homemade tinctures


Guest post by our house mixologist, Jon!

I first discovered cardamom as a freshman in college. I was making a recipe from the Tassajara Recipe Book for an apple-cardamom quick bread. A trek to the More-4 (the grocery store in Northfield at that time) proved successful, and I immediately fell in love with the spice.

Fast forward a couple decades to my current fascination with the world of cocktails. Bitters are a key ingredient in many cocktails (some would argue that a true cocktail, by definition, has bitters in it). I started with Angostura, of course, and then tracked down bottles of Peychaud’s and Regan’s Orange Bitters #6. And then I heard about Scrappy’s. Scrappy’s is a local company (in Seattle), and they make…cardamom bitters!

I must have some of these cardamom bitters, I said to myself. And I’ve kept saying it to myself for the past year. You see, the only places I’ve found that carry Scrappy’s? They’re all out of the cardamom bitters. The bars where I’ve been able to taste it? They’re running low. From what I can tell, Scrappy’s cardamom bitters have been a victim of their own success. Supply can’t keep up with demand.

Meanwhile, life has gone on. I’ve looked up recipes on how to make bitters (including Jamie Boudreau’s ridiculous recipe that makes over 5 liters of the stuff), but the time was never right. And then a couple of weeks ago, the snow fell. And fell. And fell. School was cancelled for a week. Our one significant outing took us by a liquor store that had one bottle of Everclear, and I bought it.

And the experimentation began!

I started by following the recipe for a cardamom tincture in Left Coast Libations. That recipe says to steep 1 Tbs of decorticated cardamom seeds in 2 oz of neutral grain spirits (Everclear) for 4 to 6 weeks, shaking everyday. I was prepared to believe it, but the mix was noticeably colored after just a few days, and I just had to taste some after a scant week – already very strongly cardamom scented and flavored. I forced myself to leave it for most of another week, while I got a second tincture going. This one was coriander seed, in the same quantities, and I let it steep for just one week.

The original plan was to have equal quantities of the two, with which I could then experiment with blending until I found just the right proportions. A mishap while filtering cost me about a quarter of the cardamom tincture, though, and I didn’t really want to waste what I had left fussing over ratios. Okay, okay. I got impatient. I mixed my remaining 1½ oz of cardamom tincture with ½ oz of the coriander, and called it good. It may not truly be “bitters,” since it has no gentian, or milk thistle, or any of the other bizarre ingredients used to add bitter flavor, but it is good. Very good.

At this point, the only way I’ve tried the finished cardamom-coriander tincture is by adding a few drops to a glass of seltzer (which frankly, is a really nice way to enjoy them).  I bet they’d be good with rum, and they’ll make an exciting change to an otherwise classic Manhattan. The remaining coriander tincture I envision using in a gin-based drink – perhaps with Hendricks and cucumber. We’ll report our findings.


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