It’s well known that fresh citrus is a vital part of a cocktail program – but how do you know when to use lemon juice, and when to use lime?

This week’s 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, and below are some key points from the most common type of Lemon & Lime you’ll find behind the bar:

Eureka Lemons:

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

Persian or Tahitian Limes:

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

How do I choose?

When I’m designing a cocktail, I generally make the decision based on three key factors:

  • What color am I aiming for in my final product?
  • How much acidity am I looking to introduce?
  • Finally, am I looking for a more clean, crisp (lemon) flavor, or more herbal complexity with lime?

Try it out!

There’s nothing like trying this for yourself. Try making a sour with lemon and again with lime and see how each fruit changes the cocktail. Which liquors go better with Limes? Lemons? Understanding citrus really is a critical part of the drink creation process – take some time to really refine your understanding of lemons and limes – this 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!

Click Here to view the Transcript

Hi everyone. Welcome back to another video tip here at ABarAbove and in a previous post we have the idea of separating the sweet and sour, as one of the elementary steps you make from bartender to mixologist. We talked pretty briefly about the sweet side of it, and today we’re going to focus on the souring side of the sweet and sour. At the bottom of the page we’re also going to link to that video so go back, take a look at it, refresh your memory if you need to or watch it for the first time. So yeah, let’s get into the sour side of the sweet and sour now. 

We’re going to primarily focus on the two types of citrus that were going to use to balance out your sweet. We got Lemons and Limes. I’m sure you’re very familiar with both. We’re just going to go through the brief characteristics of (them) and how do you use them to make cocktails.

So lemons obviously yellow flesh you have pretty significant white pith on the inside of it, which will contribute to bittering. There’s kind of a bitter note to it. And you have the flesh on the inside, also very yellow and when you juice it, the yellow comes through it in a drink, in a cocktail as well. You don’t want to take a bite have of this like you would do in an apple cause obviously you have pretty sour element to it. If your familiar with PH scale from high school, the PH of 0 very highly acidic and the PH of 14 is very very basic and alkaline. So the lower you go toward 0 the more acidic you’re going to get, the higher you go up to the 14 goes up to the basic area. The acidity on the Lemon, a Eureka Lemon like this one, is going to be anywhere from 2.2 to 2.5. Some other things to note, are the characteristics of the oils that we associate with Lemons. In the flesh, the yellow portion of the lemon is where the oils are and the oils to me smell like “clean.” You know it has its really clean resonance to it and a lot of cleaning companies actually use it as one of the scents they have for cleaning products.

So that’s pretty much the basics of the lemon next thing let’s look like limes. So this is the typically the lime that you will see just behind every bar. There’s a couple of varieties that to choose from but this known as a Persian or Tahitian lime. This is the one we put in our Corona’s, our Margaritas. Bright green flesh, you have much smaller of a light green pith – I’m not even sure you can see it on camera here. The pith of the fruit is much smaller than the lemon – you can see them side-by-side there. Obviously the fruit itself has a green hue to it, and that will also come through in the cocktails so keep that in mind when creating drinks. As far as the characteristics, of it, you have the bright green flesh and small white pith. You have much higher acidity to it. The pH of this is actually 1.8 to 2.0, and remember once you get closer to 0 it actually becomes more sour or acidic or tart. So when you’re making cocktails just keep that in mind.

There’s been a debate on which to use in which cocktail, and when you’re creating a cocktail from scratch which way do you want to lean. I would say try both! I mean they’re each going to have their own qualities that you’re going to be looking for. Every bartender uses them in different way, I hear some bartenders like using limes in things that have a lot of vegetal qualities on it, so like limes are better for gin, limes are used with tequila and rum – which makes a lot of sense if you look to classic cocktails that coming out and how they balance them. They have an affinity towards each other. With lemon you want that clean profile so like with vodka it’s going to come through. So as far as my preference, I actually prefer to use both. And them up and vary between the two. Just an example let’s take a look at one specific cocktail. Vodka: if you use lemon juice it’s a lemon drop, if you use lime you have different cocktail and that one’s called a Gimlet. So they are essentially the same thing, but by substituting out even the smallest thing like the citrus, you actually change the cocktail completely.


So there you have it, just a quick run-through between the two citruses. As always feel free to leave a comment at the bottom of the page, and also we are making a training series right now which I am very excited about and one of the things we are doing is really delving a lot deeper into the qualities of citrus and the different varieties that we have here. That’s all going to be a part of the training program. So like I said we are creating it now and I’m really super excited and really looking forward to having that out and available to everybody around July. One of the other things that we just put up on our website is when you go to, you can sign up for newsletter and what we added up there, is if you put your email address we will only contact you if we feel there is something you would really benefit from. So we made a “10 Steps to Owning your Restaurant’s Cocktail Program”. It’s a free guide, free to everybody so sign up and join our newsletter. So until the next video, thank you very much for joining me here again. Have a great shift and cheers. We’ll see you guys next time.

Chris Tunstall

Co-Founder of A Bar Above and career bartender and mixologist. I love experimenting, creating cocktails, and drinking Green Chartreuse.