The next time you sip a cocktail and find that it tastes a bit flat or that the balance isn’t to your liking, do as you would with food and reach for the salt. A minuscule dose of a saline solution—not enough that you’d know it was in there—suppresses bitterness (scientists believe that sodium blocks the tongue’s ability to sense bitterness) and, in doing so, brings sweetness and sourness to the forefront. Salt also increases the flow of saliva in the mouth, giving a drink a fuller, more pleasing mouthfeel.
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To gauge just how much (or how little) salt is needed to transform a cocktail, I set up a quick experiment:
I started off by crafting four batches of Love and Murder cocktails, which include Campari (a bitter Italian liquor), Chartreuse (a French herbal liquor), lime juice, and simple syrup.
Then, I made a 20 percent saline solution by mixing 80 grams of water with 20 grams of kosher salt (while kosher salt takes longer to dissolve than table salt, many table salts are iodized, and I didn’t want the iodine to affect the drink’s flavor).
I left one batch of the cocktail unseasoned and then used a medicine dropper to add one, two, and three drops of the saline solution to the other batches. Tasters all agreed that just one drop of the solution made a perceptible difference, and most found two or three drops ideal for tempering the bitterness of the Campari and allowing the drink’s herbal and citrus flavors to sing.
This is not the same thing as salting a margarita: Instead of acting as a noticeable taste on its own, the salt performs a subtle but effective rebalancing of the flavors that are already in the drink. It works wonders with any cocktail containing citrus or other juice or herbal notes (think gin), or try it in your favorite tipple.
Salty Formula for Cocktails
To make a 20 percent saline solution, mix 80 grams of water with 20 grams of kosher salt, and stir until the salt is dissolved.