While on vacation recently, I popped into the hotel bar for a drink. This particular establishment had recently achieved some acclaim thanks to the efforts of its young head barman. He'd brought new energy to the place by mixing craft cocktails with fresh juices. I sat down and inspected the menu. One such cocktail caught my eye: Satan's Whiskers (gin, orange juice, orange liqueur, sweet and dry vermouths). I'd never personally seen the drink's appeal, but I hoped this bartender might be able to breathe new life into it. So I ordered one.
Sadly, Satan disappointed me yet again. I don't blame the Devil or the bartender, however. In fact, I found the drink helpful. It opened my eyes to a fatal flaw in Satan's Whiskers and a few other cocktails as well: orange juice.
One would assume, in this day of freshly squeezed everything, that bartenders would constantly reach for oranges. Yet OJ has many strikes against it. First and foremost, it can be a pain to make because many citrus juicers are designed for smaller fruits like lemons and limes. Second, after it's squeezed, it turns bitter too quickly to be viable in high-volume cocktail operations. Worst of all, it doesn't bring much in the way of flavor.
Most classic cocktails call for a balance between sour, sweet and strong, which is the base alcohol in the drink. Think of a Margarita: the sour is the lime, the sweet is the triple sec and sugar and the strong is the tequila. The problem with orange is that it's already balanced between sweet and sour, so it needs to be combined with additional sweet-and-sour ingredients to keep the drink from being thrown off balance.
I suspect that's why there are so few classic cocktails that call for orange juice—especially versus, say, lemon or lime. Seriously, try to think of all the drinks that call for orange as the only mixer. Off the top of my head, I can count only the Screwdriver (yawn) and the Mimosa (double yawn). And when I thought a little harder about it, I could only come up with the Blood and Sand, an overly sweetened mess of Scotch whisky, sweet vermouth, sugary Cherry Heering and orange juice, and the Bronx Cocktail, which is nothing more than a Perfect Martini (gin with both sweet and dry vermouth) with a splash of orange juice.
Your best bet if you must involve orange juice with alcohol? Instead of using it as a mixer, employ it as an additive to sours. In one of my favorites, the Ward Eight, a touch of orange juice depth to the citrus profile and pairs wonderfully with the caramel flavors found in the whiskey and pomegranate in the grenadine.
So there's a reason to embrace the orange after all. Just don't squeeze too hard.
2 oz. Knob Creek rye whiskey
½ oz. lemon juice
½ oz. real pomegranate grenadine (Here's how you can make your own)
½ oz. freshly squeezed orange juice
Combine ingredients and shake with ice until well chilled. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and serve.
Photos by David L. Reamer