What's The Deal With 'Savory' Sippers?

Adam Seger’s savory Mojitonico cocktail of cucumbers, Kosher salt, gin and fresh cracked pepper. (Photo: Adam Seger)

I almost stopped in my tracks when I came across the Duck Fat Sazerac as I was doing research for another article. One of the most popular and curious cocktails on the menu at Austin’s newest hot spot Haddingtons, it totally intrigued me and made me wonder if anyone around these parts was doing anything like it.

What I got, however, was complete backlash from the local bartender community—some even outright bashing the idea.

“That sounds disgusting,” exclaimed Brad Bolt of Ukrainian Village-based cocktail lounge Bar DeVille. “I hope it is not a trend. … I have whiskey and brandy and rum and vermouth and bitters. I tend to simply stock a bar and avoid trends.”

Bolt, however, is not totally against savory sippers that have a purpose. For example, he’s onboard for the annual Baconfest Chicago, taking place April 9 at the UIC Forum. If you’re lucky enough to have a ticket for the sold-out event, make sure to check out his Blind Judge cocktail of rye, lemon, maple syrup and orange peel. The rim of the glass, he said, is lined with bacon salt.

Piranha Bros.’s principle and award-winning mixologist Todd Appel also had a strong aversion to the sudden explosion of savory, trend-focused cocktails.

“A lot of people don’t put things together for any reason other than it’s trendy,” Appel said. “Some trends can be kind of cool and have staying power like fresh ingredients. But right now, everyone’s into the duck fat trend in the culinary world, so then it trickles down to the cocktail scene. People copy each other. … They forget that there has to be balance and taste.

“People still have to like it and it has to taste good. People might try it, but it’s more like entertainment if it doesn’t add anything to the taste value.”

One trend in savory cocktails Daniel de Oliveira (of the upcoming GT Fish & Oyster) welcomes is smoke-infused drinks. He first spotted the trend at Boka, where he says head mixologist Benjamin Schiller perfected the method by using “smoked ice cubes.”

“He uses two different types of wood chips,” said de Oliveira. “As the ice cube melts, your drink gets smokier and smokier.”

Embracing most trends, but tweaking them to his advantage, is Adam Seger, who was best known as the engineer behind Nacional 27’s innovative cocktail menu.

Now as the force behind Hum Botanical Spirits, Seger is always working on creative new cocktails, and one of his latest certainly fits in the savory department.

“The Mojitonico I created in Chicago is now at SALT in Scottsdale (Arizona), so heck yeah, it’s a trend,” he said. “I am seeing more and more savory herbs, basil and peppers in drinks. Seasons Chicago also (features my) bourbon sour with bacon and maple.”

Blackbird’s Lynn House is also open to the idea of savory cocktails—to an extent.

“I don’t do things with meat products (like the Duck Fat Sazerac),” she said. “Only savory in the sense of spices, herbs, veggies and such.”

House’s current cocktail menu includes one such drink, the Blackbird Orange, which she says “the sweet from the citrus tames the heat and the heat from the peppers gives depth to the citrus.” She added: “Guests are always a little surprised (by the flavors).”

Blackbird Orange

1.5 oz Koval Chicago rye
1.5 oz fresh orange juice
.25 oz fresh lime
.5 oz black pepper/cayenne spiced honey syrup
3 drops Fee Brothers aromatic bitters

Served on the rocks and garnish with a fresh slice of orange.

For Blackbird’s upcoming spring cocktail menu, House will be adding The Secret Garden. “Cucumber makes it into a lot of my drinks,” she said. “Not a usual cocktail component, but it is cool and refreshing and lends itself to savory dishes. Hibiscus provides great color and a unique tannin, which gives depth to a drink.”

The Secret Garden

2 oz North Shore gin
.25 oz creme de violette
.5 oz lemon juice
.75 oz cucumber juice
.5 oz housemade hibiscus syrup

Served in a tall glass over ice and garnished with cucumber wheels.

Also, here’s the recipe for Adam Seger’s Mojitonico:

Build in a pint glass: 5 slices organic Harvest Moon Farms cucumbers; 1 lime cut in eighths (bitter white center removed); and a handful of Bar Chef's Choice fresh herbs

Muddle until juicy and aromatic. Add two ounces of Death's Door gin, stir, fill with ice, top with tonic; stir. Pour into 16-ounce pint glass rimmed with Kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper. Garnish with organic cucumber slice and fresh herbs.