The Azorean martini is a specialty drink that combines a staunch blend of passion-fruit liqueur and vodka, famously served as the signature drink at the Azorean Bar & Grille in Gloucester, MA. However, recently the cocktail has been removed from the menu, along with all other mixed drinks that call for ice, after a recent water contamination problem forced the Azorean to close limit their services for the fifth straight day.
Aside from spirits used to make such concoctions, ice is one of the make-or-break staples included with most mixed drinks. However, when water and ice become targets for concern over contaminates, a great cocktail can easily be destroyed… or worse yet, removed from menus, as was the case with the Azorean. Although the Azorean Bar and Grill had no way of controlling what would happen to a city-wide water supply, this story nonetheless calls into question ways that ingredients and tools used to make mixed drinks can be easily contaminated by things that render them unservable.
For instance, something so simple as not taking time to properly clean a bar glass can lead to contamination, as well as not thoroughly cleansing instruments used to make beverages, as is the case with home brewing beer. According to Michael Lewis, author of the book Brewing, says there three unforgettable elements in the process of brewing beer, which are “sanitation, sanitation, sanitation.” Brewmaster Fred Eckhardt suggests cleansing everything with a chlorine solution and allowing it to drip-dry, while many home brewers opt for iodine solutions, in which they bath many of their utensils (and especially the bottles they use). This rigorous process of sterilization prevents bacteria from remaining present in the finished brew, which can (an almost inevitably will) “skunk” the entire batch, diminishing flavor and overall quality by several orders of magnitude.
Similarly, fruits and vegetables used in a variety of cocktails should be washed thoroughly before use in a cocktail, both for reasons involving pesticides, as well as general sanitation. After all, many classic cocktails call for wedges of citrus fruits that contain the outer peel, or sometimes only the peel itself. This outer casing of the fruit is what actually receives the brunt of the external dangers the fruit may encounter, so washing thoroughly is always a good practice before slicing up garnishes and ingredients.
A variety of other factors might lead to unhealthy agents infiltrating a fine cocktail. Surprisingly, one such item that can contaminate a drink perhaps easiest of all is the water you use; not only to wash other ingredients, but sometimes used in the beverage itself. Contrary to popular conception, alcohol doesn’t sterilize any water that may be used in a completed cocktail, therefore it can’t be assumed that carelessness in making mixed drinks is permissible. A variety of ideas for eliminating contaminated water exist, including everything from fancy machined apparatus to fungi used to help break down any nasty additives. However, perhaps the simplest method of preventing water from contaminating the flavor of your cocktails is to purchase quality bottled water along with the club soda, tonic, ginger-ales and other bottled ingredients you buy for preparation of mixed drinks. Fiji is an exceptional brand, using Artesian well water that is forced to the surface from underground by natural pressure, and as famously stated on the container, “bottled before it ever hits air.” Though this will greatly improve the flavor of beverages calling for water by eliminating additives like Florine, minerals, and other things often present in city or tap water, washing ingredients like fruits and veggies in expensive bottled water might be a bit excessive. In this case, just be sure and dry your ingredients thoroughly before using them in your cocktails.
Of course, as in the case of the Azorean Grill, contaminated water led to contaminated ice, hence rendering their functioning bar almost non-functional. The health and food services industry always tries to keep an eye on such things for general safety and overall health, but looking at sterilization in terms of improving flavor can also help make better beverages. So when you’re mixing drinks for friends or for a profession, it’s always a good idea to remember this simple mantra: Before you imbibe, sterilize!