The Umami Cocktail Experiment

Perhaps you have heard the word “umami”—not to be confused with “unami,” because an eel cocktail would be a bad idea (or would it?). Umami is one of the five basic tastes, often called “savory,” which includes sweet, sour, bitter and salty. A loanword from the Japanese, umami can be translated as “pleasant savory taste.”

The craft cocktail movement has grown so much and so quickly that, in a relatively short time, innovative bartenders have exhausted every other major flavor profile. Sweet cocktails abounded in the 1970s. Sour has a whole cocktail category named after it. If you crave salt, have a margarita. Bitter amaro cocktails were the biggest bar trend last year. Now that the fifth flavor profile has finally gotten some recognition in the west, we need a savory cocktail. While monosodium glutamate (MSG) is my go-to umamifyer, it unfairly has a bad rep and it would make a terrible rimmer anyway. Other foods rich in umami are shiitake mushrooms, soy sauce, fish sauce, cured meats and green tea.

I wanted the umami to work with the spirit, not bottleneck the spirit in to be hidden by the umami. My first thought was to use Stroudwater Distillery’s Belfry bourbon, specially blended from a selection of fine bourbon whiskeys and finished in maple porter beer barrels (which were used to age Bissell Brothers’ Angels with Filthy Souls). I also wanted it to have a smokey note to it, but not rely on Worcester sauce for that, so I used Laphroaig Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky. With the rest, a little goes a long way. I used Worcester sauce as the central savory flavor and bitter Armando bitters, which has the deep smoldering flavor of Lapsang Souchong Tea enhanced by peppery citrus notes.


2 ounces Stroudwater Belfry Bourbon Limited Release
1 ounce Scotch
1/8 ounce Worcester sauce
1/8 ounce lime juice
A couple dashes of bitter Armando from Vena’s Fizz House
Salt/thyme rimmer
Garnish with a candied shiitake mushroom or candied bacon

Give your rocks glass a salt rim, using a coarse salt that is a mixture of sea salt, pepper, other herbs. I use the Thyme & Salt rimmer from Cocktail Courier. I found the best way to get the rim to stick is to use simple syrup; this also helps to balance the saltiness. Fill your class with ice cubes. Fill your shaker with ice and put in all the above ingredients except garnish. Shake and pour into your rocks glass and garnish with a candied shiitake mushroom (other savory garnishes will work, like candied bacon).

Jessie resides at the heart of downtown Portland with her border collie puppy Josie, making cocktails and trouble.

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