I had a friend who absolutely loved lemon drops. The shots, not the martinis. I’d be at her house for a casual get-together or a full-blown party playing bartender, and the inevitable request would come my way. “Can you make some lemon drops?” Of course I can. One of the first times she asked me I began searching the kitchen for a juicer, only to learn that she didn’t have one. Wait, what?? So there I was squeezing a huge bag of lemons by hand so that I could make lemon drops for 20 people. And, of course, 1 lemon drop shot is never enough… The next day I promptly went on Amazon and ordered juicers to be delivered to her house. No good home beverage program should be without them!
When it comes to juicers, there are many different choices. Pictured above are a few examples of the one we’re probably all most familiar with: just your average tabletop juicer. There are a seemingly infinite number of varieties of this type in different sizes and materials, from ceramic, to plastic, to stainless steel. These will do an adequate job of extracting juice, but there is one drawback to take into consideration. When a cocktail recipe calls for citrus juice there are really two components to it: the first is the juice itself, and the second is the oils that come from the skin of the fruit. With this type of juicer none of those oils make it into the drink, and that’s unfortunate because they really are necessary.
The type of juicer that you see above is affectionately known as a Mexican Elbow. No one seems to really know why. It’s the one I use most often at home, and the one I sent to my lemon-drop-loving friend. It comes in different sizes to accommodate different fruits, and is also made in pretty much the same materials as the tabletop juicers above. The lime and lemon juicers are solid plastic and the orange is ceramic coated metal. There are also stainless steel options available; Cocktail Kingdom‘s are among the best you can buy in this material. When using the Mexican Elbow you place the cut side of the citrus fruit against the slots or holes, and then the other side of the juicer presses against the rind side as you squeeze, essentially turning the fruit inside out. Because there’s contact with the skin, the citrus oils do find their way into the juice, and that’s a very good thing.
Mexican Elbows do a great job of juicing fruit fairly quickly, but if you’re making lots of cocktails all that squeezing can become tiring and time-consuming. A motorized citrus press is the way to go if you find that you’re making cocktails in batch, or if you want to juice a lot of citrus for making individual drinks for a party. It works in much the same way as the tabletop version, except that there’s no twisting, and it’s much faster and easier, of course. Because you’re pressing against the rind as you push the handle down, you are once again extracting the oils into the juice. There is also a manual citrus press that is not quite as quick as the electric one, but it is certainly less expensive than the motorized option, and definitely less tiring than the Mexican Elbow style. There are many motorized presses to choose from in a wide range of prices. Some comparative shopping on Amazon will give you a good idea of what’s available. Mine is made by Breville and I’m very happy with it.
To illustrate the importance of juicing, I decided to go with a smash cocktail today since they typically feature some type of citrus juice as a main component. This particular drink is a Bourbon Smash from a blog called Just A Little Bit of Bacon that I modified slightly. I made this cocktail last spring for the first time and since then it’s become quite the favorite at my house. It’s very easy to make in batch, but remember to cut the amount of citrus by 1/4 or it will end up overwhelming the drink. It’s outstanding with blood oranges or Cara Cara, but if they’re not available then regular oranges will work too. We’re muddling again here and it’s basil, so be very gentle. The club soda is optional. You’ll find it to be smoother without it, and lighter and bubbly with it. Your call!
Bourbon Smash (adapted from Just A Little Bit of Bacon)
2 basil leaves
1½ oz bourbon (I used Rebel Yell)*
1½ oz blood orange juice (or Cara Cara, or regular)
½ oz real maple syrup
1 dash Angostura bitters
Lime and orange wheels for garnishing, 1 lime wedge to squeeze into the drink
2 oz club soda, optional
In a cocktail shaker, muddle the basil leaves very gently with the maple syrup. Add the bourbon, blood orange juice, and bitters. Add your ice and shake well. Double strain and pour over ice. Squeeze a lime wedge into the glass and then add the orange and lime wheels as a garnish. Top with soda water if desired. Enjoy!
*Rebel Yell also makes a Whiskey Ginger bourbon that I would love to try in this recipe!