Autumn Eytalis, a bartender at Asian barbecue restaurantBellyQ, learned what bonito flakes were a week before Adam Kamin of the Delta challenged her to create a cocktail with them, she says. Coincidentally, she'd ordered brussels sprouts that were served with bonito flakes on top. "They were dancing," she says. "I was like, what is this weird thing?" Bonito flakes, made from smoked skipjack tuna that's fermented and dried in the sun for several months, are sliced so thinly that the steam from hot dishes makes them curl and sway, appearing to dance of their own accord.
For her cocktail, Eytalis first tried making a simple syrup infused with bonito flakes, but it turned out to have a flavor and aroma that was too fishy, she says. "I didn't want that to be the nose of the cocktail. I added soy [sauce] to it, which helped bring more of a barbecue aspect and less of a fishy smell." She also added maple syrup and demerara sugar for a deeper flavor.
The syrup joined Japanese whiskey in a slightly smoky take on an old-fashioned: because the bonito flakes are smoky and savory, Eytalis says, she wanted to complement that flavor without overwhelming it. She chose Nikka Taketsuru Pure Malt whiskey for its restrained smokiness and fruit-forward flavor, which she combined with plum wine for a "rich, fruity, and a little bit floral component." She finished the drink with a combination of Creole bitters (with a flavor she describes as "anise and floral") and orange bitters.
Eytalis describes the flavor of the cocktail as "out-there," but adds that she would definitely serve it at BellyQ. "With all of the components, the fruit, the smoke, it would be a good classic cocktail," she says.
Don't Be Koi cocktail by Autumn Eytalis of BellyQ
Eytalis has challenged Sam Ruppert of DryHop Brewers to create a cocktail with hops.
Don't Be Koi 3 dashes Creole bitters
2 dashes orange bitters
.25 oz bonito simple syrup*
1 oz Hakutsuru plum wine
2 oz Nikka Taketsuru Pure Malt whiskey
Add all ingredients to a mixing glass and stir with ice. Strain into a rocks glass with a large ice cube, then garnish with an orange peel.
*Bonito simple syrup: Combine four parts water, two parts demerara sugar, one part maple syrup, one part soy sauce, and one-half part bonito flakes in a saucepan and simmer for 30 minutes, then strain.