Posted on | June 23, 2015
Written by | Roger Morris
Cocktails with an edge challenge the sweet and fruity image.
With the exception of end-of-the-meal sweets, most of the foods we eat tend to be on the savory side—meats, other proteins and vegetables that have been enhanced with spices. But conversely, most of the drinks we consume are fruity, with the notable exception of beer. That is the case with soft drinks, juices, wines and, until recently, most cocktails.
“Drink trends tend to come in waves,” says Drink Company’s Derek Brown, a bartender and drinks historian who was recently named the Chief Spirits Advisor to the National Archives Museum’s “Spirited Republic” historical exhibit in Washington, DC. “Right now, cocktails are tending toward the savory, which happened to wine some time ago,” Brown says. “Remember, Champagne was once basically a sweet drink.”
Ross Simon, bartender at Bitter & Twisted in Phoenix, AZ, sees savory drinks as mirroring what happened a few years earlier on restaurant menus. “I personally feel the farm-to-table food movement was a logical step that helped inspire savory cocktails amongst bartenders,” Simon says, “utilizing produce which could showcase cocktails that complement a restaurant’s food.”
John McCarthy, Cocktail Director at Cedar Local in New York City, believes there is a drinks-based reason as well. “The driving trend toward savory drinks is bitters,” McCarthy says. “I think when we all discovered that we could make our own bitters and create our own unique flavor profile, like the bartenders did in the 19th century, the savory cocktail had a dramatic resurgence across the country.”
In addition to sourcing ingredients at farmers’ markets as zealously as chefs do, some bartenders even grow herb gardens and poach fresh ingredients from their chefs. “More and more, making drinks is merging with the kitchen,” Brown concludes. “Bartending is now a culinary art.”
Most savory drinks use white spirits, such as vodka (whose array of flavored versions include many savory components), gin and tequila. Collectively, Brown calls these white spirits “blank canvases.”
Yet McCarthy illustrates in one of his cocktail inventions, “Mister Three Step,” how beer and brown spirits can be used as well. The Mister Three Step (named for the Lynyrd Skynyrd song) is a beer cocktail, McCarthy says: “There is a classic cocktail called The Boulevardier, which is basically a Bourbon Negroni, combining bourbon, Campari and sweet vermouth. You also have a classic called a Boilermaker, which is a shot and a beer,” he says. “So, I put the two together, with my house-made celery bitters to bring the flavor profiles together and add a little depth to the drink as a whole.”
Simon has done some musing about the future of savory drinks, employing a science and engineering bent. “I would like to see these kinds of ingredients be taken and turned into next-level modifiers,” he says. As an example, he cites a Piña Colada using his house-charred pineapple-infused rum, coconut cream and freshly juiced pineapple and lime with a touch of salt water, finished off with a crown of dark rum. “It’s a classic with a mostly savory twist,” Simon says.
The Bloody Mary, the savory cocktail, is thriving, with perhaps as many house variations as there are Sunday brunches. The Bitter Truth now has two bitters—Celery and Cucumber—that can add a literal dash of savory complexity to a Bloody, or even a classic Gin & Tonic, with the flick of a wrist.
2 oz Vodka or Gin
4 dashes The Bitter Truth Celery Bitters
¼ oz Lemon Juice
4 oz Tomato Juice
Worcestershire Sauce, Tabasco, Salt & Pepper
Shake ingredients with ice and strain into a tumbler.
Gin/Vodka & Tonic
2 oz Gin/Vodka
2 dashes The Bitter Truth Celery Bitters
Pour ingredients into a long drink glass filled with ice.
Savory Piña Colada
Created by Ross Simon, Bitter & Twisted
1½ oz Charred Pineapple Rum
2 oz fresh Pineapple Juice
1 oz Coco Real
¾ oz Lime Juice
4 drops Salt Water
(Salt Water: 1 part salt to 10 parts water)
Dark Rum for float
Blend all ingredients and pour over crushed ice into a hurricane glass. Add dark rum float and garnish with pineapple leaf, mint sprig and a cherry.
To make charred pineapple rum, cut and slice half a pineapple, then grill for a nice golden char. Combine the grilled pineapple pieces with your favorite rum in a sealed glass container for a least a week. Age to taste.
Mister Three Step
Created by John McCarthy, Cedar Local (NYC)
½ oz Campari
½ oz Carpano Antica Sweet Vermouth
1 oz Bourbon
Few dashes Celery Bitters
Combine Campari, vermouth, bourbon and bitters in a pint glass. Fill with lager beer.
This recipe from Bombay Sapphire turns to fresh dill for a herbaceous twist.
1½ oz Bombay Sapphire Gin
¾ oz Lemon Juice
½ oz Simple Syrup
2 sprigs of Fresh Dill
10 drops Salt Water
Build and stir on the rocks in a Collins glass. Top with club soda. Garnish with citrus crescent.