Drink Me Now: Corn Is the Surprising New Ingredient

05/19/2015 05:18 pm ET | Updated May 18, 2016

The juicing craze has left no shortage of cocktails loaded with vegetables. From kale and carrots to beets and celery, most sections of the grocery store's produce aisle have ample representation. But what about corn?

The vegetable makes regular appearances in the booze world. Mash used to make everything from whiskey to vodka often contains corn, along with grains like barley and rye. Rarely is the sweet, unexpectedly juicy ear of corn celebrated for its flavors and complexities.

Recently, though, a change is afoot. Corn is popping up in cocktails and even as a flavoring in spirits. Launched in April 2013, Mezcal Vago Elote ($55) is infused with roasted corn grown on distiller Aquilino Garcia Lopez's farm in Oaxaca, Mexico. The result is remarkably smooth, a little sweet and super-drinkable.

That drinkability also translates when corn is juiced, pureed or muddled in cocktails. Pair those kernels with an agave spirit and the result is magical. The first case in point: the mezcal-based Cornelia at New York's Wallflower, a drink made with corn puree and garnished with a few drops of basil oil. Head bartender Xavier Herit says the drink was inspired by the chilled corn soup with basil sorbet from the restaurant's summer 2014 menu. The transition is remarkable.

If you like your drinks with a little more texture, The Black Ant, a Mexican restaurant and cocktail bar in New York's East Village, prides itself on using bizarre ingredients like fried grasshoppers and, yes, ants, in its food and drink. Luckily, neither of those things are in its Yum Kaax cocktail, which is reminiscent of corn chowder. The drink, named for the Mayan maize god, combines mezcal, corn juice and lime.

Austin, Texas, bar La Condesa has successfully experimented with the growing trend, as well. The Alma Blanca brilliantly muddles fresh corn kernels with habanero-infused tequila and combines the eclectic flavors of ginger, pineapple and lemon.

Popcorn is also worth a mention here -- and not just as an embellishment to the final drink or a snack to soak up the booze. Middle Branch in New York features a Popcorn Sazerac on its menu, which includes a dash or two of the bar's own popcorn bitters and, for a while, The Aviary in Chicago used popcorn by infusing it in rum to make the Dr. Redenbacher's Good Time Flip.

A bartender at Kansas City's Port Fonda even won a competition last year with her corny cocktail. Caitlin Corcoran (who now works at K.C.'s Ça Va) made a drink that included corn cream, popcorn grits and corn-infused tequila (get the recipe here). Fascinating stuff.

With corn season fast approaching, there are a number of unexplored ways to use this simple veggie in boozy concoctions. Who knows what will crop up next?

Illustrations: Ariel Dunitz-Johnson

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