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Spirit Review and Recipe: Heirloom Alchermes

Alchermes is an ancient class of spirits, going back to at least 700 AD, and is most likely of Tuscan origin (or perhaps it came to Tuscany via the Middle East). Like most ancient alcoholic concoctions, it was marketed as medicine, with medieval texts extensively discussing its therapeutic use for heart problems. Made with neutral spirits infused with sugar, cinnamon, vanilla, and other bold spices, its name comes from Kermes, a bright red insect that also gives the booze its characteristic scarlet color. Some brands will skip the bugs and go with more orthodox artificial coloring, but what’s the fun in that?

Used to color pastries or in Italian desserts such as zuppa inglese (similar to tiramisu), Alchermes can be used where you want bold warm spice flavor. With the rise of Amari, Alchermes seems likewise poised for something bigger, but it is hard being a niche in a niche market. Our tasting panel recently had the chance to taste the only American Alchermes, made by Heirloom. Yes, Alchermes will always likely be a niche product, but smart home and restaurant bars will find plenty of ways to use it.

Poured into the glass, its body is evident. A hearty nose of cinnamon, licorice, orange zest, and wood fills your nostrils, and the boldness continues in the mouth, with hearty but smooth cinnamon, rose, pie spice, nutmeg, and clove. The finish is long and lingering of cardamom and sugar cookie. We actually had to aerate the room for a few minutes after tasting this, as the smell is intense and lingers.

Heirloom Alchermes is perfect anywhere you need spicy or bold underpinnings in your cocktail. We would recommend it as a sub for Campari in a Negroni, just with soda and a big orange wedge, or as a spritz. We even believe it would hold up in coffee, a champagne cocktail in lieu of crème de cassis, or even add a bit to a hot toddy. It could be used well in an atomizer to give just a rinse to a cocktail as well. We know some of those sound orthodox, but there are so many layers here, it is worth experimenting with. We firmly believe that with the right experimentation, we will see this in a lot of craft cocktails in a few years. For something more normal, we include a recommended recipe from Heirloom below, a takeoff on the Old Pal.

Charted Details

Spirit: Heirloom Alchermes

From: Heirloom Liqueurs, Minneapolis

ABV: 40%

Price: $39

Rating: 95 pts

Recipe: Oldest Pal

(this is a variation of the classic Old Pal, but the Campari is subbed for the Alchermes).

1 ¼ ounce rye whiskey (we used Dickel)

¾ ounce dry vermouth (we used Dolin)

¾ ounce Heirloom Alchermes

Add all ingredients to a mixing class full of ice, stir well to chill and combine. Strain and serve in couple glass with a lemon twist.

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