We encourage our merchants to drop by our office any time, and they do–with samples, new products, and prototypes they want to run by us. When Matt Hemeyer from Addition Cocktail Spice visited, we were delighted to see that he carried vials of his liquid spices in a small vintage suitcase, just like a classic traveling salesman. We talked with Matt about what inspired him and his business partner Eric Salenski to create their “bartender’s spice rack,” a line of intensely flavorful herb and spice infusions that add serious zing to cocktails and other beverages (even beer!).
You call yourselves “spirit enthusiasts”–did you do a lot of home mixology before your lightbulb moment over that habanero-infused drink?
We did a fair amount of home mixology and there were lots of pre-Cocktail Spice prototypes that I used at home. The real impetus was loving spicy and savory flavors in cocktails and wanting to bring a variety of those flavors to market for bars and home mixologists.
What has been the most surprising ingredient to work with?
The Thai Green Chili was a revelation. It has a perfect combo of fresh, green chili flavor and meaningful (but not painful) capsaicin heat. It smells great, tastes great, and it works great in so many different drinks.
There are folks who make a hobby out of infusing liquors and tinkering with cocktail recipes, but your infusions take the guesswork out of the perfect spicy-but-not-devastating Thai green chili margarita. Can you describe how you get the most out of your ingredients for such pure liquid spices?
We’re different from most companies like ours in that we don’t use any bittering agents in our products (this is why we call them Cocktail Spices instead of Bitters.)
There are tons of great bitters being made right now, but we made a conscious decision to showcase the pure flavor of the spices, so we only use three ingredients – water, alcohol, and the spice itself.
There aren’t any extraneous flavors to dilute or alter the flavor of the spice.
At the risk of getting too nerdy about it: all spices have essential oils in them that give them their flavor. Most of these oils are alcohol soluble, so a high-proof alcohol solution can be very efficient at pulling those oils out of the herbs and spices. But the herbs and spices have some flavor compounds that are water soluble as well. Finding the right mixture of water and alcohol for each spice is vital to a finished product that has a flavor that is truly representative of the whole spice or herb. That means for each of the Cocktail Spices, we worked over the course of years to develop the most effective recipe.
How else do people use your products? Can you cook or bake with them?
I’ve heard from people who use the spices in marinades, and there are some great baking applications for spices like Cardamom, Clove, Allspice, Cinnamon and Star Anise. Flavored whipped cream or frosting, as a kick to macarons, in pie crust – we’ve heard about (and tasted) a big range of ingenious baking applications. I can also say from experience that mango ice cream with Thai Green Chili and Cardamom is shockingly good.
Non-alcoholic drinks can really be improved as well. Clove and Cinnamon together in apple juice (or cider) is delicious, there are a ton of flavors (Cardamom, Star Anise, Thai Green Chili, Habanero, Curry) that really complement orange juice, Rosemary and Thai Chili in lemonade is an obvious but amazing combo, and anyone who owns a Sodastream or drinks a lot of sparkling water should have four or five of our Cocktail Spices on the counter at all times.
We can’t think of anything quite like the Beer Sauce. How’d you come up with that?
I’m a huge fan of a Mexican beer cocktail called a Michelada. It seems like everyone who makes Micheladas has their own recipe, but the common threads that run through every preparation are spicy and savory flavors – hot sauce, lime, Worcestershire. Pretty early on in the process of making our Cocktail Spices, we started experimenting with them in beer. The individual flavors were good, and that gave us the inspiration to create a sauce that was specifically designed to use spicy and savory flavors to complement the maltiness of beer. There is so much experimentation in the craft beer world right now and there are unconventional flavors being used in lots of micros, but the flavors in Beer Sauce are pretty unique and we think it really complements the incredible work and the creativity that craft brewers are building into their beers.
Editor’s note: Addition’s Smoky Beer Sauce is hands-down the best way to embellish a gift for a BBQ-lover.
Tell us about the most interesting challenges from this business so far–anything else you’d like customers to know?
One of the biggest challenges has been giving people the confidence to experiment with the Cocktail Spices and figure out exactly what they like. The whole point of the product line is to empower people to customize their drinks to suit their exact taste. That might come with a little trial and error, but you can always start with a few drops of something spicy and keep adding more until you have the exact drink you are going for!
Thanks so much for spilling some of your secrets, Matt!
If you want to purchase Addition’s products or combine them in a cocktail-themed gift set, check out their merchant page here. Then, visit their blog for cocktail recipes galore.