Have a little mushroom with that cocktail
The fall mushroom season is upon us and the foragers are already out in force looking for chanterelles, oysters, puffballs and, the most prized of all, hens of the woods.
Most of these wild mushrooms go to chefs for celebratory mushroom dinners, but an increasing number are now used by bar folk to create craft cocktails and spirits. Foraged chaga mushrooms, for example, are used in Chaga Rum, Newfoundland Distillery’s latest rum release, and as a botanical in Hidden Temple gin, made at Toronto’s Nickle Nine Distillery. The O’Dwyer Distillery in Gaspé created its Gin Radoune using chanterelles, matsutake and honey mushrooms.
Are these mushroom-infused alcohols any good? Mushroom-haters won’t think so, but I certainly do. I really appreciate the earthy, truffle and umami notes that fungi add to spirits.
Curious about how easy it would be to make my own mushroom infusions at home, I asked head bartender Grant Sceney at the Botanist restaurant in Vancouver, home to one of the country’s most famous mushroom cocktails Candy Cap Magic.
“I don’t think mushrooms are difficult to work with. Treat them as you would when cooking; the difference being that you’re using alcohol to extract the flavour. I wouldn’t use fresh mushrooms; alcohol is a strong compound and moisture could react badly with it,” Sceney said, drawing from his experience making concoctions like citrus infusions, which typically work better with dried fruit than fresh.
The bartender also said that the time needed to infuse mushroom in alcohol varies, but three days is a good rule of thumb. And you should taste often to see how the flavours unfold.
So, why choose to make mushroom-infused alcohol? After all, many people would be put off by the idea — and not just those who don’t like mushrooms.
“When Nikki Bayley, the drinks writer here on the West Coast, came in about six months ago, she said, ‘I never used to have to mention my allergy to bartenders. But now I do because it’s mushrooms.’”
“So, the concept is new, and not everyone loves it,” he says. “But bartenders are increasingly exploring ingredients associated with the culinary world, especially those with funky and unique flavour profiles.”
Given Gin Radoune’s success, we can surely expect to see many more unexpected ingredients in our drinks soon.
Candy Cap Magic
2 oz candy cap mushroom-infused Lot 40 whisky*
1 oz sweet vermouth
1/3 oz root beer cordial**
2 dashes Bittered Sling Kensington Bitters
In a mixing glass, stir all ingredients together over ice. Strain and serve neat in a small chilled rocks glass.
*It may be difficult to track down candy cap mushrooms (found on the West Coast of Canada) outside the Pacific Northwest. If unavailable, add 50 g of a local wild mushroom with an esoteric flavour profile to a 750 ml bottle of Lot 40 and let steep for three days. The infusion time will vary for different mushrooms, so taste daily until infused.
**Combine 500 ml water, 300 g of brown sugar, 200 ml maple syrup, 8 g of sassafras, 1 cinnamon stick, 1 star anise and 1 vanilla pod in a pot and bring to a near boil. Remove from heat and let stand for 20 minutes. Strain into bottle and refrigerate. A commercial root beer syrup such as Torani would also work.