Monday, July 12, 2010

Hibiscus Nears Ubiquity in Cocktail World

Flavors go through waves in the cocktail world. Elderflower, ginger, acai. They come, they go, sometimes they stay. The trendy flavoring budding in the liquor universe right now is hibiscus.

The large, tropical flower is suddenly a component in literally dozens of new products found in the liquor store and behind the bar. Hum, the spicy-sweet, new herbal liqueur created by Chicago bartender Adam Seger, is infused rum with hibiscus as well as ginger, whole cardamom, kaffir lime. Beefeater Summer, a limited-edition gin from the London distiller, has the blossom as an added botanical. Gran Centenario Rosangel Tequila is rendered pink by a hibiscus influsion. Actual flowers in syrup made by Wild Hibiscus are common garnishes, and Brooklyner Louis Smeby is marketing a hibiscus-rose bitters.

Martin Cate, owner of San Francisco's Smuggler's Cove, has gone the extra mile, making his own hibiscus liqueur. It goes into his Sorrel Rum punch, which is based on a traditional Jamaican hibiscus punch. "I think the rise in popularity of hibiscus is due to a couple of factors," said Cate, "including people looking for bold and tart new flavors, the fact that it's naturally vibrantly colorful, and perhaps most notably, the rise in America's Latino population, where hibiscus is already a popular and established ingredient." 

I don't mind the trend so far. The flavoring is being used in a lot of smart ways. But push it to far and the inclusion of hibiscus in a recipe will soon become shorthand for knee-jerk trendiness.

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