Spruce adds woodland flavour to cocktails

By / Wine + Drinks / November 27th, 2019 / 11
Spruce in cocktails

Ever want to add a little woodland flavour to your drink? Canada’s distillers certainly seem to. We are recently seeing a number of new boreal forest gins, many using spruce tips as a signature botanical.

Already popular in craft distillation circles, spruce tips are now starting to feature in cocktails. But bartenders aren’t exactly familiar with this quirky ingredient. To learn the reasons for adding the forest to our cocktails, I turned to Makina Labrecque, a cocktailian at Calgary’s Lulu Bar who won the Canadian leg of the 2019 Patrón Perfectionist competition with her spruce tip cocktail.

“I first used [spruce tips] to add a herbaceous, minty-cool and fresh note [to cocktails],” said Labrecque. “It’s a really Canadian ingredient and a great way to represent the unique flavours of the region.”

For her winning drink the Cyanocitta, Labrecque chose to use spruce tips like you would mint in a mojito: she muddled them, then shook and strained the cocktail. Yet this is just one way to use spruce tips as a cocktail ingredient: “You could smoke them if you wanted to, like how you smoke the glass in a Smoked Old Fashioned,” Labrecque explained. “Or you could steep them in boiling water to make tea for the base of a simple syrup. You could also infuse them with a spirit or add them to oleo saccharum.”

Although oleo saccharum may sound like a next-level cocktail technique, it is actually a fairly straightforward mix of citrus oil and sugar and is essential to bring out certain flavours in punches. There is flavour in them there peels, and a simple way to extract it is making oleo saccharum.


1 1/4 oz Patrón silver
1/2 oz Ransom dry vermouth
1 oz Szechuan peppercorn and lime oleo saccharum (recipe follows)
1/4 oz blue curacao
8 spruce tips (two for garnish)
1 pinch salt

Muddle six spruce tips in a shaker. Add ice and the rest of the ingredients. Shake for 20 seconds. Double strain the cocktail into a rocks glass over crushed ice. Garnish with two spruce tips.

Szechuan peppercorn and lime oleo saccharum

We adapted Labrecque’s original Szechuan peppercorn and lime oleo saccharum to remove the need for a sous-vide. You may find the original recipe online including on the Patrón Perfectionists website. As an alternative Labrecque suggests using Szechuan peppercorn bitters (if you can find it) and a little extra lime.

12 limes
4 tbsp dried whole Szechuan peppercorns
1 tbsp whole white peppercorns
1/2 tsp citric acid powder
1 1/2 cups fine, granulated white sugar

Remove the zest of 12 limes. Add zest, sugar and peppercorns to a Mason jar, seal it and shake it. Leave in a cool, dark place for 24 hours. Strain mixture through a cheesecloth, add citric acid powder and stir until dissolved. Juice six of the limes and stir into the mixture.


Christine Sismondo is a National Magazine Award-Winning drinks columnist and the author of Mondo Cocktail: A Shaken and Stirred History as well as America Walks into a Bar: A Spirited History of Taverns and Saloons, Speakeasies and Grog Shops.

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