The Brix Refractometer may sound like the title of a Dr. Who episode, but – despite its scientific wizardry – it's far more down to earth. In an oversimplified nutshell, the brix refractometer measures the amount of sugar in an aqueous solution.
Patina Group's lead mixologist Paul Sanguinetti got the idea of using the device from a pastry chef at Stark Bar, where he worked behind the stick for a time. He began to use the device in earnest while developing the cocktail menu at Patina Tokyo. As Sanguinetti says, “It's been pretty game changing.”
Why game-changing? Because it allows Sanguinetti to precisely measure the brix, basically the sugar content, in all his syrups. For example, on the brix refractometer water has a zero reading, and a simple syrup of equal parts water and sugar should register 50 degrees brix. Each type of syrup that a bartender makes – depending on the fruit used, its ripeness at the time of use, and the fruit's water content – can vary wildly in terms of brix levels from one recipe to another. That variable can drastically change the sweetness of a syrup, which will, in turn, alter the character of a drink.
Being able to duplicate recipes – and tinker with them – exactly is what attracted Sanguinetti to the device. “It helps me to achieve consistency in my cocktails,” says Sanguinetti, “especially when making syrups with fresh produce that can lead to different brix levels when using the same syrup recipes.”
Sanguinetti started using the refractometer while working on a beet Manhattan that used a beet simple syrup. To make the syrup, he roasted the beets, pureed them with some water, fine-strained the mixture, then added sugar. Regardless of his expertise, it was difficult to achieve a consistently flavored syrup.
The brix refractometer solved that problem. “I use it to measure all my syrups, honey and agave, and then dilute or fortify my syrups to get to a certain brix level for the recipe I'm using, ” he explains. “It's really handy because if I set all my syrups to a certain degrees brix, I can then use them interchangeably in all my recipes and achieve roughly the same balance in my drinks.”
In this way, Sanguinetti can switch out syrups – for example, a lemon verbena simple syrup instead of a regular simple syrup in a gimlet – to achieve various flavor profiles but offer the same balance in every drink every time. Balance and consistency. Sounds like a dream cocktail in the making.
Lesley blogs at 12 Bottle Bar, tweets at @12BottleBar and is the author of the book “Gin: A Global History.” Email her at email@example.com. Want more Squid Ink? Follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook.