Kümmel 101: How to Use the Sweet-Savory Dutch Spirit

By Justine Sterling Posted June 03, 2013
Kummel Cocktails: Ouest Daisy

Lafayette's Ouest Daisy © Noah Fecks

Historically consumed in Europe as a shot before or after a round of golf, kümmel, a caraway- and cumin-infused spirit that originated in Holland, has found its place in America as a sweet-savory addition to cocktails.

At chef Andrew Carmellini’s newest New York hot spot, Lafayette, beverage manager Megan Mina uses Combier kümmel in the Ouest Daisy, a refreshing mix of Maestro Dobel blanco tequila, fresh cucumber juice, lime juice, agave and kümmel. The drink is shaken then double-strained into a coupe and garnished with thinly sliced cucumber. Mina uses just an eighth of an ounce of kümmel in the Ouest Daisy, but the earthy, licoricey flavor is the cocktail’s lasting taste after the vegetal tequila and clean cucumber fade away. Much like fish sauce in cooking, kümmel is a pungent ingredient that can easily overpower a cocktail. “It goes from you can’t taste it to that’s perfect to oh my god, too much,” Mina says. “Within a few drops it kills the drink.” She suggests treating the spirit almost like bitters. “Just that little hint really shows through with the other bright flavors.” Here, more ways American bartenders are using kümmel.


Longman & Eagle, Chicago
Head bartender Derek Alexander loves Gilka’s Berlin-made kümmel for its raw caraway flavor. He uses it in a new cocktail for martini lovers called Miles Before I Sleep, an aromatic drink with a long-lasting finish. “It’s all alcohol and more alcohol,” Alexander says. He stirs aquavit with kümmel—which enhances the aquavit’s caraway notes—Bittermens Citron Sauvage (a gentian-based liqueur) and Art in the Age Rhubarb Tea (a tangy, floral rhubarb-infused spirit). The cocktail is strained into a coupe and garnished with house-pickled rhubarb.

The Whistler, Chicago
A take on a tiki drink, the South Pole Swizzle blends dry Gilka kümmel with locally made juniper- and fennel-forward Letherbee gin, passion fruit syrup, honey, lemon juice and Angostura bitters. Served over crushed ice with a straw, it’s garnished with a swath of orange peel.

Empire State South, Atlanta
At Hugh Acheson’s modern soul food restaurant, bar manager Kellie Thorn uses kümmel for its spicy complexity in The Palanco. “I really dig the stuff,” she says. For her smoky, fruity cocktail, Thorn shakes Combier kümmel with bittersweet Aperol, fresh lime juice, Sombra mezcal and house-made salted kumquat syrup, then strains the mix into a chilled coupe.

Brave Horse Tavern, Seattle
“I adore taking cheesy cocktails and giving them a face-lift,” says bar manager Renee Somerset-Mucha. The Apfel cocktail is her riff on an apple martini. She balances out the sweetness of Apfel liqueur (German apple liqueur) with 100-proof James E. Pepper rye and adds Gilka kümmel for spice. The cocktail is stirred and served over ice.

Related: Delicious Aperitifs
Classic Cocktails
Modern Summer Cocktails

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