No, it’s not a typo. “Herbstura” is yet another example of the tiki genre’s maximalist tendencies (see also: blended rum bases and elaborate garnishes), brought to the dasher bottle. The ingredient—a flavor-packed mix of Angostura bitters and the anise-flavored, New Orleans–born absinthe substitute Herbsaint—was one of Don the Beachcomber’s “secret weapons” in the 1960s, a shortcut to complex, beguiling tropical drinks. When Smuggler’s Cove owner Martin Cate started using the mix in cocktails like his Zombie, other bars took note.
“We pretty much use it as a tiki cheat code,” says Chris Coy, co-owner of Indianapolis bar The Inferno Room. There, deployed by the dash, Herbstura figures into drinks like the Cobra’s Fang (rum, lime and orange juices, falernum, fassionola, Herbstura) and the 151 Swizzle (rum, lime, simple syrup, Herbstura) in place of the requisite Angostura and absinthe or pastis. But while it’s used as a shortcut in the classics, Coy says the bitters blend is also easy to experiment with outside of tiki.
At Tern Club, a tropical bar in Knoxville, Tennessee, Herbstura spices up the house Zombie and Jet Pilot (rums, grapefruit and lime, cinnamon syrup, falernum, Herbstura), but owner Jocelyn Morin finds it to be a versatile ingredient at home, too. In her take on the Manhattan, two dashes of Herbstura “jazz up” the classic with an herbaceous kick. For Daiquiris at home, in which she uses a richer, 2:1 Demerara syrup and a saline solution, Herbstura balances out the salty-tart-sweet mix.
In its two-part form, the bitters blend is already a workhorse. But other bars are taking the mix to a new level by folding in even more flavors. At New York bar Employees Only, the Billionaire Cocktail—a take on the Millionaire Cocktail—calls for “absinthe bitters,” which bring together similar flavors of anise and Ango, plus green Chartreuse, Peychaud’s and mint bitters. It’s just the kind of punchy, vibrant ingredient needed to accent such a decadent cocktail. Tiki Tatsu-Ya in Austin, Texas, meanwhile, bolsters its Herbstura with five-spice–infused overproof Jamaican rum, adding extra layers to Zombies and more.
To start mixing with Herbstura, simply add a few dashes to any drink where licorice, clove and cinnamon would feel at home. It’s best to keep the blend in a bitters bottle, which “allows you to control the quantity you’re adding to cocktails so as not to overwhelm the other flavors,” says Morin. Then you can try adding a few drops to just about anything.
According to Coy, it’s a natural fit alongside tropical flavors like pineapple, coconut and almond, but it can also pair well with berry, melon and vanilla. “Anise can be a love/hate flavor, however, it can also lend complexity to your drinks when used tastefully,” he says. Or, it can simply make a round of Zombies more effortless. “It just saves a bottle touch and thus a little time, which adds up over the course of a night!”