Tequila-poached crawfish may be made with a denatured spirit like salted tequila.

Keeping flavor in focus

It often takes a combination of alcohol ingredients to achieve the desired flavor profile. For example, flavors may help boost the overall alcohol notes in a recipe using denatured or reduced ingredients. They even assist when the real thing is used.

“Many of these flavors are heat and fry stable and can withstand long cooking times before packaging,” said Mr. Warsow said.

Recently, Bell launched a line of beer flavors ranging from subtle to major hops and from smooth to rich with flavor. “Indulgent foods are seeing the most impact by this trend,” Mr. Warsow said “No longer do you simply have a beer-battered fish sandwich. The type of beer used in the batter is being called out. This makes the product seem more premium to the consumer.

“Quite a bit of beer is needed in a batter formulation to get the beer notes to come through. You can still use the real beer, but it can be augmented by a natural flavor to reduce cost and improve flavor.”

Beer flavors may be used in marinades to infuse the flavor inside proteins. “For example, hard cider is a fermented beverage made from the unfiltered juice of apples,” said Sheila Harte, senior beverage applications manager at Bell. “When the flavor is used in a marinade for pork loin, it delivers a sweet-tart taste that is fresh and crisp.”

Mr. Warsow said, “Many of our barrel-aged spirit flavors are very true to profile because we do oak extraction just like what would happen when you aged a liquor in a barrel. These flavors can boost the overall ‘oakiness’ desired in a bourbon barbecue sauce without adding all of the alcohol or salt that comes with denatured bourbons.”

Sometimes flavors are added as a topical seasoning. “We have a margarita-style topical seasoning for rotisserie chicken,” Mr. Warsow said. “All of the tequila and triple sec notes come out very well across the crispy skin of the chicken. If you marinated chicken in a traditional margarita, the acid would break down the meat because of the low pH. By using flavors, you can minimize this while still capturing the essence of the drink in the meat.”

Sensient Flavors, Hoffman Estates, Ill., offers what it describes as American saloon fine alcohol natural flavors. “We can take the flavor components from beer, wine or spirits, and create a reduction type flavor so that the culinologist saves time by not having to cook off the alcohol and concentrate the flavor, making it much better to work with in a large-scale environment,” said Julie Clarkson, senior research chef-savory at Sensient.

“We created a bourbon bacon jam that showcased our Kentucky bourbon-type flavor mixed with bacon, onions and brown sugar,” she said. “This was then used as a topper for goat cheese grits.”

Alan Owen, director of marketing-sweet at Sensient, said, “With sweeter flavors such as red wine and rum, the greatest opportunity lies in pairing them with confectionery and dairy, in particular chocolate and fruit.”

Think banana nut rum caramel and cherry cabernet Greek yogurt.

“A customer recently commercialized a bourbon pecan ice cream,” he said “But for the most part, dark liquors such as bourbons, cognacs and brandies are better suited with savory-type products such as marinades and sauces.”

Depending on the application, it may be necessary to use a flavor-sensation system to provide the familiar alcohol burn and tingle that somewhat dries the mouth. “Sensates are stimulating mouthfeel enhancers that impart the well-known alcohol burn into alcohol-flavored foods without contributing any real alcohol,” said Lauren Williams, marketing manager-beverage at Sensient. “This sensation, aside from adding authenticity, adds to the consumption experience.”

Roger Lane, marketing manager-savory at Sensient, adds, “People have become more interested in where their food comes from, with an emphasis on small batch and hand-crafted products. Premium alcohol flavors fit right into this movement and are an easy way to add value to all types of foods, from soups to sauces and entrees to desserts.”

From bourbon to bitters, keeping an open mind when exploring this new arsenal of bar-inspired ingredients can lead to flavor-packed menu items and retail products that push innovation forward, beyond customer’s imaginations. “The possibilities are endless,” Mr. Lane said.