by Julia Thiel
The latest Cocktail Challenge, in which local bartenders challenge fellow bartenders with an ingredient of their choice.
Umeboshi are often referred to as salted plums although they're more closely related to the apricot. "They actually smell like plums, but they just taste like salt," says Rémy Walle of Gilt Bar, who was challenged by Donnie Krause of Yusho to create a cocktail with the pickled ume fruit traditional in Japan. "One of them has, like, a third of your sodium intake for the day. It's pretty astringent." (Umeboshi are so acidic that they've been rumored to corrode their way through aluminum lunch boxes.)
Inspired by the kosher plum brandy that he used to drink at a friend's bar, Walle decided on brandy or cognac as a base spirit, and settled on the Vieux Carré, a classic New Orleans cocktail made with rye whiskey, cognac, and sweet vermouth. He infused Rémy Martin cognac—which he says he picked entirely for its name—with umeboshi (which had been rinsed under running water to desalinate them) and a little bit of plum extract, a sweet liquid he picked up at Jong Boo Market that's made by boiling down ume fruit.
Walle left the traditional Benedictine liqueur out of the Vieux Carré, and substituted plum bitters for the traditional Peychaud's bitters. He named his concoction the Samurai Wake-Up Call, a tribute to the fact that samurai warriors used to eat umeboshi to prevent fatigue during battle. "I assume it's like football players sniffing ammonia to awaken their senses," Walle says.
He describes the cocktail as boozy, salty, sweet, and a bit spicy. "It's got a lot going on, but I think it actually turned out OK," he says. Not that he's planning to serve it at Gilt Bar. "It's pretty salty—if you know what you're getting into, it tastes good, but I don't know if salty drinks are going to be fashionable anytime soon."
Walle has challenged Alex Enochs of Charlatan to create a cocktail with bone marrow.
Samurai Wake-Up Call
1 oz High West Double Rye whiskey
1 oz umeboshi-infused Rémy Martin cognac*
1 oz Noilly Prat Rouge sweet vermouth
Two dashes of Fee Brothers plum bitters
2 droppers of Angostura bitters
Add all ingredients to a mixing glass with ice and stir until cold. Strain into a small serving glass and garnish with one of the umeboshi steeped in cognac.
*Umeboshi-infused cognac: Add one cup of umeboshi (rinse them first under running water for one hour) and three tablespoons of plum extract to 500 milliliters of cognac; let steep for one week.