The Benefit Of Adding Salt To Cocktails

The art of balancing salty and sweet is always a delicate operation. Many savory dishes benefit from a hit of sugar added to the sauce or the marinade — fish sauce, for example, is quite salty but still has a crucial hint of sweetness, per The Pioneer Woman. Likewise, many sweet baked goods benefit greatly from a pinch of salt, since it's a great flavor enhancer (via The Science of Cooking). However, most cocktail recipes don't include salt as an ingredient. That's understandable enough: While most forms of high-proof alcohol are pretty neutral in flavor profile, cocktails are typically on the sweet end of the spectrum, due to the juices and liqueurs often added to cocktails. While there are a few exceptions (Bloody Marys and the subtly salty salmon martini come to mind), they're exceptions that prove the rule.

But rules are made to be broken, and it turns out the reason margaritas with a salted rim taste so good is spot-on for a whole host of other cocktails as well. That's because salt has a powerful effect on other flavors. According to Alcohol Professor, it tones down our perception of bitterness, which is especially welcome in drinks with a citrus component that can have a slight bitter edge. Salt also draws out our perception of other flavors, helping both sweet and sour stand out more and making them feel more intense (one of the reasons margaritas pack such a flavor punch).

Mixing sweet drinks worth their salt

Some serious bartenders are jumping on the salt-in-cocktails bandwagon, and for good reason; they see it as a wonderful way to maximize flavor in cocktails with the addition of a simple — and readily available — ingredient. As mixologist and salt enthusiast Ryan Chetiyawardana told Saveur, "Salt has become a general and almost indispensable ingredient in the cocktail world." 

Liquor cites New York master bartender Nick Bennett, who is similarly effusive in his praise for what a little sodium can do for your tipple. Bennett explains how he came to appreciate the importance of salting his drinks: "My aha! moment came when I was working at Booker and Dax with Dave Arnold. I'd been working at a rum bar the year prior and was drinking what I thought were the best Daiquiris I'd ever had. [Then] Dave and I made side-by-side Daiquiris using the same specs, with his having just a few drops of a saline solution in it. It was by far superior to what I was familiar with." 

Adding salt to a drink is a very flexible and inexpensive way of experimenting with a base cocktail recipe, bringing out flavor in a subtle but noticeable way.

Saline solutions for your drinks

When it comes to technicalities, there are three primary ways of adding salt to your drink: by adding either a fine or coarse salt (like kosher) to your cocktail (or its rim); creating a saline solution and adding it to the beverage; or salting the alcohol itself (per Saveur). All three options have their place in the cocktail universe, but many mixologists recommend having a saline option available if you want to experiment.

A saline solution is considered the most versatile, since you don't need to worry about the salt dissolving in the liquid — that's already been taken care of. Much like simple syrup is the go-to for adding sweetness, saline is the preferred choice for incorporating salt into your favorite beverage. In an interview with Liquor, bartender Jack Schramm recommends a 20% solution and asserts that an overwhelming majority of cocktails are improved by adding a few drops; he found that the few where it wasn't needed were very simple, high-proof concotions like Manhattans. 

All in all, there's a growing consensus that putting salt in your drink is one of the best ways to make it better. Who knows, maybe one day we'll have salt shakers at every bar, right next to the cocktail napkins.