How often have you overlooked humble salt when mixing up a drink?

Despite how common it is, slat can make a huge impact in a drink. Knowing how to use salt correctly can help you upgrade your drink game in more ways than you might think. To learn more about how to use salt, we looked to Chilled 100 member Meryll Cawn, who is a bit of an expert on the subject. Cawn has been working in the industry for the last 20 years. Along with her years behind the stick she’s conducted numerous educational seminars. Currently she is a partner in the consulting firm, All Stirred Up, and a bartender at the Hi Lo Club in San Francisco.

What role does salt play in a cocktail?

Salt can play a lot of different roles throughout the bar. Salt is a flavor enhancer, a sweetness booster, it curbs bitterness, and is also a preservative.

Does the type of salt matter?

Yes! Different salts have different perceived « saltiness » as well as different flavor profiles. Some salts have a pervasive sense of salinity while others are more of a sharp point. Different salts can be used to focus different flavors in a drink.

Can you share a little bit about learning to work with salt!

Like learning to use anything behind the bar, practice and experimentation are key.  Also, being flexible with how you introduce salt into the drink is helpful. You can directly add salt, use a saline solution, add salt to a juice or cordial, add a salty garnish, or use a salted rim. I have always favored directly adding salt while lots of people prefer a saline solution. Finding a local spice shop with a selection of salts is helpful if you want to play with a variety of salts. There are tons of places to buy online too like OakTownSpiceShop.com

What are some of the ways you use salt in drinks?

I mostly work with a tiny pinch from my tiny fingers which I know is not an accurate measurement. I use salt in drinks like Negronis, Gimlets, whiskey highballs, and the classics: Palomas and Margaritas. Salt definitely finds its way into a lot of my Dealer’s Choice drinks.

I also design drinks that have salt added in advance to juices or syrups. That definitely helps with accuracy and consistency as well as prolonging the life of the modifier. One of my favorite things my business partner, Patrick at All Stirred Up, made was a salted nori syrup. I used it in tons of cocktails and mocktails.

Humble salt can transform a drink image by charles-deluvio

Humble salt can transform a drink

Photo by Charles Deluvio

Are there any tips for how to use or how not to use salt?

  • DO – use salt to wake up day(s) old citrus. It will curb the bitter notes and bring out more flavor.
  • DO – dip a citrus peel garnish in a little salt to give an extra pop of complexity to a cocktail
  • DON’T – forget to tell your coworkers that you added salt to something, that way there is no double dosing.
  • DO – think about how messy some of the darker salts are for your bar & guests’ sake.
  • DON’T – forget that salt can slow down or kill yeast.
  • DO – experiment with all the different ways you can introduce salt into drinks: pickles, cured meat, nuts, salted caramel, etc.
  • DO – Use salt to help improve the flavor of house made ingredients like shrubs, bitters and cordials.
  • DO – remember that everyone has different thresholds for when things taste salty.
  • DO – use salt to make cocktails more friendly for food pairing.