The following feature appears in the May 2017 issue of NYLON.
It’s a known fact: Black is always in fashion. And these days the color has transitioned from street-style staple to cocktail menu must-have courtesy of activated charcoal, the ingredient responsible for the spike in midnight-hued happy hour beverages on your Instagram feed.
You might recognize the activated-charcoal hype from the beauty world, as seen in the form of face masks, cleansers, and even toothpastes, since it’s believed to absorb dirt and oil. A similar theory applies to ingesting it—once in your body, proponents say that activated charcoal binds to and eliminates toxins in your system. For this reason, it’s also become a favorite of the supplement- and juice-shop set.
But now that activated charcoal seems to have officially crossed over from health fad to fun drink trend, a bevy of aesthetically on-point cocktails are cropping up that incorporate the ingredient to magical, moody effect.
Mission Chinese Food’s Moonwalk cocktail, for instance, is made from mezcal, yuzu sake, kosho, citrus, and, of course, activated charcoal, and is sprinkled with “disco salt” (a combination of Maldon salt crystals and confectioners’ luster dust). Slowly Shirley in New York’s West Village has also created a showstopping drink dubbed the Perla Negra, a large-format, rum-punch cocktail served in a huge skull glass, topped with sorrel, and garnished with flowers and a burning candle.
Both Sam Anderson of Mission Chinese Food and Ray Sakover of Slowly Shirley acknowledge that the charcoal’s primary function is to create a deep black tone, and that the ingredient doesn’t really alter the flavor profile of drinks. That said, it definitely makes the cocktail experience more exciting. And while it’s important to note that health professionals advise against consuming too much activated charcoal, indulging in the occasional cocktail only turned our tongues black.Slowly Shirley's Perla Negra Cocktail photographed by Mikey Asanin.