Smash of the Titans

and other kumquat cocktails

Overview

Kumquats (come-kwahts) are curious little orange citrus fruits, about the size of an olive, with juice that’s almost as sour as a lemon, and a thin skin that’s surprisingly sweet.  They are often cooked down into jams or baked into breads and cakes to soften their potency.  But in cocktails, where they can truly flex their muscles, kumquats are a revelation.

 

The best way to incorporate them is by muddling (don’t worry, I’m not suggesting you juice those little things).  Not only is this simpler, it’s essential to extracting the aromatic oils held in the rind, which are a delicious blend of bittersweet orange with a hint of zesty lemon.  In fact, thanks to their high acidity, kumquats can take the place of lemon or lime juice as the sour component in a cocktail (though I recommend adding a touch of lemon or lime juice as well, more on that further down the page).  

 

Kumquats can be added to a variety of classic cocktails and will transform them. They pair particularly well with gin, bourbon, and fresh herbs.  This page outlines a handful of examples, headlined by my favorite, the Smash of the Titans.  But this is just the tip of the iceberg.  Use these drinks as templates, and go nuts.

Smash of the Titans - Recipe

This is one of the biggest runaway hits we’re ever had on the menu at Clover Club (the name certainly didn't hurt).  Created by one of our bartenders, the hugely talented Travis St. Germain, this simple riff on a Bourbon Smash uses kumquats and fresh oregano in place of the lemon wedges and mint respectively.  It's so damn good, I’m super jealous I didn’t come up with it myself.

    

 

  • 2 oz bourbon

  • ¾ oz simple syrup

  • ¼ oz lemon juice,  or 1 lemon wedge

  • 4 kumquats

  • 2 sprigs of fresh oregano

 

Strip the oregano leaves off one of the sprigs. In a shaker, muddle the leaves with the kumquats and simple syrup.  Add the lemon (or squeeze in the juice from the lemon wedge), bourbon and fill with ice.  Shake and pour - do not strain - into a rocks glass.  Garnish with the remaining oregano sprig.

rye whiskey, social hour, tom macy, cocktail, classic cocktail
rye whiskey, social hour, tom macy, cocktail, classic cocktail

Kumquat Commentary

 

Adding a Touch of Lemon or Lime Juice, is a Nice Touch

While kumquats can solely perform the role of citrus in a cocktail, I like to add a bit of lemon or lime juice as well, about one wedge's worth.  This bumps up the drinks' citric edge and cuts any lingering sweetness.  Note, I don't recommend muddling the wedge, it extracts too much lemon/lime oil which gets in the way of the kumquat flavor.

 

Eating Kumquats

If you’ve ever eaten a fresh kumquat, you’ve likely never forgotten it. The conventional approach is to pop the whole thing in your mouth, peel and all.  It’s intense.  At first, the tartness is almost too much, but then the sweetness of the rind, pleasant aromatics, and a hint of bitterness kicks in, and you realize they’re actually quite tasty - and you’re ready for another one (or at least that’s been my experience).  

 

Don’t Over Muddle

This is covered on the muddling page, but it bears repeating here.   Beware of over-muddling!  You just need about 2 direct hits on each kumquat, enough to break open the fruit and extract some oil.  Any much more than that and you risk bringing out more bitterness. 

 

Leave the Skins In

Because kumquat skins are sweet I sometimes like to leave them in drinks so they can be fished out at the end as a bonus snack.  In these cases, I won't strain the drink but pour the contents of my shaker right into the glass, similar to a Caipirinha.  I like the rustic appearance it gives drinks too.  But let your aesthetic sensibilities be your guide.

 

Only in the Winter

Kumquats are only available in winter, their peak season being February and March.  Once spring hits you don’t really see them in stores anymore. It's a bit ironic since kumquats lend themselves to lighter citrusy drinks that would be right at home in the spring and summer.  But that’s the charm of kumquat cocktails.  In a season dominated by brown-spirits and hot drinks, they are a refreshing bright spot.

Show off your work!  If you post a shot of the Smash of the Titans (or anything with kumquats) on Instagram, please tag me @socialhourcocktails!

More Kumquat Cocktails

Here are some quintessential classic cocktails outfitted to feature kumquats.  If you want to add another flavor, I highly recommend leafy herbs, particularly mint, basil, oregano, and tarragon.

Kumquat Gin Smash

This take on the basic sour is the prototypical kumquat cocktail. I had a version of this as a shift drink at the first restaurant I worked at in NYC, Savoy (where I was also introduced to the Red & the Black).  I was blown by how delicious it was. I couldn’t get enough. 

 

  • 2 oz gin or vodka

  • 4-5 kumquats

  • ¾ oz simple syrup

  • 1 lemon or lime wedge (optional)

 

 

Muddle the kumquats in the simple syrup. Add the gin, squeeze in the juice from the lemon/lime wedge and discard.  Fill with 5-6 standard size ice cubes.

 

 

 

 

 

Kumquat Royale

Just a French 75 with kumquats.  Kumquats and sparkling wine harmonize beautifully.

 

  • 1 oz gin

  • ½ oz simple syrup

  • 2 kumquats 

  • 2-3 oz sparkling wine

  •  

Muddle the kumquats in simple syrup.  Add gin, shake and strain into a flute. Top with sparkling wine.

 

 

   

 

 

Kumquat Royale #2

This is a hybrid of the royale and the spritz.  I tried it on a hunch and it was just too good not to mention.

 

  • 1 oz gin

  • ½ oz Aperol

  • ¼ oz simple syrup (or more to taste)

  • 2 kumquats

  • 2-3 oz sparkling wine

 

Same method as Royale #1.

 

 

Kumquat Collins

Just the smash but topped with soda water, it works well as a long drink too.   The mint isn't entirely necessary but adds a lovely contrasting aromatic layer.  If you do use mint, I recommend straining the drink. Floating mint leaves do nothing for a cocktail, apart from making it look ugly - in my opinionated opinion.  

 

  • 2 oz gin or vodka

  • 4-5 kumquats

  • ¾ oz simple syrup

  • 1 lemon or lime wedge (optional)

  • 8-10 mint leaves (optional)

  • 2-3 oz chilled soda water

 

Muddle kumquats and mint in simple syrup. Add the gin, squeeze in the juice from the lemon/lime wedge and discard.  Fill with ice, shake.  Pour the soda water into a collins/highball glass over ice.  Strain the cocktail into the glass. 
 

 

Kumquats & Tonic

A simple and very satisfying alternative on a classic G & T.   Here I don’t think you need a lime, the kumquats provide enough of a citrus bite.  Though I do think the simple syrup is necessary to properly balance the drink.

 

  • 2 oz gin

  • ¼ oz simple syrup

  • 2 kumquats

  • 5 oz tonic

 

In a collins/highball glass muddle the kumquats with the simple syrup. Add gin, fill with ice and top with tonic water. Briefly stir.

 

 

Kumquat Spritz

Aperol Spritz, meet the kumquat.  I'm on the fence whether to strain out the muddled kumquats or leave them in.  Your call.

 

  • 2 oz Aperol

  • ¼ oz simple syrup

  • 2 kumquats

  • 3 oz sparkling wine

 

Muddle the kumquats in simple syrup and Aperol.  Pour into a wine glass - or strain out the kumquats first.  Fill with ice and top with prosecco.

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tom@socialhourcocktails.com Brooklyn, NY

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