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By
Devn Ratz

Cocktail Spices 101: Pairing, Mixing, and Matching Spices in Cocktails

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Cocktail spices can enhance the flavor, depth, and ingredient list of almost any drink by adding warmth and complexity. Spices like anise, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, and cardamom have been friends to creative mixologists everywhere. 

Using cocktail spices creatively, bar promotions infuse, muddle, and garnish fresh creations to gather more customer interest and excitement. Spices in cocktails balance and enhance the flavors in many great cocktails, making them critical for new and seasoned establishments.

Understand and experiment with the spiced cocktail with this guide to their complexity and richness in some of the best cocktail drinks.

Key Takeaway: Cocktail spices bring balance and sophistication to otherwise ordinary cocktail recipes, adding refreshing hits of heat, depth, and nuance.
Add to your knowledge of cocktail spices with a complete guide to unique cocktails based on classic recipes.

Most Popular Spices in Cocktail Recipes

Cocktail spices and bitters (see: what are bitters) enhance flavor profiles, adding complexity to alcohol drink mixers

Some of the most common choices are warming, earthy spices that ground the drink's combination of flavors with complete richness. The usual warmth-adding spices for cocktail making include:

  • Cardamom
  • Cinnamon
  • Cloves
  • Ginger
  • Pepper
  • Anise

Often, spices are used in cocktails through “bitters.” Bitters, a well-known ingredient for cocktail makers, concentrates many herbs and spices into an extract carried by an alcohol base. It’s easily splashed into drinks as they’re prepared.

Bitters offer a direct, well-balanced method for adding the heat and depth of spices to cocktails. Good examples of bitters are aromatic bitters (that combines many spices, herbs and barks) or Peychaud’s bitters (with hints of clove, anise, and cherry).

How to Mix Spices into Your Cocktails

Classic cocktails like the Manhattan and Old Fashioned make wonderful examples of spices in drink recipes executed to perfection. While they both use Angostura bitters, we should note their warm, inviting impact. Here are three additional ways to mix and match cocktail spices.

Muddling

Combine spices with fresh fruit and other herbs to embolden the flavorful effect. Ginger Smash recipes, for instance, muddle ginger with pineapple. Think about all the fruit pairing possibilities from white peppercorns, dried chilies, cumin, or other exotic spices for exciting vodka cocktails using muddlers.

Infusing

By seasoning the sugary syrup used in alcohol infusions, you’ll enhance the flavor of final cocktails while also easing the preparation process. You can start simply enough with an allspice-infused syrup, adding a quick, warm depth to classic gin cocktail recipes

Garnishing

Dried spices like anise, cloves, and cinnamon can be added to current cocktails in spice sachets and used as a tea-like garnish. Perfect for port cocktails, hot signature holiday cocktails, and seasonal drinks, these add warmth and detail without straining preparation.

Pairing Spices with Specific Cocktails

Knowing how to pair alcohol with spices can decide whether a new cocktail concept stirs excitement (or falls flat). Take these examples of cocktail spices for gin, whiskey, and vodka pairings.

Gin Cocktail Spices

Coriander, a spice often used in gin-based drinks, can bring the citrus forward with spiciness in a gin and tonic recipe. As a gin “seasoning,” coriander adds depth to fruit-forward drinks with lime, orange, or grapefruit, balancing and elevating their refreshing brightness. 

Whiskey and Bourbon Spices

Many spices work well in whiskey and bourbon, especially when muddled or garnished with fruit. Among them, cloves, cinnamon, and anise remain common staples since they warm up the experience of ice-chilled whiskey. These spices can also “bring down” the sweetness of a hot toddy combined with lemon and honey. 

Vodka Cocktail Spices

When the best vodka cocktails get a refresh, they incorporate allspice, anise, and juniper berries to suit the menu or season. More often, like in the Bloody Mary, vodka pairs with black pepper (and celery salt) for its distinctly savory and warm flavor. More recent vodka creations exaggerate the warmth of vodka with dried chilies.

Cocktail Spice Drink Examples

Modern cocktail spices bravely combine powerful flavors for a spicy twist and unforgettable flavor. Even slightly bitter and very earthy spices like turmeric are increasingly used for their colors, flavors, and potential benefits. 

As you experiment, remember that alcohol natural heightens the impact of spices, especially its warming qualities. That’s why balancing these with a sweeter note of muddled fruit or simple syrup can benefit the experience. Consider existing flavor combinations, and then come up with your own spin on signature drinks using cocktail spices. Take these spiced drink examples as a way to kickstart your creativity:

"Warming" Spiced Cocktails

  • Tequila Sours with cinnamon-infused honey
  • Spice-infused ciders with cinnamon-sachet garnishes
  • Creamy Kahlua cocktails sprinkled with cinnamon or nutmeg

Peppery and Spicy Pairings

  • Vodka martinis muddled mandarin and dried chilies
  • Spicy Palomas with a touch of black pepper in the salty rim
  • Jalapeño Margaritas with dried chili seasoning for added heat

Exotic Spiced-Cocktail Examples

  • Fall-forward Old Fashioned cocktails with anise-infused bourbon
  • Wintery Negroni cocktails using star anise and clove sachets
  • Cinnamon-stick hot toddy recipes with vanilla-infused honey
  • Plant-based, creamy cocktails with turmeric and ginger syrup
  • Absinthe cocktails with star anise-infused simply syrups
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Frequently Asked Questions About Cocktail Spices

Explore the versatility and use of cocktail spices in some common questions asked by innovative restaurants, new bars, and aspiring mixologists alike. Get simple answers on how to use spices in cocktails.

What spices are commonly used in cocktails?

Classic spices like warming cardamom, anise, cinnamon, and cloves remain popular in coffee, tea, and wine cocktails. Rosemary and black pepper also remain favorites among mixologists. 

Many of these spices can be easily combined with juices and liqueurs to make rich and layered cocktail creations. Cocktail experts and experienced bartenders also rely on bitters, created from various herbs and spices, to deepen the profile of their alcoholic drinks.

How to use spices in a new cocktail recipe?

Use spices in cocktails by infusing, muddling, or garnishing. Infused liqueurs can be made with many spices, given enough time to rest, sit in a cool place, and soak in the spice’s flavor. Muddling and garnishing spices, however, can be done almost anywhere, anytime.

To effectively spice cocktails, get familiar with common spices, terminology, and techniques. Mostly, spices add heat or depth to the flavor profile of cocktails. For example, consider the gin infused with pepper and honey or the use of allspice and vanilla for more complexity.

Which spices are best for alcohol cocktails?

Cardamom, allspice, and cloves are all energizing spices that can really perk up the palate. Since they also go well together, adding complexity and warmth to new cocktails becomes a matter of deciding how and when to use them.

Truthfully, you can “season” your cocktail creations in almost any way you like. By keeping in mind the time of year and alcohol used as the key ingredient, you can experiment with heat levels because alcohol brings out the intensity of the spices you choose.

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