In the cocktail world, salt can go far beyond the rim of a margarita glass. And a drink doesn't necessarily have to fall into the savory category to benefit from a pinch. While classics like Bloody Marys, micheladas, and bull shots may be the first that come to mind, these days they aren't the only cocktails to include a touch of saline. Bartenders around the world are incorporating the mineral in various forms to enhance more delicate flavors in their concoctions.
"As in food, a pinch of salt can greatly enhance the overall flavor experience of a drink," says Alex Smith, the bar manager at Cecconi's Dumbo in Brooklyn. "Salt can help bring balance of flavor to a cocktail," he continues, adding that it brightens sweet and sour notes while reducing bitterness. Smith makes a saline solution with sparkling water instead of tap water—he prefers San Pellegrino for its crisp minerality. Opting for a solution over a salt rim, according to Smith, "allows you to control consistency, ensuring that every sip tastes exactly the same."
Salt also stabilizes the proteins in egg whites, which are typically added to sours, fizzes, and flips as a texture enhancer), while subtly activating the taste buds and enticing the drinker to continue sipping. It's a go-to ingredient for Will Wyatt, the owner of Mister Paradise in New York's East Village––five salted cocktails appear on his current drink list. "Salt makes the back palate water and causes you to experience flavor more intensely," he says. "I love how it can take any flavor and change how you perceive it."
"Salt has become a general and almost indispensable ingredient in the cocktail world," says award-winning bartender Ryan Chetiyawardana, perhaps best known for London's Lyaness. He and his team keep a glass dasher bottle of saline solution, which calls for one part Maldon sea salt to five parts water, at the bar to season all kinds of cocktails and even make a salted absinthe, for a twist on the Hemingway Daiquiri.
Here are three ways to salt your cocktails at home—each bartender-approved technique is sure to give you a new perspective on salt.
Shake It In
Start with the easiest method: add a pinch of your favorite salt to any citrusy cocktail before shaking—and don't be afraid to experiment. Kosher salt and fleur de sel will get the job done, acting as a neutral balancing and brightening agent, but if you're feeling more adventurous, try a flavored salt, such as the bartender cult-favorite sal de gusano (worm salt). Seasoned with smoky dried chiles and ground agave worms, this classic Mexican ingredient is most often served alongside neat mezcal or tequila, but at Deadshot in Portland, Oregon, bar manager Natasha Mesa mixes it into cocktails directly, including her mezcal-based Grey Gusano. Pick up some sal de gusano at your local specialty grocery store (or order it from Amazon) and try the recipe at home.
Make a Saline Solution
Saline solution, a simple mixture of salt and water, is one of the most common methods used by bartenders. At Saffron in New Orleans, bar director Ashwin Vilkhu keeps a kosher salt solution on hand for a variety of drinks, including the Junglee Bird. A riff on a classic tiki cocktail inspired by Vilkhu's childhood, it combines rum, Campari, fresh lime, falernum, passionfruit liqueur, and homemade roasted mango syrup with a dash of the solution. Pro tip: store saline solution in an airtight glass bottle in a cool, dry place to prevent crystallization.
Salt Your Spirit
Salting a key cocktail component, such as a liqueur, is certainly more labor-intensive than using a saline solution or adding a pinch of salt, but the technique both reimagines the ingredient and allows for more control when mixing. At London's American Bar at The Savoy, a housemade salted chestnut liqueur is the star of the Radio Hurricane cocktail, which also contains bourbon, Pedro Ximénez sherry, dry vermouth, toasted oak bitters, and lime. Our version of the spirit streamlines the process for the home bar but still brings out the chestnuts' rich, toasty qualities. Add a splash to your favorite classic whiskey cocktail or try it in a mixed drink with ginger beer or ale (chestnut and ginger are a match made in heaven). The liqueur also stands up well on its own, so sip it neat after dinner or drizzle it over a slice of cake or a scoop of vanilla ice cream for an unforgettable dessert.