Cocktail Experiments: The No-Strain Ramos Gin Fizz

26 03 2011

The Ramos Gin Fizz is one of the most delightful drinks to come out of New Orleans, inadequately described as a foamy, alcoholic orange creamsicle. The balance and lightness comes at a cost though: this drink’s a pain in the ass to make! (click on the pictures for the full-size versions)

Nine, count ’em, nine ingredients!

Ramos Gin Fizz*

* This was the recipe used for the experiment, but it has too much citrus unless your lemons are really weak. Should be more like 1/2 an oz.
  • 1 1/2oz gin
  • 1oz lemon
  • 1/2oz lime
  • 1oz simple syrup
  • 1oz heavy cream
  • 1oz egg white
  • 3 drops orange flower water
  • dash vanilla (optional)
  • soda water

The RGF has no less than 8 ingredients (sometimes 9!) that need to be blended together into a light and airy drink. This means shaking and lots of it. Chris McMillian has a fantastic video on the history and traditional preparation, here, as part of his New Orleans’ Best Cocktails series. He uses more cream and less lemon than I prefer, but it is essentially the same.

  1. Combine all ingredients except soda water in shaker
  2. Dry shake to combine ingredients
  3. Add lots of ice and shake vigorously for a minute
  4. Strain into tall glass, add soda water and stir

This will produce a delicious Ramos Gin Fizz and doesn’t take too much care apart from remembering all the ingredients and shaking the shit out of it. The problem is when you strain it, you leave behind a LOT of foam in the shaker. And this early morning favorite is all about the foam.

A strainer is foam’s worst enemy

Since his video series was produced, Chris McMillian has come back around on this and came up with a way to preserve all that foam. Rather than using lots of ice and straining it out, use just enough so that it completely melts and no straining is required.

Well, so how MUCH ice?

This is a complicated question, and if you want to make it more complicated read the fantastic two-parter from Dave Arnold on cooking issues: The Science of Shaking (part II). The short version, which isn’t so short, goes like this. Cooling drinks is accomplished by transferring heat energy from the cocktail base to the ice it’s shaken with. Typical ice from the tray in your freezer is at -20° C and weighs 20-30 grams per cube. The two ways it absorbs energy from the base are through heating up and melting.

The larger cube is 29g, the smaller is 20g

In its frozen form, it takes 2.11 joules of energy to heat 1 gram of water up by 1° C (that’s the specific heat capacity), so with ordinary home ice that’ll be 42.2 joules per gram to reach it’s melting point. The additional energy it takes to actually melt the ice (enthalpy of fusion) is 334 joules per gram. Obviously, it’s all about the melting. Since it takes nearly 8 times more energy, it’s not going to matter THAT much the temperature of the ice you’re using so long as it’s actually frozen.


Don’t rush me!

Ok, if you’re bored it takes about 30 grams (1 – 1.5 cubes) if the juice, simple, and cream are pre-chilled and 50 grams (2-2.5 cubes) if everything is room temperature.  Happy???

If you’re still interested (don’t lie!), the first thing we need to define is how cold do we want the RGF to be? To some extent this is a matter of taste, and to a large extent it’s not. If the fizz is at 5° C / 41° F, that’s JUST TOO WARM! This is a cool refreshing breakfast drink, not a shower with a broken water heater.

As a benchmark, I took the temperature of an RGF made in the classic way with a shaker full of ice that is all strained out. This came out at -1.4° C / 29.5° F, or just below freezing, and feels absolutely perfect. A ‘short’ cocktail with 3oz ingredients, like a Negroni, will get down to about -7° C / 19 ° F with a moderate amount of shaking.

Imma Lay the Math Down on Ya’ll!

The ingredients of the RGF, given the above recipe, are 6 fluid ounces and weigh in at an impressive 190 grams / 0.4 lbs. My CRC Handbook didn’t list the specific heat capacity for the Ramos Gin Fizz (go figure), but we can get a back of the envelope estimate using the mass-weighted average of its ingredients.

The RGF’s specific heat capacity (Crgf) is somewhere around 3.68 j / g ° C, but keep in mind this is pretty approximate. My scale is only accurate to +/-1 gram and heat capacities of food items can vary quite a bit, so we’ll just call it 3.7 +/- 0.1.

From this, we can calculate how much heat (Qrgf) we need to transfer from the RGF in order to cool it down to our target of -2° C from room temp, 20° C.

We’re halfway there! Now we are going to translate -15,466 joules into grams of ice. The heat transferred to the ice is equal to the energy required to bring the temperature up to -2° C, plus the energy of the phase transition, plus loss from the shaker / soda. I’m using pre-chilled glasses, so there shouldn’t be any loss from heating them up.

