Story by Cara Devine Cara is our Melbourne-based drinks writer. She is the manager of Bomba in Melbourne, author and the face and talent behind the cocktailing youtube channel Behind the Bar. You can email her at email@example.com
Photography by Christopher Pearce @christophernpearce
In Samin Nosrat’s cooking bible, ‘Salt, Fat Acid, Heat’, she says “If only one lesson from this book stays with you, let it be this: Salt has a greater impact on flavour than any other ingredient.” It is a lesson that bartenders have taken to heart; no longer confined to the rim of your Margy or your Bloody Mary, a lick of saline is now used to elevate all manner of drinks.
There’s a pretty good scientific reason for this phenomenon – several, in fact. The underlying one is that humans physically crave salt. It’s an essential nutrient that we need to survive, so clever evolution made sure we would eat it regularly by giving it flavour enhancing qualities. We can perceive five tastes – sweet, sour, bitter, salt and umami. Every good cocktail relies on an interplay between these. In small quantities, though, salt doesn’t make things ‘salty’ but rather interferes with our experience of the other tastes. In the mid-1990s, scientists at the Monell Chemical Senses Centre in Philadelphia found that salt increases our perception of sweetness by diminishing our ability to taste bitterness, hence why salting something like a grapefruit can actually make it more palatable. It also interacts with water in a way that makes it easier for volatile molecules to ‘launch’ themselves in the air, which is a rather violent-sounding way of saying it will heighten aromas. These qualities mean that salt makes things taste like the best version of themselves and leaves us salivating – always a good outcome in the world of cocktail creation.
It is something that Kayla Reid, Group Beverage Creative for the Speakeasy Group, has been preaching since she can remember. “It’s one of the first, and I believe, most valuable lessons you can learn when you first start understanding how to balance and level up your cocktail serves. There’s nothing worse than eating an unseasoned dish…for me, it can be the same with drinks. Just a couple of drops of saline can sometimes be the only thing missing to take that drink from good to great. Salt doesn’t necessarily equate to ‘salty’; often it’s about NOT noticing the salt is in there – but you would notice if it was taken away. The salt is simply amplifying the flavours and allows them to shine. This goes for syrups as well, sometimes all that is missing is that pinch of salt. Did I mention I love salt?”
There are also advocates for simply salting your sugar syrup. Geoff Fewell, a long-time bar wizard who is currently working at Golden Age Cinema suggests using 1% salt to sugar, as well as 1% citric acid for citrus drinks to make them pop – your Daiquiri will never be the same again.
Saline solution is usually touted as the easiest way to introduce salt to cocktails – dissolving salt in water at a certain ratio and dashing it into cocktails as you would bitters allows more control than adding an imprecise ‘pinch’ of salt flakes (and of course, the type of salt flakes used will make a difference here as well). There are also advocates for simply salting your sugar syrup. Geoff Fewell, a long-time bar wizard who is currently working at Golden Age Cinema suggests using 1% salt to sugar, as well as 1% citric acid for citrus drinks to make them pop – your Daiquiri will never be the same again. That said, it’s not just citrusy or fruity drinks that this magical molecular compound works wonders for. “I love using salt in cocktails, particularly stiff, booze-forward drinks,” says Andrew Joseph, now brewing at Bodriggy and former bar manager of New Gold Mountain. “I find just a few drops of saline can help with body and mouthfeel as well as rounding out the sweetness. Try it in a Negroni, Manhattan or my ‘Short and Stout’.” (Recipe below).
If you’re feeling lazy, look to high-salt-content ingredients in your pantry – of course, we’re used to playing around with pickle or olive brine in a Martini, but what about that jar of Vegemite? It’s just what your Espresso Martini has been missing!
Salt can also be layered in through individual ingredients. Alejandro Archibald previously of Nomad Melbourne is all about “sorting it at the source” – or salting it at the source – “I salt pretty much all of the homemade ingredients I make for cocktails, it reduces the need for salt solutions”. This applies to syrups, as mentioned by Reid, but actively salty ingredients like lacto-ferments and preserves can also give your cocktail an edge. If you’re feeling lazy, look to high-salt-content ingredients in your pantry – of course, we’re used to playing around with pickle or olive brine in a Martini, but what about that jar of Vegemite? It’s just what your Espresso Martini has been missing!
Turns out, being salty isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Grapes ‘n’ Grappa
By Kayla Reid, will be on new Eau de Vie Sydney list
‘A floral and textural wet martini riff”
40ml Cacao butter washed vodka
20ml Unico Zelo pomelo vermouth
7.5ml Nonino Moscato grappa
5ml Joseph Cartron white cacao
1 drop 10:1 Saline solution
Garnish: Expressed grapefruit and 3 sweet pickled red grapes
Glassware: coupe or martini
Add all ingredients to mixing glass with ice. Stir down until dilution is achieved. Strain into coupe and garnish with expressed grapefruit and pickled red grapes. Enjoy!
Short and Stout
By Andrew Joseph
30ml peated and brine-y single malt
10ml Vanilla liqueur
15ml stout reduction
3 drops 2:1 saline solution
3 drops cacao coffee bitters
Garnish: grated nutmeg
Glassware: Nick & Nora
Add all of your ingredients to your shaker tin, shake and double strain into your Nick & Nora glass. Grate nutmeg on the top and enjoy!
The Long Black
By Rachael Hand, Funlab
‘If the Espresso Martini is for the latte drinkers, this is for the long black drinkers’
40ml Butter washed Vodka
20ml wattleseed infused Mr Black Cold Drip Coffee Liqueur*
30ml espresso coffee
10ml Vegemite syrup*
Garnish: Cinnamon sugar
Glassware: coupe or martini
*Vegemite syrup: mix 100ml agave syrup with 100ml boiling water and dissolve a teaspoon of Vegemite in it.
*Wattleseed Mr Black: add around a teaspoon per 100ml of Mr Black and let infuse overnight, preferably in a warm place. Strain.
Add all of your ingredients to your shaker tin, shake and double strain into your coupe glass. Sprinkle a pinch of cinnamon sugar on the top and enjoy!