The most common confusion I encounter when I talk cordials is that people think I am making a liqueur. The word “cordial” can mean several things, one of which is a liqueur, and another which basically means syrup. The syrup one is the focus of this article.
CORDIALS AND SYRUPS
Generally, I use the term “cordial” when the syrup is fruit/citrus juice based, (e.g. Lime Cordial) When it is an infused sugar and water base with little to no acidity, I generally use the term “syrup” (e.g. Ginger or Rosemary Syrup). But I often call the pineapple cordial a pineapple syrup. I have the same issue when talking about orgeat, horchata, and non-dairy creams.
PURPOSES AND BENEFITS
The primary purposes and benefits are providing the bartender and consumer with delicious, natural, quick and concentrated flavor vehicles for drinks and cocktails of all kinds. When you want lemon, you’ve got lemon. Appel’s Lemon Cordial is like liquid lemon oleosaccharum. It gives you the lemon aromas, flavor, sugar and acid that juice alone doesn’t. The same thing holds for Lime, Grapefruit and others.
Cordials aren’t meant to be a replacement for fresh juices, but, rather, compliment a fresh juice program and provide a ready made, non perishable workhorse ingredient that can be used in classic or improvised drinks on the fly behind a busy bar or at home.
Highballs made with club soda and spirit are perfect for cordials where a fresh juice may fall flat. It also gives the bartender/consumer the freedom to control the sweetness or intensity that you can’t expect from a packaged flavored soda The riffs are endless and easy once you realize their utility.
Another benefit is their long shelf life. High acid, high sugar, low water cordials are naturally resistant to spoilage (how sugar acts as a preservative) and thus you are able to make them far ahead of time for use when you need them. The original idea behind making these cordials was based on research my father, Gary, and I did on the preserved lime cordial that was used by the British Navy to stave off scurvy (Preserved Lime Juice Cordial and the Gimlet). Minus the sulfites used in Rose’s Lime Cordial, this is a natural means of preserving juices for future use and keeping waste to a minimum.
One more benefit is that they add concentrated flavor, aroma, sugar and acidity with no extra added water. This means you wont over dilute your cocktail and work perfectly in drinks that are naturally diluted (sodas and blender/frozen drinks).
They pack a lot of flavor in a small amount. They expand in your glass with the ice and spirits/soda diluting the cordial and the cordial modifying the spirits or soda. This concentrated, low water syrup also means they really shine when used in frozen drinks. They stand up beautifully to the ice required for blender drinks without watering them down, making the frozen drink that a straw stands up in. Non-alcoholic, frozen Lemon Slushies in the summer are outstanding… just add some gin or rum to make them into perfect boating drinks.
The Gin Gimlet
To make a perfect lime cordial based Gin Gimlet all you need is 2oz London Dry Gin and .5oz of homemade lime cordial, stirred or shaken, strained up or served on the rocks. This is an Americanized version and there are many valid versions of the Gimlet. But this is my favorite recipe in that it squarely emphasizes the gin with the lime cordial playing the only supporting role. They work beautifully together in this fashion.
This is a 4-1 ratio, but the lime packs a punch and really expands. The ice expands both the spirits and lime, and the spirits expand the lime. Easy and real. Perfectly balanced. Delicious.
The differences between a standard Gimlet made with fresh lime juice and simple syrup and one made with lime cordial are subtle and several.
In a fresh lime Gimlet the simple syrup, combined with lime juice, leaves a bigger liquid footprint in your drink. Even in small amounts like 1/2 oz lime and 1/2 oz simple, you now have a combined ingredient that is half your Gimlet. This changes the texture of the drink to one that can be refreshing and delicious, but one that I believe is more often imbalanced because of the lack of bartender attention to the simple syrup/lime juice ratio (Sugar Syrup In Cocktails) and by it taking up a larger portion of your drink. You could add more gin, but this then begins to get a a little unwieldy for most people. With a 2 oz gin pour, this often leads to the gin being overwhelmed by the mixers with the mixers too often starting out imbalanced in the first place. If you are using 1 oz of lime juice in a drink that only has 2 oz of spirit, with the addition of sugar to balance that much lime juice, in my opinion, your drink will be a mess. But balanced with a small amount of lime juice and rich simple (1/2 oz each), it is still a great drink. More like a gin daiquiri than what I think of as a gimlet, but delicious and refreshing.
Plain juice also doesn’t impart the natural lime oils derived from the lime zest that lime cordial does. One way around this and the use of juice/simple syrup in Gimlets is by pre-making fresh lime sour.
1 Part Fresh Lime Juice, Zest of Lime, 1 Part Cane Sugar
Mix until dissolved. This technique compacts your lime/sugar flavor vehicle while bypassing any added water. It also allows you to pour or jigger only the sour you need, rather than add juice and simple syrup in separate actions. It’s pre-balanced and ready to mix. If you want 3/4oz of mixer to the 2 oz of gin and do it separately, you need a minsicule .375oz each of simple and juice and this gets ludicrous to hand measure/jigger.
