Squid ink: it's not just in pasta. Squid ink cocktails may sound surprising, but drinkable inky-black madness combines several of-the-moment trends, from the bar-kitchen crossover (most bartenders obtain squid ink by raiding the chef’s walk-in) to the going-strong savory drink wave that sometimes includes adding a touch of salinity for a more nuanced libation. Plus, it just looks cool.
"Squid ink gives you an amazing visual," explains Duane Sylvestre, lead bartender at Washington DC’s Bourbon Steak, where he makes ink-infused "domino ice" that gently melts into an orange-y vodka highball. "When people see it coming, they get excited."
Though Sylvester uses the ink sparingly, for subtle effect, others are going all in with eerie black intoxicants. At New York’s Barchetta, the Spezia is an oceanic and briny martini made with vodka, caper brine and squid ink. And at Death Ave, also in New York, the aptly-named "Ink Bomb" is a deep, dark shooter that mixes Greek brandy and cuttlefish ink, plus sour mix and lime.
These dramatic drinks are showstoppers, to be sure. But Sylvestre advises that a little goes a long way. "Anything that stains your drink will also stain your mouth," he warns. "That’s cool for kids eating popsicles, but most adults don’t like that."
Where to black out on boozy squid ink:
The Rittenhouse Hotel, Philadelphia
Created by head mixologist Papi Hurtado, this cocktail is sunnier than its austere hue suggests. In addition to the vodka base, Pinot Grigio, yuzu (Japanese citrus) juice and limoncello supply surprisingly bright tropical notes, accented by the squid ink's "sea breeze" flavor. A long "horse’s neck" spiral of lemon peel snakes over the rim of the glass like a citrusy tentacle.
"Make it a Michelada"
A take on the classic Michelada, chef Jason Marcus incorporates squid ink, habanero chile, cascabel chile, orange and lime juices, Worcestershire, soy sauces, cumin, garlic and sherry vinegar into an ice cube that resembles a thick cigar. That ice cube then is plunked into Mexican beer, where it melts into a spicy, fizzy, inky-black wonderland.
Del Campo, Washington, DC
This South American grill has some pretty baroque offerings on its drink menu (prosciutto fat-washed Grey Goose Melon, anyone?), but the brunch-only Bloody riff is astonishing, incorporating pisco, applewood-smoked tomato juice, fish stock and squid ink.
The Ink Bomb
Death Ave, New York
This "Hellenic-inspired" restaurant features Greek comfort food, and insists that squid ink cocktails pair perfectly with Mediterranean fare. Go for grilled seafood with this cuttlefish ink shooter.
Barchetta, New York
At this Mediterranean seafooder, a squid-ink ‘tini makes surprising sense—it, too, is from the ocean, and the drink is named for the panoramic Northern Italian city that sits on the coast of the Ligurian Sea. Made with vodka, caper brine and squid ink for a deep purplish-black hue, a whole caperberry garnish provides an appropriately briny last bite.
Is The New Black
Bourbon Steak, Washington, DC
In the molecular mixology camp, bartender Duane Sylvestre layers black squid-ink and clear cubes to make "domino ice," which melts into a mix of Ketel One Oranje, Cointreau, clarified lime juice and orange zest, all pre-mixed and carbonated.