5 Umami Cocktails to Add Complexity to Your Menu

May 02, 2024 by Anna-Bet Stemmet

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Umami cocktails are the talk of the town, and we’re here to tell you all about them. In this article, we delve into the concept of umami in mixed drinks, share some mouthwatering recipes, show you how umami bitters can become your secret weapon behind the bar, and more. Ready to unlock a whole new world of complex and exciting flavours? Let’s get mixing! 

Understanding umami in cocktails

Top view of a collection of umami cocktail ingredients including tomatoes, oyster mushrooms and miso paste in little bowls

Have you ever enjoyed a perfectly aged cheese or a juicy steak and experienced a rich, savoury sensation that went beyond sweet, sour, salty, and bitter? That’s umami, also called the ‘fifth taste’. In cocktails, adding umami notes isn’t about replicating food, but rather leaning into depth and complexity.  

Umami ingredients like soy sauce, tomatoes, or even specially made bitters achieve this by triggering our glutamate receptors, creating a more well-rounded and satisfying taste experience. Imagine a flavour bridge connecting the sweetness of citrus to the herbal notes of gin, creating a smoother, more nuanced drink, for instance. It’s all about unlocking new dimensions of flavour in your favourite cocktails. 

Read next: The Dirty Martini Reimagined 

Umami bitters & how it enhances cocktail flavour

Close up of a home mixologist using a dropper to add umami bitters to an Old Fashioned cocktail

Umami bitters are a type of bitters specifically crafted to add a rich, savoury depth to cocktails. It is typically made with ingredients naturally high in umami flavours, like kelp, bonito flakes (dried fish flakes commonly used in Japanese cuisine), and shiitake mushrooms. This is widely available from specialist retailers, and online. 

These unique bitters can elevate your mixology game by adding complexity and a surprising layer of flavour to your drinks. Just a few dashes can enhance a Bloody Mary, add intrigue to a Dirty Martini, or create a whole new dimension in an Old Fashioned 

Bitter is Better: Why Bitters for Cocktails Are on Everyone’s Lips 

Good base spirits for umami drinks

A bottle of Cinzano Vermouth Bianco and Cinzano Vermouth Rosso on a table with snacks and cocktails

When it comes to crafting umami cocktails, selecting the right base spirit is key to achieving a harmonious and flavourful drink. Here are a few types of spirits that work particularly well as a base for umami cocktails: 

  • Bourbon. The bold, complex flavours of bourbon provide a solid foundation for umami cocktails. The rich caramel and vanilla notes in bourbon complement savoury umami flavours, paving the way for a well-balanced drink with depth and character. 
  • Gin. Typically featuring juniper notes along with various herbal tones, gin can harmonise beautifully with umami elements. The piney juniper base will enhance the earthy flavours of umami bitters or ingredients like mushrooms, while the herbal complexity adds layers of flavour to the cocktail. 
  • Tequila. The smoky, agave-forward profile of tequila pairs very well with umami flavours. The smokiness of aged tequila can complement ingredients like roasted tomatoes or peppers, setting the scene for cocktails with unique and intriguing flavour profiles. 
  • Sake. Sake, a traditional Japanese rice wine, is known for its delicate and nuanced flavours. Its subtle sweetness and built-in umami undertones make it an excellent base for umami cocktails, especially when combined with ingredients like soy sauce or miso for a fusion of Japanese-inspired flavours. 
  • Vermouth. This fortified wine base brings its own complexity and depth to umami cocktails. Vermouth’s herbal notes can enhance the savoury elements in the drink while adding a touch of sweetness and acidity for balance. 

