Bamboo fungus (phallus indusiatus) is part of the stinkhorn family, which Iliana Regan says "looks like a muddy dog penis." Stinkhorns, named for their stench, are covered with a pungent greenish-brown slime that attracts the carrion-eating flies that spread their spores. Despite smelling like rotting flesh, bamboo fungus is often eaten in China—though only after the slime-coated tops are removed. The mushrooms are covered in a sort of netting that grows down from the cap, giving them another of their names: veiled lady.
Craig Schoettler said he and Aviary bartender Jason Cevallos tried making 30 different drinks with dried bamboo fungus before finally settling on one that involved sherry, beer, scotch, rum, and champagne. The fungus, he said, has a "very earthy, sort of acidic umami profile."
Asked what he'd compare the taste to, Schoettler said, "I would compare it to a mushroom. It tastes—I don't know, it tastes like bamboo fungus. What does a carrot taste like? A carrot tastes like a carrot."
Schoettler and Cevallos made both a simple syrup and a tincture with the fungus, the former by heating bamboo fungus in water, then straining it and adding sugar. For the tincture, they steeped bamboo fungus in a neutral grain spirit for 17 days, then strained it out. They use a lot of tinctures at the Aviary, and Schoettler said the infusion time can range from a few hours to a few months, depending on volume and how alcohol-soluble the flavoring agent is.
A 1982 Pedro Ximenez sherry turned out to be the key to the cocktail, Schoettler said. After experimenting with various liquors and spirits, they tasted it with the fungus and "the synergy between the two of the sweetness and slight acid of Pedro Ximenez and the earthiness and umami [of the fungus] balance each other out very nicely—after having those together, things just kind of fell into place."
In addition to the sherry, they added Evil Twin Brewing's Soft Xmas imperial stout, brewed with vanilla and sour cherries, which "plays well" with the mushroom flavors, and a blended Islay scotch. "The vegetal smoke and the peat of the scotch also plays with the umami and vegetation of the mushroom," Schoettler said.
They also threw in Lemon Hart 151, an overproofed demerara rum, as well as a raw egg and some Hawaiian black salt dissolved in water. The salt is "another way to bring out some of the earthy, umami flavors of mushrooms, because mushrooms taste pretty bland by themselves until you season them." They topped off the cocktail with a little champagne, black truffle powder, and dried bamboo fungus.
The result was a chocolatey, complex drink with a subtle mushroom flavor on the finish. "You definitely get it on the finish," Schoettler said. "It becomes more and more prevalent, that umami and that sort of a funky mushroom flavor."
Charles Joly of the Drawing Room, working with ambergris, which Schoettler says is "dried whale vomit." It's a substance produced in the intestines of sperm whales that becomes very aromatic as it dries, and is often used in perfumes. At the Aviary, they make a tincture with it that's occasionally used in cocktails. The smell and taste are tough to describe, according to Schoettler, but "it's from the sea, so it definitely has an aroma of salty seawater."
1 oz Lemonhart 151
1/6 oz Black Bottle Scotch
1 oz Evil Twin Soft Xmas beer
3/4 oz 1982 Pedro Ximenez sherry
1 oz bamboo fungus syrup
1/8 oz black truffle tincture
1/8 oz bamboo fungus tincture
6 drops Hawaiian black salt solution
1 whole egg
Henriot Blanc champagne
Dried bamboo fungus
Black truffle powder
Combine all ingredients except for the last three in a shaker with ice; shake and strain into a glass. Top with champagne and dust with bamboo fungus and black truffle powder.