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It’s well known that fresh citrus fruits are a vital part of a cocktail program – But how exactly do you know when to use lemon juice vs lime juice?

This super old video goes back to the basics, and I talk about some of the differences between lemons and limes and when you should use each in a cocktail.

LEMONS VS. LIMES: HOW DO YOU KNOW WHICH TO USE?

Here’s a link to the simple syrup video. While I’m not going to go into the nutritional benefits of lemons, vitamin C content, etc., below are some key points from the most common type of lemon & lime you’ll find behind the bar, including the acidity of lemons vs the acidity of limes.

Note: There are tons of other varieties of these citrus that you may see mentioned in cocktail books and recipe sites, such as Meyer lemon, kaffir lime, and key lime; however, these are the most common ones I’ve seen used in bars.

EUREKA LEMONS:

Bright yellow flesh and skin
Thick, bitter white pith
pH level of 2.2-2.5 (less acidic than limes)

PERSIAN LIMES OR TAHITIAN LIMES:

Bright green flesh and skin
Thin white pith
pH level of 1.8 -2.0 (more acidic than lemon = more sour flavor)

When I’m designing a cocktail, I generally make the decision on which citrus family fruit to use based on a few key factors:

What color am I aiming for in my final product? One of the differences between limes and lemons is obviously how they look. Limes will offer a lightly tinted clear green color while lemons provide a tinted clear yellow color.
How much citric acid content am I looking to introduce? Am I working with other bitter flavors (or sour flavors)? The flavor differences and ultimate flavor profile of your whole cocktail are important here.
Less importantly (but still relevant): What do I already have on hand? If you have lemon trees or lime trees on your property, you may be inclined to use one over the other and find a cocktail that works with what you have more of.
Finally, am I looking for a more clean, crisp (lemon) flavor, or more herbal complexity (lime)?

SOUR COCKTAIL RECIPES

 

Photo by Madhu Rao via Unsplash

If you’re not sure which cocktails call for the use of lemon or lime… There are actually a lot! Here are a couple classic mixed drinks that use one or the other. 

And if you’re skipping the booze right now, you can always sub in a non-alcoholic spirit or simply make your H2O more interesting with lemon water (or lime water). 

Note: For the best flavor profile, make sure to use fresh fruit; older citrus juice can be more tangy.

 

LEMON DROP MARTINI: LEMON BAR

This refreshing drink doesn’t have the best reputation amongst bartenders (thanks, martini craze). But I’m fairly certain you might like the sweet-tart flavor of this riff on the lemon drop, a classic cocktail recipe. It’s the perfect cocktail for the upcoming summer months!

LEMON DROP INGREDIENTS:

1 1/2 oz Vodka
1/2 oz Cointreau
1/4 oz Vanilla Liqueur
1 oz Fresh Lemon Juice
3/4 oz Simple Syrup

INSTRUCTIONS:

Combine all ingredients into a shaker tin with ice. 
Shake for 10-15 seconds. 
Strain into a coupe glass or Nick & Nora cocktail glass (alternatives to the traditional martini glass).

Garnish: Torched Dehydrated Lemon Wheel or Lemon Twist

Photo by Brian Jones via Unsplash

MARGARITA RECIPE: PELO EN LLAMAS

One of the most popular cocktails, there are so many variations of classic margarita recipes; we’ve featured several on the blog, but here’s one I love where the sour taste of lime is balanced with spicy, smoky, and sweet elements for an overall tangy flavor.

MARGARITA INGREDIENTS:

1 3/4 oz Habanero-Infused Mezcal
1/2 oz Aperol
3/4 oz Fresh Lime Juice
1/2 Agave Syrup
4 chunks of pineapple (1/2″ cubes)

INSTRUCTIONS:

Muddle pineapple in a cocktail shaker tin to a pulp.
Add all remaining ingredients to the shaker with ice. 
Shake well for 10-15 seconds. Rim half a rocks glass with black salt. Double Strain into the salted rocks glass and add ice.

Garnish: Grilled Pineapple Slice and/or Citrus Garnishes (such as Lime Wedges)

LIME VS LEMON: WHICH CITRIC ACID TASTE DO YOU PREFER?

Photo by Svitlana Rusak via Unsplash

There’s nothing like trying this for yourself. Try making a sour cocktail with lemon and then again with lime and see how each fruit changes the cocktail. I suggest turning your lemon drop into a lime drop, but feel free to work with your favorite cocktail!

(Side note: You can try this with other citrus fruits, too, like oranges.)

Which liquors go better with lime vs. lemon? Which presents more acid for you depending on what you mix it with? Does either change the body of your cocktail?

Understanding citrus fruit really is a critical part of the drink creation process. Take some time to truly refine your understanding of and the difference between lime and lemon flavors; it will save you a lot of time in the future!

As always, check out the transcript below, or let me know your thoughts in the comments. Also make sure to join us over in our community group to talk all things cocktail. And if you’re in need of bar tools to make your delicious cocktails, head over to our shop to grab your new favorite barware!

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