How to Make a Milk-Clarified Satsuma Screwdriver
Chances are, when you think of a Screwdriver, you think of...well, a pretty uninspired cocktail. Perhaps one of the least loved and universally unappealing of the two-ingredient cocktail recipes, the Screwdriver is a simple combination of vodka and orange juice. Sharply acidic while still tasting quite bland, there’s admittedly not much to love.
I guess it’s the unlovable nature of the Screwdriver and it’s incredibly simple template that drew me to try to re-imagine it in clarified form. Plus, I really wanted to see if it would turn out completely clear. :)
So how do you make a Screwdriver…good?
One of the problems with the traditional Screwdriver recipe is the use of bottled orange juice, so the first thing I wanted to do was freshly squeeze some really tasty oranges. Bottled citrus juice just doesn’t taste like fresh, and it can have an unpleasant acidity and watered-down flavor.
Satsuma mandarins are in season at the moment, and they are incredibly sweet, juicy and FLAVORFUL, so I knew they’d be the perfect addition to a citrusy cocktail that needs some oomph. Satsumas are common in grocery stores between Thanksgiving and the New Year, and you’ll immediately recognize them by their still-attached, lush green leaves. The leaves are left on when they’re picked because attempting to pluck the fruits from their stems can tear the super soft skin. But that super soft, loose skin also happens to make them a breeze to peel.
Freshly squeezed juices are your friend
After tasting some juice combos, I decided on a blend of about 2 parts Valencia orange juice and 1 part Satsuma mandarin juice. To balance the levels of acidity and sweetness, I added some lemon juice and simple syrup to round things out. It’s important to always remember when taste-testing a cocktail at room temp that it will taste sweeter than once it’s chilled. Another important consideration when it comes to milk-clarification cocktails is that the end result will be much less acidic-tasting than what you start with. So I made sure to add enough lemon juice to perk things up, knowing the flavors would be toned down by the clarification process.
I will admit that I’ve been pretty limited in my vodka drinking, so I went out and chose a fresh new-to-me bottle of Chopin potato vodka from Poland. It’s a gorgeous, frosted bottle with lovely script, and tastes quite smooth to me. I am always looking to expand my booze horizons - have a favorite vodka brand? Let me know!
What exactly is milk clarification anyway?
I talked in depth about the milk clarification process in a recent post, you can read all about it here. The idea is that by adding milk and an acidic ingredient (like citrus) together, the milk will curdle, and the liquid will separate. You can then strain the liquid through the curds and produce an miraculously smooth, clear cocktail. Does it taste milky? In my opinion, no, but I have only clarified eight or so cocktails so far, so I’m by no means an expert. I think a milky flavor might be imparted if a higher concentration of milk was added to the mix, but I’ve used relatively small amounts. Like I talk about in the previous clarification post, it seems that a ratio of 1 parts whole milk to 5 parts acidic cocktail does the trick.
Strain through two layers = clearer cocktail
One important lesson I learned from this most recent clarification process is that straining through two layers of paper coffee filter seems to make for a much clearer end product - with only one straining. However, it also means waiting FOREVER for the liquid to strain. A tiny batch with less than 10 total oz might not take too long, but this batch (enough for three or four total drinks) ended up taking about FOUR HOURS ugh. The minutes ticked by like hours while I watched the late afternoon sun disappearing over the horizon. When you only shoot with daylight, everyday is a race against the clock this time of year!
Yes, it takes forever. But it tastes like sunbeams and summer days. So there’s that.
Although it took forever to strain, the end result was the clearest clarified cocktail I’ve been able to produce yet, and it is the most magical thing to take a sip of a crystal clear liquid that tastes like rays of sunshine and perfectly ripened citrus! Seriously worth both the time and the effort.
I really enjoyed this little riff on a classic Screwdriver. A few tweaks and a little patience led to a completely elevated drinking experience, with vastly improved flavors, texture, and visual appeal. A great thing about clarified cocktails is that they will keep in the fridge for months, so I’m saving the rest of my clarified Screwdriver batch for a rainy (or more likely, snowy, day). Enjoyed this cocktail recipe? Next up I’m tackling a Clarified Rum & Coke! :D
Milk-Clarified Satsuma Screwdriver
Makes: 3-4 cocktails
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 6 hours
6 oz high quality vodka (I used Chopin)
6 oz freshly squeezed Valencia orange juice
3 oz freshly squeezed Satsuma mandarin juice (another variety of mandarin juice will work, just adjust the amount of simple syrup to taste)
2 oz freshly squeezed lemon juice
1.5 oz simple syrup (to taste, depends on sweetness of citrus)
4 oz whole milk
Add all ingredients EXCEPT MILK to a large jar or mixing glass and stir well.
Taste test to make sure that the cocktail is both sweet enough and acidic enough. The clarification process will subdue the acidic flavors quite a bit, so I like to make it a little more tart than I think I want it. Adjust the amount of simple syrup as needed based on your citrus juices. Satsuma mandarins are very consistent in quality, but other mandarins varieties can vary widely. Make a quick batch of simple syrup by combining 1/2 cup of white sugar with 1/2 cup of water in a small saucepan over medium low heat and stirring until the sugar dissolves. Let cool and store any leftovers in a sealed jar or bottle in the fridge for up to two weeks.
In a separate large jar or bottle, add the whole milk.
Pour your cocktail INTO the milk (not the other way around). Gently stir.
Allow the mixture to rest for at least two hours (or overnight if you’re good at planning ahead) in the fridge.
Using two paper coffee filters (doubled up), strain the curdled mixture into a clean glass jar or bottle. This will take some time - be patient, it’s worth it! Don’t attempt to speed things up by pressing on the curds, you will not get a perfectly clear result if you disturb the curds.
Once strained, if it still looks a bit cloudy, you can strain a second time, but I didn’t find that I needed to. The second strain will go considerably quicker. Spoon a small amount of the curd mixture into a fresh doubled-up paper coffee filter and pour the liquid through.
Serve your finished cocktails over plenty of ice and garnish with orange or mandarin wedges. Alternatively, you can add water to the finished batch, to taste (for dilution) and serve it up in a cocktail glass, or, if the cocktail hasn’t been chilled, you can simply stir it with plenty of ice in a mixing glass and strain into a cocktail glass. Rocks glass pictured by The Elan Collective.
Store any leftovers in a sealed glass jar or bottle in the fridge. It will keep for months.
Have you made a clarified cocktail? Tag me in your recipes on Instagram @moodymixologist!