Is fresher better? Ok, always, though?
Relax. Before I continue, you need not worry about this blog ending in advocacy of sweet & sour mix. We can all breathe easy.
That said, take the following example - fresh lemonade. Ideally, in preparation, we’d like to see that juice coming out of a lemon, not a bottle. Let’s see the bartender dissolve the sugar into the juice, rather than using syrup. And let’s see them taste it to ensure balance - you’d do it for a daiquiri, after all.
But wait. The bartender has instead picked up just one bottle and free-poured it into an ice-filled glass whilst topping with soda. Part of me is annoyed that I just paid non-alc cocktail prices for a few seconds’ work, but I try the drink and it is glorious. What happened?
Let’s go back to that lemon, sugar and soda. What's say we mix this up a bit? Let’s take the lemons and peel them, bash the peels and coat them with the sugar. Leave this for a few hours and the moisture gradient has extracted the oils and formed a syrup - the fabled oleo saccharum. We then combine this with the juice of the lemons and a seriously tasty lemon cordial is the result.
Should we top this up with soda, we’re back at that lemonade, but with all the aromatic oils from the lemon in there. Don’t underestimate their importance; with the revival of speakeasy-style, a lot of bars use these oils as much as the juice - go ahead and try a sazerac without that twist.
Herein lies the debate of freshness. The nature of extracting oleo saccharum and premixing with the juice (though this can be done at the point of service, it is an added hassle) means that the juice is never of optimal freshness. Certainly, as far as customer perception goes, we’ve lost something here.
But, though we are constantly chided for it, consider that it is a good bartender’s duty to know more than the customer. To take this mantra to the despairing depths of snobbery is one thing, but to use it towards education, resulting in a net benefit to the customer (and often, as a result, the business), is to be lauded.
No, that juice is not perfectly fresh anymore. But remember that the preservative effects of sugar and, particularly, citrus oil keep that juice fresh for longer - your chosen deity put the two together for a reason, it seems. Perfectionists work off the premise that citrus, when separated from oils and membranes, oxidises within 10 minutes anyhow.
So, which is better? Something visibly fresh to the customer, or a drink with added complexity and quicker service, but with the potential to be less satisfying to the customer in their observation of its creation? Consider an example:
Say you own a bar that only serves sours. At the end of each shift, you and the team prepare oleo saccharum for a cordial tomorrow. Your speed of service the next night is through the roof, while your costs are the same, and your drinks are better. Frankly, they’re astounding. Maybe you could even charge more for them?
So... freshness? I’m sorry, Imbibe - I lied to you. Sweet & sour mix isn’t so bad, in principle.