Keep It Fresh: Why You Should Always Use Fresh Juice in Your Cocktails

Matthew Kelly/ Supercall

If you’ve walked out your front door in the past five years or so, you’ve probably noticed that fresh juice is booming. In most cities, you can’t go one block without running into a juice spot. You’ll find fresh-pressed juice at gyms, in coffee/juice–combination cafes, and at bottle-service clubs. You can get a fresh-juice subscription and have the sweet liquid delivered to your door on the regular. All this adds up to an industry ringing up an estimated $2.3 billion in sales every year, and one that has attracted some big players, including Starbucks, Shake Shack founder Danny Meyer, and heavy-hitting Wall Street investment firms.

The massive shift toward the fresh nectar has its origins in the 1980s, but it really took hold in the early 2000s, when widespread awareness of the unhealthiness of soda reached a peak. But fresh juice isn’t only healthier than soft drinks—it’s also healthier than that carton of processed OJ in your fridge. It has no added sugars or preservatives, and it’s packed with nutrients. Fresh juice also straight-up tastes better than processed juice. And here’s one more huge driver behind the juice boom: health experts recommend five to nine servings of fruit and vegetables per day. Do most people actually hork down that many? While we don’t have the exact stats, we’re pretty sure the answer is a hard no. But run your fruits and veggies through a juicer and you can drink the recommended amount every day.

Matthew Kelly/ Supercall

If you’ve visited Supercall before, chances are you know that, running parallel to the fresh juice explosion, there’s been a huge revival of old-school cocktail culture. The two developments are not related, but they have had a lot of coincidental overlap. They both started building momentum in the 1980s, then burst onto the national scene in the early 2000s and have been going strong ever since.

The upshot is that much like you can find a juice joint on every other city block in America, you can find a genuine craft cocktail bar or three in most cities with a population greater than 100,000 or so. As we said, they’re not related, but the two movements do intersect at several points, most importantly this one: When it comes to cocktails, fresh juice is 100% the only way to go. As Kristy Lambrou, a culinary nutritionist in New York City, told the Daily News, “Cocktails often have a lot of hidden empty calories. Fresh juices, herbs, and spices add nutrients to the cocktail so you’re not just getting sugar and alcohol.”

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Tanqueray No. TEN - Gin & Juice - Supercall
Courtesy of Tanqueray

The importance of fresh juice in cocktails can’t be overestimated—it’s tastier, provides more balance, and looks better than any alternatives. Equally important is the spirit that goes into your Gin & Juice. You want a quality liquid with citrus-forward flavors to add brightness and balance to this classic combo. Distilled with fresh whole citrus, including lime, orange, and grapefruit, along with juniper, coriander and a hint of chamomile flower, Tanqueray No. TEN was designed from the start with fresh-pressed juices in mind.

Above and beyond that, fresh juice—despite being reinstated in cocktail culture in the 2000s—isn’t a recent trend in that world; it’s the standard, going back to the beginning. If you’re not familiar with the history, hang on for a lightning recap: Back in the 1860s, New York City bartender Jerry Thomas wrote the book on drink-mixing—literally: It was called The Bar Tender’s Guide: How to Mix Drinks, or the Bon Vivant’s Companion (gotta love that full title). Thomas’s book laid the groundwork for quality cocktail construction.

He treated mixology like chefs treat cooking. It was all about freshness and balance, from the juice to the seasoning to the garnishes. He wasn’t the only star in the bartending cosmos back then, not by a long stretch, but he was the brightest one, a mad scientist in developing his craft and a WWE-level showman during the Saturday-night rush. His signature drink was a Blue Blazer, which featured him pouring “a blazing stream of liquid fire” back and forth between two mugs. As for his craft, he understood how well fresh citrus (and other) juices stood up to the often rugged spirits of his day to produce balanced, flavorful cocktails. It was a trick of the trade that he divulged to the world, unlike most bartenders of his era, who played it closer to the vest.

Matthew Kelly/ Supercall

Thomas’s concepts set the standards for bartending that stood for decades. But after the wrecking ball of Prohibition hit in the 1920s, his ideas slowly but surely faded from public knowledge, particularly his devotion to fresh juices. By the 1960s, they were all but forgotten, and by the 1970s and 80s—what most cocktail experts call the Dark Ages—they were just about dead and buried. Those were the days of powdered mixes, fake lime and lemon juice, and impersonal chain drinking establishments, not to mention slammers and shooters with cheesy names like The Kamikaze and The Training Bra. Fresh, balanced cocktails made by craftspeople were out; canned, sickly sweet concoctions pushed by marketers were in.

Toward the end of the 1980s, though, a little light flared in the dark. Fanning the flame was another New York City bartender, Dale DeGroff, who ran the legendary Rainbow Room bar on top of Rockefeller Center. His boss, Joe Baum, told him he wanted to recreate a 19th-century bar at the Rainbow Room, complete with fresh juices and no commercial mixes. When DeGroff “gently complained that if the bar were very busy, it might be difficult to maintain the fresh-squeezed routine,” as he writes in his book The Craft of the Cocktail, Baum shot back “that it had been done for a hundred years, and if I couldn’t figure out how to do it, he would find someone who could.”

Properly motivated, DeGroff started studying the copy of The Bar Tender’s Guide that Baum had given him, and before long he was joined by a bunch of like-minded bartenders determined to revive Thomas’s tried-and-true, old-school methods. In 2003, several of them staged an event, sponsored by Slow Food (as opposed to fast food), at the Oak Room in the Plaza Hotel. They each re-created a cocktail from Thomas’s era, employing his methods, and, as much as possible, the fresh ingredients of his day. The landmark event was another sign that the craft cocktail boom was in full swing. It reaches from coast to coast today—and you’ll know you’re not in a quality cocktail bar if they mix processed juice into your drink.

Matthew Kelly/ Supercall

The difference between the juice of a lime you just squeezed 10 minutes ago and the factory-made, concentrated liquid inside that plastic fake-lime thing at the supermarket is like the difference between Steph Curry and Seth Curry. They look alike, they both play guard, but… well, you get the idea.

Here are few tips on handling fresh juice that’ll boost your mixing game when you’re making cocktails at home:

  • Let your lime and lemon juice “age” for a few hours before you mix it. Cocktail expert Dave Arnold conducted a blind taste test a few years back and found that pressed lime juice that had been sitting out for four hours scored best of all. Don’t go over 10 hours, though, and definitely chuck day-old stuff.
  • If you’re eyeballing your drinks, add your fresh lime or lemon juice to the mixer before the ice. DeGroff, aka King Cocktail, recommends this because these juices “are so concentrated that even slight overuse can ruin the drink.”
  • Don’t let your fresh OJ sit around. Cocktail-science author Kevin Liu found the fresh stuff turns bitter after just half an hour perched on the counter.
  • Juice your grapefruits a day or two in advance. Stick the nectar in the fridge, and mix it into your drinks with 24-36 hours of refrigerated aging under its belt. Liu found that this made the juice “taste more grapefruit–ey.”
  • If your fruits were in the fridge, microwave them for 15-20 seconds before juicing. Liu notes that cold citrus doesn’t juice as easily. It’ll best give up the goods if it’s warm, say, slightly above room temperature, but not hot.

Whether you use some or all of these tips, don’t be intimidated by the details: quality cocktails are all about simplicity. You don’t have to be an expert, and you don’t need a lot of ingredients, just good ones. As King Cocktail himself told DrinkShop, it’s about “honest drinks, made with fresh ingredients, especially juices!”