Cheers!