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Healthy Drinking? These Turmeric Cocktails Might Be the Answer You’re After.

Cry Baby at Nitecap in New York City.

Thanks to its happy yellow hue, earthy flavor and purported inflammation-fighting health benefits, turmeric root––the spice that gives curry its vibrant color––is the buzzy cocktail ingredient spiking libations from New York to Los Angeles. A number of new turmeric-tinged products have hit the bar world in the last year or so, and these teas, tonics and tinctures are helping bartenders get creative with the Indian seasoning.

A year ago, in an effort to explore exotic flavors, New Hampshire’s Tamworth Distilling, the experimental booze brand spawned by Hendrick’s gin founder Steve Grasse, released Von Humboldt’s Natur Wasser turmeric cordial, a 20 percent ABV earthy-sweet liqueur imbued with turmeric and myriad other spices, like cardamom, galangal and grains of paradise. Meanwhile, last fall, inspired by his wife’s anti-inflammatory smoothies, former bartender Chet Holstein III released Kuma, a 34 percent ABV liqueur flavored with turmeric root, in addition to black peppercorns, coriander seeds, plus dried lemon and grapefruit peels.

“Turmeric has exploded onto the U.S. market in the past several years,” says Holstein, namely because of the root’s “numerous health benefits, primarily as a cancer fighter and anti-inflammatory.” Of course, the FDA, TTB and liquor control boards do not allow any brand of beverage alcohol to claim or insinuate health benefits. So don’t expect to find any such marketing on labels.

In San Diego, cocktail wizard Erick Castro of Polite Provisions is an early fan of Kuma, saying that his staff blew through their one bottle in just a few days. “Most people cannot recognize the taste of turmeric straight out,” says Castro. “But it’s something that they vaguely recognize.” He feels that turmeric cocktails have the ability to inspire a sense of mystery in drinkers that subconsciously trigger memories to past experiences with the flavor.

While companies are producing everything from turmeric-ginger elixir to turmeric bitters, many bartenders choose to fashion bespoke beverage modifiers with freshly juiced turmeric root. These are five cocktails from bars across the country that are doing turmeric right.

  • A Boy Named Sue (Acorn, Pittsburgh)

    “The idea behind using turmeric in this cocktail was to add some brightness to what could be a heavy drink,” says Randy White, the head bartender at Pittsburgh’s Acorn. “The turmeric also adds a hint of smokiness, which I really love. It's kind of like a Golden Milk [turmeric tea] for adults—a Ramos Gin Fizz with turmeric and a hint of smoke.

  • Delhi Cooler (The Whistler, Chicago)

    “About 10 years ago while flying Southwest Airlines, something caught my eye in the in-flight magazine: an exotic drink sold by Indian street vendors called sweet lime,” says Billy Helmkamp of The Whistler in Chicago. “It's basically sweetened limeade with roasted cumin sprinkled on top. Of course, that sweet and savory combo begged to be turned into a cocktail, so I experimented with it at home for a while.

    “Gin and pineapple juice eventually found their way into the mix, and I even had a name for the drink—Delhi Cooler—but something was missing,” he says. “Months later, I randomly discovered a recipe for a curry-flavored simple syrup that I ended up tweaking to suit my drink, and that proved to be the elusive ingredient. The curry nectar contains sugar, water, cumin, coriander, turmeric, Thai chili peppers, black peppercorn and allspice. The turmeric has a strong aromatic quality, and the bitterness balances out some of the sweeter ingredients. And as a bonus, it lends the drink a bright, bold color.”

  • Gangster’s Paradise (Spare Room, Los Angeles)

    “It was only a few years ago that I started to get to know the flavor profile and applications of turmeric in cocktails,” says Yael Vengroff, the beverage director of Spare Room in Los Angeles. “One day, I was playing around with the flavor triangle of carrot, turmeric and coconut and landed on the Gangster's Paradise. I wound up not using coconut in the cocktail but used passion fruit and cream to create this spin on a Colada.”

  • Lazy Sunday (Grand Army Tavern, Portland, Ore.)

    Grand Army Tavern

    “There were three main ideas behind using turmeric in our Lazy Sunday cocktail,” says Anna Maceda, the co-owner and bar manager of Grand Army Tavern in Portland, Ore. “The first was really flavor-driven: Turmeric really balances the sweetness of the other ingredients, and its spice complements the Ceylon cinnamon beautifully.

    “Turmeric also has a ton of health benefits thanks to its anti-inflammatory properties, and I think a cocktail can be somewhat healthy, too,” she says. “Lastly, I love the color that turmeric brings to this cocktail. It’s bright orange, and if someone orders it at the bar, I have to make six others. People love drinking something bright and refreshing this time of year.”

    Continue to 5 of 5 below.
  • Cry Baby (Nitecap, New York City)

    “Turmeric adds a lovely earthy note to cocktails,” says Natasha David, the co-owner of New York City’s Nitecap. “For this drink, in particular, I was trying to find a way to tie the whiskey and the apple together, and the turmeric bitters were my bridge.”