12 Quirky Ingredients That Will Elevate Your Cocktails

Cocktails can taste delicious, but they sure aren't cheap. Bon Appétit reported that $20 cocktails are the new norm and even pointed toward bars where drink prices have started pushing toward $30. A piece by Fortune backed this up, stating that cocktail prices rose about 40% between 2008 and 2018. With that, it seems these fun drinks won't be getting any more affordable. 

Because of the exorbitant prices in bars across America, cocktail aficionados would do well to make their own drinks at home. However, to get those mouthwatering results that are so common in a craft cocktail bar, it's unfortunately not enough to just throw some vodka into a glass of orange juice and call it mixology. To make a truly delicious cocktail at home, amateur mixologists should get comfortable incorporating a variety of ingredients into their mixes — some more on the quirkier side of things. From common household items like bone broth or pickle brine to more specialty ingredients like rhubarb or squid ink, these cocktail ingredients could help you make bar-quality drinks at a fair price from the comfort of your home.

1. Pickle brine

At first glance, pickle brine may not seem like the most common ingredient to add. Even so, this unique substance can prove both refreshing and flavorful when served correctly. One reason why this might have gained popularity in recent years is thanks to the rise of the pickleback – a shot of whiskey chased with a tangy sip of pickle brine.

The good news, however, is that you don't have to start taking shots in order to enjoy this fun and quirky ingredient. Instead, you can add it to a cocktail. While you might not necessarily want to dump a bunch of pickle brine into a sweet treat, such as a mimosa, it does actually pair well with more neutral flavors. One of pickle brine's most exciting properties is its ability to enhance the taste of drier or sharper liquors, such as gin or even vodka. Because of this, pickle brine makes a great addition to a martini.

To put this pro tip to the test, start out by making a classic martini. For this version of the traditional cocktail, gin is the recommended choice, as the salty tartness of your pickle brine can actually accentuate the liquor's aromatics. And, rather than add an olive or a lemon twist to your cocktail, pour in about a half shot of pickle brine. For the full experience, garnish your drink with a couple of French cornichons.

2. Fermented pineapple rind

If the thought of sipping on a drink derived from fermented pineapple rind is intriguing, you might consider trying tepache. Tepache is a traditional fermented liquid that is especially common throughout Central America. The beverage, which has strong indigenous roots, can be made by fermenting any number of different fruits, ranging from oranges to guavas. However, pineapple tepache is the most popular version. 

To make tepache, home cooks will usually gather a combination of pineapple rind and flesh, cover these ingredients, and then allow them to ferment over the course of several days. The result is typically a fizzy liquid with a light flavor that makes the perfect addition to fruitier drinks, like pineapple margaritas or orange crush cocktails.

If you are looking to use tepache in your next cocktail, keep your eye on this substance's ABV. Because there are so many different ways to make tepache, not all versions are equally as boozy. While you can certainly find tepache with an ABV of 4%, there are milder brews that have an ABV of less than 1%. As a result, when you are shopping for tepache, keep in mind what sort of drink you're hoping to make. Cocktails with hard liquor, like mezcal or tequila, generally mix better with low-alcohol tepache. Meanwhile, you might opt for a higher-alcohol version if you're looking to use tepache as a wine substitute in a jar of white sangria.

3. Squid ink

Famous for elevating starches like pasta or risotto, squid ink can do much more than change the color of your plate — it can also enhance the taste of your cocktails. Thanks to its deep, oceanic, and umami flavors, this unique ingredient can add a layer of complexity to your savory drinks. While it might not seem that squid ink would pair well with cocktails, you might be surprised. Its salty seaside taste works well in anything from a spicy bloody mary topped with grilled prawns and bacon to something smokier, like a mezcal margarita

Of course, one of the most interesting elements of this ingredient is its rich black color, which can make your cocktail look especially bold. That being said, you should be careful to add just the right amount of squid ink to your drinks. Otherwise, your guests might get stuck with more coloring than they bargained for. Bourbon Steak's lead bartender, Duane Sylvestre, revealed in an interview with Eater, "Anything that stains your drink will also stain your mouth. That's cool for kids eating popsicles, but most adults don't like that." Even so, the bartender conceded that squid ink, in moderation, can seriously elevate your drink's aesthetics as it "gives you an amazing visual."

4. Sriracha

Sriracha might seem like it belongs on a pork sandwich or a plate of fried noodles, but this red-hot ingredient is actually much more than just a condiment. If you are looking to make a cocktail of the firey variety, sriracha is the ideal element to help spice things up. Unlike chili powders, sriracha comes in liquid form, meaning that it's much easier to mix evenly into your drink. And, different from spicy peppers, like serranos or poblanos, sriracha sauce won't leave pesky seeds behind in your cocktail glass.

