Buda Photography (The Up & Up). Courtesy Of Greenriver.
When flavor scientists identified umami, "the fifth taste"--that unnameable something that makes meat taste meaty--no one could have predicted it would make its way into cocktails. But a new batch of freethinkers have begun exploring this final flavor frontier, using ingredients more often seen on a dinner table. Think mushroom-tinged margaritas and Old Bay-Champagne cocktails are hipster madness gone too far? Think again.
The craft cocktail movement has grown so much and so quickly that, in a relatively short time, innovative bartenders have exhausted every other major flavor profile. Sweet? That's so '70s. Sour? It's got a whole cocktail category named after it. Salty? Have a margarita. Bitter? It's called amaro, and it was the biggest bar trend last year. The only way forward was to go savory.
"We wanted to stretch our wings and see how we could push the flavor envelope," says Julia Momose, the head bartender at Chicago's GreenRiver (GreenRiverChi.com). A number of her drinks incorporate savory spices like garam masala, fennel, bay leaves, and, yes, even the above-mentioned Old Bay, which pairs surprisingly well with mezcal, cava, and creme de framboise in the Diamond Jim. The results are complex and compelling. Says Momose, "As savory cocktails sit in the glass and warm a bit, the flavors start to change and grow a bit richer and deeper."
But opening up cocktails to new ingredients is more than a creative exercise. Adding unexpected flavors can also reveal hidden facets of spirits we already love. That's what head bartender Chaim Dauermann discovered at the New York cocktail bar The Up & Up (UpAndUpNYC.com), where his Strunk Text uses a chanterelle mushroom syrup to draw out the green, vegetal notes in silver tequila. Meanwhile, at San Francisco's Trick Dog (TrickDogBar.com), mushrooms play a starring role in the Crop Circle, which uncovers new layers in white oak-aged Japanese whisky.
Chances are, you've already experienced this sort of cocktail-enhancing magic before. Think about the savory depth that gives bloodies their hangover-fighting punch. Dauermann's Apostate cocktail uses that same Worcestershire sauce to turn scotch and herbal Chartreuse into a refreshingly potent sipper --and a great hangover cure in its own right. Using familiar flavors in brand-new ways? That's the power of umami.
Courtesy of Julia Momose, GreenRiver, Chicago
1/2 fl. oz. fresh lime juice
3/4 oz. garam masala
2 fl. oz. pineapple-infused Kappa Pisco*
Bitter Truth aromatic bitters
Combine all the ingredients except the bitters in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake well, then strain into a wine glass. Shake 3 drops of bitters over the top of the finished cocktail.
*To make pineapple-infused pisco, peel and core 1 ripe pineapple, and cut it into 1-inch pieces. Place in an airtight container and cover with 750 mL of Kappa Pisco. Let sit for 24 hours and strain through a mesh strainer to catch the large pieces, then through a coffee filter for best results. Store in the refrigerator.