Rimmed Margaritas and Bloody Marys aside, salt is taking its rightful spot as a versatile component in cocktails. “Salt behaves as a binder, enhancing each ingredient and providing an additional dimension,” says Sarah Ruiz, the head bartender at Dirty Habit in Washington, D.C. “It highlights the sweet and brightens the citrus, resulting in a mouthwatering drink that demands another sip.”
In other words, salt can be the glue that gives an otherwise disjointed cocktail synergy. These are eight cocktails in bars that do just that.
Can't make it to any of the bars serving these great drinks with salt? Try making the Busy Bee from this list at home.
It’s not always about white crystals or pink flakes but briny and pickled elements. Ruiz makes a syrup made with sea beans, foraged from marshes with an addictively crispy texture and briny flavor, for this cocktail. Manzanilla sherry and sotol marry with it well, while a spritz of seaside Talisker 10-year-old scotch binds it all together. Slightly acidic verjus blanc doesn’t overpower the drink’s salinity, and black lemon bitters give earthy acidity.
This cocktail is reminiscent of that saline-tinged sea spray you taste on your lips during a walk on the beach. At Tanuki in Miami, lead bartender and mixologist Thomas Latosone cold-infuses seaweed with Cocchi Vermouth di Torino, which has a similar organoleptic characteristic as chocolate, meaning the combination works the same way as the irresistible taste of a sea salt caramel chocolate bar. It’s stirred with Kikori Japanese whisky, absinthe, Bénédictine and Nectar Pedro Ximénez sherry.
Salted lime cordial (along with zesty lime curd, lime juice and yuzu vinegar) definitely gets the salivary glands flowing in the Daiquiri+ by Dante beverage director Naren Young in New York City. The drink also has Caña Brava rum and Clement Première Canne rum and is garnished with a dehydrated lime wheel. “I often use salt to amplify fresh ingredients, temper bitterness or balance sweetness,” says Young. He prefers softer Maldon salt from England to table or kosher salts, though, which tend to be too aggressive.
Something decidedly more exotic goes into this cocktail at Tiger Fork. Ian Fletcher, the beverage director at the Hong Kong street food spot in Washington, D.C., uses umeboshi—small, wrinkly, sour and salty fermented Japanese plums—in a tonic with gentian, angelica and Chinese licorice root. “In my mind, it was tart and bitter rounded out by sweetness and spice,” he says. The tonic is dispensed over Corsair spiced rum, yuzu juice and ice, garnished with a lemon peel and an umeboshi plug flag.
Kevin Dietrich has used all kinds of salty ingredients in his cocktails at PCH in San Francisco, from salted pistachio orgeat to salted pandan, a fragrant tropical herb from Southeast Asia. In his Miso Old Fashioned, the general managing partner fat-washes Bacardí eight-year-old rum with miso (for umami-rich savory notes) and honey butter (for silky texture). “Without this delivery, the miso would either be overwhelming in the cocktail or separate once it’s made,” says Dietrich. It balances the rum’s molasses notes and pommeau’s apple flavor The cocktail also has cane sugar, Angostura bitters, chocolate mole and Peychaud’s bitters, served on a rock with a lemon twist.
“I like to think of salt as an ingredient that totally changes the whole drink,” says Patrick Vogt. “Typically, salt adds a savoriness to the drink and makes it feel rounder on the palate.” The assistant general manager of Spoke & Steele in Indianapolis dilutes sea salt for cocktails like Not Kilgore’s Drano, with Bank Note scotch, Rittenhouse rye, fresh lemon juice, thyme agave syrup and activated charcoal. But just like in the kitchen, salt should be a seasoning or modifier, not the star of the show. “Too much will make the rest of the flavors disappear, and you will only taste salt.”
Often, Allison Lindsey will add just a drop of saline water to see how it changes the balance, submitting that the trial-and-error process definitely requires a light hand. “Making cocktails is a lot like making food,” says the head bartender at Baltimore’s Bar Vasquez. “With salt, you have to be very judicious with how much you use. So when she’s juicing cucumbers for this cocktail, she starts with no more than a teaspoon or so of sea salt per quart. The Bee’s Knees riff is also shaken with Ransom Old Tom gin, honey and fresh lemon juice and garnished with a rosemary sprig. “You have your sweet, your bitter, your salty and the aromatics,” she says. “It makes a great well-balanced cocktail and something a little unexpected.”
At Midnight Rambler in Dallas, co-creator Chad Solomon believes “mineral salts can have a pronounced effect on a drink, allowing the imbiber to taste/perceive more nuances to the flavor,” he says. He has developed one with 10 percent mineral saline solution, 10 percent kosher salt (by weight) and Crazy Water No. 4, a high-trace mineral water from Mineral Wells, Texas, with potassium, magnesium, calcium, lithium and bicarbonate of soda. He always adds a few drops to new cocktails to see whether it enhances or flattens their flavor. In the Gibson-like Silvertone, the solution and mineral water are mixed with Dolin dry vermouth, Beefeater 24 gin and orange bitters and garnished with a chipotle pickled onion.