They say we're becoming desensitized; sex in the media, ultra-violence on our TVs... even our language and tolerances have changed. I kind of think it's the inevitable creep of time. We're constantly seeking new titillation and something to grab our attention. Especially with the constant assault on our senses-it's hard to go anywhere without being bombarded with information.
It's even happened with our food but frankly, I'm surprised it took so long. To go back to the ultra-violence, this became common place in the 90s, but the 'desensitization' too much longer with our food stuffs. Only recently (on a wider scale) have people come around to the idea of raw fish and the like.
Honestly, I don't know what the hold up is with drinks though. Sure, you actually ingest them (unlike some esoteric film choices) but just because they're mixed with alcohol, it seems some ingredients, well, become repulsive-or even taboo.
I recall giving a training where my dad was waiting patiently at the back (in Sri Lanka actually). The subject came up of what might be suitable ingredient to use with a local spirit (Arrack) so I suggested local fruits, herbs and spices. My old man piped up and said surely something like chili wouldn't work, but my answer to him was the same I give to most-no ingredient is out of bounds, simply some need to be used more sparingly than others.
I've always been a fan of using more 'unusual' ingredients, but as with the aforementioned ultra-violence, unusual relates to where your boundaries are. I find nothing strange to using miso mould, bacteria, avocado, bread, fat, grass etc in my drinks, but even chili seemed strange to my dad.
The truth is, drinks really can reflect your mood-or completely contrast it-so something a little bit different can not only take you to a new taste sensation, it can transport you to a completely new place. Sometimes you need something unusual to do this.
You might come across an ingredient with a flavour that you think might pair magically with your favourite spirit, or you might want to create the drinking equivalent of a certain sensation. This might lead you to ingredients you think you can't use-rocks, leather, vines... perhaps (just me?)- but thankfully there's even ways to make these potable. Nothing is out of bounds. You want leather to make that Scotch cocktail perfect to cosy up to the fire with? You want a grassy note in your gin fizz to make it extra-summery? You want a local soil distillate to link the heritage of your English Vodka (Maybe this one is just me)? Perhaps you want the drinking equivalent of the fresh invigorating feeling post rain (petrichor).
As always, the name of the game is balance. If you're using a huge flavour like chili (well chili has the added issue of heat too) or pimento say, then you need to be careful as it can easily dominate. Similarly, you might think you can be heavy handed with something delicate like lavender or rose; not so, too much and it'll taste like potpourri. Not fun.
Alcohol carries flavour well, so if there's something unsightly, or that you don't physically want in your drink, try infusing it into something neutral or that relates to the flavour (higher proof the better), but be careful, it'll change the flavour somewhat, and again, go for subtlety-a little goes a long way and flavour will seep in quickly. And be sensible-some things are poisonous in their raw state-don't go infusing raw kidney beans, tomato vines and deadly nightshade. As always, if in doubt, check!
Desensitization might not be too bad. Perhaps we were too prudish before. Why won't I drink a raw egg drink when I eat homemade mayo, or steak tartare? On that note:
40ml Yellow Chartreuse (yes, but it's the mellower cousin to that odd bottle you were made to do a shot of)
25ml Cherry brandy
2 dashes orange bitters
Small pinch salt (not so weird, it'll round the sweetness)
1 whole egg (trust me)
Add all to a shaker and shake without ice. Fill with cubed ice and shake hard. Strain of all ice with the aid of a tea strainer into a chilled glass. Garnish with grated chocolate. Sip, enjoy and wonder why you never tried this sooner.