My badass undergrad assistant sent me this link recently, which documents how mushroom cocktails are rapidly becoming crowd-pleasers across the US. And, as Maiden’s album was somewhat controversial here for its religious lyrics, the idea of adding fungus to one’s booze puts a few people on edge. Naturally, I had to try a few.
This last weekend while I was in NYC to visit a friend, I met up with Paul Adams for a Mushroom Themed Bar Crawl. Paul was a restaurant reviewer for years prior to landing the sweet gig of Senior Editor of Popular Science‘s website. He knew a great first place to start our epic tasting journey.
We met up at Booker and Dax, a pretty swanky bar in the Lower East Side. This is the place to go if you’re not shy about jumping straight into the circle pit of mushroom flavor. The ‘Champion Justino’ is like drinking liquid shiitake: cognac, chocolate molé bitters, shiitake mushroom elixir, and two drops of saline. The saline makes the flavor really pop, like just the right amount of gain on a guitar track. I highly recommend it.
Next we hit up the speak-easy-esque Experimental Cocktail Club and settled in at the bar. Their featured mushroom drink was called ‘Take is Going Back to Japan.’ Despite the awkward name, the drink was pretty tasty: shittake infused scotch, cocoa nibs infused maple syrup, sherry, and black walnut bitters.
Because mushrooms have such a savory, umami taste, most mushroom cocktails are paired with sweeter flavors like chocolate. Just like pairing metal music with basically anything else, mushrooms and chocolate can be a pretty killer combination. The ‘Take’ is a good drink for someone that wants to try a mushroom-inspired cocktail but doesn’t want to be overwhelmed with the taste of decomposers.
Our third and final stop for the night was Neta, a high-end sushi bar a bit further west. Props to Neta for being the only place we found to use truffles instead of shiitakes. The ‘Ki No Kawa’ was cognac gently infused with black truffles, gin, créme de cacao and molé bitters. I just wish they’d been less gentle with their infusion – the drink smelled strongly of truffles but the taste was fairly mild. It was still a great combination of flavors.
Overall, Booker and Dax get the Full Devil Horn Salute for embracing the taste of mushrooms. The bartenders also put on a good show, chilling their glasses with liquid nitrogen, and even using N2 to flash freeze herbs and spices for some of their drinks. They answered all my 1001 questions and clearly knew their stuff. I would definitely order the ‘Champion Justino’ again.
The next time I go on a Culinary Adventure I might have to try the next fungi-inspired fine dining ingredient: lichen from the stomachs of freshly slaughtered reindeer.