Though typically associated with drinks like the Bloody Mary and Dirty Martini, savory flavor profiles are becoming a fascination for bartenders everywhere. They’re using earthy, spicy or umami-filled ingredients and different infusion techniques like fat washing to create a whole new cast of cocktails.
“Cocktails tend to mirror what’s happening in food culture,” says Erin Cusick, a bartender at Clover Club in New York City. “[Any] common obsession with gastronomy in the media, like on Chef’s Table and that kind of show, is sometimes a natural place to look.”
From fascinating and scientific to completely unheard of, a range of unique culinary concepts often serves as the biggest draw for these outlets. Over time, ideas will move from screen or page to kitchen and then, as with this trend, migrate to bar tops.
In this case, it also helps that salt, a natural thirst-inducer and flavor enhancer, makes for an easy portal to savory experiments.
At Clover Club, Cusick says one of the biggest successes has been a mushroom-infused whiskey sour. Forager’s Westward Whiskey gets infused with porcini mushrooms and cacao nibs, then shaken with egg white, lemon, a house blend of sugars and Palo Cortado Sherry. It’s one of the most popular items on the menu, she says.
“It’s like taking a bite out of an earth cookie,” says Cusick. “It’s mushroomy, but you get this layer of chocolate. It confuses the palate, but in the best way.”
Similar drinks have been trending across the country, showing up on menus at places Midnight Rambler in Dallas, known for the beef “stock-tail,” and Deadshot in Portland, Oregon, which serves up a mustard-and-egg yolk whiskey concoction.
At other venues, savory sips represent more of an intrigue.
At the 2020 Lunar New Year celebration at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles, for example, Matt Dorsey, beverage director and CFO of culinary production company Studio ATAO, served a one-off unctous creation made exclusively for the event.
It layered Chinese chile-infused, lamb-fat-washed brandy with Shaoxing wine and kümmel, an herbaceous, caraway seed-flavored liqueur.
So how savory is too savory? Like spice, it comes down to your mood and palate. But the ever-expanding landscape of beverage options is always a great thing.