One of the most reassuring things about trends is that they usually don’t last. No matter how improbable or distasteful they are, something else is always coming over the horizon to displace them.
Through that prism, regard the squid ink cocktail. It was first anointed as a hot item by Zagat last summer, at which point it was already featured on the bar menus of a half-dozen restaurants—most notably Del Campo, an innovative South American eatery in Washington, D.C. operated by Peruvian chef Victor Albisu. Del Campo’s contribution to contemporary cocktail culture is the Pantera, made from pisco, Applewood-smoked tomato juice, fish stock and squid ink.
Similar libations are popping up around the country, presumably from bartenders with too much time on their hands. At Philadelphia’s Rittenhouse Hotel, head mixologist Papi Hurtado serves up The Kraken: vodka, squid ink, Pinot Grigio, yuzu juice and limoncello. New York’s Barchetta, a seafood-based Mediterranean restaurant, offers a squid ink martini called the Spezia; Death Ave, a “Hellenic-inspired” establishment, pairs a cuttlefish ink shooter called The Ink Bomb with its seafood dishes. Perhaps the most elegant creation comes from DC’s Bourbon Steak: layers of clear and squid-ink ice cubes alternate in a highball containing a pre-mixed, carbonated combination of Kettle One Oranje, Cointreau, clarified lime juice and orange zest.
With the exception of Bourbon Steak, these drinks are not pretty to look at. They are mostly jet black in color, which sets up a negative expectation in the customer’s mind before he or she is even aware of the contents. Beyond that, you could safely argue that savory cocktails just don’t work: The role of the before-dinner libation is to prepare the diner’s palate for the savory dishes to come, not to make a culinary statement by itself.
Even so, you may be so enthralled with the idea that you’re tempted to try it at home. Where to buy squid ink? You won’t find it at Publix or Whole Foods, nor can you duck into a nearby 7-11 to prepare for impending company. Your last resort turns out to be Amazon. For $26.49 you can have a 17.5 ounce jar of squid ink delivered to your door, and place yourself firmly on the cutting edge of mixology.
Mark Spivak is the author of Iconic Spirits: An Intoxicating History (Lyons Press, 2012) and Moonshine Nation (Lyons Press, 2014); for more information, go to amazon.com