served raw. Goodbye, Sweet. Hello, Savory.
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10.19.10 by  

Goodbye, Sweet. Hello, Savory.

Phoebe Esmon dishes the inside scoop on why sugar doesn’t need to be the star of your cocktail.

Phoebe Esmon, Head Bartender, Catahoula Bar and Restaurant and President of the USBG PA, shares how to give your taste buds a pat on the back by removing overly sticky, sweet, sugary ingredients from your cocktail glass. We say save the sweets for dessert.

Double fisting your shakers puts you at the pro level.

served raw: formerly sweet, now savory, what’s behind the shift in flavor profiles of cocktails these days?
Phoebe Esmon: From a commonsense view, I’d like to say that sweet cocktails might be losing their footing because people are tired of being wickedly hungover. It’s more likely due to a gravitation towards a more satisfying drink, after all we possess more taste receptors for umami, salt and bitterness than we do for sweetness. Cocktails are no longer just bookends — thanks to the efforts of innovating beverage professionals, they’re now finding a place within the meal. Patrons are beginning to expect from their cocktails the same level of complexity they do from the their favorite foods. This new role requires a greater depth and range of flavor, such as one can find in wines and ales of quality. Oddly enough, an apple-tini might not be the best accompaniment to a perfectly cooked steak.

a typical “sour” cocktail usually follows the 2-1-1 formula — when crafting savory cocktails, are there new rules to apply for crafting a well balanced drink?
Let’s start out by saying that a sour cocktail and a savory cocktail are not the same thing. The name “sour” refers to one of the oldest families of cocktails, which includes the Daisy and the Sidecar, and do indeed follow the 2 part spirit, 1 part sour, 1 part sweet formula. Savory ingredients however are so wide-ranging in terms of flavor, volume of flavor, acidity, sweetness, sourness, etc. that there can be no Band-Aid formula applied to them. While some may indeed end up utilizing a 2-1-1 or even a 3-2-1 formula, there is no way to know until you know your ingredients. The most important thing to do is to taste.

are there certain spirits that work better than others for savory cocktails?
I’m an equal opportunity employer, but for someone just starting out with savory cocktails, gin and tequila are two good gateway spirits. The punchiness of the juniper in gin and the smokey herbaciousness of tequila both lend themselves well to more savory flavor profiles.

what’s a simple way to make a sweet cocktail more savory?
Add bitters and/or fresh herbs. Shake some sage into your gimlet for a more earthy, aromatic note.

let’s talk about savory cocktail garnishes …
The most common, probably salt. Salt is one of the base enhancers of the experience of umami, or “good taste” which is essentially what we mean when we say savory. Salt is therefore one way to garnish a savory cocktail to be sure. People now are also using foams, airs, herbs, bitters and other spice-blends for garnish. What you might consider instead of rimming your glass with salt, is adding a pinch of it to your cocktail, and utilizing other methods for garnish.

Rethink your glassware and garnish for a signature twist to your cocktail hour.

when crafting a savory cocktail, where do you find inspiration?
Working with savory ingredients is no different than working with any other ingredients. Inspiration can come from anywhere: a bottle, a name, a special request, a farmers’ market find. Again the most important part of building any cocktail is tasting.

any tips for readers who might like to try crafting their own savory cocktail?
Don’t be afraid to apply to cocktails what you’ve already learned in the kitchen. Try out herbs, fruits and vegetables that you already know you like to cook with, like avocados or artichokes. If you like cooking with thyme, you are probably going to like it in a cocktail. Smell and taste. Take your time. Smell first. Then taste. Take as long as you need to associate it with something in your memory. Smell and memory, as Marcel Proust explained, are very closely related. Some people find it helpful to keep a tasting journal, because your personal tasting notes are going to be most useful to you. Fear not the cook book! Many food-related books, such as the Flavor Bible, provide great information on flavor pairings. But nothing beats experience. And when in doubt follow your nose.

we’re big fans of how you name your cocktails — how do you come up with them?
I’m a fan of thematic lists, so I research/think on a specific idea until I’ve found enough phrases, quotes, etc, to build a list from. For instance, my summer cocktails were all inspired by songs that invoked the idea of summer for me.

The Mellow Time

A savory farmers’ market cocktail by Phoebe Esmon. She loves how the apple-wood smoked salt marries the vanilla notes of the whiskey and the subtle acidity of the pear.

  • One whole seckel pear
  • 3 dashes Angostura Bitters
  • Small pinch Applewood-smoked salt
  • 1 1/2 ounces Jameson Irish Whiskey
  • 3/4 ounce fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 ounce honey syrup
  1. Muddle one whole seckel pear. Add all other ingredients. Shake, double strain over fresh rocks, garnish with floating spear of pear.