Before you add enough salt to make a dish taste, well, salty, something else magical occurs. Flavors get amplified, layered and multidimensional, even in desserts. A sprinkle in your brownie batter can be life-changing.
Chad Solomon figured the same thing might happen with cocktails. Considering fat (in the form of a sweetener) and acidity are already commonplace in libations, the natural progression for an added flavor enhancer was sodium chloride. But we’re not talking about something as obvious or overtly flavored as a salt rim on a Margarita glass or a Bloody Mary.
After reading the book “Fix the Pumps” (Art of Drink, $17), by Darcy S. O’Neil, which explores the history and golden age of soda fountains in the United States, the co-creator of Dallas craft cocktail bar Midnight Rambler at The Joule hotel, started thinking about the role of sodium chloride, and minerality in general, in drinks.
“NaCL is but one mineral among several,” says Solomon. “I was interested in creating a saline that wasn’t just a salt solution but included other natural minerals.”
A native Texan who earned his chops professionally in New York City, Solomon and co-founder Christy Pope sought a local ingredient that would showcase Texas terroir. The duo discovered a town an hour west of Fort Worth called Mineral Wells, from which so-called Crazy Water has been sourced for well more than 100 years.
Legend has it that in 1881 a woman who suffered from dementia was supposedly cured after sitting by the well all day drinking its water. Soon after, people starting flocking to quaff this cure-all. In 1904, Ed Dismuke, whose incurable stomach ailment supposedly disappeared after throwing back copious amounts of the elixir, founded the Famous Mineral Water Company.
Today, several different versions of the water are bottled: Midnight Rambler uses No. 4, the strongest, “craziest” and most mineral-rich offering, with nine or so trace minerals, including potassium, magnesium and calcium.
“One of the things that makes it so special is that it’s naturally mineralized and includes calcium, magnesium, potassium, lithium, sodium bicarbonate, silica, zinc and other trace minerals at pH 8.2,” says Solomon. “The water on its own has chewy texture similar to sea water, except there is no salinity.” It’s used to dilute the bar’s Martinis and serves as the solvent in house-made syrups and sodas. (The staff suggests downing a big glass of it as a nightcap after a night of overindulgence as a hangover-prevention remedy.)
Solomon also creates his own saline solution by combining kosher salt with Crazy Water No. 4. A drop or two make it into practically all of the drinks at Midnight Rambler, including the Cuffs & Buttons—which also mixes spiced bourbon, stone fruit, orange blossom honey, creole bitters and lemon zest—and the Psychedelic Sound of the Improved Bergamot Sour, with Earl Grey–infused gin, maraschino and Cointreau liqueurs, absinthe, lemon, egg white and a bergamot essence made with both mineral saline and mineral simple syrup.
In both drinks, the mineral saline imparts very little flavor by itself, he says, yet it “allows for more perceptible depth of the flavors present in each cocktail.”
Midnight Rambler’s signature cocktail may just be the Silvertone, a batched Martini riff that stirs gin with French dry vermouth, orange bitters, two drops of mineral saline and three-quarters of an ounce of Crazy Water No. 4, which provides a softer, richer mouthfeel.
Mineral saline is not listed as an ingredient on the menu, though of course when guests sit at the bar and see staff squeezing eye droppers into their libations, they’re obviously curious.
If you’re still not convinced this unique solution can make cocktails pop, Solomon suggests doing a side-by-side comparison with cocktails. But a word of caution: Just as a too-liberal shake at the table can render food inedible, too many drops of this magic potion can flatten the drink on the palate. Take that advice with more than a grain of salt.