With its distinctive transportive flavor, coconut is a versatile building block in many cocktails. It’s a fundamental ingredient in the tropical drink canon, where coconut cream provides rich texture to classics such as the Piña Colada and the Painkiller. But in other forms, too, the salty-sweet flavor of coconut has become a powerful tool in the bartender’s arsenal, well beyond the tropical classics.
Coconut water, for example, works well as a stand-in for soda water in highballs, as in the beloved Caribbean drink Scotch and Coconut, or its agave-forward riff, the Snake Eyes. It even works in a spritz, alongside a mineral-forward rosé in Chantal Tseng’s The Americanah. “Coconut water is a great way to make the dilution in a cocktail more interesting without changing the texture of the drink,” says Vince Bright, former bartender at the now-shuttered Lost Lake. He leans on a coconut water syrup in his low-proof Rob Roy riff, the House No. 3.
But to get coconut flavor without adding more volume to a drink, “coconut blasting”—a technique developed by bartenders at The Rockwell Place in Brooklyn—offers a more efficient shortcut. Used as a “finishing move,” the method involves dashing a tincture made from a coconut-washed neutral spirit into a cocktail before serving. Coconut-washed Campari, meanwhile, can bring “aperitiki” tones to the Italian classics, such as Negronis, or add an extra-tropical dimension to a Jungle Bird.
Alternatively, you can coconut-wash the entire cocktail. For the Negroni Riposato, Federico Pasian utilizes an ingenious technique for imparting subtle coconut flavor to a batched Negroni. He adds a few ounces of coconut oil to a bottle before capping the bottle and rotating it several times atop a tray filled with ice until the fat solidifies; he then pours in the Negroni to sit and absorb the flavor. While Pasian’s Negroni adds nuance to the template with a bourbon base, porcini bitters and hazelnut liqueur, we’ve found that the technique is also suited to a simpler Negroni recipe, diluted with coconut water for a touch of salinity that balances out the inherent sweetness of the drink.
Perhaps the most overtly coconut-forward cocktails, however, are those served in, well, coconuts. Whether it takes the place of a rocks glass, as in Morgan Schick’s “Wilson” cocktail, or becomes an integral part of the drink-making process, as in Ryan Casey’s coconut-aged Negroni, serving cocktails in coconuts is a fast track to tropical flavor with endless possibilities. As Casey observes, “Quite frankly, it seems like there’s an opportunity to do a lot of other things in [coconut].”