Salt, Shaken or Stirred: Sugar’s Out, Salt’s In

Recipes and images courtesy of Pharmacy in Orlando, Florida.

Sugar is the evil of the food industry these days and now that sentiment appears to be seeping over into the cocktail world.

Bartenders are introducing drinks with a saltier side to them. They’re not the Margaritas we were all drinking 20 years ago, but layered beverages in which salt adds to the depth and balance of a drink.

“People are seeking well-balanced drinks that are deeper, more layered,” says Dominick Tardugno, mixologist at Pharmacy in Orlando, Fla. “We opened five years ago and it was quite a shocker when people came in because we were really different. People now are much more adventurous. They’re more comfortable to trust the bartender and the menu.”

Pharmacy’s Armed to the Tooth has an unusual salty ingredient: truffle salt. Tardugno muddles it in with the other ingredients (Six Saints Rum, Smith & Cross rum, Contratto Bitter, housemade chipotle tincture, lime, gomme (honey simple syrup made with xanthan gum) and housemade chockill bitters—chocolate bitters made with 80% Valrhona chocolate.

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Customers typically drink Armed to the Tooth as an aperitif at Pharmacy. The cocktail costs $14 with a beverage cost of 18%, which is lower than it could be since the restaurant makes so many ingredients in house. Though truffles are expensive, the truffle salt doesn’t add a lot to the cost because only a small amount of the delicacy is used, Tardugno says.

The drink has been on the menu for the last two or three months and will remain at least through the end of summer. It has no garnish, as Tardugno doesn’t like to garnish unless it serves a purpose, “and we find this one is fine the way it is.”

And so do customers. It “has a wide appeal base on its use of two different types of rum. Six Saints is a sweeter, molasses-based rum. Smith & Cross is higher proof (Navy strength), and they balance well together,” Tardugno explains. “Heat and smoke from chipotle peppers work well with the two rums, and chockill bitters add that final touch of bitter chocolate that compliments the cocktail.” The truffle salt, he explains, provides earthy tones similar to those inherent to the Smith & Cross rum.

Read this: Using Beer in Cocktails in Fresh and Creative Ways

Another cocktail on Pharmacy’s menu, Mr. Martinez, also contains an unusual salty element: prosciutto tincture. Tardugno soaks prosciutto meat and fat in grain alcohol for about two weeks. Once he’s tasted it, he adds a touch of simple syrup or gomme “to make it a bit more palatable.”

For the cocktail, he combines the tincture with housemade vermouth and housemade Good Shit (a blend of port and sherry aged on oak chips). Tardugno smokes the drink in a carafe before taking it to the table or before pouring at the bar, “then we give it a swirl and it goes into the coupe glass, and guests get the aromatics,” he says. The prosciutto tincture is vital to this beverage. “The prosciutto fat really clings to the smoke inside the drink, so you taste it all the time.” And, he adds, “as soon as the bartenders or servers open the cork the smoke-filled container provides the wow factor to guests.”

The idea for the tincture was inspired by the amount of prosciutto scraps produced by Pharmacy. The venue tries to throw away nothing. Since prosciutto is salty—but not too salty—he figured it would work perfectly for cocktails. The Mr. Martinez costs $18 and has a 14% beverage cost, thanks again to making the tincture and vermouth in house.

Tardugno also makes a saline solution that he adds to certain cocktails. “I just go on a feeling and sometimes feel a drop or two of saline will amp a drink up or help with its balance.” He particularly likes to add it to Italian bitters and anything smoked.

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However, he doesn’t highlight his use of salty ingredients because he likes them to stay in the background “where guests won’t taste the salt but it elevates the drink.”

These two cocktails do great work for Pharmacy. “I feel we are in a unique time for cocktailing and are going back to proper drinks,” Tardugno explains. “The difference from what people look for, since we opened five years ago, has changed big time. They trust our barkeeps to wow them, and understand the artists behind the bar. “

Mr. Martinez cocktail at Pharmacy in Orlando, FL -

Mr. Martinez

  • 1.75 oz. Good Shit
  • 1 oz. Rx Dry Vermouth
  • 0.75 oz. Maraschino liqueur
  • 1/2 eye dropper Prosciutto tincture

Stir all ingredients, pour into smoke-filled decanter, swirl, then pour into a coupe glass.

Armed to the Tooth cocktail at Pharmacy in Orlando, FL -

Armed to the Tooth

  • 1 oz. Panama-Pacific rum
  • 0.5 oz. Smith & Cross
  • 0.5 oz. Contratto Bitters
  • 0.25 oz. Rx Chipotle Tincture
  • 0.75 oz. Fresh squeezed lime juice
  • 0.5 oz. Gomme
  • 1 eye dropper of Rx Chockill Bitters
  • Pinch truffle salt

Vigorously shake all ingredients, strain, then pour into a coupe glass.