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Forget Your Sickly Sweet Cosmo — Shake Things Up with ‘Savory Cocktails’

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One of the lingering horrors of “Sex and the City” is the nasty infection of overly sweet cocktails that has spread to bar menus practically everywhere you turn. If it isn’t the cosmopolitan, it’s some candy-coated appletini or a frozen margarita with so much sweet-and-sour mix in it that you can’t taste the lime or even the tequila.

The Dog's Nose

The Dog’s Nose

That’s why Greg Henry’s “Savory Cocktails” (Ulysses Press, $16.95) sounded so appealing when I first heard about it. Then I opened the book and started to study. “Cocktails are becoming more sophisticated and taking a distinctly savory turn,” he writes. “Today’s bartenders are reaching for unexpected ingredients and employing culinary techniques such as infusions and purées to expand and sometimes challenge the palate. … Innovative ingredients and modern techniques create new categories of beverages, because there comes a point in life when sweet, pink drinks just don’t keep you coming back to the bar.”

After taking you through the equipment you need for a good home bar, food writer and photographer Henry settles into a discussion of techniques, syrups (yes,  sweeteners such as Rhubarb Rosemary Syrup or Habanero Agave Syrup are used for balance in drinks) and bitters. He offers a refreshing take on shrubs, “old-fashioned drinking vinegars,” as he calls them, which mix sweet and tart. (If you’re curious about shrubs, try the locally made ones that Cathy Tarasovic and Cynthia Guido have for sale at the Quarry Farmers and Ranchers Market on Sundays; then take your favorites and start creating your own cocktails with them.)

Then comes the real fun, the recipes. Papa Hemingway’s Daiquiri is far stronger and less sweet than the original, using grapefruit juice in the mix, while the Green Gargoyle mixes tequila, jalapeño, cilantro and lime with an entire tablespoon of pink salt into one fiery glass of refreshment. Imagine a brunch with Black Pepper Oyster Shooters or a Bloody Mary made with a serrano-infused tomato juice.

Savory_Cocktails-front.inddThe drinks are broken down into categories, such as sour, herbal, spicy, bitter and smoky as well as the mouth-filling umami. There are also chapters on rich and strong drinks, which include a few classics. You may find yourself playing a little with Henry’s recipes. I like my martini, for example, a lot drier than his 4:1 ratio of gin to vermouth (and, yes, a martini is made with gin — that drink you may be thinking of is a vodka martini.) Try a good 6:1 or even without vermouth, if you like yours dry. Go for a 3:1, if you want it fruitier.

There is one problem with “Savory Cocktails,” though, and it’s fairly common among most cocktail books: Some of the ingredients are esoteric, to say the least. So, you may have to make a shopping of list including the likes of Bittermens Orchard Street Celery Shrub, Chartruese, Bittercube blackstrap molasses bitters or St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram, before you can drink the likes of a To Hell with Spain No. 2 or a Celery Shrub Cocktail.

But you never know what people will find on hand. For The Dog’s Nose, a gin cocktail based on a reference in Dickens’ “The Pickwick Papers,” the recipe calls for a bottle of porter and porcini mushroom powder. I had the powder, but I had to go buy the beer. Go figure. (By the way, I was glad I tried this libation at home as it seemed exceptionally potent to me.)

You can also get as fancy or as fun as you’d like with the recipes. The outline for the Aperol Tequila Swizzle calls for salt, so I served it with a block of Himalayan pink salt perched on top of the glass. That meant the sipper could grate his own to taste.

I can’t tell you how glad I am to have found a cocktail or three that use salt, instead of sugar, to add flavor. For that alone, Henry’s “Savory Cocktails” is worth a look. There’s even a Black Salt cocktail that I will try soon. I’ve got the black salt, the rye, the coffee liqueur and the egg white; I just need to stock up on Fernet-Branca.

Aperol Tequila Swizzle

Aperol Tequila Swizzle

Aperol Tequila Swizzle

2 ounces tequila blanco
1 ounce Aperol
2 or 3 dashed grapefruit bitters
2 to 3 ounces club soda
1 pinch coarse salt
1 grapefruit twist, as garnish

Fill a wine goblet or highball glass with medium ice cubes; add the tequila, Aperol and bitters. Use a swizzle stick or straw to stir the ingredients until just blended. Top with club soda and a pinch of salt; stir gently and garnish with a grapefrui twist. Serve with the swizzle stick or straw.

Makes 1 cocktail.

From “Savory Cocktails” by Greg Henry

The Dog’s Nose

3 ounces dry gin
1 cup traditional-style porter, at room temperature
1 tiny pinch porcini mushroom powder or crystalline MSG powder
Freshly grated nutmeg, as garnish

Pour the gin into a 10- to 14-ounce glass. Add the porter and allow the head to develop somewhat, then sprinkl on the mushroom powder. Garnish with nutmeg.

Makes 1 cocktail.

From “Savory Cocktails” by Greg Henry


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