As cocktail makers and drinkers have become more sophisticated, salt has been finding a regular home behind the bar. The element brightens and awakens even the most dormant ingredients, balances acidity and invests a drink with exciting new layers.
“Using salt in any drink adds complexity,” says Morgan Schick, the creative director of San Francisco’s Bon Vivants and Trick Dog. “It emphasizes certain flavors and can make a simple cocktail really unique, especially with cocktails that are bitter or sour.”
As the American palate continues to crave fresh, new flavor combinations, infused salts are stepping into the spotlight. They’re available in a variety of blends, so there’s most likely an infused salt available for every type of cocktail, whether sweet, spicy, savory or sour. “They have all the benefits of adding salt, plus a way of layering another flavor into a cocktail,” says Schick.
Infused salts can be used in a variety of ways, whether as a rim for its own stand-out palate stimulation or integrated in cocktails as a way to enhance other flavors. Schick says he prefers to leave them less incorporated so that they have their own impact on the drinker. Other bartenders create beverages that more specifically use infused salts as a way to enhance the drink’s natural flavors.
“What’s so intriguing about these salts is the layering effects, which makes a cocktail stand out,” says Marcio Ramos, the head bartender at New York City’s Honey Well. Ramos recently infused salt with Sriracha and used it as a half rim on a tequila cocktail.
But it’s not just the layering of flavor and heightening of senses that have been attracting drink mixers to the additive. Experts say it’s an easy way to get creative with flavor profiles, test new combinations and try new techniques without making a heavy investment.
“Exotic herbs, spices and sweets can get pretty expensive,” says Ramos. “Pick one [flavor] you like and play around with different methods to perfect the drink.”
Daniel Kulisek, the lead bartender at Philadelphia’s Bank & Bourbon, follows this practice as well. He says the ingredient is one that easily allows for exploration and experimentation with drinks. He also says to proceed with caution. “As with any ingredient, balance is the key. Don’t try to do too much or you may end up with something that’s undrinkable. But try anything. You may succeed or you may fail, but I’ve always said to explore whatever flavor options you can think of.”
Erick Castro, the co-founder of Polite Provisions in San Diego, says the flexibility and flavor options available with infused salts have allowed him the chance to get creative with his pairings until he developed ones that were menu-worthy.
“The beauty of infused salts is that they bring their own flavor, rather than a simple sensation such as salty, sweet or sour,” says Castro. “Infused salts can pair with just about anything. Naturally, they’re easier to pair with citrus-driven cocktails, but don’t feel like that’s the only place to go. Saltiness also impairs the tongue’s ability to perceive bitterness, so consider that an opportunity to start playing with the mouth’s perception of flavor.”
His advice is to start simple. Add them to cocktails you know can benefit from an extra dimension of flavor and then work into more complex selections. “Go wild and don’t feel that you can only pair with shaken drinks. Many stirred cocktails can benefit from a wee pinch of salt,” says Castro.
The variety of forms infused salts take is also beneficial to their usage, complementing more than just a Margarita. Mikey Belasco, the lead bartender at GupShup, says he uses them in both liquid and solid forms. Kulisek admits he prefers to use them in raw form, as it allows for a “more honest flavor.” But as the trend continues, he predicts other ways to use infused salts will emerge.