(Courtesy photo)

Turning oddball spirits into fun cocktails

Bar pros Nick Kosevich and Ira Koplowitz launched the well-known Bittercube Bitters in Milwaukee in 2009, macerating unique flavors of cocktail bitters.

Bar pros Nick Kosevich and Ira Koplowitz launched the well-known Bittercube Bitters in Milwaukee in 2009, macerating unique flavors of cocktail bitters in gallon jars, then expanding and refining production, and selling to retailers, bars and restaurants globally.

A couple years passed fruitfully, and the founders decided to expand to a different line of products, promoting Bittercube employee Brandon Reyes to do some research and development. The criteria for these new liqueurs, according to Reyes: They needed to “set us apart,” to be a bit obscure, and to contain similar botanicals and ingredients to their line of bitters.

They combed through dozens of old apothecary and spirit books for ideas, recipes and formulas. The liqueurs they landed on all contain the herbal and bitter notes that “suit our personality as individuals and as a company” _ a flower-laced liqueur, a pineapple amaro, an herbal alpine cordial, and their version of an ancient spiced potion called alchermes.

The production process for the new quartet of spirits is similar to that of making bitters _ a maceration of botanicals in a high proof grain spirit is created, strained and, in the case of liqueurs, “proofed down” with water and sugar. They obtained the distiller’s license needed to produce spirits, (you don’t need one when making bitters, which are classified as a nonpotable food product) and got down to business creating Heirloom Liqueurs, which expand to Chicago in June.

We asked Reyes how he likes to drink all these oddball spirits so that we could create his fun cocktails at the home bar.

Creme de Flora can add floral notes to a host of cocktail recipes (its list of botanicals includes lavender, rose, jasmine and marigold) particularly as a stand-in for the wildly popular St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur. Says Reyes, “I made a highball with passionfruit LaCroix and it was transcendent. It had no business being that good.”

Genepy is a professional mixologist’s darling ingredient but can be tricky to mix, it’s herb-packed piney-ness easily taking over a drink. Reyes suggests keeping it simple. “I love a Genepy and tonic on the porch.” To take it up a notch, he makes a riff on a Swamp Water, shaking pineapple and lime juices with Genepy in place of the traditional green chartreuse, taking advantage of the smack that occurs when herbal flavors meet pineapple.

Speaking of pineapple, Heirloom makes an amaro with hand-cut pineapple to create a tropical digestif that connects to Reyes’ Puerto Rican heritage. He likes to take it Tiki as a sub for the Campari in a classic Jungle Bird _ we pair it with rum in a Boulevardier variation we call the Pina Rica (recipe below).

The recipe for Alchermes dates to 13th century Italy; its red color and warm spice flavor are highlighted as the soak for the cake in the classic triflelike dessert zuppa inglese. Reyes boldly adds his to a prickly pear margarita. By using Alchermes instead of triple sec he connects the cultural dots between tequila and Mexican cochineal beetles, which color the spirit, and crafts a tart, sunrise-toned cocktail.

___

PINA RICA

1 ounce dark rum

1 ounce Campari

1 ounce Heirloom Pineapple Amaro

Combine ingredients in a mixing glass with ice and stir until well-chilled. Strain over fresh ice in a rocks glass and garnish with a strip of orange peel and a wedge of pineapple, if desired.

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