A JW Marriott bartender infuses cognac with corn smut | Bleader

A JW Marriott bartender infuses cognac with corn smut

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Huitlacoche, also known as corn smut, is a bizarre-looking thing: a fungus that grows on infected ears of corn and turns kernels into misshapen grey galls that looks like swollen tumors.
And, says Damian Arms, a bartender at the JW Marriott Lobby Lounge, "It smells bad." (Or at least the kind that comes in a can does; fresh huitlacoche wasn't available.) Arms, who was challenged by Franklin Room bartender Josh Martinez to create a cocktail with huitlacoche, wasn't optimistic.

As it turned out, though, the ingredient wasn't as challenging to use as he'd thought. Arms infused cognac with huitlacoche he'd dehydrated for 12 hours, then washed the tincture with butter for a richer flavor. "It blew my mind," he says. "Something that was so earthy and smelled and tasted like dirt actually enhanced the flavors of the base spirit."
Elissa Narow of Perennial Virant holds an infected cob of corn during a 2012 Key Ingredient challenge - JULIA THIEL
  • Julia Thiel
  • Elissa Narow of Perennial Virant holds an infected cob of corn during a 2012 Key Ingredient challenge


The huitlacoche turned the bright, fruity notes of cognac into "dates and figs and raisins, which was unexpected," he said. (He considered using bourbon as the base spirit, but decided it was too dry.) To complement those flavors he used an oloroso sherry for its nutty, fruity aromas, and a ginger liqueur to add a spicy kick for contrast. Arms also used the "black ooze" from the can of huitlacoche (the liquid surrounding the corn smut), filtered it, and made it into a saline solution to add a touch of salt.

He finished the drink with Aphrodite bitters—made with coffee, chocolate, ginger, and chiles—to round out the flavor. And, for a little extra fungus, he brandied the huitlacoche that he'd used to infuse the cognac and used it to garnish the drink (along with a bit of rolled corn husk). The result, which Arms called the Kernel of Truth, was something he said he'd proudly serve at the bar—if he could find anyone brave enough to order it.

Kernel of Truth - CORY POPP
  • Cory Popp
  • Kernel of Truth

Who's next:

Arms has challenged Christopher Kyles of STK Chicago to create a cocktail with sauerkraut.

Kernel of Truth

1.5 oz 1840 Pierre Ferrand Cognac, infused with corn smut and washed with butter
.75 oz Lustau Oloroso Sherry
.75 oz Canton Ginger Liqueur
2 dashes Dr. Adam Elmegirab's Aphrodite bitters
1 drop corn smut saline solution

Stir all ingredients with ice, strain into a Nick & Nora glass. Garnish with skewer of one rolled corn husk and one brandied corn smut.

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