What to Do with Kümmel, The Funky Caraway Liqueur

Photo: © Carey Jones

On the “easy to love” scale, some liqueurs are like St-Germain — whether or not it’s your favorite, it’s hard to really dislike the pleasingly fragrant elderflower liqueur, at least when it’s used judiciously.

And then there’s kümmel. Dating back to 16th-century Holland, the clear liqueur is flavored with caraway seed, cumin, and fennel, making it taste a bit like liquid rye bread, with anise flavors and other spices lingering around the edges. It’s smooth but intensely savory. Cocktail geeks love it. First-timers…well, it depends.

But kümmel can be amazing in cocktails. The version we’re using from Combier is 76 proof (38% alcohol) and thus is almost as boozy as a spirit; it stars both in simple highballs, and cocktails as complex as the liqueur itself. Here are three to try.

Easy: Kümmel & Soda

The simplest cocktail you can make. If sipping kümmel straight is a little intense for you, add ice and soda, plus a long rosemary sprig, which brings out all those pleasant herbal flavors. An easy introduction.

Instructions: In a tall glass with ice, combine 1 1/2 ounces of kümmel with 4 ounces of soda. Give a brief stir, and garnish with a long, good-lookin’ rosemary sprig.

Intermediate: Kümmel Meets Negroni

With its complex, multifaceted spice, kümmel is not only a great match for gin, it’s a great match for vermouth. So we’re sliding it into a Negroni template. The resulting drink is less bitter than a classic Negroni with Campari, but has its own savory appeal that’s hard to resist.

Instructions: In a cocktail glass with ice, combine 1 ounce of kümmel, 1 ounce of gin (use a good London dry gin like Beefeater), 1 ounce of sweet vermouth (you can’t go wrong with Carpano Antica), and 2 dashes of Angostura. Stir until very well-chilled and the ice begins to melt, at least 30 seconds. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon peel — twisting the peel over the surface of the drink, to spray its citrus oils all over.

Advanced: Bourbon & Kümmel

Kümmel has a particular warmth to it, which can pair nicely with winter spices. Here, those spices come through a cinnamon stick garnish, and also through good old Angostura bitters, which themselves carry all those delicious “baking spice” scents and flavors. And where you have warm, friendly spices, bourbon is never a bad choice.

Instructions: In a cocktail glass with ice, combine 2 ounces of bourbon, 1/2 an ounce of kümmel, 1/2 an ounce of honey syrup (that’s just honey, cut with an equal part of hot water), and 5 dashes of Angostura. Don’t skimp! Stir until very well-chilled and the ice begins to melt, at least 30 seconds. Strain into a rocks glass with fresh ice. Garnish with a cinnamon stick.

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