Food & Drink

Olive Oil Cocktails Are a Thing Now

This Savory Cocktail Hack, Explained

By Najib Benouar
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Grilling vegetables. Making a delightful vinaigrette. Generally drizzling it on things.

Those are but three great ideas for using olive oil. But here’s one you might not have considered: cocktail ingredient.

Yes, you can dose your drinks with olive oil. This is a practice that’s been whispered and employed in the more experimental corners of mixology over the past few years. Drinks luminary Eben Freeman has dabbled in it. Marvel Bar out in Minneapolis has been considered a pioneer. And elsewhere you’ll find bartenders using the stuff in all manner of drinks, but most frequently in martinis.

One such place is NYC’s modern Chinese restaurant RedFarm, where barkeep Shawn Chen is serving a play on the dirty martini. His “Clean” Martini (pictured above) incorporates ESP Smoked Gin, chenin blanc, vermouth, Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur and a few drops of extra virgin olive oil on top for a drink that he says is more approachable, with olive oil playing the part of supporting flavor.

To better understand this innovation, we caught up with a guy who loves his olive oil as much as he loves his cocktails. That would be Kevin O’Connor, chef-at-large for Cobram Estate Extra Virgin Olive Oil, to get some tips on how we might use this savory cocktail hack in our everyday lives.

Here’s what we learned.

Olive oil in cocktails, huh?
Sure, it sounds odd at first, but it works because, as O’Connor says: “With such pronounced and unique flavor profiles, extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) can be a strong player in food and beverage recipes.” There’s a long history of savory cocktails that take cues from the food world, and olive oil can enhance drinks in a similar fashion.

Start with a martini. Droppered, not shaken.
“The first time I experimented with olive oil in a cocktail was in a dirty martini. I threw a drizzle right into the shaker, shook it up and strained it. What was produced was a martini with hundreds of droplets of slightly solidified olive oil over the top. The oil was really aromatic and greeted the senses before taking a sip. As I drank the martini, I was left with a very silky mouthfeel and soft lips. It was almost like drinking and putting on a healing chapstick at the same time. For martinis that I make now, I use a small dropper to garnish the finished cocktail. I’ve found the aromas of the oil are stronger if they’re not shaken with the cocktail, and the presentation is a bit prettier.”

It’s also a great bonding agent for salt-rimming a glass.
O’Conner adds, “I’ll sometimes rim my glass with olive oil before salt when making one of my go-to drinks, the Salty Dog: grapefruit juice, vodka and an EVOO/salt rim.”

Make sure you’re using the legit extra virgin stuff.
You’ve probably seen the reports of the many questionable practices in the olive oil business, so choose your EVOO wisely if you want the good stuff. Your safest bets are buying something certified by the California Olive Oil Council and/or sticking with a label you can trust.

Getting into some advanced EVOO cocktailing...
“Moving on to more interesting cocktails, I’ve had great success with using egg whites in the drinks to emulsify the olive oil. To complement the vibrant green, herbaceous, grassy notes in the olive oil and to contrast the levels of bitterness and pungency in our oil, I was looking for a sweeter, ‘greener’ cocktail. A riff on one of the more popular Chartreuse cocktails (the Last Word) was born. I had some friends hanging out in the backyard, so it started with basil and Meyer lemon from my garden. We can call it the McGavin.” Here’s the recipe:

The McGavin

1 oz gin (O’Conner likes Four Pillars)
1 oz green Chartreuse
1/2 oz fresh Meyer lemon juice (regular lemon juice or even lime will work in a pinch)
1/4 oz simple syrup
1 big sprig of basil
1 egg white
1/2 oz Cobram Estate Australia Select EVOO

Mix the gin, Chartreuse and lemon juice in the shaker. Add the remaining ingredients, a small sprig of basil and three to five cubes of ice. Shake until the ice is nearly gone, or for about two minutes. Strain and serve up, garnished with a sprig of basil and a couple droplets of olive oil on top.

Najib Benouar has been known on occasion to write about menswear, ice cream scoops and all other manner of gentlemanly pursuit.

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