The Secret Ingredient

3/4 Oz Sweet Vermouth

3/4 Oz Curacao

1/2 Oz Fernet Branca

1/2 Oz Dark Soy Sauce

1 Dash Herbsaint

Shake and strain.

The trick to this cocktail is to make sure to use dark soy sauce, not the more commonly available light soy sauce (or Japanese style soy sauce).  Dark Soy sauce has a thick almost molasses like flavor in addition to the rich saltiness of the soy sauce most people are familliar with.  My thoughts with this recipe had mostly to do with the effect that salty flavors have on bitter ones – for whatever reason when salty flavors are added to bitter flavors both seem to moderate themselves pretty quickly.  (This is why salads with dark greens taste better with a pinch or two of salt over them.)   So I added the dark soy sauce, which has a fairly salty bite right at the beginning of the flavor, to a drink with a large quantity of the most aggressive potable bitters I had on hand.  The recipe that I’ve provided is actually the result of a lucky mistake – my original plans had only included 1/4 oz of the dark soy sauce (I was afraid the saltiness would overwhelm the other flavors, or end up being unpalateable).  But after I accidentally added a full 1/2 oz I discovered that actually that amount balanced nicely with the other flavors and that the saltiness hadn’t been particularly obvious in the final drink.

The sweet vermouth and curacao actually end up acting as background players in the cocktail, despite amounting to the majority of its volume.  The majority of the flavor comes from the Herbsaint and Fernet Branca, with the soy sauce providing a dark almost chocolatey background to the flavor.  I would go so far as to say that it almost tastes like chocolate, somewhere deep down in the flavor.  There is surpisingly little saltiness in the flavor, or bitterness, at least compared to what the recipe would suggest.  The main effect of the combination of fernet branca and soy sauce is that, despite a good hard shake (as you can see from the photo), the drink is rich and almost syrupy feeling.  I certainly wouldn’t recommend this as a before dinner drink – it is too dark, rich and thick.  But it would make a surprisingly good digestive.  Overall I’m both surprised that Soy Sauce could be as effective an ingredient as it turned out to be and a little bit pleased with myself for figuring out that it could be one at all.

If Fernet Branca isn’t to your taste, though, there is a useful substitution that can be made.  Personally I like the stuff an awful lot, but the peculiar menthol taste isn’t always something people go for.  About a Teaspoon of Angostura bitters and upping the vermouth and curacao to an ounce each should give something pretty similar but with a slightly more aggressive bitter flavor and without the edge that the drink gets from the Fernet Branca.