Winter citrus season is certainly upon us, but there’s more than one way to add tart flavor to cocktails beyond oranges, lemons and limes. There’s amchur powder, vinegar-based shrubs and acid powders, to name a few, but as the colder-weather craving for something richer and warmer hits, consider turning to an ingredient taking the spotlight at bars across the country: tamarind.
Tangy, with an undercurrent of caramel flavor, the tropical fruit has long been used in cooking for a hit of sour sweetness. In cocktails, it can provide the same: a punch of flavor to brighten up stirred drinks, bridge together earthiness and acidity in shaken cocktails and even add dimension to nonalcoholic options.
One of the easiest ways to incorporate tamarind into cocktails is to shake the pulp or a concentrate directly into a sour, as in the Rosita Camba from GUSTU in La Paz, Bolivia, or to use a tamarind soda such as Jarritos Tamarindo as a topper for long drinks like T. Cole Newton’s Dizzy Cordova.
Introducing tamarind into a syrup, however, can create a versatile ingredient that works well in various drink formats. For the Braggadocio, Jay Sanders makes a tamarind syrup by combining the juice with cane sugar before bringing that together with maple syrup. The sweetener is a soothing complement to chile-infused tequila and Amaro Averna in the cocktail, but can also work in Old-Fashioned and Whiskey Sour riffs.
Meanwhile, Brooklyn bar All Night Skate uses a tamarind-lemongrass syrup in the herbal, crushable vodka-soda, the Best Day in Paradise. The basil vodka–based drink introduces acidity via three complementary ingredients: bright lime juice, pithy limoncello and the tart-sweet tamarind-lemongrass syrup, which the bar makes by combining tamarind pulp with fresh lemongrass stalks. The ultrarefreshing combination highlights the tropical side of the fruit.
To up the comforting qualities of tamarind, though, combine it with spices like cinnamon, cardamom and clove. At Brooklyn’s Mr. Melo, the Tamarind Mate Cooler is a nonalcoholic cocktail that stars a chai-tamarind syrup, folding in layers of tart spice. The syrup is versatile in more ways than one: It works in classic and hot cocktails (it’s also used in Mr. Melo’s toddy, the Yerba Mate Hottie), zero- and full-proof drinks, and it can add an extra warming dimension to already-cozy staples like the Autumn Sweater. That’s the beauty of tamarind: If you’re looking for an easy way to bring complexity to your next round of drinks, whatever they may be, its punchy, sweet-tart flavor might be just what you need.