We recently had lunch at Crust, an organic restaurant in Chicago that makes terrific flatbread pizzas and salads from fresh, seasonal ingredients. Full disclosure, they are a customer of ours - they carry our gin in their bar. But this article isn't about gin or gin drinks.
Like a few other bartenders in Chicago, the head beverage guru at Crust, Andrew, is doing some really interesting things. He makes a full line of infused organic vodkas using seasonal ingredients, and then develop cocktails to feature them. He also makes fresh organic liqueurs and other spirits from time to time.
One our most recent visit, we tried Andrew's latest creation, an Alchermes (can also be spelled Alkermes), which he made by infusing neutral grain spirit with cardamom, vanilla, cinnamon and coriander, sweetening it and blending with a bit of rosewater. He didn't use the ingredient that gives this spirit its name (and also led to its disfavor, once people found out what was in it) - the kermes insect. These insects have a bright red color, and the resulting spirit would be deep scarlet in color if the insect coloring were used.
We tasted it chilled, which was the recommendation from the bartender. The nose was very spicy, with the cardamom and cinnamon dominating, followed by a hint of rose. Upon first sip, the spices hit your palate first, but the vanilla and coriander slowly made themselves known, and the rose water remained in the finish. The balance with the rosewater was just right - it has a tendency to overwhelm, but Andrew managed to keep it in check.
I don't know how much this tastes like the Alchermes of olden times (it used to be a healing tonic made by monks), but I'd recommend you go and taste this spirit if you get a chance - it was a very nice change of pace.