Here’s Why Bartenders Are Adding Uncooked Rice to Cocktails - Gin Raiders
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Here’s Why Bartenders Are Adding Uncooked Rice to Cocktails

Is the secret to a perfect cocktail a heaping spoonful of uncooked sushi rice? (Photo: PNW Production)

When it comes to new ways to elevate a classic cocktail, home mixologists and experienced bartenders alike often reach for common, yet unexpected ingredients. For example, consider the two liquor-transforming techniques fat washing (butter is typically the fat of choice) and milk clarifying. Both of these methods promise an elevated drinking experience and use an ingredient not frequently associated with cocktails.

Now, some bartenders are turning to uncooked rice as a clever way to transform an ordinary cocktail, just like fat washing and milk clarifying do. So, what can rice do to a cocktail? And why are bartenders adding this unexpected cooking ingredient to alcoholic drinks?

What Does Uncooked Rice do to a Cocktail?

First, know that when using rice in a cocktail, it doesn’t just stay at the bottom of the glass for you to accidentally swallow. Instead, the rice is stirred with cocktail ingredients and strained out before being served. This method is referred to as a rice wash and helps flavors become cohesive while softening the more bitter elements of some cocktails.

“It softens the heat of the spirit and makes the flavors more cohesive,” Leanne Favre, head bartender at the Brooklyn cocktail bar and restaurant Leyenda, told Punch.

Favre also shared that the idea behind using rice as a cocktail ingredient was inspired by horchatas.

“It just needed one final touch,” Favre shared with Punch, recalling the creation of the “Negroni de Nubes” cocktail. “I had the idea to use rice to contribute texture and mouthfeel, drawing inspiration from the starchy texture of horchata.”

Just as Favre explained, rice adds texture. Similar to the elements of a horchata, rice imparts creaminess or slight viscosity to a drink.

Another way rice can be used in a cocktail is through an infusion. Bartender Zig Payton at Kingfisher in Durham, North Carolina, uses simple syrup infused with sautéed rice in a Toasted Rice Daiquiri. Additionally, Payton heats rice with rum using a sous vide method. This two-part rice infusion gives the cocktail a rich, round texture and nutty, toasty-tasting notes.

Rice is “as useful for body and texture as it is for flavor, if not more,” Kingfisher Co-Owner Sean Umstead told Punch.

How to Make Your Own Rice-Washed Drink

One cocktail suggested for a rice wash is a Negroni, the classic gin drink made with Campari and sweet vermouth. Favre’s rice-washed Negroni is made with mezcal, but there’s nothing wrong with whipping up a traditional gin-based Negroni.

Rice-Washed Negroni

  • 1 oz Gin of choice (or a gin we recommend here)
  • 1 oz Campari
  • 1 oz Sweet vermouth 
  • Orange twist
  • 1 1/2 tbsps Uncooked sushi rice

Combine all ingredients into a mixing glass filled with ice and stir until chilled. Strain your cocktail into a rocks glass with a large ice cube and express the orange twist over the cocktail. Drop the orange twist into the cocktail and enjoy!

Other cocktails Favre recommends for a rice wash include Martinis and Old Fashioneds. Just like you stir your cocktail ingredients with rice in a rice-washed Negroni, do the same for these other classic cocktails and find out just how transformed your next drink can be.

Read next:

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5 Great Black-Owned Gin Brands to Try This Black History Month — and All Year!

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Candie Getgen is the managing editor for Gin Raiders. Before immersing herself in the world of spirits journalism, Candie has been many things: a bartender, a literary journal editor, an English teacher — and even a poet. Now, Candie shares her passion for gin with the world and hopes to help others fall in love with it, too (if they haven't already!). When not writing, Candie enjoys sipping an extra-dry martini while painting or relaxing by the pool with a thrilling mystery novel.