What it means
Rinsing isn't a new cocktail technique: As far back as the late 19th century, The Sazerac House's owner insisted upon swirling absinthe in a glass before emptying it and filling it with the New Orleans cafe's namesake cocktail.
Today, though, bartenders aren't just reserving the practice for classic cocktails. The online food magazine Tasting Table recently published a round-up of spirit-rinsed drinks, including a bourbon-and-maple syrup cocktail from California that gets an Oloroso sherry pre-wash; a North Carolina rum cocktail treated with red verjus and a Wisconsin mezcal cocktail served in a glass coated with duck fat. Other preliminary splashes include beer, Scotch and sake.
Although the rinsing ingredient is poured down the drain, the technique amounts to more than sorcery. Bartenders uses rinses to create nuanced cocktails with flavors that don't belong in the forefront.
"It lends a little bit of freshness," The Rarebit's Brent Sweatman says of the absinthe rinse he considers an essential Sazerac-making step. "It helps with the aromatics. It's a really fun, simple way to add something to a drink."
Where we saw it
The Rarebit (Sazerac, $8)
Where else you can try it
The Belmont and The Gin Joint both make frequent use of rinses.
Where to buy it
No equipment is required to add a rinse to your cocktail, but online barware shops sell atomizers to save home bartenders the trouble of swirling and dumping. Unless you swear by your electric salad spinner and quesadilla maker, you can probably do without one.