Assuming no losses, we would need 41.6g of ice to chill a Ramos Gin Fizz down from room temp to -2° C. This goes up to 47 grams if you are using ‘wet’ ice starting at just below freezing.  Note that Qloss is a negative quantity (the heat transferred from the shaker/soda into the ice), so the higher the loss the more ice that you’ll need. If the shaker and glass were chilled in the freezer down to -20° C, and you wore gloves while shaking, it’s possible the Qloss could be positive.

If you start with pre-chilled citrus and dairy, the RGF base will start out at a lower temperature and require less ice. When I did this my base started out at 14° C, so we’ll just go with that. In that case, a minimum of 30 grams of ice is required.

Putting Theory into Practice

The ingredients were all measured by mass using a +/- 1 gram kitchen scale to match the specs in the above chart. Temperatures were measured using a cheap Oregon Scientific thermocouple ($6 at Target) that I wouldn’t trust to more than +/- 1° C, although it does display down to 0.1° C.

Weighing the lime juice

As noted above, my ‘control’ was a Ramos Gin Fizz made the classic way with a shaker full of ice (~180g) and strained into a glass. The starting temp of the ingredients was 18° C and I did a 15 second dry shake followed by a 60 second wet shake. Before pouring in the soda water, the drink filled about 8oz of a 10oz highball glass

So much foam, lost!

The final temp after adding the soda was -1.4° C, which felt just right to me.

Now for the fun part! The first way I tried this out was at just below room temperature (-19.6° C) and with 49 grams of ice (pictured above). The preparation was exactly the same as the classic style, but because I didn’t strain it at the end it filled the same glass all the way to the top.

The no-strain version barely fits in the glass!

This is before adding ANY soda! With the classic preparation, I had to add about 1.5 ounces of soda to build out the foam, but it took just 1/2 an ounce to make the no-strain version overflow. The result is more of the base ends up in the glass and with less dilution. Win win!

Soooooo delicious

-2.2° C is almost exactly what we’re looking for, though admittedly this was on my 3rd attempt after trying a few different amounts. According to our calculations, it should’ve taken no less than 41.6 grams of ice to chill the cocktail this much. We can attribute the additional 7.4g ice required to loss from the soda, shaker and my partially frozen hands. At about 85% efficiency, this is not bad at all!

Cooling down the drink from room temperature took 2.25 grams of ice for every degree celsius. I tried a couple more times with a 16.2° C base and a 14° C base (different levels of ‘pre-chilling’) and used 40 and 30 grams of ice respectively. The results were reasonably consistent, with the ratio of ice to chilling decreasing as the initial temperature of the drink went down. This may be explained as the result of less energy transferred to the shaker and my hands, since when using less ice you don’t have to shake the drink for as long. But it’s also well within the precision of our results, so it’s not terribly significant.


The foam is so thick the straw stands up with only an inch submerged

Using the no-strain method for the Ramos Gin Fizz gave us more foam with less dilution and less wasted drink left behind in the shaker. It takes more care and more work than the classic style, but with a bit of effort you can get a superior drink while still keeping the temperature cool. It’s impractical to measure your ice every time you make an RGF, but if you’re using regular ice cubes out of your freezer you don’t have to. Just measure a cube once and keep that number in mind, there isn’t going to be a lot of variation between cubes. Most trays will produce ice that’s between 20 and 30 grams / cube, and if you need a 1/2 cube just whack it with the bowl of a bar spoon.

As for the amount needed, it really does depend on what temperature you’re starting at. If most of your ingredients are room temp, except for maybe the cream, it’s going to be about 20° C and require 50 grams of ice. A bit more if your glass isn’t pre-chilled or your ice is wet. If most of your ingredients are coming out of the refrigerator, somewhere between 30 and 40 grams should do it. It’s better to err on the higher side because a warm RGF can be unpleasant, so I’d go with 40g when in doubt.

Cocktail Egg-speriments: Chalaza

26 02 2011

wtf is chalaza?

It’s not the yolk, it’s not the white, it’s the little strand that connects the two. If you’re making an omelet, you pretend it’s not there. If you’re baking cookies, who would even know? But if you’re whipping a meringue or shaking a sour, it’s right there staring you in the face. Even worse, it looks like something else that goes into eggs, but I’ll just stop my description there.

The chalazae are #4 and #13. Thanks wikipedia!

Ok, but really what is it? When I said it wasn’t the white, also called the albumin, I lied. It really is just a twisted up bit of egg white (you’ll see two, if the egg is fresh) that acts as an umbilical cord. When egg whites are used in food preparation, this bit’s usually removed to provide a more uniform texture. In egg white cocktails though, who doesn’t like a little texture? The whole point of the egg white is to provide foam and give mouth feel; it is mostly just water with a little protein. It doesn’t provide much flavor to a drink, and if it does, yo eggs are bad!

In my five, long, arduous minutes googling the subject I couldn’t find any definitive answer on the chalaza question. Mostly just forum comments indicating it’s gross and you should leave it out and who cares, you silly nerd.

So I decided to spend a couple hours making whiskey sours, finding out for myself. Read the rest of this entry »