Food by VICE

This Ibiza Bartender Is Making Summer’s Darkest Cocktail

The Black Pearl is a jet-black concoction made with Fernet Branca, rum, and fresh squid ink. “When people take the risk and try it, they love it,” says Nicolas Baptiste, bartender at Experimental Beach in Las Salinas.

by Laura Martin
May 31 2016, 12:00pm

Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world; squid ink appeared in Nicolas Baptiste's bar.

"We spotted some in a fridge in the restaurant's kitchen," says the Experimental Beach mixologist, "and thought, 'Could you use that in a drink?'"

Turns out, you can. The result is the goth-friendly Black Pearl, a glass goblet of ink, Fernet Branca, and rum-charged darkness that seems almost at odds with the shimmering azures of Ibiza's salt plains, which is where Baptiste's bar hides in the south of the sun-kissed island.

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The Black Pearl, developed my mixologists at the Experimental Beach bar in Ibiza. All photos by the author.

Baptiste, who developed the cocktail during the winter with assistant Xavier Pereira Lino, had wanted to create a signature drink for awhile. Having spent the past few years working in bars across the world for the Experimental Cocktail Club, he was no stranger to sourcing and using unusual ingredients.

But the Frenchman looked to the sea for inspiration for this particular drink.

"Because we're based on the beach, I knew people would come in expecting something special and original, and I wanted to tie it in with the idea of the sea," he explains. "I've used seaweed in my drinks before —like the seaweed-washed vodka in the sangre del mar, our version of a Bloody Mary—as cocktails that taste like the sea are fantastic. Also, we cook a lot of squid at the restaurant."

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A bartender at Experimental Beach prepares squid ink for a Black Pearl.

Getting the salty cephalopod secretion to a state that people would pay to drink was another matter.

"It took a lot of testing to get to this final cocktail—about 15 different versions, in all," says Baptiste. "At the beginning, all our attempts to make a drink weren't very nice. It was hard to find the right balance. We tried it with vodka and other spirits, but the best was the rum with Fernet Branca, as it cuts through the sugar of the rum with a slightly bitter taste. The squid ink adds a slightly salty flavour, but you also get a hit like when you eat oysters or clams—that slightly iode [metallic] flavour."

READ MORE: Sink Your Teeth into These Squid Ink Garlic Buns

As I slurp down a cocktail made by Baptiste's colleague, I notice that squid ink also has a slightly minty, medicinal tang to it. Their attempts to get the balance of salty, sweet, and sour notes have clearly worked—this doesn't taste like a glass of Nutribulleted fruits de mer. In the hot sun, it's a refreshing change from the lurid, sickly sweet cocktails served by most of Ibiza's beachside bars.

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What's most impressive is The Black Pearl's colour—other than Coke, black coffee, or a special Halloween concoction, I can't remember ever drinking what's essentially black juice.

Squid ink has long been used in Mediterranean cooking, including Spain's arroz negro (black risotto, flavoured and coloured with the ink) or Italy's pasta al nero di seppia (pasta made with a splash of the black stuff). It's also said to be rich in antioxidents, high in iron, and stuffed to the gills with glutamic acid—a.k.a. the stuff that gives it that intangible umami taste.

READ MORE: How An Octopus Feels When It's Eaten Alive

So, will people be chugging down squid ink instead of green juice this summer?

Baptiste laughs: "When people read about squid ink on our drinks menu, they're not sure what to think. In Ibiza, especially, people aren't quite as adventurous with their drinks like in London, Paris, or New York—there isn't really the same level of cocktail culture. But the Black Pearl has been a real hit, when people take the risk and try it, they love it."

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Las Salinas, Ibiza. Photo courtesy Experimental Beach.

Baptiste hopes to develop other cocktails that also use ingredients sourced locally on Ibiza, which people tend to forget isn't all EDM terror-domes. It's a island rich in plentiful and delicious agricultural produce.

"As we're based near to Ses Salines, we use Sal de Ibiza [Ibiza's own-brand salt] in some of the cocktails and we use a lot of rosemary," he says. "It grows all around us, especially in the national parks, so we pick bunches of it every morning and make rosemary-infused vodka with it."

But those drinks are another story. For now, I sit back and soak up the sun with summer's darkest cocktail.