Because of these huge benefits, sriracha is the perfect ingredient to use as a spice substitute in almost any spicy drink. Add a dab of it to your mezcal and lime soda to add a pepper-free kick to the smoky classic. You can also switch out the jalapeños for sriracha to make an elevated spicy margarita. Or, even use it to spice up a flavorful peach and tequila smash cocktail. The result will give you all of that fun sriracha spice without any of the pepper mess.

5. BBQ Sauce

BBQ sauce is another unique cocktail ingredient that will make your creation stand out from the rest. Thanks to its sweet, tangy, and oftentimes musky flavor, BBQ sauce pairs well with smoky liquors, such as bourbon. When mixed correctly with the right ingredients, this element can produce cocktails that invoke woodsy or oak-like flavors. 

One of the most delicious combinations is beer, bourbon, and BBQ sauce. Simply add bourbon, a bit of honey, and some BBQ sauce to a pint of blonde beer and enjoy. However, do keep in mind that BBQ sauce's thicker consistency means that it doesn't always mix well into drinks. Therefore, it's recommended that you try watering it down.

To help your BBQ sauce reach a nice, thin consistency, you can dilute it with another fluid, like water — you can also do this with alcohol, but it may leave your cocktail a bit more on the boozier side. A great way to do this is by adding a small portion of sauce and some liquid into a bowl. Simply mix everything until you're left with a BBQ sauce that's not as thick. Add a shot or so to your cocktails to highlight their smokier flavors.

6. Habanero peppers

Not all spicy cocktails were created equally. Some only give you a slight hint of spice, and then there are those that make your whole mouth burn. If you are in the mood for a drink that will actually bring the heat, then consider using habanero peppers. While there are many different types of habaneros, these peppers, on average, are way hotter than poblanos or even jalapeños. 

To put things into perspective, when consulting the Scoville scale for the spiciness of peppers, you'll see that orange habanero peppers have a score from 150,000 to 325,000, according to Grow Hot Peppers. Meanwhile, jalapeños rank much lower on the scale, with just 2,500 to 8,000 points for spiciness. Poblanos are even milder, with only 1,000 to 1,500 points.

If you want to make a super spicy cocktail with habaneros, look no further than the red-hot highball. Start by making this simple Johnnie Walker ginger highball recipe. Instead of just combining the ingredients and stirring, try shaking in a quarter of a teaspoon of muddled habanero peppers. Because the result can be super spicy, it's a good idea to add an acidic flavor that will help round out the heat. A dollop of pineapple juice is a fruity and flavorful way to finish your drink, and it will give guests a bit more control over just how spicy their cocktail is.

7. Soy milk

Soy milk can taste delicious in a vegan cappuccino, but at first glance, you might not expect this ingredient to pair well with a glass of vodka. Nonetheless, soy milk cocktails can actually be delightful as long as you get the proportions right. One of the most delicious ways to add soy milk to a cocktail is by making a vegan white Russian. To prepare this easy, five-minute cocktail, start by gathering the ingredients for a mocha-style white Russian. Of course, you'll want to be sure to buy a dairy-free brand of chocolate syrup if you want to keep this drink 100% vegan. Instead of dumping heavy cream into your drink, use soy milk to make your own special, plant-based version of this element.

To make dairy-free heavy cream, you'll only need two ingredients: soy milk and coconut milk. To get the best results, you should try to find full-fat coconut milk. This will give your vegan white Russian the full and heavy consistency that the drink is famous for. Then, use both of these non-dairy milk options to create a nice and consistent mixture of ingredients. The soy milk will help balance out the coconut milk from becoming too overpowering in flavor. When it comes time to add your homemade cream to the remainder of the cocktail, try using 2 ounces of the mixture rather than just 1 ounce. The final result will be a smooth, creamy drink with coconut undertones.

8. Rhubarb

If you enjoy Sour Patch Kids, try whipping up a sweet-and-sour cocktail with some fresh rhubarb. This ingredient is most commonly used to provide a sense of tartness to summertime treats like strawberry dessert bars or cherry pies. However, it's not just great for baked goods. Because rhubarb adds a uniquely sour spin to sugary or fruity flavors, you can use it to give a bit of complexity to an otherwise monotone, sweet drink.

