When attempting to put together a drink like the New York Sour, or shots like the B52, one of the steps will require you to float a liquid in the drink. This means to layer the cocktail or shot with other less dense liquids on top. Layering as a bar technique, once learned and understood, can be applied to create truly impressive, eye-catching, multi-hued drinks. Here’s how.
Why it works
As you’ll expect, layering only works because of different densities in liquids. Heavier liquids sink while lighter liquids float. Any lighter liquid can thus be floated on top of the heavier one, provided you use the right technique so as to avoid unwanted mixing due to turbulence. This can be achieved by pouring the liquid over the back of a spoon hovering just slightly over the surface of the drink, for instance.
Generally, in the bar world, dryer and higher proof liquids are lighter, while sweeter and lower proof liquids are heavier. Always pour the heavier liquid into the glass first, followed by the next heaviest. The lightest liquid should always be floated last.
How to float liqueurs and other liquids
The best tool for floating drinks is the bar spoon. If you don’t have one, a normal spoon will do, to an extent.
What you’re looking to do is to first position your spoon just above the top of your drink. Then pour your liqueur, or whatever liquid you’re attempting to float, over the convex back of the spoon, allowing the liquid to cascade slowly into the drink. This prevents big sploshes from happening as the liquid exits a bottle and into your glass.
While the above method works, the bar spoon in particular has the added benefit of a corkscrew design and a flat base on the other end. These work in tandem for better layering of drinks.
First place the flat base of your bar spoon near the surface of the drink you’re attempting to layer. Then, pour the float slowly down the spiral spine of the bar spoon. The liquid has a slower acceleration as it comes down the spine, and the flat base spreads the float evenly across the surface, thereby reducing turbulence and mixing.
Usually, if something goes wrong and the liquids mix instead of float, it’s because the densities of the liquids just aren’t right. Remember to always have the heavier liquid at the bottom.
Other common errors include pouring too much and too quickly. Remember to take your time with it. It’s one bar technique that does require some finesse, so keep going at it and you’ll be layering drinks in no time.