I distill the chanterelle slings from the shitake sours as I uncover just what’s growing the mushroom cocktail trend
With everything from five-a-day vegetable blends to pizza-inspired muddles gracing cocktail menus across the UK this year, it appeared the savoury cocktail concept had been well and truly exhausted. But, it seems, something even more pungent is lurking in the shadows.
Fungi cocktails – whether syrups infused with chanterelle mushrooms, white truffle martinis, shitake mushroom reductions or porcini dry vermouths – have not only been making a big noise across the Atlantic, they’re mushrooming here too. But is there money to be made from these earthy concoctions, or are they a load of old rot?
Across the pond, ‘shroom’ cocktails have been making waves everywhere from New York to California in the last 12 months but it seems the concept may have taken root closer to home.
Paul Tvaroh, the eccentric owner of Lounge Bohemia, in Shoreditch, could lay claim to being the pioneer of these funky cocktails when he began foraging for mushrooms five years ago.
His ‘Porcini-tini’, made with porcini mushrooms, dry chocolate spirit, crème de cacao, becherovka cordial, oat cream, cocoa butter and salt is the headline act on the bar’s regularly-changing Tasting Menu, which currently recreates, in liquid form at least, “a sensory walk through a woodland”.
“I’m passionate about breaking the boundaries,” adds Tvaroh. “People don’t come to us to get drunk, they come to us for an experience.”
So far, mushroom cocktails appear to fall into two camps – infusions and pickles – with inspiration stemming from behind the cooker, rather than behind the bar.
At Mash London, bar manager Renaud de Bosredon originally developed his truffle cocktail – made by infusing apple spirit with parsley for 24 hours and Porcini mushrooms for 48 hours, and blending with sweet vermouth, a sweet amaro and a blend of bitters – as an appetiser, and at Two Restaurant, in Chicago, head bar tender Graham Crowe was galvanized by a parcel of cracked top shiitake mushrooms sent to his head chef.
“After experimentation, I settled on infusing bourbon with the mushrooms,’ he says. “Knowing that the earthiness would play well with the sweet spice, creating an umami kind of whisky. In my opinion, mushrooms provide some of the best flavours for getting away from sweet cocktails.”
Similarly at Apres London, they’ve given a whole new meaning to the idea of ‘cooking liquor’. Here, mushroom pickling juice – a by-product from the food menu – is infused with cider vinegar, liquorice, star anise, ginger and sugar for a week and combined with Chase Smoked and Belvedere Vodkas, and the usual Bloody Mary ingredients, to create the ‘Ultimate F***ing Bloody Mary’.
“I take a flavour I love and apply that to a drink, rather than taking a drink and applying it to a flavour,” says Apres general manager Jeremy Thompson-Jewitt.
For Graham Crowe at Two, the jury is still split. “They can be very love/hate,” he says. “But I’ve been able to win over several mushroom haters and we’re already got a chanterelle and honey combo in the pipeline.”
At Artesian at The Langham London, head bartender Alex Kratena’s ‘Will of the Woods’ (Glenlivet 12 combined with a cepes-infused vermouth Noilly Prat, Larch Liqueur, lemon juice and honey syrup) – “inspired by the scent of the forest floor” – has proved to be such a hit, he’s also planning more, and, albeit in a small way, these meaty mixers appear to have a following.
“They’re extremely popular,” says Kratena. “Selling in the top 10 and making a profit.”
At Apres, it’s a similar story. “We make a 75% profit on them and as the pickling juice is made in the kitchen anyway, there’s no extra costs,” says Thompson-Jewitt. “Ultimately, it’s about not going too far with the idea – at first we used a rehydrated mushroom with cucumber juice – but it didn’t last long.
“Mushroom cocktails are an acquired taste but people come here specifically for them.”
Originally published in Imbibe 2014