We’re big fans of Gibsons around here. One wouldn’t expect that just changing the garnish would change the characteristics of a Martini, but it does. The little bit of brine and oniony flavor add a certain something that makes for a great and very different drink. What’s surprising to us though is that cocktail onions just aren’t used that often in other drinks, which we think is a darn shame. With that in mind, we set out to see if there were other drinks that might do well with an onion garnish.
We make our own cocktail onions, and we recommend you do as well. Most grocery stores seem to be carrying pearl onions most of the time these days instead of just around the holidays. This is our go-to recipe if you want to give it a whirl. We typically cut back on the salt a bit (unless you’re planning on eating them within 2 weeks), otherwise they get super salty. We also love to noodle with the recipe, adding other alliums like shallots, garlic, chives, etc. All of them come together to make a savory, brine-y treat.
For our first cocktail, we decided to try making the drink a bit dirty by including some of the onion brine. This made it easy to experiment by testing lots of things with a little bit of the brine to see how well it paired. We tried aged cachaca (interesting, but we weren’t sure how well it would pair with all aged cachaca rather than just the one we had on hand), aquavit (unexpectedly bad, which was surprising given the savory notes of aquavit itself), Irish whiskey (also not nice, kind of chemical-y and astringent), Amaro Nonino (interesting and worth experimenting more with), rye (nice!). From there we combined rye and Amaro Nonino with a bit of brine. Now we were getting somewhere, we had a great salt/sweet/spicy thing going on, just needed a little more depth. Some Boker’s bitters and we were good to go.
Mad, Bad, and Dangerous to Know
- 2 oz rye
- 1 oz Amaro Nonino
- 1 bar spoon onion brine
- 1 dash Boker’s bitters
Stir all ingredients with ice. Strain into a glass. Garnish with a cocktail onion.
- Nose: Rye, brine, and tangy, savory notes like bbq sauce.
- Palate: Salty-sweet herbal flavors with onion notes at the front. Mid-palate is lemon peel, caramel, and rye spice, underpinned by brine. Finish is slightly peppery, slightly toasty oak. Sweet through the intro and mid-palate with a dry finish.
Next up, we thought we’d iterate on a Gibson, but add some stronger and sweeter flavors to the mix.
The Release Cocktail
- 2 oz gin
- 1/2 oz Lillet Blanc (Lillet Rouge also works nicely if you want something more herbal with darker, sweeter flavors)
- 1/4 oz Maraschino
- 1 tsp absinthe
Stir with ice. Strain. Garnish with a cocktail onion.
- Nose: Fennel, celery, juniper, little bit of almond, little bit of rose. Tiny hint of brine.
- Palate: Front is very sweet and light with celery, cherry/almond, and roses. Mid-palate is juniper and fennel with an underpinning of onion and brine which helps keep the anise flavors from being too overpowering. Finish has a hint of rosemary with strong juniper notes. Finish isn’t sweet but it has the palate coating characteristic of anise or licorice.
In our experimentation, we found that with cocktail onions you either have to go very dry or else with a bit of sweetness to help integrate with the savory notes of the onions and the brine. Using an aged spirit especially seems to require a bit of sweetness, otherwise the woody characteristics of the spirit clash with the savory briney flavors in unpleasant ways.
Cocktail onions are a greatly under-appreciated garnish in our minds. They make for a more complex, flavorful garnish and work very well for making something dirty (assuming you make your own. Seriously you should make your own). So get out there, make some cocktail onions and enjoy a Gibson, try our creations, or create some drinks of your. Until next time, cheers!