Culinary cocktails

Montage including cocktails

As previously noted, I will be taking over the reins for the Eat Your Books blog beginning in February. In her introduction, Lindsay mentioned that I am a cooking and baking enthusiast, and that I also dabble in cocktails. The only thing that makes me happier than pursuing one of these passions separately is combining the activities. Most of us are accustomed to using liquor in our culinary pursuits: poaching pears in wine, using beer in beef stew (Eat Your Books has over 1500 recipes for that), or adding liqueurs to desserts (Krystina Castella and Terry Lee Stone have this down with their cookbook Booze Cakes: Confections Spiked With Spirits, Wine, and Beer). What fewer of us do is the reverse: adding ingredients normally used in cooking to create unique cocktails. I've experimented with using jalapeno to give a drink bite, or adding parsley, thyme, or lavender to lend an herbal note.

But I am a dilettante compared to Pittsburgh's John Wabeck, a former chef. Wabeck looks to the kitchen pantry when designing new cocktails for the bar Grit & Grace. While it may seem unusual to combine plum jam and sambal with ginger liqueur, whiskey and rum, he uses the same approach a chef would use when creating a new recipe: "You want a mix of strong, sweet, sour and bitter. You can accentuate one or two; they don't all need to be equal," he says.

Culinary Cocktails is a website dedicated solely to this growing trend. Among the many listings there is The Venetian, described as "Honeydew Rum Daiquiri, Shaken & Strained, Garnished with Italian Prosciutto d'Parma." And there are even events dedicated to discovering culinary cocktails. If you happen to be in Versailles (Kentucky, USA, that is) this March, Woodford Reserve Distillery is hosting "The Art of Culinary Cocktail in Spring."

The PDT Cocktail Book contains recipes that incorporate pantry ingredients, and you can use Eat your Books to find more cocktail recipes featuring your favorite ingredient. Enter your search term and use the filters to narrow the results by selecting "Cocktails/Drinks (with alcohol)" under "Recipe Types/Drinks."  (Because everything is better with bacon, I searched for that and found these recipes). The culinary cocktail trend has been building since 2009, so expect to see more cookbooks exploring this movement.

What is your favorite pantry staple (or secret ingredient) to use in a cocktail?

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