Last week, I came across a promising looking bottle of extra virgin olive oil.* It came in a dark bottle (dark bottles protect oil from the harmful effects of sunlight), and its label boasted "fruit flavor" with "a hint of grass." I tasted a little of the olive oil straight and it did taste pretty nice to me—floral, grassy, and just a touch peppery. Most importantly, it tasted a whole lot like olives. Solid stuff. And perfect for what I had in mind: a cocktail.
Now, before you freak out, hear me out. I did a double take too when I first heard about using olive oil in a cocktail. For one thing, oil and water don't actually mix, right?
*As it turns out, I was pretty lucky with my spur-of-the-moment choice. As the blog Truth in Olive Oil explains, the generic Kroger brand I grabbed is actually made by Corto Olive, an olive oil maker of good repute.
No, they don't, but that's where the fun comes in. While it's possible to use oil as a straight flavoring ingredient without dispersing it into the rest of a drink, I'm personally not a fan of sipping a cocktail only to watch it slowly separate before my eyes.
Luckily, bartender Pip Hanson of Marvel Bar figured out a simple solution: add an egg white. If you think about it, this totally makes sense. Cocktails calling for whole eggs have existed for a long time; both the lecithin in egg yolks and the network of proteins in egg whites emulsify water and oil together. If you think about olive oil as the "yolk" part of a cocktail, you can start to see how you could play with the idea to create innovative new drinks based on classic ratios.
Let's look at an example.
I dug around on the blog of our Cocktails 101 Columnist, Michael Dietsch, and found a reference to a sweet, herbal cocktail named the Canary Flip. The drink pairs herbal Yellow Chartreuse with spicy, bittersweet Fernet Branca, brought together with the addition of a whole egg.
To make my version of the drink, I simply omitted the yolk portion of the egg and replaced it with a 1/2 ounce of extra virgin olive oil.
After shaking for a very long time (I mean really long—I shook it for probably a minute straight, then took a break, then shook it some more). The drink had built up quite a bit of body, so I strained it into a Champagne flute instead of a traditional coupe glass.
The foam was rich and creamy and really tasted like olive oil. The body of the drink was sweet, but the herbal notes in the Chartreuse and Fernet did fun things with the vegetal nature of the oil. I added a few sprinkles of black pepper as a garnish instead of a standard lemon peel. The pepper made the foam even more savory and helped to offset the sweetness of the Chartreuse.
If you've had egg flips before, know that a "flip" made with oil instead of yolk turns out a little less viscous and thick in texture. I also felt that the drink came out just a little too sweet, possibly because I've always noticed that a thicker texture helps to mask sweetness. You may want to experiment with lowering the sugar level a bit.
It may be hard to tell from the picture, but the drink did slowly begin to separate after about five minutes. But, it never fully separated in the 15 minutes that I took to finish it, and I didn't notice any change in texture. In fact, it was fun to swirl some of the foam into the drink to change the texture around.
Of course, olive oil is only one ingredient to play with. There are plenty of other flavored oils out there.
I picked up a can of this walnut oil because the labeling looked promising and because, once again, it was sold in an opaque container.
I tasted the walnut oil plain and it tasted of lightly toasted walnuts. If you've never had walnut oil, imagine sesame oil, but much more subtle and nuanced. Whereas toasted sesame oil tends to hit you in the face with aromas, walnut oil contributes more of a base note.
I use the oil in a Roasty Toasty cocktail, a drink that was originally shared with me by bartender Stephen Shellenberger of Pomodoro in Brookline, MA. It calls for pisco, an unaged Peruvian brandy. If you don't have pisco around, you can substitute light rum or brandy or even tequila. The pisco is mixed with fresh lime juice, mole bitters, egg white, walnut oil, and sugar (the drink calls for 8 grams, which comes out to around 1/2 ounce of simple syrup...but keep reading.)
The drink ends up tasting a bit like a Pisco Sour, but the base notes from the walnut oil give depth to the lime juice, and that tweak lends complexity to the drink as a whole. When I made this drink at home, I found the contrast between the acidic, light body of the drink and the nutty foam just a little too great. I recommend using 1 ounce of simple syrup instead of the 1/2 ounce called for to soften the body of the drink a bit.
Against my better judgment, I tried to pour the entire drink into a coupe glass. Since acid helps to denature the proteins in egg white and allow them to link more effectively,* the foam fluffs up quite a bit and can sit tall above the drink. Just be careful with the first sip, as the slightest disturbance can cause the mountain of foam to crumble and drip.
I garnished with a few drops of Taza Chocolate Mexicano Extract because it played well with the roasted walnut flavors without overpowering the drink.
One last thing: I've noticed that oil softens the bite of alcohol slightly. Keep in mind that both these drinks call for a full 2 ounces of alcohol each, so don't let their mild flavors fool you.
*as explained in Harold McGee's On Food and Cooking.
Have you ever tried using oil as a drink flavoring? Got any favorite recipes?
About the author:Kevin Liu likes to drink science and study cocktails. Wait, that's backward. Ask him geeky food and booze questions on twitter @kevinkliu. While you're at it, check out his book about cocktail science.