According to bartenders gathered at Victoria's recent Art of the Cocktail conference--which was positioned to become Canada's top mixed-drinks event until Tales of the Cocktail this year inaugurated an annual Vancouver edition--squeezing lemons and limes is costly, time-consuming, and may not result in better drinks.
"People prefer aged citrus juice," bar school founder and peripatetic brand ambassador Philip Duff told a mildly stunned crowd of professional drinkers. "If you really want to make the ultimate margarita, you might consider using aged lime juice."
Duff cited an informal research project conducted by Dave Arnold, Director of Culinary Technology of The French Culinary Institute at The International Culinary Center. Arnold last year invited 55 recent graduates of a "rigorous spirits tasting program" to blind test four-hour-old hand-pressed lime juice; four-hour-old machine-pressed lime juice; and fresh, hand-pressed lime juice. The older hand-pressed juice was the clear favorite, with the aged machine-squeezed juice finishing a close second. Nobody liked the fresh stuff.
Before participating in the experiment, "everyone said they preferred fresh juice," Duff said. He suspects citrus juice acquires more acidity and depth through oxidation.
Arnold didn't investigate whether juice aged longer than four hours would be rated even higher.
Although Arnold announced the results of his test exactly a year ago, they've failed to sway the cocktail industry, which continues to prize just-squeezed juices. At The Keefer Bar in Vancouver, where customer volume prevents bartenders from custom-squeezing citrus for individual drinks, staffers come to the bar before their service shifts start to prepare gallons of juice.
"There's the frustration of not being able to make a drink in a timely fashion," said owner Danielle Tatarin, halfway apologizing for the prep work.
But Cameron Bogue, who oversees the cocktail program for Earl's, a Canadian restaurant chain, wonders if bars' resolve to freshly squeeze juices should be reconsidered--along with the habit of making bitters, vermouths, tinctures, and other elixirs in-house. According to Bogue, pre-made products guarantee consistency and are often of better quality than homespun versions.
"You're buying products already," Bogue said. "You're not making your own spirits. We're not arguing for Rose's here. But I've had a lot of people make vermouths that are god-awful."