“Durian is a really pretty Asian fruit,” Alex Gara of the Charlatan says. “It looks delicious, but it doesn’t smell delicious at all.”
Challenged by Justin Arnett-Graham of D.O.C. Wine Bar to create a cocktail with durian, the spiky fruit famous for its terrible odor, Gara initially had trouble finding it. “Apparently they’ve done away with fresh durian in the city because it would smell so much by the time it got over here,” he says. He did manage to find frozen durian, packaged in thick plastic. “By the time I drove from Uptown to Wicker Park I could start to smell it in the truck, so I immediately stuck it back in the freezer and just thawed it out this morning.”
As for the smell, Gara says, “I definitely got, like, a boy’s sweaty locker out of it. It reminded me of gym class in middle school. I have heard comparisons to dead people. . . . Rotten onions, garlic, very sour, tangy, pungent smells.”
But once you get past the smell of the durian, Gara says, working with it isn’t much different than working with any other savory ingredient in a cocktail. “It was definitely a process of trying to pair it with different flavors and having it fail miserably.” He found that the spiciness of whiskey worked well with the flavor of durian, and to play up the fruit’s vegetal qualities and sweeten it, he made a juice of durian, carrot, and guava.
“I think mostly what I was trying to do is subdue it. You will get the tang from the durian, and you will get the—to describe it pleasantly, we’ll say an oniony flavor from it.” But at the same time, Gara says, the whiskey, carrot, guava, and the amaro he used helped to subdue and balance the durian. “It wasn’t the worst thing I’ve ever tasted.”
Who’s next: Gara has challenged Peter Kim of the Franklin Room to create a cocktail with jumiles, small stink bugs that are eaten in some regions of Mexico.
The Durian Gray
.5 oz lime juice
.75 oz durian/carrot/guava juice*
1 oz Judu Mirto amaro
1 oz Gancia Americano Aperitivo Italiano
1 oz George Dickel No. 12 whiskey
Dash of cherry bark-vanilla bitters
Shake with ice and strain into an ice-filled glass. Garnish with fresh mint and burnt orange wheels.
*Four parts carrot juice to one part durian juice and one part guava juice