Using Brine for Acidity: Springtime Radishes
Acidity is an essential taste required for almost every cocktail in one form or another.
While acidity can be found in many different products, bartenders usually reach for Lemons and Limes. But what can we do if these fruits are out of season?
Citric, Malic, and Tartaric acids are a few ingredients (in granular form) that have played an important role in beverages for years and are increasingly being used in cocktails to replace traditional acidic flavors.
One traditional ingredient that made somewhat of a comeback is vinegar, often used by bartenders in the form of shrubs. But while shrubs are often used in cocktails, brines are hardly ever used despite their great taste and complexity.
Brines have an excellent purpose in the world of Sustainable Bartending because they grant two things:
they preserve a solid ingredient (for months and even years), and
they can be used in small amounts to give acidity to cocktails.
A couple of examples where brines are used in cocktails are the Dirty Martini which uses Olive Brine, and the Gibson which uses Onion Brine.
Pickle Brine can also be used in cocktails (most notably in a Bloody Mary twist) but despite these three classic cocktails, there are not many other drinks where brine is present.
Can you imagine the possibility of flavors that you can have using brines from preserving different fruits, vegetables, herbs, flowers, and spices?
Purple Onion Brine, Bell Pepper Brine, Watermelon Rind Brine. There are infinite possibilities that can also give vegetables a chance in cocktails without necessarily making them too salty vinegary, or savory! A brine should give the acidity a cocktail needs as well as some secondary and tertiary flavors that linger in the background without overpowering the entire drink.
In this recipe, we will take a vegetable that hardly ever gets used behind the bar, but which I assure you can give earthy, citrusy, and acidic notes to any twist on a classic.
Radishes are usually available all year-round, but some of the more delicate and particular ones are available only during springtime.
There are plenty of reasons why radishes should be used more in cocktails.
For one, they come in many varieties and therefore have a wide range of different flavors.
They often have slightly spicy, citrusy, earthy, and peppery tastes to them.
Because of their pungent flavor, they are often sliced and used as a garnish for dishes. Just like a chef uses radishes sparingly in a dish for color, cruch, and spice, a bartender can use its brine sparingly in cocktails for the same purpose.
Just a few milliliters is all you need to transmit enough acidity and flavor to a drink.
To make a simple brine, all you need are some common household ingredients.
White Distilled Vinegar
The ratio for Vinegar : Water : Simple Syrup will be --> 4 : 4 : 1
For every one part of sugar, simply add 4 parts of vinegar and water.
(Stay around the ratio but be sure to adjust according to personal/customer tastes).
You want to make sure that you don't add too much sugar to the mix, otherwise, you'll end up with a sweet and sour ingredient. The only purpose of the sugar is to enhance the flavor of the brine.
Create your brine following the ratio listed above and set it aside.
Choose your radish and slice it thinly (for accuracy, use a mandoline). After all, you will be using the radish itself either in your food or as a garnish for your cocktail.
(As you may note in the pictures above, I'm using Cherry Belle and Watermelon Radishes to make two similar yet different tasting brines).
Pack all of the radishes into your jar and pour in your brine mix making sure that they are all submerged in the liquid.
Seal it, label it, and let it sit for 1 to 2 weeks.
The longer it sits the better...and there is a precise reason for this!
If tasted just under 1 week, you'll notice the harsh vinegar flavor from the brine, almost overtaking every other ingredient. That harsh vinegar flavor will also transmit itself to the cocktail overpowering the flavors of the entire drink.
You don't want that...
By letting your brine sit for a long time it will develop a smoother and rounder taste without losing its acidity (which is essential for balancing a cocktail)!
That is the key part of using brines in cocktails.
I advise you to taste it every once in a while to check up on the developing flavor, and use when it starts tasting great.
Initially, it won't smell very good for the first couple of days, but once it's been sitting for weeks its flavor and aroma start to really shine and ends up tasting delicious!
Its taste on week 2 will be uncomparable to its first days.
Conclusion: How to Use
By far the easiest way to use brines is to make twists on Martinis and Bloody Mary's (savory cocktails) but with a little bit of creativity, they can be used with non-savory cocktails as well!
To start off with a brand new idea for a cocktail, it's important to recognize which spirits work better with vegetable brines.
Obvious choices that work well are:
Whiskey (peated especially)
Cocktail Twists that would work are:
Mules & Bucks
Just remember that brines won't give the same texture that lemon or lime juice gives when shaken into a drink, and they will often be overdiluted.
Techniques like building, stirring, and throwing will work far better for brine cocktails.
Here I can give an example of using Radish Brine for a Paloma.
Rather than adding agave syrup and lime juice to my Paloma, a small amount of Radish Brine is just enough to add sweetness and acidity from the infused vinegar.
A Rad Paloma
45ml Tequila Plata
40ml Grapefruit Juice (in season)
20ml Radish Brine
45ml Soda Water
Garnished with Pickled Radish & Salt Rim
Complex, savory, refreshing, and slightly vegetal without being overpowering. The radish brine gives an amazing pink/red color to this drink while also giving a multitude of flavors from just 20ml. The longer the brine sits with the radish, the more versatile and cocktail friendly it becomes to use!