Mix Cocktails Safely With This New Website
The words “cocktail safety” probably evoke memories of singed eyebrows from an errant flaming shot and nothing more, but it turns out that your fancy beverage could contain more than a few potentially dangerous ingredients. Thankfully, there’s a new website that aims to help industry professionals and aspiring mixologists alike navigate the complicated, largely unregulated waters of specialty cocktail ingredients.
Figuring out what additives you can and cannot legally mix into a cocktail is trickier than looking up a law. The FDA and the Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) set federal guidelines for food and alcohol ingredients, respectively, but they’re just that—guidelines. Enforcement at the retail level is up to state, county, and/or city regulatory agencies. This is why you can get a CBD latte from seemingly any café in Portland or LA, but not one in Brooklyn. Bartenders with ingredient legality questions have three federally maintained databases at their disposal—Substances Added to Food (FDA), Substances Generally Recognized as Safe (FDA), and Limited Ingredients (TTB)—but they’re not the easiest to navigate, and search results can be confusing.
This is where CocktailSafe.org comes in. Drinks writer Camper English and his advisor Avery Glasser launched the site in December 2018 with the intention of providing “a thoroughly researched one-stop-shop for information about safety in cocktails.” It’s basically a database of information on the safety concerns of common—and uncommon—cocktail ingredients and techniques, as well as relevant U.S. laws and regulations. (Other regions aren’t covered yet, but they will be in the future, starting with Europe.) The site is geared towards professional bartenders, but it’s a great resource for anyone looking for a user-friendly, trustworthy research aid.
I spoke with English over email to get his take on what people should know before mixing or imbibing cocktails with handmade ingredients. First, he said, vintage recipes should be used with caution:
“While old cocktail books from the 1800s are great resources for drink recipes, their recipes for bitters and infusions quite often contain ingredients that have since been banned as food additives in the US out of concerns for health. Ingredients like calamus, sassafras, and cinchona bark are now forbidden or limited for food use.”
Homemade tonic water, for example, is usually made from raw cinchona bark rather than industrially purified quinine salts, which sounds cool but kinda isn’t. Cinchona bark doesn’t have to state its quinine concentration on the label, so unless you own a mass spectrometer, there’s no way to know how much you’re using. The end result is that homemade tonic water often contains not only unsafe levels of quinine but also other dangerous compounds that commercial products intentionally remove.
English also emphasized the importance of basic food safety, like double-checking that “botanical-type” ingredients like dried herbs or essential oils are food grade. This may seem pretty obvious, but take juniper berries for example: only some varieties are actually edible, with the others ranging from “too bitter to enjoy” to “downright toxic.” His rule of thumb? “ If they don’t say explicitly [that they’re food grade], they’re probably not.” Finally, keep in mind that food safety best practices still apply to infusions and tinctures—or, as English put it: “Yes, alcohol can be used as a preservative and disinfectant. No, that doesn’t mean you can leave a pork chop infusing in vermouth out on the counter.”
If you’re starting to think about swearing off cocktails for good, don’t. We’re not in the middle of a cocktail poisoning epidemic. “CocktailSafe is mainly a reference for professionals, not a list of warnings for consumers,” English reminds me. “If you want to see truly dangerous cocktails, YouTube is full of videos of people accidentally setting themselves on fire.”
via Lifehacker https://lifehacker.com
February 12, 2019 at 01:39PM