How about heading to a cocktail bar this weekend? It’s not a bad choice– they usually have good mellow music, dim lighting, and a relaxed atmosphere. Nowadays most bars also have exciting menu options– not only for food, but also a wide variety of specialty drinks. And when you are in the mood for something fun and slightly more glamorous than beer– what could be better than a cocktail?
Cocktails usually have a spirit base to which liqueurs, cordials, and juices are added. These spirits and additions are somewhat predictable. Now you’ve probably seen (or at least heard of) some pretty ‘out there’ cocktails, far removed from those served with paper umbrellas and slices of pineapple. But chances are you’ve never heard of some of the most bizarre ingredients that have ever made their way into drinks.
Often, weird ingredients are the result of mixology challenges where bartenders are given an unusual item that they need to include in a cocktail. Sometimes, these are so good that they make it to the official menu. From things you may be willing to eat to things that actually might make you feel a little queasy, we’ve sourced the strangest things that have ever gone into cocktails…
The mushroom: our favorite fungus. Delicious with plates of pasta, on top of pizza, baked into pies, omelets and even raw, most people are fond of mushrooms. But since 2010, trendy bartenders have been finding another use for them as well– in drinks. Shitake infusions, candied mushroom garnishes, mushroom blends garnished with chocolate, you can be sure that mixologists are showing us a whole new side to the humble fungus. Fresh, dried, and powdered, they’re heading to a bar near you.
In San Francisco, you can get your hands on a ‘Dirt Nap’ cocktail– a tipple with a dry vermouth base and infused with porcini mushrooms. Apparently, mushrooms in drinks are tastier than you would think, but if you’re not quite ready to drink them, you could just use them as eye-catching garnishes.
We all know and appreciate the healing properties of a Bloody Mary. The mix has long been used to cure what ails us the morning after the night before, but usually, the bartender is not slaughtering anything behind the bar to add to the drink (well, we hope not anyway).
If you find yourself in an establishment called The Talented Mr. Fox in Soho, however, you may want to ask a few questions before ordering their version of a classic Bloody Mary. The ingredients in this mix include black pudding (a type of blood sausage for those who don’t know) spiced tomato juice, hydrosol, vodka and… pig’s blood.
The drink has a metallic taste, which is to be expected, as well as a pork flavored aftertaste and those who’ve had it rave about the intense flavor that the blood brings to the drink. Yeah, we’ll leave it to them…
Ok, so maybe you’re already in the habit of drinking vegetables– carrots, beets, that sort of thing. So how about a Ginger-Carrot-Cinnamon & Spiced Rum Cocktail? Garnished with a baby carrot if you wish. Not quite catching your fancy? Then you could always go for peas. Yes, the little round legumes. Apparently, fresh muddled peas add a creamy texture to a cocktail that’s quite delicious.
It may seem a little odd, but a Spring Pea Mojito uses peas and mint– which have long been a tried and tested culinary combination– together with rum to make a refreshing summer cocktail. Don’t forget to decorate with a small skewer of baby peas on top! And if you’re not into Mojitos, there are actually a number of other cocktails that use peas.
You’ve probably noticed edible gold sneaking its way onto the food and drink scene for quite some time now. People are mad about adding a bit of bling to everything these days. Including their food and drinks.
There are a huge number of edible gold products available which can be used in alcoholic drinks and to add a sparkle to the garnish. These include gold leaf, gold flake, gold dust and gold sprinkles. Some spirits already come infused with gold such as Smirnoff Gold which is packed with dazzling gold flakes. Goldwasser is another example– this is a strong herbal liqueur with 22 karat gold flakes suspended in it.
11. Squid Ink
Visual effects are an important aspect when it comes to cocktails– the presentation is almost as crucial as the taste. So a pitch black cocktail is definitely something that will catch your eye, but do you dare ask what’s in it?
If you’re sitting in the London Cocktail Club and you see a thick, black cocktail go by, you may just be looking at a Squid Ink Sour– one of the establishment’s more unusual offerings. This is made using tequila, lime juice, egg white, syrup, and, of course, squid ink. According to those brave enough to try it, it’s better than you would think. The squid ink itself is quite salty, but apparently combined with the sweet syrup it creates an interesting taste sensation.
10. Smoke And Gunpowder
Okay mushrooms, carrots, peas, those are all edible, but gunpowder?
Believe it or not, the Hilton’s Zeta Bar in Sydney remembers London’s infamous 1605 Guy Fawkes plot with a drink known as the Gunpowder Plot Cocktail. This cocktail was created by bartender Grant Collins, who also enjoys using other strange ingredients like jelly, liquid nitrogen, and dry ice in his creations.
I know what you’re thinking– drinking gunpowder can’t be safe, right? That’s correct, so for this cocktail blend, gin is infused with “gunpowder flavors” and then shaken up with ‘Fernet-Branca’ (a traditional herbal digestive) and egg whites. This leaves a mixture that has a thick layer of froth on top which is then served with spiced gunpowder syrup (also infused) and bitters. It’s presented inside a glass cloche, surrounded by smoke from a layer of burning twigs and gunpowder. It’s this smoke that is said to transform the taste into something quite explosive (but not too explosive, we trust).
Pizza and alcohol make an awesome combination, but bartenders at a London bar called Bunga Bunga have taken things one step further and come up with a gin-based pizza cocktail. The drink is called the Margherita and contains gin infused with pizza crust, tomato and onion juice, basil, pepper, salt, lemon juice and finally their own “cheese foam” which is used to top up the drink.
Another version of this savory cocktail also appeared during the London Cocktail Week in 2014. Created by London Cocktail Club owner JJ Goodman, the Pepperoni Passion cocktail is made using vodka, tomato, and lemon juice, pepperoni, basil and cheese that is rolled in a cocktail shaker.
