For years Kummel represented one of the larger gaps in my knowledge. On that day when I finally tasted it, I knew that I needed to learn more, but finding one proved difficult. Kummel in general is rare, and those that were available weren't all that impressive. Even here in Seattle, where the Kummel classics the Allies Cocktail and the Epicurean are pretty popular didn't help to solve this problem. Privatization helped the bars gain access to obscure products, while the consumer continues to struggle.
A strange ingredient, Kummel is simultaneously savory and sweet and usually features such complex flavors as anise and caraway. Not all kummels are the same, however. Gilka is more understated and caraway dominant, while the Combier kummel is bursting with cumin. Yes, I said cumin. But it is that cumin that makes it strange and challenging. Caraway and anise are not all that uncommon in the spirit world: Brennivin and all manner of aquavits contain some manner of both. But cumin is another story altogether.
The question quickly changed from where can I get it to how do I use it? Once I bought some, it just sat in my bar cabinet waiting to be opened. The months passed and nothing happened. But I have never let a bottle of booze get the best of me, so I started asking around. And I discovered there is nothing to fear. In some ways, it is best to think of it as yet another savory strongly flavored element that should be used with care, but used nonetheless.
It seems that sweet vermouth and other quinquinas are a good solution for the problems stronger flavors create. From celery bitters to absinthe, sweet vermouth and its cousins have continued to surprise me with their ability to tame the beasty ingredients. Here is just one example I came across:
Angel's Tears (recipe by Connor O'Brien)
2 ounces rum
1/2 ounce Byrrh
1 tsp Kummel
1 dash Angostura bitters
Stir ingredients with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
Note on Ingrediets: Connor's recipe calls for Byrrh and El Dorado 15. I was out of Byrrh so I substituted Punt e Mes. I also used Combier Kummel.
Ctirus has always been a perfect vehicle for strong flavors. With just one look at the daquiri, it becomes apparent. Add a dash of celery bitters--refreshing and delicious. Add a dash of absinthe, a delightful variation. Even a dash of savory kummel works just fine. Lime juice has the incredible power to mitigate other strong elements and even more than one at a time. Maybe it's because lime is just so tough to begin with. Ben Perri's Army of Shadows definitely shows how citrus can harness the more extreme side of Kummel and allow it to play nice with others.
Army of Shadows (recipe by Ben Perri)
1 1/2 ounces aquavit
1/2 ounce lime juice
1/2 ounce Kummel
1/4 ounce orgeat
1/4 ounce Islay scotch
Shake ingredients with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
Note on Ingredients: I used Arbeg scotch, Small Hands Food orgeat, Linie aquavit and Krogstad aquavit, and Combier Kummel.
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