How to Use Olive Oil in Cocktails: An Interview with Cocktail Master Eben Freeman

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As Head of Bar Operations and Beverage Development for AvroKro Hospitality Group— the culinary force behind award-winning restaurants like New York City’s Saxon and Parole —Eben Freeman invents recipes for delectable drinks in winning combinations. We spoke with this true cocktail master to find out how he uses a surprising ingredient to finish off his distinctive and enticing cocktail recipes: extra virgin olive oil!

How do you come up ideas for new seasonal drinks?

We regularly visit the farmers market, as do the chefs, and bring things back. We are aware when things are starting to come out seasonally and we tend to focus on flowers and herbs in the summertime. We are in a global market, but there are flavors, ingredients, and garnishes that only work seasonally. Right now, you can get fantastic blackberries. We are doing a variation on a whiskey smash with blackberries and Fernet Branca served in a 50 ML bottle. We call it BYOB (be your own bartender). You can use as much Fernet as you’d like in the drink. Peaches are in season, so we are using peaches in cocktails. Watermelon is always a big seller during the summer time.

Can you describe how you use olive oil in your cocktails at Saxon and Parole?

With the California olive oils the citrus flavors are really pronounced. In New York City, you wouldn’t think of having citrusy cocktails in the winter, but that’s when those things are at their peak in the growing regions. An interesting thought is to use the citrus flavors available in EVOO during off-season. For example, you can add the summer flavor of citrus to winter drinks. (A good choice for citrus flavors is the Arbequina Extra Virgin Olive Oil).

We also use flavored oils in cocktails. The Bowery Fix has a red bell pepper oil that floats on top of the drink. Visually, it’s striking to have circles of red on top of the cocktail. Flavor-wise, because the bell pepper is contained in the oil, you get a multi-layered experience. Each sip potentially brings a different flavor experience because the oil allows us to isolate flavors.

I did a drink with my previous restaurant group where I wanted to highlight a spicy vinegar in the shot. EVOO worked to coat the palate so that you didn’t taste the vinegar so strongly. The silky texture of the EVOO can add to the pleasure of drinking, but also protect you in the sense from certain stronger flavors that might be going on the palate.

In another example, I wanted to create a shot that contained all of the flavors of bruschetta. I layered basil-infused grappa with sweet vermouth infused with sun-dried tomato. On top of that, I put olive oil, and then I put bread crisps in the oil. The olive oil acted to isolate the bread crumbs, keeping them crunchy.

What advice do you have for someone who wants to make olive oil cocktails at home?

It’s easiest to start is with flavored oils. You can purchase flavored oils, or try making your own infusion. A simple start would be a rosemary-infused extra virgin olive oil. Put infused oil in a dropper bottle and add a few drops to the surface of the cocktail you’ve made. It works best with drinks without any ice, like in a martini glass.

You can also put a few drops into the shaker itself for intense flavor addition. It will impart a lot of flavor to the drink. It’s not as visually striking as using the dropper; But you will get more of a spread of that flavor throughout the cocktail. It depends on if you prefer a hit of rosemary, or want to taste the herb all the way through the drink.