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.

amer picon

Brooklyn cocktail

Oliver’s Twist, a cocktail bar on Phinney Ridge in Seattle, was one of the places that helped kick off our cocktail obsession – it was the very first place that we ever tasted a Corpse Reviver #2, considered one of the great “gateway” cocktails. That was several years ago, and yet we hadn’t been back. Mostly because the place is always crammed full of hip young things, but still. I guess we got distracted by Liberty and Barrio. Anyway. We finally made it back there last week, and the first thing I saw as we settled ourselves at the bar was a slightly weathered looking bottle of Amer Picon.

Amer Picon

A French bitter liqueur, this stuff is not easy to find these days. It used to be available in the states, and many classic cocktails call for it. But now I hear the only way to get it is to buy it in France, or find a bartender or other cocktail geek with a personal stash and attempt to buy it off of them (good luck). One of our favorite drinks, the Brooklyn, is technically supposed to be made with Picon, but we’ve always used Amaro Nonino as a make-do, and I’d never tried the cocktail made to its original recipe. So when I saw that bottle, my first thought was to ask the bartender for a Brooklyn.

His first reaction was to say “I really should hide that bottle” – but then he not only made me a Brooklyn, he also gave me a sip of the Picon so I could experience its taste undiluted. I would have loved to try it side by side with other amari, but it seemed most like Averna to us – lots of caramel and orange, but not too sweet. The cocktail was perfectly balanced and delicious, but didn’t taste extremely different than our adapted version. It was, however, nicely built and quite large. And excellent with truffled popcorn.

If we ever have the opportunity to get a bottle of Picon, we definitely will, but I’m reassured to know that the cocktails we make at home are acceptably close. And I can always go back to Oliver’s Twist for a reminder, at least until that bottle runs out.