Carmelite Water, an herbal infusion featuring aromatic lemon balm, was created in the 14th century by Carmelite nuns for King Charles V of France. At Harlem’s Sugar Monk, proprietor Ektoras Binikos spritzes the fragrant elixir in cocktail glasses, creating an effect similar to an absinthe rinse. Compared to the anise flavor of absinthe, however, Carmelite Water offers a citrus-forward option that’s particularly harmonious with white spirits, such as gin or unaged agave spirits. Binikos suggests trying it in a classic Paloma.
In addition, “our bartenders love to set it on fire on top of a drink,” Binikos says, as it “creates a beautiful blue blaze and a cloud of wonderful caramelized herbal flavors, right on top of the cocktail.” At the beginning of the pandemic, Sugar Monk began making its own Carmelite Water, which is available for purchase. For those who have access to plenty of lemon balm, he offers this DIY recipe.