GIMLET (LIME CORDIAL)
2 oz London Dry Gin
1/2 oz Lime Cordial
GIMLET (FRESH LIME/SIMPLE)
2 oz London Dry Gin
1/2 oz Fresh Lime Juice
1/2 oz Rich Simple Syrup (2-1)
GIMLET (FRESH LIME SOUR)
2 oz London Dry Gin
1/2-3/4 oz Fresh Lime Sour
ACID WATER SUGAR pH HEAT
Two Types of Cordial
Making lemon or lime cordial is straightforward since the acidity is more than able to balance the sugar needed. But when using sweeter fruit (e.g. grapefruit, pineapple, etc) as the base, we encounter a problem.
Sweeter citrus requires more acidity to balance the sugar needed for the preserving and the textural qualities of a good cordial. Using citric acid would be an easier and much cheaper way to increase the acidity, but I prefer an all juice base for my cordials. My preferred choice, then, is fresh lemon juice. Plain fresh lemon juice acts as a natural and neutral base acid mix for these kinds of cordials that are too sweet to accept the required amount of sugar.
Most of these cordials are slowly heated to a temperature of 180F. In my earlier trials making lime cordial I over heated the syrup by bringing it to a simmer and that had a detrimental effect on the flavor, aroma and color that I was looking for. Easing the cordial into this below-simmer level of heat is necessary for several reasons; concentrating the juice/sugar mixture into a syrup over time with some evaporation, keeping the colors and flavors vibrant without browning (maillard effect and caramelization) , aiding in anti-microbial effects by thermal process, aiding in creating the viscous texture desired by activating the natural pectin in the juices and dissolving the sugar with minimal inversion. The heat, sugar, acidity and low water content all add up to a very spoil resistant syrup.
Inversion of sugar, in this case, is the breakdown of sucrose into glucose and fructose when it is mixed and heated in the acidic fruit juices used to make cordial. I prefer the clean mouth feel of sucrose over fructose, so I don’t want this to become honeylike. The use of fructose in the American soda market is one reason that Mexican Coca Cola has become so popular in the U.S. The data on taste differences is mostly anecdotal and the corn syrup industry denies any taste difference between sucrose and high fructose corn syrup, but I can easily tell and so can most other people. (Huffpost Taste Test) Fructose gives honey and agave nectar that palate coating effect (honey is up to 40% fructose and agave nectar can be up to 90% fructose!). It’s great in hot remedy drinks for sore throats, but that coating effect leaves a cloying, lingering and overly sweet taste that, I think, makes it unpalatable in most drinks that aren’t medicinal in purpose.
Any health issues surrounding sugars are beyond my expertise or the scope and point of this discussion, but my philosophy is that balance is not only a necessity in food and cocktails but also for body and soul.
No extra water is ever added to any cordial, except in the those where cranberries are used. Cranberries are high in acidity and pectin and need a little added water to bring out the juice and offset the thickening effects of the pectin. But, for the most part, the only liquid used in cordials are the base juice or the base juice and modifier (lemon juice). This keeps the percentages of acid and sugar at the level you want flavor-wise and also preservation-wise.
Evaporation is also a desired effect for further concentration. The slow heating means more time evaporating.
All of these things (time, real juice, heat, evaporation, etc.) add to the overall cost but also add to the quality and taste of your crafted cordials.
Note: the pectins, along with other super fine particulate matter that isn’t strained from the juices, will add a naturally colored opaqueness to your cordial that I actually find pleasing, not off putting. The cordials could be clarified and juice extraction increased by using a pectin enzyme, pectinase, that is used in brewing and wine making, or by using a centrifuge, or egg whites etc.., but, again, I prefer to be minimal and natural in these recipes so I do not use anything but fine, double straining.
I am not opposed to any of these techniques or additives, as long as they do not compromise the taste or texture of the final product.
Acidity and pH Level
The pH level of most of these cordials is generally just above 2, which means they are high acid syrups. Combined with the high percentage of sugar added to the juices/fruit, this makes a very difficult environment for bacteria to live in, let alone thrive in. Any problems would occur if these were lower and this is one reason why lemon juice is added to the sweeter juices so as to increase the sugar level while keeping the acidity levels high. The other reason is for balance, flavor and texture.
6 thoughts on “DEFINING CORDIALS”
You do write well. Think of putting this on Wikepedia for cordial entry. Very compressive. Proud of you. Love Dad
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Where’s your book? Spent hours going through this blog tonight. Awesome stuff. Have you tried doing the cordials in a sous vide? I figure if I just vacuum pack the ingredients and drop them in the sous vide it would be quicker and more accurate on temp.
Part of the process for me is the slowness of heating the cordial and some evaporation. Thanks, Scrushy! I have a few new things I am putting up soon.
How long does homemade cordial last?
Sorry for the delayed response.
The citrus based cordials all last indefinitely in the refrigerator.
They are all high acid, high sugar, low water, and heated.