Savory and Sweet
Updated: Feb 13, 2019
Washington State has a love affair with liqueurs as much as it does with whiskey. Of the 100+ distilleries here in the Evergreen State, more than half of them have a sweet component to their line. Of those, I would say half of them only produce liqueurs. No two liqueurs are the same. The beauty of spirits is the same components and come up with a different flavor profile every time. Luckily Washington State has a wide variety of botanical influence from across the globe.
Other than the obvious tie in with Valentine's Day the dedication of February to liqueurs makes sense. Washington State is only one small area where liqueurs are made. The world at large has a love affair with liqueurs. Before tackling the world I want to share a new liqueur here in Washington State. Kuma is a turmeric liqueur made in Ferndale, WA.
Kuma Turmeric Liqueur is the innovation of Chet Holstein, the founder of Sui Generis Spirits. The first production ran March of last year. The liqueur officially launched last Autumn. Since then Holstein has been introducing the world to Kuma Turmeric Liqueur. It was during one of Holstein's trips to Seattle this last Fall where I caught up with him at Liberty to learn about this unique liqueur. The inspiration for this unique liqueur came in the summer of 2015. At the time his wife, Tinna was adding turmeric to her smoothies, and after an evening of cocktail research with herbal liqueurs, the idea came to him. Why not make a turmeric liqueur? From there the rest is history as it were.
Last week we caught up again this time a little closer to home for him. It was Bellingham Cocktail Week. He was hosting a tasting at Black Sheep, a newer bar in the heart of town. As a former Bartender and Certified Sommelier, Chet knows flavors. Since Holstein developed the flavor profile for Kuma, I wanted to understand the best method for tasting the liqueur. "A liqueur is spirit-based, unlike wine or beer. The tasting technique is a little different. You don’t want to do the slurping-gurgle technique done with wine. However, you will want to open the same nasopharynx connection so you can smell the liquid in our mouth, but without activating or “angering” the alcohol and singeing the olfactory nerves. I will smell the liqueur in the glass, then take just a small sip onto the lips. Just enough to wet them, then tasting it from the lips while breathing in slightly. By allowing air into the mouth, it provides the olfactory connection. With spirited beverages of lower alcohol, I’ll usually take an actual sip and chew it a bit as I do with wine or beer, especially if I’m only tasting a few different liqueurs." Kuma Turmeric Liqueur is herbaceous to me. Almost like a nod to an agricole rum. I also detect hints of citrus and pepper. The flavors were unexpected, and delightful. The balance between the sweet and savory is delicate.
Due to the delicate balance of flavor a neat pour is the best way to enjoy the full flavor profile. Holstein and his wife favor it in gin and tonics as well as a riff on a mimosa or a margarita. Bars and restaurants in Bellingham use it to make a variation on the Moscow Mule. While the possibilities are endless for cocktails, distribution is trickier.
Distribution is challenging for any spirits company let alone a new company trying to get off the ground. It's a bit of an uphill battle. Thankfully Bellingham has embraced Kuma turmeric liqueur with its heart. As word spreads about Kuma several other cities around the country have contacted him as well a few international cities. Momentum is picking up, and various part of the nation are embracing this unique liqueur. Hopefully, Seattle will come around to this unique liqueur too.