The idea itself of mixing drinks to get a better one is what makes cocktails such a great discovery. Enhancing the taste of every ingredient is the basic tenet of cocktails. The taste is the main interest of the one creating it. But the presentation of the cocktail is what entices people at first and compels them to try it. Nobody wants to drink something that has a strange brown or battle-grey colour. Layered cocktails are the best way to make any cocktail look truly awesome and are also the perfect way to show off in front of friends and guests. But to prepare layered cocktails without having any knowledge on how to do it can lead to taste disasters and waste of time. The sequence of ingredients and the technique of pouring them in the glass is a mystery worth exploring.
Creation of layered cocktails is in fact a very ancient technique. Very popular at the end of the 1800s and the beginning of the 1900s, especially in Europe, bartenders created the layered cocktails calling them “pousse-café” or “push-coffee”. Served at the end of a long meal, they were meant to help the process of digestion. These cocktails had almost disappeared, to reappear in a new form from the 70s and 80s following the new trend of the shooters. From that was created the most famous of them all – the B52.
The essentials to create beautiful layered cocktails come from the basics of physics. Just a strict application of Newton’s law of physics and you can turn into a great bartender making amazing colourful layered cocktails. So the rule is simple, every layer is made of a different ingredient from the heaviest at the bottom to the lightest on the top. The tricky part is when you have to pour each ingredient without disturbing the former layer. Obviously, the first layer is the easiest, though it should be poured in the center of the glass to ensure the sides of the glass aren’t tainted. First come the syrups and other heavy ingredients, mostly rich in sugar. Not that it will be of any help, but just for information, most syrups have a density of 1.18 (1 being the density of water). Then come the “crèmes”. This French word describes the alcoholic syrup. The very famous “crème de cassis” used in many wine based cocktails has a density of around 1.14. Crèmes and liquors may not differ much in density; it’s absolutely necessary to check the density of each ingredient before challenging yourself with the preparation of a layered cocktail. After those layers, water can be added either plain (giving the impression that the upper layers are suspended) or coloured. Finally, ingredients such as whisky, rum and other strong alcohol can be added.
But to know the density of the ingredients is not enough. Each of them should be poured slowly ensuring that the layers are not mixed up resulting in murky colours. The best way is to pour them delicately using the back of a spoon slightly touching the bottom layer and the side of the glass. By sliding on the curve of the spoon slowly, there is a better chance that you do not disturb the previous layers. One tip that may help – both, ingredients and glass should be cold, it helps the density to remain the same throughout the process.
Finally here is a recipe of an advanced layered cocktail called the Nuclear Rainbow. In a champagne flute add in this order and with the technique explained above: ½ ounce grenadine, ½ ounce amaretto, ½ ounce Jagermeister, ½ ounce Midori, ½ ounce Rumplemintz, ½ ounce whiskey, ½ ounce high proof rum. Delicious for the eyes and for the palate !