No matter how many times the spirits are distilled, the world of cocktails remains as murky as ever. Labeling laws are lax compared to any other edible product available for purchase, allowing producers to omit all potential allergens, origins, methods, and co-packers. Broad assumptions can safely be made about the basics, but as soon as any flavors are invited to the party, all bets are off. It’s tough being vegan and enjoying a truly happy hour.
Even well-meaning bartenders often forget the little details, like fish-based Worcestershire sauce in bloody Mary mix, or honey syrup sweetening a gold rush. There are some common sense guidelines to follow for keeping spirits high, but the best advice I can give? Trying your best means making mistakes sometimes, especially if you’re already one or two drinks in. I know I’ve gotten it wrong, only to find out days or even weeks later. It sucks, but it doesn’t make you any less vegan, and if it’s not a matter of allergies, it won’t hurt you either. Live, learn, and raise a glass to all the straight-up imperfections along the way.
Based on some of the bizarre ingredients chosen to filter various spirits, you’d think that producers were already drunk by the time they clocked into work. These antiquated, animal-based components include:
Creative mixology knows no bounds, which can sometimes become problematic for those with dietary or ethical concerns. When in doubt, always ask for specifics.
Next time you want to stock your home bar, stick to the essentials to ensure higher quality and cleaner flavor across the board. Look hard enough and you’ll find exceptions to every rule, but generally speaking and especially for top shelf options, these are always vegan-friendly spirits because they’re distilled, rather than filtered:
No matter what you raise a glass of, please remember to drink responsibly and know your limits. If you can appreciate the vegan virtues that go into crafting your favorite cocktails while savoring the moment with friends, so much the better.
When avocados and tequila meet, something magical happens. This could be the start of a spiked salad or salsa, but the fusion I’m thinking of manifests as a frozen margarita, perfect for taking the edge off on a hot summer day. We’ve already seen that avocados can do amazing things with iced coffee, so why not take it to the bar and give it a shot?
Legend has it that Curra’s Grill in Austin, TX was the first to blend the savory green fruit into a sweet and sour margarita mix. As the story goes, it came about as a dare, but the results were no joke. Many customers undoubtedly order it for similar reasons, only to become hooked on the uniquely refreshing experience. Accented with a pinch of cilantro, tequila cuts through the buttery richness of the avocado with a fresh finish.
Not one to miss a trend, Epcot’s own avocado margarita has been incredibly popular since it hit the menu at La Cava del Tequila. The “happiest place on earth” takes a sweeter approach to appeal to the masses, adding melon liqueur to boost the bright green hue and ripe, fruity flavor all at once. The glass is rimmed with lurid pink hibiscus salt, amplifying the floral notes and of course, adding an eye-catching color contrast that you can’t miss from across the bar.
While I’m not trying to re-invent the wheel here, I do think there are a few tweaks that could make the modern classic even better.
Any type of tequila will make a fine margarita. For the best blend though, I would recommend:
Avocados simply make everything better. From breakfast toast to a happy hour toast, these alligator pears will always serve you well.
Save your side eye for more questionable content; the idea of infusing mushrooms into drinks is nothing new. Add them to coffee or tea and call them nootropics, but at the end of the day, you’re staring down the same thing at the bottom of your glass. Though medicinal mushrooms are billed as a silent partner, contributing to your wellness cache without being outspoken about it, there’s no reason why bolder fungi can’t belly up to the bar.
As we’ve discussed before, Sugimoto Shiitake are on a whole different level from the average spore. Rich with free glutamates that create an unmistakable savory flavor, it’s easy to leverage their inherent wealth of aroma and unique pungency to enhance any dish. The concept certainly doesn’t end when happy hour strikes.
When used properly, shiitake in any form elevates the subtle nuances in all the components that coalesce into a carefully curated, intentional eating or drinking experience. Like salt, it should never taste overtly salty (or mushroomy, in this case), but allow the other players to shine as their best, truest selves.
There’s real scientific evidence supporting the use of shiitake in mixology. To better understand why this pairing works, let’s break down the primary tasting notes:
Remind you of anything else? Yes, whiskey is a match made in heaven for this umami infusion! That’s why my Umami Old Fashioned is a foolproof twist on the classic cocktail that will never let you down.
The classic old fashioned is one of the easiest cocktails you could pour. Just four ingredients stand between you and that first bold, bracing sip: whiskey, sugar, bitters, and orange peel. To add some extra umami into the equation, we need to factor in two more ingredients: dried shiitake and time.
Since a little bit goes a long way when we’re talking about bitters, even this small amount should last a good while. Don’t reserve your supply only for cocktails; it’s a rich flavoring agent for a wide range of cooking applications too. Consider incorporating it into:
Once you start sipping, you’ll never want to stock the bar without this secret ingredient again. Cheers, to a new fashioned Old Fashioned that can keep up with the times.
Equal parts gin, vermouth, and Campari, the classic Negroni is a reliable staple at any bar. Trouble is, that basic ratio doesn’t do each of the components the greatest justice, and quite frankly, it’s one of the last cocktails I would choose in any lineup.
For years, I thought that gin was the culprit. Served neat, it tastes like a liquefied Christmas tree. All juniper and pine, that resinous taste leaves a film of holiday despair in my mouth that won’t wash away. Some brands are certainly better than others, but it turns out that simply knowing the right way to mix it can do wonders.
If you have similar feelings, let me tell you a little secret: Cut the vermouth with a sweet vinegar like white balsamic to diffuse some of the bitterness. It simultaneously adds a bright hit of acidic contrast for a fully realized, harmonious balance of tastes. The first time I experienced this alchemy was at Neighborhood Goods, a curious mashup of retail and restaurant. They used a fanciful Vermouth Vinegar which was quite luxurious indeed, and lit the spark to experiment with more accessible acids.
Vinegars are abundant these days, offering a diverse world of flavoring options that go well beyond salad dressing. If you want to experiment beyond white balsamic, other promising substitutes include:
Infused vinegars pose even greater options for customization; I’ve had amazing peach-infused vinegar that incorporated the bright, sunny essence of a summer day, and raspberry-infused vinegar with a brilliant tart-sweet interplay.
Lean in on the citrus element and replace the vinegar with orange juice instead!
One other secret that applies well beyond Negronis: A drink that’s mostly or entirely composed of spirits like this should always be stirred, not shaken. It more effectively incorporates the ingredients without becoming diluted by the ice. Stir with a long spoon for 20 – 30 seconds, and that’s it. Serve with fresh ice for the best clarity and temperature.
The classic Negroni cocktail has been around for roughly 100 years, and it’s only getting started.