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Savoury spirits: Savour the flavour

Is savoury the next flavour frontier of the drinks world? Neil Ridley talks to innovative cocktail pioneers to explore this growing trend – and recommends bottles to buy plus drinks to make at home.

Until recently, if you fancied a break from the sweetness offered by the majority of cocktails, you’d really only have a couple of viable options. Either a Bloody Mary, with its spicy tomato punch, or a Gibson, which dials up the savoury element with its garnish of pickled onions.

If neither of those are to your liking, help is now at hand. A growing number of spirits producers and innovative bartenders are putting savoury-forward flavours at the forefront of everything they do, creating potential classics of the future.

Nothing is off the table. Think root vegetables, mushrooms, obscure spices, fat-washing and garden herbs. You can even incorporate these into your cocktails at home too. Just don’t add parmesan cheese to your Espresso Martini though, as some misguided TikTok influencers have suggested.

Global trend

Nico de Soto is founder of Danico in Paris and the newly opened Wacky Wombat in London’s Soho. Both bars feature a series of innovative savoury-focused drinks on their respective menus, including Wagyu fat-washed shochu, wasabi and sesame distillates, as well as root vegetables and aquavit. De Soto feels this is merely the starting point.

‘It’s definitely becoming more of a trend now all over the world, over classic cocktails, especially in Asia, where you will find the majority of bars base their menus on obscure ingredients and spices, which also link to their cuisine,’ he says.

A white cocktail in a glass

Danico’s Shinkansen cocktail is made with Wagyu-fat-washed shochu and miso green tea

Speaking of aquavit, if you take a trip to Scandinavia you’ll be inundated by savoury flavours – especially charismatic herbs and spices such as dill and caraway seed. Norway’s Linie Aquavit has long been the national spirit and is now finding favour in some of the world’s most innovative bars, thanks to its savoury complexity.

Why savoury?

Maroš Dzurus is bar manager at the legendary Himkok bar in Oslo, which has long championed off-the-beaten-track flavours such as aquavit. He thinks that savoury drinks are becoming more popular for several reasons.

‘Firstly, consumers are increasingly seeking unique and adventurous flavour experiences. Savoury drinks provide a departure from traditional sweet and fruity flavours, offering a more complex taste profile. Additionally, there is a growing interest in incorporating healthier ingredients into beverages,’ he explains.

A cocktail on a steel tabletop

Himkok’s Parsnip cocktail made with parsnip, cocoa bitters and aquavit

‘We’re also seeing ingredients like fresh herbs and root vegetables, which bridge the gap between the bar and the kitchen,’ explains Paul Aguilar, Himkok’s head of flavour research and development. ‘Our focus on seasonal and locally sourced ingredients complements this trend, enabling us to create drinks that are both innovative and reflective of our Nordic surroundings.’

Culinary revolution

Closer to home, in Cornwall’s beautiful Carbis Bay, Khris McLaren, bar manager at Ugly Butterfly – the restaurant established by Michelin-starred chef, Adam Handling – has come up with a hugely complex, umami-rich take on a Sazerac, using shiitake mushrooms.

McLaren first roasts the mushrooms before making a syrup with them, adding it to a blend of Highland Park 12 Year Old Scotch, House of Suntory Toki blended Japanese whisky, Corte Vetusto mezcal, Hendrick’s Absinthe and Fee Brothers Whiskey Barrel-Aged Bitters. The result is herbal and aromatic, with a terrifically balanced sweetness and earthy dryness on the palate.

In Scotland, Michele Mariotti, head of bars at The American Bar at Gleneagles hotel feels that savoury flavours are helping to inspire a culinary revolution in drinks.

‘One of the learnings we had from the Book of Berries, our menu here at The American Bar, is that often, different parts of a fruit or a vegetable can deliver wildly different flavours,’ he says. ‘In the case of the Bell Pepper [recipe below], we use the core and seeds of a pepper, which have a warm and grassy flavour, and lots of residual sweetness. I find working with different parts of a savoury ingredient very exciting.’

Meanwhile, Ryan Chetiyawardana, aka Mr Lyan, and his team have created bespoke savoury ingredients for the latest menu at award-winning Lyaness bar at Sea Containers London. The 3.0 Cookbook includes ingredients such as carrot vermouth, peated parsnip amazake, Szechuan sauce and two types of potato extract. Tattie Gold is made from confit potatoes and saffron; while ‘excellent potato goodness’ is made by fermenting potatoes with probiotics. The latter is mixed with Boatyard Vodka to create the silky, creamy Unfiltered Martini.

