Salted rims and saline solutions

How to amplify cocktails and enhance your drinks with salt.

Some people say that bitters are the salt and pepper of the bartender’s arsenal. Turns out, it’s actually salt and pepper that are, well, the salt and pepper…

When it comes to cocktails, salt can enhance sweetness and balance bitterness. It augments the zing of citrus in sours and can add depth and texture in carbonated drinks. But why are these miraculous properties not better known for home bartending enthusiasts (or at least, more widely used).

We all know about it in food and almost everyone cooks with salt in one form or another. Anyone who's ever had fruit after swimming in the ocean will know it's effect intrinsically. Yet despite this subject being so far beyond mainstream in bartender circles the subject is now boring to them… Cocktails at home rarely get the salty treatment.

Perhaps the key to getting the dose right is the very reason so few know about it, nor really talk about it. Salt is there to amplify flavours yes - but at its best when it’s not at a level where the salt itself is palpable.  

Now that we've opened this can of worms, let's look at two easy ways you can add a salty touch to your cocktails at home. 

Salted Rims and saline solutions
Salted Rims and saline solutions

Salted Cocktail Rims

A dish, some salt and a lime or lemon wedge will suffice to create Salted Cocktail Rims. We'll acknowledge that rimming kits exist, but they just wind us up. You don’t need one to get the look. 

Here's the basic method but once you've done it once you'll soon build from here.

You’ll need a liquid (like lemon juice, lime juice, or simple syrup) on the rim of your glass to make the salt stick. Salt sticks on the wet bit, so if you only want it on the outside either wipe off the inner glass or be careful about where you apply the juice to. As for the type of salt - use small flaked sea salt and you'll find this easy.

Put some salt in a dish deep enough to build a small pile. 

Get yourself a quarter of a lime and cut a notch in the fruity part.

Run that notch all around the rim of the glass until it's wet but not dribbling.

Tip the glass over into the salt and move it gently. 

Set the glass aside before pouring your cocktail.

It's literally that simple.

Top tips for Salted Rims

If you are making a drink for others, opt for salting half the rim of the glass, rather than the whole way around. That way they have the choice for how to drink the cocktail. We do this by default as sometimes it's nice to get a face full, other times you just want to sip the delicious drink unadulterated.

Creating your own salt mix is a great way to customise the flavours (they also make for great gifts if you enjoy making home-made items for special occasions). Experiment with different salt textures and flavourings and you'll see!

Slat in hands
Slat in hands

DIY Homemade Rim Salts

To make your of rim salts, start with 1/4 cup of salt and add about 2-4 teaspoons of your chosen flavourings to taste. Cinnamon powder, Hibiscus, Chili flakes – think about what makes for a delicious garnish and see how you can recreate it via a salted rim. You’re going to need a grinder or a blitzing machine to get the ingredients fine enough / blended together fully.

As for ideas - start with the cocktail you have in mind and consider ways you can elevate it. What’s going to work best - sweet or savoury, piquant or tangy, savoury or fresh?

For a sweeter touch, try making a 80/20 mix of salt and sugar rim to your cocktails.  

Custom Salt mix
Custom Salt mix

We like going all in when we make ours and giving it the full culinary treatment. A particular favourite is toasting chilli and lime until the pepper unleashes a charred, fruity flavour and the lime is dried up. We then discard the citrus, allow the chilli to fully dry and blitz it in with some salt. Once it’s made, we then add the flavour packed mix to bigger rock salt crystals and you’ll have a mix of texture, heat and fruit going on.

For those looking for a savoury mix, try the likes of fennel and habanero. Alternatively, combine seaweed with dried citrus powders. Cocoa and mint can also be a funky combo for Mezcal versions of Whisky drinks (in particular a Sour).

Saline solutions

Not a fan of the salted rim? Fine. Another way to get a bit of salt into your drink is to do what many bars do… 

Create a low concentration saline solution that’s 10:1 distilled water to salt by weight. Put it in a pipette or bitters bottle and you’ll be micro-dosing drinks left right and centre once you see how it can boost and alter to the profile. 

Avoiding the faff of salting a glass aside, there are other advantages for saline solution. It makes more sense to add salt into the drink rather than to the glass as you can guarantee that every sip has the right amount. It’s much easier to mix liquids with liquids than rely on someone's lips to get the right amount of solids for the size of slurp they want to have.

Saline in low concentration really helps to brighten up sour and sweet flavours in particular, so citrus instantly gets a big lift. But remember, the ideal amount is super small. You should never add enough that you would know there’s salt in your drink. The aim is just enough for it to amplify everything a little bit more and as always, you can always add, but you can't subtract so less is more.

Salted cocktail glass
Salted cocktail glass

And there you have it - two ways Salt can be used to enhance cocktails in both subtle and obvious ways. 

Salted cocktail rims provide an easy and visually appealing way for people to add a hint of salinity to their drinks, and homemade DIY versions offer a great way to customise your drink further and experiment with flavours that you love. Alternatively, creating a low concentration saline solution adds a subtle brackish touch that can help to brighten the flavour.

By Olivier Ward

12 February 2023