Real Tinctures

By Justine Sterling Posted April 26, 2012

Courtesy of Cure

Alcohol-based extracts and solutions used as curatives in holistic medicine, tinctures have been popping up on bar menus as a way to add unique flavors to cocktails—like bitters but focused on one ingredient as opposed to an herbal blend.

In New Orleans, Cure bartender James Ives creates a range of high-proof alcoholic extracts like his coffee tincture made by infusing grain alcohol and rum with cracked coffee beans and concentrating the mixture by fanning it near a window over the course of several hours. Ives learned the technique from fellow bartender Kirk Estopinal, who had researched the historical production of tincture-like compounds such as perfumes.

Used sparingly and frequently homemade, tinctures are often confused with bitters or deliberately mislabeled because “bitters” is a more widely marketable term. "A tincture is a component of a drink that is a concentrated flavor,” Ives explains. “Whereas bitters have many different ingredients, including barks and roots and stems.”

Tinctures fit seamlessly into the menu at Cure, which draws inspiration from the historical use of cocktails in medicine and home remedies, but many mixologists appreciate their appeal. “We want to create drinks that evolve in the glass as they come to room temperature. You want something with as much complexity as a fine wine. That’s the whole point of even talking about tinctures or using tinctures—to create drinks with a little bit more going on,” says Ives.


Prima, New York Created by Greg Seider from the nearby Summit Bar, the G.P. Spritz at this café-restaurant-cum-bar in the East Village combines sweet hibiscus-infused agave, bitter Aperol, fresh lemon and a hibiscus tincture. It's then shaken and topped with Prosecco. Also on the menu is the Shazuma Sour: Barsol Pisco, agave, fresh lime, egg white and an exotic yuzu-kaffir tincture.

Fifth Floor, San Francisco The fine-dining spot's new lead bartender, Brian Means, recently unveiled an excellent cocktail program, including the Spanish Maiden: citrusy Buddha's Hand–infused tequila, prized Del Maguey Vida mezcal, St. Germain elderflower liqueur, lemon, rose-geranium syrup and a house-made habanero tincture. “The mezcal is smoky and sultry, and with the habanero, it has a little spicy kick,” says Means. “Which reminds me of strong Spanish women with a fiery attitude.”

Farm 255, Athens, GA The local-obsessed restaurant’s bar focuses on seasonal cocktails with artisanal ingredients. The Deville after Dark includes both homemade lime bitters and a clove tincture with Pierre Ferrand 1840 Cognac, Pommeau de Normandie (a French blend of cider and apple brandy), Benedictine and Cointreau.

Cicchetti, Seattle Cicchetti, the little sister of Seattle’s Italian stalwart Serafina, has a Mediterranean-inspired tincture program to go with the bar’s complex, often spice-inflected cocktails. The refreshing Nahal Hemel has vodka, the Italian apertif wine Cocchi Americano, grapefruit juice and a coriander tincture.

Related: 50 Best Bars in America
Beautiful Cocktails
Classic Cocktail Recipes

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