Spirits Close-Up: Licorice Root


Licorice root // Photo by Kevin Kramer, The Growler

This month’s Craft Cocktail, the Contemporary Gin Fizz at Esker Grove, uses a mushroom syrup made with licorice root, so for this month’s Spirits Close-Up we’re taking a closer look at this versatile plant.

It’s the spice of winter, the additive du jour. It’s challenging and distinct, yet warming and comforting. But if you ask people, I’m betting a majority would say they hate licorice—squirming at the thought of those bitter black jellybeans everyone picks around at Easter.

But that flavor—spicy, earthy, bittersweet—is all the rage in craft cocktails. Licorice root is a regular ingredient in amari, aperitivi, and bitters of all stripes. And the root itself has a far milder flavor than other spices (star anise, aniseed, fennel seed, even tarragon) that deliver a licorice flavor.

Your local co-op or health foods store will have it in the bulk spice jars in back. Make sure to get the whole twigs (or the crushed twigs that look like mulch) instead of the powdered capsules. Then make yourself some simple syrup, add it to some dark liquor, and ride out the polar vortex in comfort.

Licorice Root Simple Syrup

Bring 1 cup of water to a simmer, turn off heat, and steep 2 tablespoons crushed licorice root for 45 minutes. Return to medium-low heat, add 1 cup sugar, whisking until dissolved, and let cool.

Note: This technique is replicable with many whole roots and spices. Coriander is a favorite of ours in the warmer months.

What to make

Old Fashioned: 2 ounces dark rum, 1/3 ounce licorice simple syrup, and some bitters (we like a dash each of orange and Angostura.) Stir well, strain into lowball with one big ice cube, garnish with orange zest.

Tea (Or Toddy): Add a spot of the syrup to your favorite black tea—and then add a shot of rum and a squeeze of lemon for a licorice toddy.

Soda: Put a dose of licorice simple in your next SodaStream bottle. Heck, add some vanilla, sassafras, and ginger as well, and you’re darn near making sarsaparilla.

Food: Make the licorice tea (don’t add the sugar), saute a bunch of sweet root vegetables (carrots or parsnips would be nice), and blend them up with enough tea to make a soup. Or make a pastry glaze with a dose of the syrup and drizzle it over your holiday krumkake.

About John Garland

John Garland is the Deputy Editor at the Growler Magazine. Find him on twitter (@johnpgarland) or in every coffee shop on West 7th Street.

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