Bartender’s Choice: “Strong and Savory”

In "Bartender's Choice," we challenge some of our favorite bartenders with a drink order, and see what they come up with. This round: Meaghan Dorman, Karen Fu and Israel Morales take on something "strong and savory."

bartender's choice savory

Amidst the sugar-filled excess of the holiday season comes a moment where one must cry uncle. Enough sugar. Something savory is in order. 

Which is why we challenged a few trusted drink-makers well-versed in the umami arts to come up with strong and savory cocktails to satisfy the palate in search of the not-sweet.

“When I am thinking savory for a cocktail, I think ‘chewy’ flavors, like a savory bite of food that lingers,” says Dear Irving‘s Meaghan Dorman. To achieve this, Dorman leans toward warmth and spice—the latter a go-to in the toolkit for this flavor profile, whether in infused syrups, spirits or as a garnish. In her Ol’ Pepper, the combination of chipotle honey and biting rye offers up a one-two punch of spice, while a dash of worcestershire offers an bonus hit of umami.

At the Llama Inn in Brooklyn, Karen Fu, too, looks to heat and dark, vegetal flavors in response to this call. Her moody Darkside highlights “the versatility of mezcal—how different agave plant varietals can transform a drink, beyond solely the smoke,” she says. In the drink, Fu mixes Del Maguey’s Crema de Mezcal—a buttery, subtly sweet spirit made of ten percent miel de maguey, or the unfermented “honey” of the roasted agave plant—with vermouth, Ramazotti amaro, rich, raisin-y moscatel sherry and the wildcard addition of hot and “woodsy” aji panca pepper syrup for a veritable spice-bomb of a drink.

Though dark and moody is a natural response to the “strong and savory” request, bright, refreshing cocktails are by no means out of the question. At Portland’s Kachka, owner Israel Morales reaches for celery, a light and clean complement to gin’s herbaceousness. In his Prince Kuragin, the two come together in his celery-infused gin, which he warms up ever-so-slightly with a dose of fino sherry and apricot liqueur for a clean and unexpected savory drink.

Dorman takes a similar approach in her foil to the Ol’ Pepper. In the Dove Dispatch, she mixes Campari, tequila and splashes of grapefruit and soda water. Bell pepper simple syrup adds depth and roundness, while housemade chili salt bring an extra touch of heat. “I think green, vegetal flavors combined with a hint of spice accomplishes this well in cocktails,” says Dorman. “[These drinks] should still be bright and enjoyable, but with that extra subtle layer.”

The result: a bitter and spicy cocktail that covers both the “spicy, with tequila and “strong and savory” calls in one shot. Win, win.