BY ELYSSA GOLDBERG, BON APPETIT
We thought "Earth," an ingredient listed on Il Buco Alimentari e Vineria's cocktail menu, was just playful euphemism. You know, maybe a brand of obscure agave spirit or a cheeky nod to a resurrected syrup from a Prohibition-era cocktail book. Except it's not: It's actual dirt distilled through a complicated scientific process and spritzed as an accent note atop a gin drink. But, as we learned from bar manager Jon Howard, it gives the Garden Martini earthy and herbaceous depth, and it's not at all something to be freaked out about.
So, yes, it's actual Brooklyn dirt. Howard tracked down certified no-contaminant topsoil, added a tiny bit of water, and cooked about 20 ounces of it sous vide for 12 hours. He then passed the mixture through a chinois (a conical fine-mesh strainer), then twice through cheese cloth, before pouring the amber-colored liquid into a spray bottle.
The idea came to Howard when he conjoined two seemingly unrelated thoughts. For one, he wanted to put a seasonal martini-esque drink on the menu that matched the rustic vibes of Il Buco's food, at a time of year when berries just weren't available locally. Second, he and a chef friend joked about what peak haughty sous vide-ing would look like. Thus, his lightbulb moment: What if those two ideas could become one? What if a cocktail could be extra rustic, because it actually had sous vide dirt in it?
"It's mostly just for aromatics, but 80 percent of what you taste is what you smell. This cocktail gives the drinker the experience of going through the earth to get to the root vegetables. There's this cool earthy fragrance to it," Howard explains.
To make it, Howard starts starts with one dash celery bitters, then adds a few splashes of ginger shrub, before adding four dashes of eau de vie (a brandy made from fermented fruit mash). Then, Howard pours in one ounce of vermouth and two ounces of gin before adding ice and stirring it. Then, he floats a seasonal vegetable garnish (think: carrot, onion, radish, Brussels sprouts) atop. He wants them raw, as if they've just been pulled out of the ground. "They're not pretty," he admits. The final touch comes courtesy of the "Essence of Earth" Howard makes, which he sprays on last.
Howard plans to revisit "Earth" someday soon. He's proud of it, and it's so much better than whatever rainwater ice cubes he's seen elsewhere. Because when he thinks about his cocktail, "It has that playful, 'Yeah, I put dirt on a drink' thing."
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