Creative uses of umami ingredients

Close up view of a man pouring vodka over dried shitake mushrooms in a mason jar, in a light, bright modern kitchen

Umami-rich ingredients like soy sauce, miso, mushrooms, and tomatoes aren’t just stars of the kitchen show. In the world of DIY mixology, they can be little secret weapons when it comes to crafting cocktails that leave a lasting impression. Here are a few ideas to get you started:  

  • Soy sauce. Add a splash of soy sauce to your favourite whiskey or bourbon cocktail for an instant boost of umami goodness. We recommend low-sodium soy sauce to control the saltiness and focus on the rich, savoury notes. 
  • Miso. Whip up a miso syrup by combining miso paste with a basic simple syrup, then use it to add depth to cocktails like Margaritas or Daiquiris. You can also mix miso syrup with citrus juices for a delightful balance of sweet, sour, and savoury flavours. 
  • Mushrooms. Infuse a spirit with dried mushrooms to create a unique base for umami cocktails. Simply add dried mushrooms to your favourite spirit (we like a clear base like vodka) and let it steep for a few days. These mushroom-infused spirits can then be used as the foundation for cocktails like a Dirty Martini.  
  • Tomatoes. Fresh tomatoes aren’t just for salads—muddle them into cocktails for a burst of umami and natural sweetness.  

Top tips for balancing umami flavours

  • Keep it subtle. Umami should enhance, not overpower, your cocktails. Start with small amounts of umami-rich ingredients and adjust to taste. 
  • Balance with acidity. Counteract the richness of umami with a splash of citrus juice or vinegar for a well-rounded flavour profile. 
  • Experiment with complementary flavours. Pair umami ingredients with herbs, spices, or sweet elements to create complexity and balance in your cocktails.  

Umami trends and innovations

Top view of a plate of kelp on a colourful tablecloth, surrounded by cocktail making ingredients

The umami trend has certainly been shaking up the cocktail world. Professional mixologists are getting seriously adventurous with fun techniques, like infusing spirits with kombu (a type of kelp) and fat washing with ingredients like cured meats. 

Leading the charge are innovative creations from top bartenders. This includes the Truffle Martini at Dante, New York, featuring truffle-infused vodka and a truffle oil wash, while London’s Tayēr + Elementary offers the Shiitake Negroni, a smoky twist with shiitake-infused Campari.   

Umami cocktail recipes to try at home

1. Kimchi Bloody Mary

Editorial style image of two Greek Salad Bloody Mary cocktails on a table in a modern Greek style home interior

Give your brunch a spicy Korean twist with this mouth-watering Kimchi Bloody Mary. Savoury, slightly sweet, and packed with spicy, zingy flavours, this twist on the classic brunchtime drink can be an acquired taste, but if you love a fermented vibe, it will blow your socks off! 

Make it with: SKYY Vodka 

2. Michelada

Three spicy Michelada cocktails served with pulled pork tacos

The Michelada is also similar in style to the traditional Bloody Mary, with beer, lime juice, assorted sauces, spices, tomato juice, and chilli peppers in the mix. However, while it plays in the same savoury space as the Mary, it also has a delightful bubbly profile thanks to the fizziness of the beer.   

3. Dirty Martini

Close up of a man wearing a flannel shirt holding a tray with three Dirty Martini cocktails on it

A Dirty Martini is a must-have umami trick to have up your hosting sleeve—simple, yet undeniably glamorous. This unique cocktail has a lovely saltiness that draws the flavours of vodka and dry vermouth into a fresh, firm focus. It’s a total classic and easy to whip up, making it ideal for those occasions that call for something a little different.   

Make it with: Cinzano Extra Dry Vermouth  

4. Bacon Old Fashioned

Close up of an Old Fahioned cocktail garnished with a piece of crispy bacon over the top of the glass droë

Old Fashioned fans, you have not lived until you’ve tried this dapper drink built on a base of bacon-washed bourbon. Hot damn, it’s a vibe! The smokiness of the bacon tunes this drink to a whole different chord. 10/10 must try!  

Make it with: Wild Turkey 101 Bourbon  

Learn more: The Easy Guide to Fat-Washing Cocktails at Home 

5. Parmesan Espresso Martini

Parmesan Espresso Martini

An Espresso Martini topped with a grating of top-quality Parmesan cheese might sound like a stretch, but we would like to remind you how well cheese and coffee go together. Hello, tiramisu! This wonderfully layered sipper makes a great after-dinner drink that doubles as a tasty conversation starter.  

Make it with: SKYY Vodka 

There you have it—a concise intro to the wonderful world of umami cocktails. For more cocktail inspiration that ventures beyond the same-old, same-old, visit the Bulldog Gin, SKYY Vodka, and Wild Turkey Bourbon websites. 

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