By guest blogger Seanan Forbes
Don't take Bridget Albert's smile for everything. It may look honeyed, but "I'm a savory girl, not a sweet girl," says Albert, author of Market Fresh Mixology and master mixologist at Southern Wine and Spirits of Illinois.
"I just really like delicious emotion that you get in your mouth when you bite into a tomato, when it's so tasty - and there's a little bit of acid in there, believe it or not." Her voice brightens as she says, "It just makes your mouth water."
As with fruit, so with drinks. "I think the cool thing about savory cocktails is that I can drink more than one, because they're not so sticky and sweet," Albert says, "and they can definitely whet my appetite - and I just think they're really fun."
We all get "sweet" - but what's "savory" when it's in a cocktail shaker? "When you think savory, the first thing that comes to mind is tomatoes," she says. "Cucumbers are in that family, as well, and let's not leave out mushrooms."
Albert's list is not a limited one - not when it comes to flavor or to season. "I pickle everything, in the springtime and in the summertime, and incorporate that into my cocktails in the winter, when nothing is in season in Chicago, and they're usually savory items, like beets," she says.
Albert's happily experimenting with meat infusions. There, too, she plays on the far side of the fence. "We all know that bacon is the new black, and everybody's in love with bacon - but let's not leave out chorizo sausage, when we're doing our meat infusions. It's spicy and savory and delicious."
"There's a whole world ready to explore," Albert says, even while remarking that nothing is new. Meat in cocktails? The Bullshot (vodka and beef bouillon) has been around for ages. Tomatoes? How spicy do you like your Bloody Mary?
"What's old is coming back around, and we're rediscovering things," she says. "We're playing . . . throwing a lot of things against the wall, getting a little crazy with our cocktails, on the savory side and the sweet side, and seeing what works and what doesn't work."
Some foods cross over. Carrots are sweet, but season and roast them, and you add a savory ingredient to your home bar.
The slow food movement has a stirrer in the cocktail glass. "What's caused this resurgence is that people are looking to their farmers markets wanting to use what is local," she says. Look to the spice rack, too. "Let's not forget the different kinds of peppercorns out there. Fresh herbs, like rosemary - basil! Thai basil is delicious. All the different kinds of salts - There are so many different kinds available at your local Whole Foods. There are at least 20 different varieties to have fun with, and they all taste completely different from the next."
Albert teaches a professional mixology course, but she's used to giving advice to people who aren't in the industry. "My family are dancers and mailmen and butchers and just your average Joe, and they are not cocktail aficionados or bartenders," she says fondly. "Here's my word of advice: Don't be afraid. Get in the kitchen. Play with your food. Put your food into the cocktail glass, and the worst you can do is make a bad cocktail."
What if you don't know what you're doing? Don't worry about it. Albert grins and says, "Some beautiful combinations are made by mistake."
Recipe after the jump.
1 beet (peeled and sliced)
Juice of 3 pressed limes
2 bar spoons brown sugar
Pinch ground ginger
1 1/2 ounces silver tequila
1/2 ounce mezcal
1 ounce fresh sour (see below)
1 beet leaf (for garnish)
To saute pan, add sliced beet, lime juice, brown sugar and ground ginger. Cover and simmer over medium heat for about 10 minutes, or until beets are tender. Stir occasionally. Remove beets and let liquid cool.
To mixing glass, add tequila, mezcal, cooled beet liquid (about 2 ounces) and fresh sour. Add ice to tin. Shake well. Strain into cocktail glass. Garnish with beet leaf.
2 cups fresh lemon juice (approximately 3 lemons, juiced)
1 cup simple syrup (equal parts superfine sugar and hot water, shaken until sugar dissolves)
Stir well. Cover. Store in refrigerator.
From Market Fresh Mixology
drink photo courtesy Market-Fresh Mixology (Agate Surrey, 2008); vegetable photo courtesy Seanan Forbes