It wasn’t until I moved to Atlanta that I learned what a little sprinkle of salt can do to watermelon. Just a pinch of flaky sea salt on a cold, chunky slice can bring out the fruit’s sweetness while also giving it an acidic edge.
Fortunately, this ingredient combo has been popping up in cocktails at bars, in spirits, and in ready-to-drink beverages in recent years. Now, the classic watermelon flavor that we know as borderline artificial has been replaced with salted watermelon—a more balanced, refreshing option for these sweltering summer months.
“My mom used to put it on watermelon when we were eating it during the summertime,” says Kyle Sherrer, co-founder of Hudson North Cider, who grew up in Maryland and delighted in the summertime treat. “It was a good connection there with my past.”
This is the second year that Hudson North has brought back its limited run of salted watermelon-flavored hard cider. The flavor drew inspiration from this classic snack, and Sherrer had seen how salt intensifies the fruitiness in his other cider flavors. “It just works really well with watermelon because it kind of brings the fruit forward and makes you salivate a little bit, so, perfect for the season,” he says.
Salted watermelon is also a great flavor addition for spirits. At the New York City bar Somewhere In Nolita, the Heat Map cocktail combines mezcal, salted watermelon, basil, and Calabrian chili. The spirits brand Ole Smoky, based in Tennessee took it one step further and created a salted watermelon-flavored whiskey.
“With 5.7 million folks coming through our distilleries combined last year, we have the unique ability to try different things and push the boundaries, so we’re constantly brainstorming, coming up with new flavor ideas,” says Will Ensign, Ole Smoky’s vice president of marketing. The flavor was first introduced in 2017 and was an instant hit at the distillery’s tasting bar—some reviewers have described it as a “liquid Jolly Rancher.”
The allure of watermelon and sea salt together were impossible to ignore for Luna Bay Booch co-founder Bridget Connelly. The hard kombucha brand has had other exciting fruit combinations—lychee lime and huckleberry basil, for example—but this summer the company wanted to try something that would be great in cocktails.
The resulting watermelon sea salt hard kombucha is, in fact, impossible to resist from its splashy can adorned with watermelons to the balanced flavor of the kombucha inside. “It’s been our best flavor to date,” Connelly says. “We’ve had to make extra batches.” Drink it straight out of the can or whip up a cocktail using the kombucha, tequila, simple syrup, and soda water (don’t forget a Tajin rim, too).
It’s more than just the great taste of salted watermelon for Connelly. She grew up in Wisconsin where they spent summers by the lakes. “Watermelon is what we eat down in the piers—whether it’s salted watermelon popsicles or just on the table at Wednesday night potlucks,” she says. “So when I think of that flavor, I think of summer and community and joy.”