A new wave of spirits channel all your Goth dreams, pouring in various inky-dark hues.
It’s a wonder it has taken so long for these nearly-noir spirits to arrive. Black cocktails have been part of the trendscape for years, colored with everything from squid ink to tinctures made with black sesame seeds—and, unfortunately, activated charcoal, which has been linked to various health risks when used in food and drink. Yet, there haven’t been many spirituous options to grab and pour.
The Appeal of Noir Spirits
What’s behind these bottles in brooding hues? Apparently, it’s a combination of drama and differentiation.
“Black is not a color you see in spirits very often at all,” says Andrew Thomas, the owner and head distiller of Brooklyn’s Halftone. “It’s a way to stand out in a crowded marketplace. It’s eye-catching and right for someone who doesn’t want to spend a lot of time in a liquor store parsing every bottle.”
Further, Thomas suggests that darker, more saturated shades are a logical extension of the recent wave of pink gins and other spirits. “We’re starting to see more interplay of colors in general,” he observes.
To be fair, none of these new spirits are precisely an opaque paintbox black. They span from faded charcoal to deep blackberry or dark garnet hues. But they can add a welcome brooding dimension to drinks.
Creative Coloring Agents
For the winter version of Halftone’s Wavelength gin, called “noir,” cocoa nibs from Brooklyn chocolatier Raaka and black carrot root create a striking “dark, pen-ink kind of reddish-brown,” says Thomas. “It has an almost garnet color when held up to the light.” Flavored with earthy smoked black tea, orange peel, cinnamon, and elderberry, “I wanted to lean into the color as much as the flavor profile,” he says. The gin debuted in late October 2021, just in time for Halloween.
Meanwhile, New Zealand import Scapegrace Black debuted in the U.S. in September 2021. The gin employs butterfly pea flower for its deep blackberry hue (it’s more inky purple than outright black) as well as its color-changing properties. When mixed with citrus or tonic water, the gin transforms to a light lavender.
“The petals of this flower contain a pigment called anthocyanin, which causes the color to shift when introduced to acidity like citrus,” says master distiller Anthony Lawry. “If you were to place lemon juice in a glass of butterfly pea flower tea, it would morph from deep blue to purple, finally to electric pink. In our case, it goes from jet black to lavender.”
In addition to juniper and butterfly pea flower sourced from Southeast Asia, botanicals in the gin also include local sweet potato, aronia berries, pineapple, and saffron.
Also in fall 2021, Mezcal El Silencio unveiled its Black Magic bottling, a small, limited-edition run of 1,000 bottles available only to guests staying at Casa Silencio, a new boutique hotel on the distillery property. Since the mezcal isn’t available for retail sale (or to journalists), the only description we can share is from the company, which likens the color to “the boundless Oaxacan night and the clay of the Earth.” The base is an espadín mezcal; El Silencio declined to explain what makes it black, citing a “proprietary recipe,” so the color might be anything, from food coloring to charcoal.
Of course, these aren’t the only noir spirits. But still, there aren’t many. Blavod Black Vodka, first released in the late ’90s and colored with the Southeast Asian herb black catechu, extracted from the bark of the acacia tree, seems to be one of the few with staying power; a handful of black sambucas (Opal Nera, Romana Black) as well as some liqueurs (including Riga Black Balsam) flavored with licorice, dark fruit, or espresso can also offer an inky appearance.
Perhaps other options will soon appear on the midnight-dark horizon. Until then, bartenders will be mixing these spirits into dramatic, dark-hued cocktails such as the Black Negroni.