This post is sponsored by PAMA pomegranate liqueur.
Typically when we talk about balance in cocktails, we're talking about the balance between sweet and sour. We'll leave the talk about balance between strong and weak for another time.
The category of 'sours' in cocktails (which should really be called 'sweet and sours' but whatevs) is enormous and includes pretty much every drink with citrus juice. This includes the Margarita, Cosmopolitan, Pisco Sour, White Lady, Daiquiri, and so on.
Sour ingredients include lemon, lime, grapefruit, orange, and pomegranate juices, but other ingredients are acidic as well. Michael Lazar measured the pH of many cocktail ingredients and put them in order. I was surprised to learn how acidic the vermouths and sherries are, and it seems this is due to the grapes that comprise the base wines for them. Currently-trendy sour substitutes include shrub syrups (with a vinegar base) as well as acid phosphate, which is said to add sour sensation to a drink without the citrus flavor.
Sweet ingredients are used to balance against sour ones. These include many liqueurs (but as we can see on Lazar's chart, not all of them), plus sweetening agents including sugar, honey, maple syrup, high fructose corn syrup, molasses, and so on.
The gold standard cocktail ratio for a sour is 2:1:1, which is two parts liquor to one part each of the sweet and sour ingredients. Of course, when we use ingredients other than lime juice and 1:1 simple syrup we have to adjust those ratios.
Also, each bar has (or should have) a house ratio that they use. A few years ago in San Francisco, bartenders were making drinks so citric that you'd feel the enamel coming off your teeth when you drunk them. On the other side of the coin, bars that cater to younger drinkers tend to be heavy on the sugar. There seems to be an agreed-upon balance of cocktails for competitions (ever-so-slightly sour) but those drinks don't necessarily reflect how those same cocktails would be made at bars.
For all sours, it is important to taste the drinks and adjust the sweet and sour ratio to order.
But why would PAMA want me to write about sweet-and-sour balance in cocktails? Because their product is meant to include both in one bottle.
PAMA’s proprietary blend of all-natural pomegranate juice combined with vodka and a touch of tequila results in a delicately balanced sweet-tart flavor that holds its own when combined with any base spirit. An extremely versatile cocktail ingredient, PAMA mixes with whiskey, rum and brandy equally well as it mixes with vodka, gin and tequila.
Here is a cocktail they recommend to demonstrate the sweet and sour balance.
Dash of Simple Syrup
Dash of Fresh Lemon Juice
1/2 oz. Citrus Vodka
1/2 oz. PAMA Pomegranate
Directions: Combine all ingredients in a shaker. Add ice and shake vigorously. Strain into chilled cocktail glass rimmed with sugar.