8. Sourtoe Cocktail
No one is quite sure of how this one originated, but according to the Sourtoe Cocktail Club, it first appeared in 1973 when drinking patrons would drink a glass of beer or champagne containing a preserved amputated toe in order to declare themselves “sourtoers.”
Think you have what it takes to join the ranks and become a “sourtoer”? The Sourtoe Cocktail Club is located inside the Downtown Hotel in Yukon, Canada and is still serving up this challenge. You can have the toe inside any drink or cocktail, but the rules state that your lips must touch the toe while you are drinking. You may find it difficult to believe, but 100,000 people have already become part of the Sourtoe Cocktail club. Just don’t swallow it (eew!)– there’s a $2,500 fine for that. It used to be $500 until a man willfully swallowed the toe in 2013. They have a new toe now.
So perhaps you are looking for an ocean-inspired cocktail, but you don’t feel quite ready for the Squid Ink Sour, how about a Dark and Nori instead? Infused with seaweed…
It sounds pretty healthy, right? This drink is the brainchild of Jordan Link who worked at the New York restaurant Perilla which sadly closed down in 2015. Link infused sheets of seaweed in soju (a Korean distilled spirit) for two days before mixing it with sake, muddled cucumber, lemon juice, and ginger syrup and serving the cocktail with a splash of bitters and candied ginger garnish.
But Perilla wasn’t the only place making seaweed-inspired cocktails– in fact, there are a host of recipes online that show how you could even make one of these at home. These usually have a slightly salty aftertaste which will encourage you to take another sip. Definitely something to try, especially if you love sushi and other ocean treats!
If you weren’t feeling sorry enough for pigs after the bloody cocktail, this will probably do it. No longer just content to accompany eggs in the breakfast setting, bacon is now also a hot ingredient in unusual cocktails. FIG in Santa Monica offers bacon cocktails that really do sound inviting with names like “Eggs and Bacon” which boasts bacon-infused gin as its base.
And some cocktails even come garnished with bacon, such as Bacon Old Fashioned, which can be found on the menu at the New Leaf Restaurant and Bar in New York City. It’s made by combining maple syrup, bitters, bacon-infused bourbon, and ice, and is served with a twist of orange and a candied strip of bacon. Can’t decide whether to have brunch or a cocktail? This could be your answer!
5. Foie Gras
Some of you have probably never heard of this ingredient before and you may find it a little disgusting. Foie Gras is a French luxury food product made from duck or goose liver. The duck or goose is especially fattened up (often by the controversial practice of force-feeding). It’s usually served as a mousse or pâté alongside meat products and is described as having a rich, buttery taste.
So it’s liver in a cocktail? You got it. Animal lovers will definitely not approve, but if you just have to try it, try Betony in New York City. They serve a Foie Gras Flip made with a base of dark rum that was infused with foie gras fat. The rum is shaken up with syrup and eggs, and garnished with grated nutmeg.
4. Porous Pebbles
James Bond likes his shaken, not stirred and some people want them dry– really dry. We’re talking about martinis and an idea that is giving new meaning to the term “on the rocks”.
The quest is the driest martini, and the secret ingredient? Porous pebbles. This method is said to have originated in the 1950s, but it’s only recently that bartenders have been using it to perfect this tipple. The porous pebbles are soaked in vermouth and placed at the bottom of the glass before the chilled martini mix is added. A bartender at Mark’s Bar in HIX has created another drink using the same pebble method called On The Rocks. For this cocktail, the pebbles are soaked in sherry for a week and then frozen. Two or three pebbles are dropped into a glass and covered with aged rum. Actually doesn’t sound bad at all, right?
3. Sea urchin
The Pot Bar, which is situated in The Line Hotel in Los Angeles, has a number of unusual drinks, but by far the most interesting is their Uni Cocktail which contains… well, sea urchin. The gonads of the sea urchin, sometimes affectionately known as the sea hedgehog, are often served raw as sashimi with soy sauce and wasabi in Japan.
For the Uni Cocktail the sea urchin is steamed/boiled inside a vacuum sealed plastic bag (sous vide method) before being pureed. This puree is then mixed with cumin syrup, lemon juice, nori (seaweed, again) and tequila before being served with garnishes of salt and sweetened sesame.
While the EU has banned the hunting and trading of whales, ambergris is a whale product that is allowed to be traded. That is because it is a natural by-product that is extracted without any harm to the whale. Ambergris is a natural intestinal secretion which protects a sperm whale’s insides from sharp shells, bones or beaks. Once secreted (yes, it comes out the side you’re thinking of) it floats on the seawater, forming in clumps before being washed up on the beach. This ambergris is said to have a strong aroma of the ocean.
The Moby Dick Sazerac, available at the White Lyan bar, contains this waxy substance which is broken down in neutral grain spirit and left to age. When it’s time to mix the drink, it’s added to measures of Mr. Lyan’s Rye (the bar’s own spirit), bitters and absinthe rice.
1. Chicken Bones
While Lyan bar is an interesting place for sure, not only will you not find any brand name liquor (they buy spirits to make their own), fruit, or ice (they have a ‘no perishables’ rule) but it’s also the home of the Bone Dry Martini (drier than the vermouth pebbles?) which is made with, you guessed it– real chicken bones.
To make the Bone Dry Martini a roasted chicken bone is dissolved in phosphoric acid. A splash of this is added to a vodka martini, which consists of the bar’s own house-made vodka and a little lemon extract. It was created by mixology magician Ryan Chetiyawardana, and because everything is pre-mixed, you’ll have your cocktail in record time. Now drink up, a little bone never hurt anyone…