With the recent rise of Middle Eastern cuisine in American restaurants comes another welcome trend: cocktails made with ingredients from that region of the world. These days, bartenders across the country are experimenting with everything from turmeric and sumac to za'atar and tahini in their drinks. The result? A new generation of cocktails, some savory, some sweet, all sensational. These are 12 drinks crafted from Middle Eastern flavors.
Can't make it to any of the bars serving these great Middle Eastern–inspired drinks? Try making the Za’atar Paloma from this list at home.
At Sitti, an authentic Lebanese restaurant in downtown Raleigh, every table gets greeted with fresh pita and a dish of za'atar-infused olive oil for dipping. From this, bartender Whitney Neal envisioned a cocktail using the savory-sweet blend of spices like sumac, sesame and thyme for a fresh take on a Paloma. Her version mixes Patrón silver tequila with fresh grapefruit juice and an ounce of za'atar simple syrup, served over ice with a lime wheel garnish. Sip on its own or enjoy it with grilled meat.
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Ras-el-hanout, a North African spice blend with ingredients like coriander, cumin, cardamom and turmeric, is found in many Middle Eastern dishes. Scott Stroemer, the head bartender at Pacific Standard Time, tends to pillage it from the restaurant's kitchen to make it into a tincture to concoct this bright, refreshing and somewhat savory drink. It’s combined with tarragon- and snap-pea-infused tequila, jalapeño-honeydew shrub and Dr. Brown’s Cel-Ray soda, and even though traditional grapefruit is missing, the drink still delivers.
Inspired by savory yogurt dishes prevalent throughout the Middle East, The NoMad Bar director Pietro Collina wanted to highlight vegetal qualities in the drink, which comprises olive-oil-infused tequila, fino sherry, green tea sheep's milk yogurt, lime, grapefruit, bergamot-forward Italicus aperitivo and Salers apéritif for vegetal bitterness.
Thinking about Middle East markets, Vesper Lounge partner Adam Hodak created this cocktail to highlight the depth and expression of spices and flavors found throughout the region, including coffee. Hodak uses a smoked artichoke sfumato amaro to bind Bowmore 12-year-old scotch and St. George Nola coffee liqueur before adding balance with a pop of ginger and black pepper through chai syrup. He finishes the drink by adding house-made Arabic coffee and walnut bitters for a final touch that, he says, is reminiscent of eating baklava while sipping Turkish coffee.
This drink came about when Baharat bar manager Arvid Brown was playing around with turmeric. After realizing how much the yellow powder stains, he created a rye infusion with pieces of the root. He combines that with Strega herbal liqueur for botanical notes, adding a bit of cucumber water for coolness, fresh lemon juice for brightness and chickpea foam to add an essence of a sour while still keeping it vegan.
What better way to tszuj up gin than by infusing it with the ubiquitous spice za'atar? At least that was the thought of Zahav co-founder Steve Cook when offering the inspiration to beverage manager Jeff Bartash. “There are so many kinds of botanicals that make up the different flavor profiles of gin, so why not use this herbaceous spice blend?” asks Cook. Bartash then combined that with Byrrh aromatized wine, Dolin blanc vermouth, fresh grapefruit and lemon juices, and simple syrup.
Ein Gedi, a gorgeous natural reserve near Masada and the Dead Sea in Israel, gets honored through this cocktail by pressure-infusing turmeric with pisco to preserve the spice's bright color and flavor. At Saba, acclaimed chef Alon Shaya's new restaurant, bartender Oliver Sovol then creates a riff on a Pisco Sour by combining the turmeric pisco with Yellow Chartreuse, fresh lemon juice, egg white and Angostura bitters. "It's bright, acidic and very complex," says Sovol. "Which I feel can also be said for the cuisine of Israel and Saba."
While visiting Morocco a few years ago, Green Zone owner Chris Hassaan Francke hiked the High Atlas Mountains, where snow often covers the peak. It inspired this cocktail, which combines New Columbia Distillers’ Green Hat Ginavit, a gin/aquavit hybrid produced in D.C., with cactus fruit (a.k.a. prickly pear) that he found in markets throughout Morocco. He adds tangerine (named for the Moroccan port city of Tangier) and a few drops of Moroccan argan oil, resulting in an all-natural neon fuchsia color for this drink, which really shines in the winter.
For this play on the classic Alaska cocktail, bartender Tony Contreras tweaks the flavor and lowers the proof to better pair with food. Instead of using Yellow Chartreuse, he substitutes Braulio amaro and both Dolin blanc and dry vermouths, mixes in Tanqueray No. Ten gin and adds a few drops of cardamom tincture over top.
At Miss Ada, Israeli-born chef Tomer Blechman's Mediterranean restaurant, head bartender Ruben Hernandez pulls together various tastes of the region such as anise-flavored arak, fresh lemon juice, thyme and chickpea water, which adds frothiness when shaken, with Dorothy Parker gin to create this refreshing cocktail that just happens to also be vegan.
As one who loves a good Daiquiri, Aba lead bartender Liz Pearce wanted to put a Middle Eastern twist on the classic. So she added turmeric and honey for a pop of color as well as a complement to the spice in Chairman's Reserve rum. To that she includes fresh lemon and pineapple juices, gives it all a shake and double-strains before serving it up with a lemon wheel, orchid garnish and a dash of raspberry dust.