The spirit of the season: salt & vinegar

Thanks to our New Brunswick winter, by now many of us will have experienced the encroaching layer of salt crust on our leather boots—best removed with a solution of water and vinegar. What you might not have considered is that these two zingy substances that sometimes coat both our footwear and our potato chips can also create an array of delicious and savoury cocktails.

Enter, for example, the salty dog: a simple mix of vodka or gin, fresh grapefruit juice and an optional dash of maraschino liqueur, all shaken and strained into a coupe glass with a salted rim. For this essential garnish, make a crossways slit in a lime or lemon wedge and run it around the edge of the glass, then quickly dip the wet rim in a pile of coarse table salt. Much like a classic margarita, this drink expertly fuses sweet, sour and salty flavours without the addition of any fancy or expensive liqueurs.

As many of us will know, tequila also pairs perfectly with a dash of salt, especially if you’re trying to make the cheaper stuff palatable. Try making a Cantarito, a Mexican original comprising tequila, orange juice, grapefruit juice, lime juice and a generous pinch of salt, traditionally served in a chilled clay pot. Alternatively, transform this into the savoury vampiro cocktail by swapping grapefruit for tomato juice and adding a bit of tabasco, cracked black pepper and sweet grenadine syrup.

Of course, one can’t forget the superlative savoury cocktail: the caesar. Often regarded as Canada’s favourite cocktail, this variation of the bloody mary comprises vodka, clamato juice and a spicy sauce, all poured over ice into a glass rimmed with celery salt. I will contend that, other than swapping gin for vodka, the recipe for the perfect tomato cocktail lies in the sauce, which should definitely feature Tabasco and Worcestershire and should probably include HP sauce, celery salt and some Montreal steak spice. Don’t forget the garnish, which can range from the simple to the exotic; the staple is a lime wedge and a celery stick, but I’ve seen bartenders top a Caesar with everything from pickled carrots and stuffed jalapeño poppers to maple bacon and beef jerky.

In many places, such as eastern and northern Europe, straight spirits may accompany and complement salty foods such as smoked meats or pickled vegetables and fish. At some Russian and Ukrainian dinner parties, for example, guests will frequently take a break from nibbling on an array of salty snacks to make a toast and drink a shot of vodka together. In some ways, the caesar and the olive-garnished martini are merely condensed examples of this savoury liquor-pickle partnership, but an even more efficient – albeit much less elegant – incarnation of this is the “pickleback”: a shot of dry whisky chased immediately with an equal measure of pickle brine. It sounds disgusting, but I promise the flavours pair peculiarly well together. At the very least, it’s an advance on the electrolytes your body will inevitably need after a night of knocking back hard spirits.

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