Kumquats are stubborn little buggers.
For starters, this tiny orange citrus fruit originally grown in Southeast Asia yields almost no juice. What’s the point of them then, you might ask? Especially when lemon, limes and grapefruits—by comparison—produce a river of vitamin C–rich liquid goodness.
Well, kumquats have an amazing flavor profile that sits somewhere between a lime and a tangerine. These characteristics can be extracted and enjoyed in cocktails in several other ways that don’t involve juicing.
The most common technique is to muddle the fruit into a pulp of sorts. Dimitris Kiakos, the owner of the wonderful Gin Joint in Athens, Greece, does this in his Kumquat Smash. I like to do the same in my Camparinha (recipe below), a twist on Brazil’s national cocktail, the Caipirinha. Also riffing on that theme is Julie Reiner at her cocktail temple, Clover Club in Brooklyn. In her Smash of the Titans (geddit?), she muddles kumquats with fresh oregano and shakes this with Four Roses bourbon, sugar and simple syrup.
There isn’t a spirit out there that doesn’t find a happy place with kumquats, no matter the form. One such application requires cooking the fruit into a marmalade, perhaps with some hard spices. Then you simply shake this into a cocktail, such as a riff on the iconic Breakfast Martini created by London bartender Salvatore Calabrese, now at the helm of the Playboy Club.
Brown spirits also play nice with kumquats. Try turning the fruit into a syrup by boiling down with water and sugar to reach a ration of 1:1. Shake this into a Whiskey Sour with egg white, fresh lemon and your chosen dram and you have something sublime. Or if you want a more warming drink, use this syrup in a Hot Toddy.
If you find yourself close to Dade City, Florida, next month, you might want to visit the town’s annual kumquat festival organized by the local chamber of commerce. It attracts thousands of visitors, and the nearby town of St. Joseph is the self-proclaimed kumquat capital of the world.