gone viral

A Drink You Can Chew

Photo-Illustration: by The Cut; Photos: Getty Images

A little while ago, I began to notice a change in the state of drink. Where once the landscape of experimental cocktails was limited to mint and watermelon, it now includes those that are chunky, earthy, and slightly herbaceous. One, known simply as a caprese daiquiri, was tomatoey and acidic, with the vague, looming bitterness of basil and a glistening film of olive oil — essentially a blended salad plus rum, and one among dozens more meal-adjacent cocktails making the rounds on social media and dozens of bar menus. These concoctions feel vaguely familiar in look and premise but trespass the savory line that Bloody Marys and dirty martinis have so carefully drawn. They are not quite drinks and not quite not drinks, their permutations of flavor and form boldly overwhelming the parameters of what a beverage can be. They are, as Eater recently put it, “Willy Wonka’s three-course-dinner chewing gum in drinkable form.”

A snacktail, if you will.

For every plausibly fine-sounding recipe — a tomato margarita or a briny, spicy gin drink that makes sensible use of lemongrass — you find a pesto sour (basically just pesto plus alcohol) or a mozzarella-water martini (exactly what it sounds like). Sometimes, the snacktails come from zany at-home chefs; but often, you’re probably not all that surprised to find they come from brands. Over at Salon, the U.S. brand ambassador for Parmigiano Reggiano is peddling an espresso martini made with cheese-infused vodka and garnished with large flakes of the product he represents. (A viral combination you may have seen either on TikTok or the Today show since it first started making the food-blog rounds last year.) Across the Instagram account for Fishwife — the brand often credited with launching the Tinned Fish Girl movement — it’s draping its signature filets over anchovy-oil martinis and soft-boiled eggs alike. Last year, Velveeta launched a similar campaign, introducing a $15 mac-and-cheese martini into the lexicon.

Nonetheless, as a genre, the savory cocktail has not broken new ground: Drink historian David Wondrich tells me about clam and oyster cocktails that cropped up in the late 19th century, accenting the juice from freshly shucked clams and oysters with a mild chili sauce, a few drops of Tabasco, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. “Chunk style or non-chunk style,” he tells me, depending on whether it had the clams in it or not.

The strange drink-as-marketing-stunt concept is not quite so old but still not new: In 1952, a PR representative for Campbell’s beef bouillon created the Bullshot — vodka, a little Worcestershire sauce, a squeeze of lemon, Tabasco, and, yes, Campbell’s beef bouillon, which effectively became the first “brothtail.” It was intended to get a reaction, and it did, to the point that Campbell’s later introduced other variations of Soups on the Rocks, which enjoyed a brief moment of cultural fascination but were, for the most part, relegated to fringe circles. (Marilyn Monroe, says Wondrich, once lamented, “What a horrible thing to do to vodka.”) They likely would have fared better on TikTok, an unsparingly friendly home for promotional gimmicks of all kinds, particularly those that prioritize conceptual shock value over things like smell and taste and mouthfeel. In short, “I don’t think it’s a lot of commentary on the state of drink,” says Wondrich.

In the course of my research, there is one particular brand that I have come to view as the main perpetuator of the snacktail: Graza, the Instagram-oriented olive oil company you may have encountered on the shelves of your nearest sprezzatura grocer. I consider it the Samba of food products, in that I have, at one point or another, added both to my cart only to close the tab in shame, and in that both have achieved the kind of virality that I’m fairly certain will outlive me. Graza is everywhere, trying to put olive oil in everything. It began with the ever-humble dirty martini, and, as if drunk on that success, Graza has conceived endless applications for its product, recommending customers squeeze a few drops into drinks that won’t necessarily benefit or suffer from the addition. I have seen people shake Graza into kimchee and chicken-soup martinis; I’ve seen Graza drizzled into a jammy bourbon drink; I’ve seen it blended into the aforementioned caprese daiquiri. Many of those recipes come to us courtesy of Jazz Rodriguez, recipe developer for the blog and test kitchen Very Good Drinks. Rodriguez has been making savory cocktails for many years now, and he tells me he sought out a partnership with Graza after seeing a couple of its initial cocktail experiments. Rodriguez had long been experimenting in the snacktail space, developing drinks that initially, he says, proved “very divisive.”

“People were really harsh about it,” he tells me of the first brothtails they posted. As the trend took off, though, a curious acceptance — even eagerness — fell across legions of would-be haters. “I think within the last year, it’s just completely changed. I think maybe more people have even had the chance to try savory drinks and realize that it’s not as gross as you think, and there’s a time and place for it.” He also cites the pandemic as a potential reason for the shift: “It seems like since 2020 things just keep getting weirder and weirder, and something about bringing a certain amount of that absurdity to cocktails was ripe for the picking.”

It is also, maybe, a kind of tactical absurdity. Just as restaurants are increasingly trying to cater to larger audiences with shorter attention spans, TikTok-ifying their menus with gooey, dynamic, and occasionally deranged dishes, certain food brands are taking the same basic approach. “I think a lot of times, maybe it’s more of a conceptual thing, so that it stops you from scrolling,” says Rodriguez. “Because I’ve seen some questionable ones where I’m like, ‘Okay, you’re just trying to get people to watch your video, obviously. This drink is not going to be good.’” Like the Bullshot but refurbished to suit a particular brand’s ethos. Though, where Graza is concerned, Rodriguez says the oil actually has “some good flavor that would work in a drink versus … You don’t just want to drink, you know, cooking oil.”

Fair. But there is a particularly lurching late-capitalist shame around realizing that most of our experiences and wants are, to some extent, dictated by brands. There is creativity, and then there is just succumbing to a marketer’s interpretation of what people want — reverse engineering our own taste from shock. It may seem harmless, and maybe it is. But a month from now, as you order another round of Cobb salad coladas at a bar and take a small, wincing sip, I implore you to ask, “Is someone expensing this?

The Drink of the Summer Is … Greasy?