Mushrooms have been all over the news lately. You’ll find ‘shrooms and their tendril-y mycelia in coffee, sustainably filling in for leather and building materials, possibly making us happier and healthier (via the psychedelic varieties), and, of course, zombifying most of the population in the video game-inspired HBO series The Last of Us. NYC restaurateur Ravi DeRossi even launched an all-mushroom menu at a pop-up called &beer this past spring.
So it’s only natural that mushrooms have been showing up in cocktails as tinctures, infusions, powdered mixers and garnishes. A wide variety of so-called functional mushrooms are adding umami notes, adaptogens and texture to mixed drinks. As with any fungus worth its spores, the trend is spreading rapidly.
“As consumers continue to appreciate the epicurean nature of drinks, we’re allowed to become more creative,” says Justin Lavenue, owner/operator of The Roosevelt Room and The Eleanor in Austin, Texas. Lavenue has serious mushroom cred: in 2015, he won Bombay Sapphire’s Most Imaginative Bartender, North America, with The Poet’s Muse, a haiku-inspired gin drink featuring a pistachio-honey syrup, yuzu-and-lime citrus and an umami tincture made from sautéed shiitake mushrooms and pink Himalayan salt in a gin base. It was a huge hit that’s still on the menu.
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“I think drinks these days set out for savory and umami notes,” he adds. “People are playing with olive brine, oyster shells and so on. Eventually, they become fixtures as cocktail ingredients. Salt had its moment, and now it’s kind of commonplace. And now we’re at mushrooms.”
Bars across the globe are highlighting mushroom-inflected cocktails on their menus. At Seattle’s tiki-influenced Inside Passage, the Camera Shy (rum, forest gin, apple, mushroom, lemon, pine) landed on the menu earlier this year, served up in a custom Bigfoot mug. At London’s Common Decency, you’ll find the Celine Dijon, a bourbon and sherry sipper brightened with mushrooms and a pickled mustard broth. Elmer Mejicanos at Causwells in San Francisco has made a Shiitake Happens cocktail with mushroom-infused Fiero. Meanwhile, at NYC’s Eleven Madison Park (which went vegan in 2021), a mushroom-influenced cocktail has shown up on the bar’s seasonal menu a few times over the years. Last year’s fall menu featured “Mushroom,” made with a Vermouth di Torino “infused with a medley of dehydrated mushrooms” and green tea gin, paired with a mushroom purée tartlet.
As part of the Wynn Las Vegas Living Well program, Mariena Mercer Boarini, master mixologist at North American Wynn Resorts, incorporates lion’s main and reishi into the good-for-you mocktail Solar Power (cold brew coffee, almond milk, maca root, cacao and the mushrooms).
“Mixing with mushrooms is not unlike mixing with spirits, tea or herbs, as each type of mushroom has its own distinct flavor profile,” Mercer Boarini says. “It’s important to taste each one and understand how it will build flavor in your beverage. Chaga mushrooms, for instance, contain vanillin, which mimics the flavor of vanilla flavor and the finesse that an oak barrel will impart on a spirit. I like mixing it with whiskeys and aged tequilas to reinforce those flavors. Lion’s mane is sweet and delicate, imparting subtle flavor, so I recommend using that with fortified wines or sake.”
Those seeking to reduce or abstain from alcohol will find zero-alcohol options at spots like Sonoma’s Little Saint, a plant-based restaurant and lounge that opened last year in Healdsburg, California. In the spot’s swanky upstairs lounge, The Second Story, bar manager and Eleven Madison Park alum Matt Seigel offers up He’s a Fun Guy (Spiritless 74 N/A bourbon, oolong tea and a glycerin-based tincture of reishi, turkey tail and cordyceps mushrooms, along with rose, burdock and clove). The result is a rich brown cocktail without a hint of alcohol.
De Soi (pronounced “de swah”) has a zero-alcohol sparkling aperitif called Champignon Dreams on shelves. A blend of reishi mushroom, passion flower and green tea-derived L-theanine (said to induce relaxation), the mushroom notes are present as an earthy/umami aftertaste and give a sort of kombucha vibe to the drink. Though it’s bottled like a rosé, for me it plays closer to a beer or digestif.
Keep an eye out for mushrooms making their way into booze bottles as well. Amass Gin, out of Los Angeles, is incorporating mushrooms into the botanical mix for two of its gin expressions. Amass Dry Gin builds from a whopping 29 botanicals, including lion’s main and reishi mushrooms. Distiller Morgan McLachlan says she wasn’t influenced by current trends when incorporating fungi into the overall mix.
“I chose mushrooms for their flavor attributes,” McLachlab says. “Inspired by the boreal terroir from which juniper originates, I thought the forest floor/umami notes would nicely complement the juniper and cedar leaf included in the gin.” While juniper is dominant on the nose, the mass of botanicals lead to earthy, citrusy complexity on the palate. Can you taste the fungus? Maybe. There’s an umami “roundness” immediately up front and a lingering, earthy tang in the finish.
Want to go full ‘shroom? The brand also makes Mushroom Reserve 030, where gin is infused with shiitake, cacao and bergamot and barrel-rested for 90 days. On the nose, it’s definitely earthy and funky, almost like some shochu. An umami softness up front is overwhelmed quickly by the bergamot and a touch of chocolate. Tasty on its own (but not very ginny), it should work well in some whiskey or Cognac cocktails.
Start concocting your own fungus cocktails with these tips from the pros:
- Dried mushrooms work well for infusions (toss a handful into a bottle). Experiment with infusion time to find the intensity you seek.
- Wash/scrub fresh mushrooms well before infusing
- Aim for flavor-intense caps like lion’s main, trumpet, reishi or shiitake.
- Consider seasonally available ‘shrooms, like morels, for an added touch of cool.
- Do NOT harvest wild mushrooms, unless you’re very familiar (toxic and safe varieties can look very similar).
- That said, Lavenue points out that infusions and tinctures using functional mushrooms are safe, unlike tobacco or activated charcoal, where dangerous chemicals may concentrate in an infusion.
- For The Poet’s Muse, Lavenue and his team make a sort of fat-washed tincture out of sautèed mushrooms and gin. Figure about 30 chopped, sauteed Shiitake mushrooms per six ounces of gin.
- When it comes to garnishes, consider aromatic and visual appeal. Cluster mushrooms like enoki and fan-shaped pink oyster work nicely.
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