Beyond the usual hops and barley of beer, the juniper berries in gin, and the celery which serves as a garnish in a Bloody Mary, the casual imbiber has little to no knowledge of the variety of other drink ingredients which come from nature. One such classification I'd like to discuss today would be herbs. Just these plants alone can provide a tempting array of intriguing flavors and earthen accents to one's drink, giving yet another purpose and reason to start an herb garden.
Starter Herbs for the Earthen Drinking Enthusiast
It merits caution to personal brewers that just because something is "natural" does not mean that it is harmless to humans. The list below covers a variety of notable and valuable herbs, spices, and berries to consider in sampling herbal alcoholic drinks and distilling them yourself, as well as their scientific name and any notable drinks that make use of the item.
Allspice berries (Pimenta Diorica Merr.) are even in the name of Jamaican Allspice Dram.
Cinnamon bark (Cinnamomum Zeylanicum Bl.) is used in amaro and some recipes for Vermouth, Trappestine, and White Chartreuse.
Fennel (Foeniculum Vulgare Mill.) is used in amaro, grappa, and Yellow, and Grand Chartreuse.
Gentian root (Gentea Lutiana L.) is used in amaro, vermouth, and Highland bitters.
Hyssop (Hyssopus Officinalis L.) is used in Benedictine and most varieties of Chartreuse.
Oregano (Origarum Vulgare Mill.) is used in amaro.
Peppermint (Menthax Piperata L.) is used in bitters, Benedictine, and some varieties of Chartreuse.
Seeds from both anise and its cousin star anise (Pimpanella Anisum L. and Illicum Verum Hook, respectively) appear in various drinks, including Absinthe, Krambambuli, Spanish herb liqueur, and Alchermes.
While some recipes require raw components, such as leaves or bark (familiar with cinnamon and cassia), others call for an essential liqueur. Preparing a liqueur is relatively easy. Most contain roughly 30% sugar, composed of a pound of sugar, a cup of water, and a quarter teaspoon of acid (used to initiate the fermentation process). The syrupy liqueur is added in, with the resulting mixture becoming drink after enough time.
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