At Brooklyn’s The Rockwell Place, a technique that started in jest has quickly become a fast-track solution to adding tropical flavor to just about any drink.
“We had a joke about upselling people, like in a fast food restaurant,” recalls David Nurmi of the genesis behind the so-called “Coconut Blast,” a finishing technique that he cocreated with fellow Rockwell bartender Bryan Teoh. “‘For two extra dollars, we can Coconut Blast that for you this evening!’”
The coconut tincture is simple—essentially a high-proof neutral spirit (like Everclear or overproof vodka) fat-washed with coconut oil—but it represents the culmination of a years-long obsession with finding the right vehicle for adding coconut flavor to drinks. Hoping to shake off the ersatz specter of Malibu, a sweetened coconut-flavored rum favored by spring-breakers, they tried their hand at infusing coconut in various forms (fresh, dried, coconut oil) directly into a variety of base spirits, from mezcal to gin. While the results were satisfactory, it wasn’t exactly efficient. “You’d have to make a different bottle for every base spirit you wanted,” says Teoh.
Coconut syrups were dismissed too. “That comes along with sweetness or an awful lot of volume,” Teoh explains—an ounce or more of syrup, and the additional sugar “would affect the quality of the drink.”
The idea that led to their signature Coconut Blast was hatched during slow Sunday shifts at Rockwell, which opened in December of last year. “We’d make it our ‘lab day,’ where we’d come up with ideas for how to make it work,” Teoh recalls.
What they sought was a concentrated flavor to use as “a finishing move” atop an otherwise complete drink. The usual dose of the aromatic liquid is four dashes, which adds “a top note of coconut instead of making it the base of something,” says Teoh. A little less adds “just a whisper” of tropical flavor, while adding more, naturally, makes the coconut flavor pop.
While the Blast has a natural affinity for shaken drinks like Daiquiris and Margaritas, they were particularly surprised to find that it also worked in stirred drinks like Negronis, Old-Fashioneds and Manhattan variations, where it adds “just the floral characteristic, not really the coconut tones,” says Teoh.
Of course, it has its limitations too. It doesn’t marry well with every spirit: The assertive flavors of calvados and genever seem to be particularly tricky, for example, while gin, whiskey and, of course, rum have proved to be harmonious pairings.
For now, the Coconut Blast is primarily an off-menu touch, dashed into drinks by the bartenders where they suspect it will suit guests looking for a taste of the tropics. It’s listed on exactly one drink on the menu, The Quiet Arc (Brennevín aquavit, vanilla, lime, Coconut Blast), but it’s managed to work its way into the larger lingo of the bar. Drinks that might otherwise be “dashed” can now be “blasted” with anything from Angostura bitters to absinthe. After all, as Teoh explains, “it’s just funnier to say ‘blasting.’”