When done right, few things hit the spot on a hot night like a margarita. But what if you could take a margarita, retain the same crisp flavor, and make it totally clear? Don't ask why. Just trust us.

It's Friday afternoon, you've made it through the long week, and it's time for Happy Hour, Gizmodo's weekly booze column. A cocktail shaker full of innovation, science, and alcohol. Yippitydoo, let's get drunk.

Clarifying Clarification

There are several ways to go about clarifying a liquid. Our friends at Booker and Dax in NYC, for example, use a centrifuge to clarify banana for one of their drinks. The high g-forces created pulls the solids away from the liquid, effectively separating them. Very cool, except A) yu can only do a small amount at a time, and B) you need to own a friggin' centrifuge. Not exactly convenient.

For a much more straight-forward method which can easily be done at home, we turned to top San Francisco bartender Tim Zohn, who is the bar manager at AQ Restaurant and Bar.

"It really is a design choice," said Tim, when we asked him why you might want to do this. "It does 'look cool,' but it also offers another avenue to explore with cocktails. Sometimes you might want the citrus component in a drink but for aesthetic reasons you don't want the color or the cloudy aspect." Indeed, if you were to choose between two cocktails that taste the same, but one looks good and one looks like mud, which are you going to go with?

The secret ingredient of this technique is agar agar, aka "vegetarian gelatin," which is made from seaweed. You can pick it up at most health food stores. The agar agar binds to the solids in the juice, and the solids are where the color is. So when the agar agar curds are strained out, you're left with a clear liquid. Surprisingly, though, it retains nearly all of the flavor. If anything, it's sharpened a little.

You can use this same technique for orange juice (clear screwdrivers, anyone?), pineapple, or just about any fresh juice. Tim demonstrated it with lime juice, and made us a rather delicious clear margarita. Here's how to do it.

What You'll Need

  • Limes
  • Agar Agar
  • Cheese cloth (high quality)
  • a fine mesh strainer
  • Tequila blanco
  • Cointreau

It's also extremely helpful to have a kitchen scale capable of measuring grams.

Directions

  • 1. Juice (either by hand or with a citrous juicer) enough limes to make approximately 20 fluid ounces of juice (or 600 grams, by weight, or 2.5 cups). Run it through a strainer to remove seeds and pulp.
  • 2. In a small sauce pan, heat five ounces of water (or 150 grams, or just over half a cup) until near boiling. Then whisk in two grams of agar agar (roughly two-thirds of a teaspoon) into the water, and bring to a simmer. Continue simmering—whisking often—for two to five minutes, or until the agar agar is totally disolved.
  • 3. Once the agar agar is completely disolved, remove from heat and pour into a metal bowl. Then, whisking as you go, start slowly pouring the lime juice into the bowl with the agar agar. Make sure it is mixed in slowly and thoroughly. Once it's all added, transfer the bowl to sit in an ice bath. Your fridge should work in a pinch, it just might take a little longer. Let it sit for 20 minutes or so, until it gelatinizes.
  • 4. While you're waiting for the agar agar/lime juice mixture to set, line your strainer (or colander) with several layers of cheesecloth. Three or four layers should do. You want to make sure each layer is wide enough so that the mixture won't be able to go around it.
  • 5. Once everything is set, gently pour the mixture into the cheesecloth covered strainer. Allow it to drip through, then lift it up and give it some gentle squeezing with your hands, but not hard enough to press the agar agar curds through.

You should be left with some very clear lime juice. If it's still cloudier than you would like (we rushed it a tiny bit in the video), you may also run it through a paper coffee filter.

You may be wondering why you have to prepare the agar agar separately. Wouldn't it be easier to just boil the lime juice and then add the agar agar to it? Well, yes, it would, but you would be doing so at the cost of the flavor. By cooking the lime juice you would be losing those oils and aromas—essentially trading out the fresh lime juice taste in order to save a two minutes. It's not worth it.

The Clear Margarita

The Clear Margarita is wonderfully simple to make, once you have the clarified lime juice, and it's damn delicious, too.

  • 2 ounces tequila blanco
  • 1 ounce Cointreau
  • 3/4 ounce clarified lime juice
  • Ice
  • Lime slice for garnish

In a shaker, add the tequila, cointreau, clarified lime juice, and a handful of ice. Put the lid on and shake it (or stir it, if you prefer a stronger drink). Strain into a rocks glass, and garnish with a slice of lime. It tastes incredibly fresh for something you can see right through.

Now, if you watch the video, you'll notice that it's a bit murkier than you would expect. Not to worry. That's mostly from the oxygenation that was caused by shaking it. After a few minutes, once the drink settles and the bubbles escape, you'll have a very clear drink.

Of course, clear margaritas aren't the only thing you can make with clarified lime juice. Tim wrote to us later with another idea:

After you left we used some of the clarified lime juice for a daily special at AQ, we took Audrey Saunders Old Cuban cocktail and made a clear version; muddled mint, white rum, clarified lime juice, velvet falernum and a float of angostura bitters and champagne, we stirred the cocktail so there was no aeration for a fun take on her classic drink. It tasted the same (or very close) but looked like clear liquid in a glass, so it was surprising to guests.

Sounds delicious. We'll be back in weeks to come with more from Tim, so keep coming back every Friday afternoon for more Happy Hour.

Timothy Zohn is the Bar Manager at AQ Restaurant in San Francisco, He has spent the last eight years working at some of the best bars in the city with some of the best bartenders in the country. He is proud to call San Francisco home. You can find him on Twitter: @TimothyZohn

Thanks to Tim and to AQ Restaurant and Bar for hosting us.