Back when I worked at Grape and Bean in Alexandria, VA, one of the items we specialized in was a variety pack of gourmet salts. One of these was a smoked sea salt that I absolutely loved. It was incredibly fragrant and, as I do with most tasty things, I immediately started thinking about how I could work it into a cocktail.
This month’s Mixology Monday provided the perfect opportunity to revisit that idea. Fellow Portlander Craig at Tiki Drinks and Indigo Firmaments chose the theme of spice:
Spice should give you plenty of room to play – from the winter warmers of egg nog, wassail and mulled products to the strange and interesting infusions of pepper, ceubub, grains of paradise, nutmeg — what have you! I would like to stretch the traditional meanings of spice (as the bark, seed, nut or flowering part of a plant used for seasoning) to basically anything used for flavoring that isn’t an herb. Salt? Go for it. Paprika? I’d love to see you try. I hear that cardamom is hot right now.
For this drink I picked up a pouch of Pacific Northwest Smoked Sea Salt distributed by a local company called Salt Central. It’s every bit as fragrant as what I had in Virginia. The package says it’s made from sea salt smoked over red alder wood and the aroma really is amazing. It makes me want to open the package every once in a while and shove my nose inside. A talented chef could probably make some delicious meat dishes with it. I’m not a talented chef by any means, so I stick to drinks.
The obvious use of salt in a cocktail is a Margarita with a salted rim. The alder aroma opens up new possibilities, Scotch offering itself as a fitting complement to sea salt and smoke. Wanting to retain the citrus component of the Margarita, I came up with this Sleeping Scotsman:
2 oz Scotch
.75 oz sweet vermouth
.5 oz orange juice
.25 oz lemon juice
1 dash Peychaud’s bitters
Shake and strain into a glass half-rimmed with smoked sea salt.
The salt is used here for the way its aroma complements the Scotch, so salting half the rim lets the drinker take in the fragrance without having to add it to the drink. The salt is delicious though, so enjoying some on a few sips isn’t a bad idea.
This drink’s closest relative is the Blood and Sand, which combines Scotch, sweet vermouth, orange juice, and cherry brandy, traditionally in equal parts. Here the Scotch takes center stage and the cherry brandy is omitted entirely. Adding Peychaud’s may seem like a strange choice, but its medicinal quality marries well with the Scotch, whereas the spiciness of aromatic bitters would seem out of place. Peychaud’s actually has a long history with the spirit, dating back at least to a footnote in David Embury’s The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks in which he recommends it over Angostura. A page before he also writes, “Just why anyone would want to make a cocktail with Scotch I wouldn’t know, any more than I can understand why anyone should want to kill the exquisite bouquet of a good champagne by blending it with sugar, Angostura, and lemon and calling it a champagne cocktail.” He’s right that Scotch really is harder to mix with than other whiskeys, but I think here I’ve come up with a drink that makes it worth diluting. I imagine it working well as a brunch drink for guys who want something a little more manly than the usual Mimosa.
Incidentally, this post marks my one year anniversary participating in Mixology Monday. My first contribution also involved Scotch and smoke, so this post is a fitting bookend. I’ve come a long way as a bartender since then. For much of that time I haven’t been working behind any bar aside from my own home setup, so MxMo has been an excellent spur to creativity.
As for the name of the drink… when you’re combining Scotch and salty aromas, there’s only one song that comes to mind.