Spicy clove syrup takes your cocktails to a whole new level

By / Magazine / June 23rd, 2017 / 13

Over-seasoning is like over-cooking. It’s a whole lot easier to add more than it is to take away. Which is why it’s tempting to avoid certain spices altogether — allspice, nutmeg and cloves, for example. They’re heavy and can easily overwhelm a dish, a problem some of us recall from childhood — at least those of us who had the unfortunate experience of having our delicate and sensitive little taste buds subjected to an over-cloved ham.

Those who experienced that particular trauma can be forgiven for completely avoiding cloves now that they’re adulting. In fact, I’ll admit to having once been a clove-phobe, myself. But after my first taste of a drink made with falernum — a spicy clove syrup — I soon realized I was really only hurting myself.

Cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger and allspice are all in that family of baking spices that few cocktail enthusiasts ever use, except when making mulled wintery drinks such as glögg (mulled wine), hot buttered rum or egg nog. But that’s not the only family of drinks that need a hit of spice — they’re also essential ingredients in those tropical and tiki drinks that keep us sane through the winter by reminding us we will, once again, get to enjoy island time.

So, to keep the spirit of summer alive through the winter, we asked Justin Shiels, of Toronto’s Good Fortune bar, to give us a few tips on how to use heavy spices like cloves in cocktails. The secret, it turns out, is to tone them down by using them in syrups such as falernum, which have other intense, complementary flavours, such as lime zest, ginger and vanilla.

“I don’t make a ton of syrups or cordials, since I try to simplify my mise en place and not overcomplicate things,” says Shiels. “But there are a few that I always have and one of them is falernum. It’s a must for me at all times, because it’s so versatile.”

Shiels’ falernum has both cloves and allspice in it and, unlike many of his bartender colleagues, he doesn’t only use it in rum-based drinks, since he loves to use it to balance out tequila’s rough edges or perk up a whisky cocktail. It’s all about picking the right spirit.

“Pairing spicy syrups with spirits that have a lot of nice vanilla notes works really well,” says Shiels. “Vanilla and clove, ginger or allspice, that’s a natural progression.”

Shiels shares his recipe for the Black Hole, one of his favourite spicy signature cocktails, so that we can stop worrying and learn to love cloves again, too.

black hole

1 1/2 oz Lot 40 whisky
1/2 oz Byrrh Quinquina
1/4 oz falernum (recipe below)
1/4 oz Fernet-Branca
5 drops Tiki Bitters
1/4 bar spoon of activated charcoal

Stir all ingredients in a mixing glass and strain into a rocks glass with 1 large lump of ice. Zest with orange.


50 g blanched, slivered almonds
10 g whole cloves
5 g whole allspice
12 oz Havana 3-year-old white rum
18 limes zested (zest only)
175 g fresh ginger, peeled and julienned
750 g sugar
375 g warm water
3 oz fresh lime juice
1/2 tsp almond extract

Toast almonds, cloves and allspice over medium heat until almonds are golden. Remove from heat, cool and add to rum, lime zest and ginger in a plastic Tupperware container. Cover, shake and let mixture sit for 24 hours at room temperature. Heat water and sugar gently while stirring to create a rich simple syrup. Strain the infused rum mixture through cheesecloth and a fine mesh strainer over a small bowl; discard solids. Add lime juice and almond extract and combine with simple syrup. Keep refrigerated for up to a month.


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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