1022 South's Harkonnen cocktail with mezcal, vanilla-tinged rum and a smoked salt-and-Demerara sugar "gomme." Courtesy of 1022 South.
For many, it’s not a margarita unless there’s salt on the rim and no shot of tequila is complete without a lick of it. Bartenders who appreciate the mouthwatering mineral are now using it in a variety of new cocktails that pop with flavor or benefit from a savory element.
At 1022 South, an artisanal cocktail bar in Tacoma, Washington, owner-bar manager Chris Keil employs salt regularly. "We use salt to help bring out flavors and to help pull flavors together,” Klein says. “You might not necessarily notice that there is salt in the drink but it will help make all the other flavors vibrant."
Salt plays a prominent role in Keil’s Harkonnen cocktail. Named for both a family in the Dune series (created by Tacoma native Frank Herbert) and a local hardcore band, the cocktail is an ode to salted caramels with smoky mezcal, vanilla-tinged rum and a smoked salt-and-Demerara sugar "gomme"—a silky, slightly malty syrup thickened with gum arabic. "It's a little on the sweeter side,” Keil says. “So the salt helps offset that and it also adds a depth of flavor."
Keil likes a salty edge with alcohol, but as for the ubiquitous pre-tequila shot salt hit, he thinks that there is a better way. "It seems to me that a little bit of sugar would work better if you’re shooting tequila because the tequila already has a savory vegetal component and it’s very peppery,” Keil says. “Adding a lime's acid after the sugar would be like doing a micro margarita."
Grand Prize, Houston
In the South, salt-sprinkled watermelon is a classic summer food. Inspired by the refreshing snack, Grand Prize bartender Alex Gregg created the Washboard Fix: pisco, fresh watermelon juice, pineapple juice, fennel tincture, lime juice and just a pinch of salt.
Named for the mansion on the French Riviera where the Rolling Stones recorded Exile on Main Street, the chandelier-lit restaurant serves chef-shaken cocktails like the Rum, made with aged Barcardi 8 rum, fresh pineapple juice, lime juice, bitter Aperol, apricot liqueur and topped with an anise-and-vanilla foam, crushed aniseed and a sprinkling of fleur de sel.
Private Social, Dallas
Created to highlight cachaça in a cocktail besides the caipirinha, the lightly spicy Blame it on Rio blends the sugarcane liquor with fresh lime juice, cucumber, jalapeño, agave syrup and a pinch of salt, which bar manager Rocco Milano says "brings out the flavor of the jalapeño, provides contrast to the sweetness in the agave, enhances the vibrancy of the cucumbers and adds a slightly savory finish."
Saltbox, San Diego
The sleek restaurant and bar uses a housemade hibiscus-and-rose salt for the Off the Beet’en Path to complement the floral cocktail’s blend of elderflower syrup, saffron-infused gin, yuzu, ginger, orange juice, Angostura bitters and lightly sweet, brilliantly pink beet brine.
The Vinatta Project, New York
The industrial bar in New York’s clubby Meatpacking District offers the salty, spicy, smoky Jalisco Heater. Mint, olives, Thai chili and vegetal red bell pepper are muddled together and topped with lemon juice, aged reposado mezcal and a touch of simple syrup. The cocktail is strained into a coupe rimmed with lip-tingling cayenne salt.