Cocktail 101: When Cocktail Ingredients Get Weird


Cocktails usually come with a rather predictable list of ingredients. There's normally a base spirit, and sometimes one or two modifying liqueurs or cordials. Then possibly juice of some sort and also bitters. Normally, that's about it, although sometimes you'll see an egg white or, rarely, a whole egg.

But sometimes you'll find a drink with an unusual ingredient, the kind that actually takes you aback.

Recently, I was invited to a cocktail competition hosted by Appleton Estate Jamaican rum. The winning cocktail was called "Free Jamaica," and it blended rum, lime juice, and falernum. (That last ingredient may sound unusual in itself, but it's just a syrup made from rum, ginger, lime, clove, sugar, and almond extract, so it's nothing fancy.)

Rum, lime, and falernum. Sounds pretty normal, right? Here's the kicker: it's topped with black bean soup.

Really. And yes, it's good.

So what are some other oddball ingredients you might see in cocktails? After black-bean soup, anything else may seem mundane, but let's look at a few anyway.

SE's own Carey Jones recently visited the Japanese restaurant Neta, in New York's West Village. At Neta, cocktail ingredients include maitake mushrooms, nori, and bonito (yes, the fish; read this menu closely, vegans).

Drinks editor Maggie Hoffman recently wrote about saline solution and salt as drinks ingredients. In Houston, Anvil Bar & Refuge offers cocktails with mustard as an ingredient, and last year, Gary Regan wrote in the San Francisco Chronicle about such unusual ingredients as balsamic vinegar and porous pebbles.

How well do these oddball ingredients work? Depends on the recipe and the skills of the particular bartender, of course. I wouldn't have expected black-bean soup to make for a delicious cocktail. And although the Free Jamaica wasn't my favorite beverage of the night, I did think it was successful—and the judges must have agreed.

When used thoughtfully, unusual ingredients can enhance a cocktail and provide a unique experience for guests. How about you? What's the strangest thing you've seen in a cocktail?