Field trip report: Cicchetti cocktail class (with lime-cardamom rum recipe) / by Leslie Seaton

If you’re interested in improving your home mixology, Cicchetti schedules cocktail classes nearly every month. Many are about a particular type of spirit or method, or relate to the season (hot drinks in winter, produce-focused classes in summer). The classes offer several cocktails paired with bites from the kitchen designed to complement the drinks.

This class was special in that its focus was primarily on the process for making flavored spirits yourself. Instructor Chris Bollenbacher and Cicchetti take their infusions seriously – and, it appears, their regulars do, too.

When Chris noted that the "infusion program" had recently been turned over to MacGregor Boswell – and that there had been no change to the quality or flavor of their spirit – there was a cheer from some of the class attendees. (If I heard correctly, they seemed most attached to the raspberry-infused vodka and so were especially happy to see that one, in particular, had been passed down successfully.)

There was too much great information for me to be able to give a full report, but here are some of the main tips I took away:

  • Herbs and flowers are more delicate, and you should stick with a lower alcohol spirit for the infusion. Otherwise, the alcohol will simply eat away at the fragile cellulose and leave you with a "husk of fiber" when down. This means that in addition to the desired subtle flavors of the plant's essential oils, you will also start to, in Chris's words "kick up" other, unexpected and probably unpleasant tastes from the herb.
  • Berries, on the other hand, are a little sturdier and can handle higher alcohol (maybe around 70 proof).
  • Spices, nuts and roots are even more durable and can take the highest proof available.
  • Chris likes making tinctures of single flavors – like clove – that he can then use, drop by drop, to add dimension to his homemade infusion mixes or directly into cocktails. He has even made an oak tincture that he uses to give age and depth to liquors and drinks (or to make an after-market oaky Chardonnay!).
  • One of the books he recommended for learning more was Jerry Thomas's Bon Vivant's Companion.

Chris also let me know that even in the classes on other topics, he will usually cover some information on infusing, noting, "I try to incorporate some infusion, tincture or syrup lore into every class. It has always been my experience even when a commercial alternative is available it rarely compares to a hand crafted infusion."

Chris was kind enough to share with me the recipe for his Lime-Cardamom Rum. It's an especially interesting as it using the green husks of the cardamom rather than the usual seed. (A good reason to hang on to your husks next time you use whole cardamom.)

I was also excited to get this particular rum recipe because cocktail made with it, the "Onycha" (the rum, lime juice, clove tincture and simple syrup) was my favorite. It was so bright and light, and yet had the depth of the clove and the slight twist of the cardamom.

Now, if you're thinking that cardamom can be such a powerful, somewhat floral flavor, let me reassure you that in this recipe, it's perfectly balanced. Just enough for it to make itself known without taking over the entire drink.

That's all there is to it! And for the absolute best BEST part? It is so simple. Five ingredients and you can make it right in the bottle. After years of putting myself through punishing cook-a-thons, I could hardly believe that in under 20 minutes, I had completed the whole process, start to finish.

So check it out and give it a shot! 

Lime & Cardamom Rum Recipe by Chris Bollenbacher

  • 1 750ml bottle of silver rum
  • 2 tablespoons of fresh lime zest
  • Green husks of 10 cardamom pods (remove all seeds)
  • 1 oz of simple syrup or granulated sugar
  • 1 oz fresh lime juice
  1. Pour out three ounces of the silver rum and reserve.
  2. Add all the other ingredients to the bottle.
  3. In two days, strain out all the matter, return the strained liquid to the bottle, and add in as much of the reserved rum as will fit. It's ready to go!