Space heaters and thick sweaters aren’t the only ways to warm up. Try another route with a throat-tingling herbal liqueur.
These complex elixirs are best suited to moments when “you’re inside, by a fireplace, lounging around, and you want something equally sweet but deep, something that is going to evolve on the palate,” says Bridgit Loeffelholz, bar manager at Dampfwerk, her family’s St. Louis Park distillery and cocktail room.
Several Minnesota distillers have added these bitter, spicy, sweet and boozy liqueurs to their repertoires. At Dampfwerk, many of their German-style spirits incorporate herbs and spices, especially the Helgolander, which delivers a flavor bomb of cardamom, star anise, bitter orange peel and hints of cinnamon and clove.
“It’s a deep spirit,” Loeffelholz says. She replaces Cynar, an Italian artichoke liqueur, with Helgolander in the Bitter Giuseppe, a classic nightcap that drinks like a potent Arnold Palmer with a warm buzz. “It meets the expectation of the weather,” she says.
But herbal liqueurs don’t always meet the expectations of the sipper, especially the first time, says Dan Oskey, co-founder of Tattersall Distilling. “One thing I tell people when they drink Fernet, if they’ve never had it before, is they might not love it right away,” he says.
Tattersall’s blend is a bitter liqueur with 33 ingredients, among them mint and eucalyptus. “Take a sip, and then go back to it. You might be floored right away by the mint and bitterness. Then you get saffron and camomile on the nose,” he says. “Later on, as you get more acclimated to it, you get all these different things. Is that cardamom? Is that nutmeg?”
Scott Ervin, owner of Norseman Distillery, likes to pair his allspice liqueur with brown spirits, which, by nature, go well with the season. “Most of these things characteristically have toffee and vanilla flavors, which pair super well with warm spices,” he says. “It’s always popular when it starts getting cold out.”
Even better, the liqueur is a match for tiki drinks, which brings summer memories to mind during winter nights. Some home bartenders may choose to skip over unusual or lesser known herbal liqueurs in recipes, Ervin says. Don’t. “You should really look into it, because it’s kind of magical.”
Three to try
Dampwerk Distilling’s Helgolander, thedampfwerk.com
Drink the complex liqueur neat or use in place of other liqueurs in classic cocktails such as this Bitter Giuseppe. Just be sure to adjust for sweetness with simple syrup when swapping for a sweeter liqueur, like Chartreuse. To make a Bitter Giuseppe: Stir 2 oz. Helgolander, 1 oz. vermouth, 1/4 oz. lemon juice, 2 dashes angostura bitters and 2 dashes orange bitters with ice. Strain, serve over ice, and garnish with an orange peel.
Tattersall Distilling’s Fernet, tattersalldistilling.com
Co-founder Dan Oskey drinks the 33-ingredient liqueur neat, but also likes it in the Toronto, which is a Manhattan with Fernet and simple syrup in place of the vermouth. It also pairs well with coffee, a perfect addition to a White Russian.
Norseman Distillery’s Allspice Liqueur, norsemandistillery.com
Scott Ervin, owner and master distiller, pairs his allspice liqueur with rum and other brown spirits, which bring out the flavor of cloves. His favorite is the Lumberjack Punch, a rum-and-lime concoction that’s “a cross between an old fashioned and a daiquiri.”