We know better than to mess with a classic cocktail (we’re looking at you, Jack and Cola), but that doesn’t mean we can’t stray from the usual playbook every now and then.
And the ingredients bartenders have been experimenting with when it comes to exciting and unusual cocktail flavour combinations will keep you on your toes – and may even surprise you.
From putting fats like butter into your drink to the addition of shrubs and vinegars and even fermented ingredients like kombucha, cocktail flavours are constantly evolving in unexpected directions.
Keen to branch out and try some unusual combinations the next time you head to the bar (or have a go at cocktail-mixing at home)? We can help.
We chatted to cocktail-making dynamo Danny Whelan, Jack Daniel’s brand ambassador for Scotland and Northern Ireland, about his favourite flavour combinations to try now. Shakers at the ready…
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It might not be the most obvious of pairings, but the sharp bite of liquorice teams up beautifully with sweet and creamy banana (and looks good to boot).
“I always take inspiration from the food world when mixing cocktails, and the salty and spicy character of liquorice has always stood out as a bold flavour for accenting drinks,” says Whelan. “The creaminess of a banana liqueur mixed with a drop of absinthe in an Old Fashioned cocktail brings the drink to a new level.”
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It might not officially be winter yet but there’s no reason not to get your festive season cocktail sorted. All you need? Just add a little spice.
“In the perfume world, they blend together extracts to make a longer-lasting scent, and I’ve learned a lot about mixing flavours in cocktails through their research,” says Whelan.
“Jack Daniel's Tennessee Whiskey has strong vanilla notes from fresh oak barrels (once it’s filtered, it gets most of its colour and flavour from being stored in oak barrels), and mixing in nutmeg can bring a heady sweetness that brings you back for more. Try grating a little nutmeg over your next Whiskey Sour, or more famously, enjoy over an Irish Coffee.”
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The divine combination of sweet and salty might reach peak perfection in this latest flavour combo: peanuts and cola. Yep, you read that right.
“Across the Southern states in America, there’s a strong tradition of putting salted peanuts in your ice-cold cola,” says Whelan. It is a tradition said to go back as far as the 1920s.
“I was first introduced to it in Nashville in 2015, and the combination has stuck with me ever since. Bar snacks are designed to cut through the sweetness of what you’re drinking, and it achieves just that.”
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If your favourite indulgence is dark chocolate with a spicy bite, then you’ll love how those flavours merge together in a delightful espresso martini.
“Coffee and chillies are equally bottomless in their variation, so mixing them together can be a great exercise in flavour-matching. Try brewing your coffee with some dried chipotle chilli, and see how the smoky, spicy flavour marries with the deepness of the coffee,” advises Whelan.
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Juniper is an old staple in the spirit world (it does give gin its primary flavour, after all), but you aren’t limited to gin cocktails if you want to use the pine-noted berry.
“Ever wondered why a slice of grapefruit goes great on a gin and tonic?” asks Whelan.
“The pine smell of juniper reminds me of walking through the forest, and blended with the light, zesty fragrance of grapefruit creates a complex balance that brings you back for more. One of my favourite cocktails in the Brown Derby - whiskey, grapefruit and honey shaken up - and it becomes a lot more complex when you add some dried juniper berries into the cocktail shaker.”