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Coal Comfort

Mixology’s latest It ingredient takes its cue from recent culinary trends.

Thanks to black burger buns, pastries and even juices, people are beginning to enjoy charcoal in their food, rather than under it. But these innovations in the kitchen have moved into the bar as well, with the dusky residue finding its way into glasses at top watering holes around the world. Charcoal’s first immediate draw is its appearance, but it also has a health slant, given how its activated version (heated to create more “pores” that will help absorb drugs and toxins) has been used historically as a remedy for stomach pain, gas and even poisonings. Of course, its efficacy once mixed into a cocktail can be debated. Its effectiveness as an ingredient, however, is hard to dismiss. One of the first mixologists to embrace charcoal in drinks is Alex Kratena of the legendary Artesian bar in London (voted World’s Best Bar three years in a row), and his “Dream within a Dream” is rimmed with vegetable ash seasoned with salt and sugar, which he claims adds a “smoky burn flavour” as well as texture to the blend of pisco, Suze (a bitter French aperitif), guava juice and bitters. New entrants like Bull In A China Shop and Black Dice, both located in London, have also hopped on the bandwagon, with the “Charcoal Old Fashioned” (Hakushu Distiller’s Reserve, camomile syrup, coconut charcoal powder, bitters) and “Inked Daiquiri” (Mount Gay Black Barrel rum, lime, hazelnut liqueur, charcoal) respectively. The trend is also picking up on the other side of the globe, with Washington-based Zentan offering two Asian-inspired charcoal-accented cocktails, and Tacoteca in Los Angeles mixing up a jalapeno-infused mescal with activated charcoal. Perhaps it will only be a matter of time before we, too, start seeing more of these shadowy spirits.

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