How to Flavor Cocktails with Indian Spices

By Justine Sterling Posted April 26, 2013
Heart of Gold Cocktail

Heart of Gold © Robert Gunn

Indian spices like saffron and cardamom are now pantry staples for many cooks, but bartenders are also finding uses for the aromatic seasonings in deliciously complex cocktails.

Named for Mahatma Gandhi Road in Bangalore, MG Road is a new bar and lounge in Asheville, North Carolina, opened by restaurateur Meherwan Irani. Working in a space below Irani’s Indian street food-inspired Chai Pani, MG Road bartenders have access to the restaurant’s extensive stores of herbs and spices. “When I started poking around in there it was completely foreign to me,” says bartender Jonathan Ammons. He and fellow mixologists Kyle Gray Beach and Erin Hawley quickly began experimenting by making syrups with garam masala (a spice mix made with clove, cardamom, cinnamon, cumin, coriander and black pepper) and flower waters. A newer creation is the curry leaf tincture, which stars in a bright and tangy cocktail called Heart of Gold. It features finely strained kumquat puree, silver tequila, gingery Domaine de Canton and a bar-spoon of the citrusy tincture. Shaken and strained over a large ice cube, the cocktail is garnished with a curry leaf.

Other drinks on the Indian-influenced cocktail menu include the green cardamom syrup-spiked It Might As Well Be Spring (Bluecoat gin, green Chartreuse, fresh lemon juice, green cardamom and muddled mint, strained into an absinthe-rinsed glass), and the Kewda Fizz made with gin, basil, fresh lemon juice, egg white and kewda water—a distinctly Indian, extremely perfumed essence distilled from Pandanus flowers. Here, more bars that are experimenting with Indian herbs and spices.


Seven Lamps, Atlanta
Beverage manager Arianne Fielder infuses honey syrup with saffron for the Golden Child cocktail. She shakes the infused syrup with caramel-tinged Mellow Corn whiskey, orange juice, cardamom-scented Boker’s Bitters and Terrapin Golden Ale (a hazy, mildly malty cream ale) and strains the lightly sweet cocktail into a snifter.

Poppy, Seattle
Though owner Jerry Traunfeld has a curry tree growing in his backyard he has to buy curry leaves for the bar’s exotic and herbaceous Rum Curry cocktail. “[The tree] wishes it were somewhere warmer,” he laments. Bartenders shake house-made curry leaf simple syrup with coconut water, orange bitters and fresh lime juice then strain into an ice-filled Collins glass.

Brasserie S&P, San Francisco
The gin-centric bar in San Francisco’s Mandarin Hotel features a menu of gin and homemade tonics including the Aged G&T made with French oak-aged Rusty Blade gin and the bar’s Sensei Saffron tonic infused with saffron, coriander and cardamom pods. An Indian take on a classic British cocktail, the drink is served over ice in a crystal gin glass, garnished with a wildflower.

Greenwich Project, New York City
The recently opened townhouse bar and restaurant offers the refreshing Cardamom Collins created by beverage director John McCarthy. Made with Hangar One vodka, fresh lemon juice and house-made cardamom syrup, the fizzy, citrusy drink is shaken and strained into an ice-filled Collins glass, topped with soda water and garnished with a lemon wheel.

Related: Fantastic Indian Recipes
Dana Cowin's Trip to India
Indian Cooking: Pantry Essentials

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