Exploring Umami Cocktails

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 flavors? 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 perfectly aged cheese or a juicy steak and experienced a rich, savory 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 flavor 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 flavor in your favorite cocktails. 

Read next: The Dirty Martini Reimagined 

Umami bitters & how it enhances cocktail flavor

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

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

These unique bitters can elevate your mixology game by adding complexity and a surprising layer of flavor 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 liquors for umami drinks

A Bottle of Cinzano Vermouth Rosso on a tray and served with olives and crisps

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

  • Bourbon. The bold, complex flavors of bourbon provide a solid foundation for umami cocktails. The rich caramel and vanilla notes in bourbon complement savory umami flavors, paving the way for a well-balanced drink with depth and character. 
  • Gin. Typically featuring juniper notes along with various herbal tones, gin can harmonize beautifully with umami elements. The piney juniper base will enhance the earthy flavors of umami bitters or ingredients like mushrooms, while the herbal complexity adds layers of flavor to the cocktail. 
  • Tequila. The smoky, agave-forward profile of tequila pairs very well with umami flavors. The smokiness of aged tequila can complement ingredients like roasted tomatoes or peppers, setting the scene for cocktails with unique and intriguing flavor profiles. 
  • Sake. Sake, a traditional Japanese rice wine, is known for its delicate and nuanced flavors. 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 flavors. 
  • Vermouth. This fortified wine base brings its own complexity and depth to umami cocktails. Vermouth’s herbal notes can enhance the savory 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 favorite 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, savory 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 savory flavors. 
  • Mushrooms. Infuse liquor with dried mushrooms to create a unique base for umami cocktails. Simply add dried mushrooms to your favorite liquor (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 flavors

  • 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 flavor profile. 
  • Experiment with complementary flavors. 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 liquor 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. Savory, slightly sweet, and packed with spicy, zingy flavors, 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 chili peppers in the mix. However, while it plays in the same savory 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 flavors 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

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?! The Parmesan Espresso Martini 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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