Prospero's Manhattan by Roger Landes Credit: Cory Popp

“I have a very short list of things I don’t eat,” Roger Landes says. “Seaweed is nearly at the top of that list.”

So the MFK bartender had some research to do after Calvin Marty of Best Intentions challenged him to create a cocktail with the marine algae. “I unfortunately had to taste a lot of different seaweed, in a Sisyphean act of valor,” he says. “I realized how many different kinds of seaweed there were—a lot of different textures, flavor profiles.” 

Overall, Landes says, seaweed “has this really unique salinity, this salty, vegetal sea quality.”

For his cocktail, he settled on toasted nori, most commonly used in sushi, and higiki seaweed, which “expands about ten times its size when put in water,” he says. He soaked both in simple syrup for a few days, until the syrup took on some of the seaweed’s salinity. (Seaweed is often used as a gelling agent, and he says it added a little extra viscosity to the syrup.)

As for what to mix with the syrup, Landes says, “we tried a lot of stuff and failed miserably.” Either the flavor of the seaweed was too strong, or it clashed with the spirits he was using. Landes thought gin would be a good pairing. Instead, he stuck with the idea of a savory drink, but turned to bourbon rather than gin.

Landes ended up making a black manhattan, the name traditionally given to manhattans made with the Sicilian liqueur Averna—but according to Landes now used to describe versions made with either two kinds of vermouth or a mix of amaro and vermouth. For his cocktail, which he called Prospero’s Manhattan (in honor of the Shakespeare character left at sea to die), Landes used Punt e Mes vermouth, the anise-flavored liqueur anisette, and Wild Turkey 101, which he describes as “extremely spicy, with a lot of really cool herbal qualities.”

Finishing the drink were “kookabamba” bitters, which are made in-house with scorched pineapple, dried strawberry, and chamomile tea—among other ingredients—and, of course, the seaweed simple syrup. The syrup, Landes says, adds salt and “a really cool toasty quality, like vegetal baked bread.”

As for the cocktail’s taste? “As much as I don’t like seaweed,” Landes says, “I really do like it.”

Prospero’s Manhattan
2 dashes “kookabamba” bitters
.25 oz Meretti anisette, star anise liqueur
.75 oz Punt e Mes Italian vermouth
2 oz Wild Turkey 101 bourbon
Scant ½ oz seaweed syrup
Stir all ingredients with ice and strain into a glass garnished with nori strips stuck to the side.

Who’s next:
Landes has challenged Michael Tsirtsis of Oak + Char to create a cocktail with Big League Chew bubble gum.