Making Cordials

One thing I’ve been thinking about, now that I own my own bar, is waste. You don’t really pay much attention to it when you’re a customer or even a bartender. But when you own the bar and look at the spreadsheet full of expenses, you notice the amount of things like citrus that go down the drain every week.

In our case especially, since it’s our first year doing event bartending, it can be rather feast or famine. One event might use half a case of limes and we might have nothing for a few weeks. Buying a case of limes is cheaper than buying even half a case would be if we got small quantities, and we get higher quality limes that way. In fact I can get about 230 limes at Restaurant Depot for the same price I could get 120 for at Sam’s Club, and the Restaurant Depot ones are juicier. So if I have an event that’s going to use 100 limes, it makes more sense to buy the case but I still have 130 left at the end. They’ve got a pretty short shelf life though, so if I don’t have two weekends in a row I’m going to lose some.

One obvious solution to this is cordial, and it’s what we’ve started doing. Whenever we have a bunch of citrus laying around, we juice it up and make cordial. Cordial is shelf-stable (I pasteurize it en sous vide) so it doesn’t take up precious fridge space.

Cordial is also delicious. Rose’s Lime Cordial is a garbage product and has been giving the entire category a bad name for decades. But a fresh, homemade cordial is incredible.

Here’s my general process for making it:

Take a bunch of citrus. Zest a third of it with a Y-Peeler.

Juice it all.

Bring it to a boil and then simmer it, with the peels, for  a half hour.

Strain through a chinois or fine mesh strainer

Using a refractometer, add sugar to get it to 25%. (I add sugar to about 20% at the start, then add the rest after the boil so that I don’t go over after evaporation.)

Note: If you’re doing this professionally, or are an enthusiastic amateur with a little bit of a budget get a digital refractometer because it saves time and you’re often going to be above the 30% limit optical ones have, but if you’re just doing sorbets and cordials get a $30 one. If you don’t have a refractometer and don’t want one, you can just Google the average sugar content for the fruit you’re using and do a little math. Your cordial won’t be exact because there’s a surprising variation from one fruit to the next, but it’ll still be delicious!

I like 25% sugar for my cordials for a few reasons. First, it’s exactly half as sweet as my simple syrup, which makes it really easy to balance. Want to make a whiskey sour with it? If I’d normally do:

2 parts whiskey

1 part lemon

1 part simple

Instead I can just do:

2 parts whiskey

2 parts cordial

Since the cordial is half as sweet, but I use twice as much of it, it’s the same balance.

Or I can get experimental and do:

2 parts whiskey

1 part lemon

1 part cordial

1/2 part simple syrup

That’s slightly less sweet than the original, because it has a little higher volume but the same amount of sugar. But it’s really close.

Second, it lets me get more flavor into the drink if I so choose. Most commercial cordials are more like 65% sugar for shelf-stability reasons. So you can’t use much of them without making the drink cloying. I can do a drink that’s 50% cordial if I want and still have only ab out the sweetness I’d have with a standard sour.

I can always dial the flavor down if it’s too much just by cutting some in favor of simple. In practice this almost never happens.

Cordial is, of course, not the same as fresh citrus. It’s not better or worse, but it is different. The cordial whiskey sour I wrote above won’t by any means be the same as the one with lemon and simple. But it will be fantastic.

My recommendation is that bar owners simply have their bartenders save fruit from their shifts. Have them strip the peels off of the citrus before they juice it one or two days a week and toss them in a deli container. Then once a week take all of that and make the cordial. It’s a little bit of work but not much, and you get a great product you can use in cocktails. It also allows you to over juice on a nightly basis, ensuring you never run out of the fresh stuff but still lose nothing down the drain.

Also having a stockpile of cordial might insulate you a bit from ridiculous price swings with citrus. If we ever have another severe shortage, you can simply change your menu to items leaning toward cordial.

For long-term storage, I don’t think my sous vide pasteurization method will work. I suspect a combo of that and refrigeration will buy you quite a bit of time, but if you need to save it for 6 months plus, you might want to look into preservatives and/or freezing.




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s