‘It’s all about deliciousness, that’s always the point,’ says Chetiyawardana. ‘We wanted to take everyday products – like Maris Piper potatoes – and transform them into something magical.’

a cocktail on a pizza box with pizza slices

Cold Pizza cocktail at Double Chicken Please Photo: Emmanuel Rosario

New York’s Double Chicken Please – currently number two in the World’s 50 Best Bars list and named Best Bar in North America – has taken the savoury concept even further. It designs drinks that recreate the flavours of existing culinary treats. Cold Pizza brings together blanco tequila, Parmigiano Reggiano, burnt toast, tomato, basil, honey and egg white. While Japanese Cold Noodle combines white rum, pineapple, cucumber, coconut, lime and sesame oil for a truly explosive savoury experience.

So it seems that savoury drinks are very much here to stay. Strap in your tastebuds for a flavour sensation!


Three savoury cocktail recipes to try at home

Cocktail on a stone with plants

Bell Pepper

To make your own bell pepper tequila, roast the pith and seeds of a bell pepper (green for more vegetal notes, red for sweet and savoury notes) at 160℃ for 30 minutes and leave to cool. Infuse overnight with one bottle of blanco tequila, before straining.

  • Ingredients: 50ml bell pepper tequila, 25ml sweet vermouth, 25ml lime juice, 2tsp marmalade
  • Glass: Martini
  • Garnish: Salt and paprika rim
  • Method: Add the ingredients into a shaker with ice and shake vigorously. Add a rim of salt and paprika to a chilled cocktail glass and serve.

Tequila de Palma

Credit: Say-Cheese / iStock / Getty Images Plus

This novel take on a hot toddy is a drink that brings a touch of warmth during the chilly months. You can use homemade chicken broth or supermarket-bought is fine.

  • Ingredients: 45ml 1800 Reposado Tequila, 20ml agave syrup, 25ml lime juice, 150ml chicken broth
  • Glass: Mug
  • Garnish: Slice of preserved lemon
  • Method: Warm the chicken broth through, then mix it with all the ingredients and serve in a mug.

Tomat’tini

cocktail and bottle

This tomato and olive oil Martini brings a divine savoury note to the palate. Seek out Citizens Of Soil olive oil. See below for a full tasting note of La Tomato Liqueur.

  • Ingredients: 50ml Linie Aquavit, 15ml La Tomato Liqueur, 5ml dry vermouth,
  • Glass: Coupe
  • Garnish: Extra virgin olive oil
  • Method: Add the aquavit, tomato liqueur and vermouth into a mixing glass with ice and stir for 20-30 seconds. Strain into a coupe glass and carefully drip five or six drops of olive oil onto the surface of the drink to garnish.

Five savoury spirits to seek out

Five bottles of spirits


La Tomato Liqueur

Produced in Tokyo by distinguished sake and shochu producer Godo Shusei Co., this Japanese tomato liqueur has a very distinctive savoury tomato aroma, which stems from a blend of Japanese tomatoes and spirit, with a touch of sweetness thrown in for good measure. Ideal for blending with another spirit to give your drinks an unusual savoury direction. Alcohol 18%


Neurita Tequila Blanco – Picante

Neurita is an independent British company founded by Lucy Smith, which sources small batch tequila and produces different infusions. Picante brings together Scotch Bonnet and green chilli peppers with a touch of tangerine to give a vegetal, savoury, herbaceous spirit with a touch of zestiness too. Try it in a classic Margarita. Alc 35%


St George Green Chile Vodka

California distillery St. George Spirits distils crushed jalapeño peppers, lime peel and fresh coriander with a neutral base spirit to make this fiery vodka. It is then infused with more peppers (bell and habanero) for extra vegetal punch. A great Bloody Mary choice! Alc 40%


Warrendale Fat-Washed Wa-gyn Wagyu Gin

This unusual gin is produced by Warrendale, a wagyu beef farmer in Yorkshire. It has a heavy note of juniper, with ruby grapefruit, lemongrass and pink peppercorn, before it is ‘washed’ with hot wagyu fat for 48 hours, which gives the gin a tremendously silky, salty and unsurprisingly, a meaty, savoury taste. Alc 44%


Whitley Neill Smoky Bacon & Horseradish Gin

British distiller Whitley Neill has created this boldly flavoured gin featuring notes of bacon and horseradish. It has been designed to compliment the rich tomato flavours in a Red Snapper cocktail – in basic terms the gin equivalent of the Bloody Mary. It’s also vegan-friendly, so everyone can get in on the act. Alc 45%


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