A fun way to incorporate rhubarb into your bartending routine is to add it to a Shirley Temple along with a dash of vodka. In the original recipe, the sweetness of the lemon-lime soda blended with the candied fruitiness of the maraschino cherry is mostly emphasized by the slight bitterness of the grenadine. However, grenadine does add an additional layer of sugar to the mocktail, making it the perfect sweat treat. 

To make your Shirley Temple into an alcoholic dirty Shirley that adults will like, the best thing you can do is add some sour contrast to the mix. A bit of rhubarb will accentuate the tartness of the cherry, all while preventing the combination of sugar and vodka from overwhelming the palate. For folks who aren't as impressed by sweet-and-sour drinks, rhubarb also works well in a gin and tonic. This ingredient pairs very well with lime and can even add a second kind of tartness to your tangy gin cocktail.

9. Grape tomatoes

Grape tomatoes, commonly used in salads, are small, oblong tomatoes with a sweet yet acidic flavor profile. While they are often mistaken for cherry tomatoes, grape tomatoes have unique characteristics, including a drier interior and a meatier texture than the alternative. As a result, this particular ingredient is firm and flavorful, fantastic for a cocktail garnish. Because grape tomatoes also give off an earthy and sweet taste, they are the perfect addition to a smokier drink, such as cocktails that have whiskey or mezcal.

Try making a mezcal and citrus cocktail to put this ingredient to work. Start by mixing some grape tomatoes with your mezcal in a food processor before adding a bit of lemon-lime soda and a dash of Cointreau. In this combination of ingredients, your tomatoes will add just enough sweetness to offset the intensity of the other two flavors. Alternatively, add grape tomatoes to a spicy sriracha gin and tonic. Here, the acidity of the tomatoes will cut the spiciness of the sriracha and round out the aromatics of the gin.

10. Bone broth

Bone broth may taste delicious in a soup, but that doesn't mean you can't pair it with something stronger. The broth contains rich, heartier flavors that combine well with smoky types of whiskey — especially bourbon. To make a unique drink that fits in perfectly at a BBQ, try making a classic Manhattan. Then, do as professional bartender Dylan Holcomb would and switch out the rye for bacon-flavored bourbon and the vermouth for Averna. To round the whole drink out, you can throw in some ice cubes made of 50% water and 50% low-fat beef bone broth. The result should be savory, rich, and a little bit smoky. 

If you're not in the mood for a bone broth Manhattan, fear not, there are actually plenty of summertime cocktails that can handle a tad of salty chicken broth. Toss a little bit of broth into this Peruvian pineapple cocktail to make it extra smooth, or even add it to this delicious mai tai cocktail recipe to accentuate your drink's flavors. These combinations work because strong, acidic flavors, like pineapple or citrus, can cut much of the broth's soupy taste. However, these fruity ingredients also benefit from the flavor contrast provided by saltier broths, and your cocktail as a whole will take on a better consistency, thanks to the substance's smooth texture. 

11. Spinach

If you are searching for creative ways to integrate spinach into your diet, look no further. This green leafy vegetable is not just a spectacular addition to a spinach smoothie with avocado and apple, it's also wonderful in cocktails. Because of its slightly bitter flavor, spinach works best in sweeter summertime drinks. The ingredient provides much-needed contrast to stronger sugary flavors, all while blending perfectly with the acidic taste of many tropical fruits.

For example, if you want to elevate your tropical frozen piña colada, just toss in a handful of spinach to add a bit of contrast to the drink's sweet flavors. As an added bonus, spinach will give your cocktail a lovely green color. For those who aren't huge fans of frozen drinks, worry not. Spinach can also work well in drinks that already have another raw component. Add a few minced spinach leaves to your minty mojito to enhance your drink. Alternatively, try throwing some shredded spinach into your caipirinha to add another savory component to the sweet-and-sour cocktail.

12. Onion-infused vodka

Anyone who has ever enjoyed a pumpkin white Russian knows that vodka infusions can be surprisingly flavorful. However, not all of the best infusions are fruity or sweet. There are plenty of excellent vodkas with flavors of the savory variety. One of the most unexpected mixes is onion-infused vodka, which can be used to make an extra flavorful martini. For this unique type of liquor, try using spring onions, as they bring together the perfect combination of sweet and slightly spicy flavors. 

To make the infusion for a spring onion martini, soak your spring onions in a huge jar full of vodka. If you want a moderately-flavored result, leave the concoction soaking for around 12 hours. However, as a general rule, it's important to remember that your infusion will taste stronger the longer you leave it mixed in with the spring onions. Therefore, you can let your concoction soak as much as you want to get a heightened flavor going. You can also remove the onions earlier if you're hoping to achieve a milder brew.