Inside Addition’s Liquid Spice Rack

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Cocktail spices? Beer sauce? Raise your glasses for a splash of spice.

STORY BY NICOLE CAPOZZIELLO
PHOTOS BY NELLE CLARK

“You’re OK with a little spice, right?” asks Matt Hemeyer, an eyedropper full of Addition habanero cocktail spice poised over my glass. I nod and he squeezes, the spice mingling with tequila, Bradley’s Kina Tonic, limeade, and a bit of Addition cinnamon cocktail spice for a cocktail he’s dubbed a T & T.

We are in a space outfitted with pieces lovingly thrifted from UW Surplus, surrounded by bins bearing labels like “SZECHUAN PEPPER” and “THYME.” It’s in this Georgetown warehouse that Matt and Eric Salenski, co-owners of Addition, have crafted what they call “cocktail spices” — alcoholic mixers that add dimension to adult beverages — since 2013.

Matt’s first foray into cocktails came not as a craft spirit maker or bartender, but as a consumer.

“I awarded myself an unofficial master’s degree in drinking, from sitting at the bar at Liberty,” says Matt of the beloved cocktail bar in Capitol Hill. “I’d go by on a slow night and say something totally ignorant like, ‘I don’t know that much about gin. Is gin even good?’” The bartenders offered impromptu tastings, letting him experience the nuances of each type. Matt’s eyes also opened up to the potential and inventiveness of cocktails.

Matt Hemeyer (left) and Eric Salenski (right) are the partners that run Drink Addition.

The world of cocktail bars and craft spirits has exploded lately, and Seattle is particularly on-trend. But a decade ago, the scene was much smaller, with bars like Zig Zag Café and Liberty as destinations for the curious drinker who wanted to go beyond an old standby like a gin and tonic. 

“Liberty was really good and really early about doing a lot of their own house-infused spirits. I was able to get spicy cocktails there on a regular basis, and they quickly became my favorite,” says Matt, who’s not alone — the Thai Green Chili cocktail spice is Addition’s bestseller.

“And then I’d be frustrated at other bars when I asked if they could make me something spicy. It’s really amazing to me that there are so many sweet and fruity mixers out there but there’s really just no simple way to build the whole range of spicy and savory flavors into a drink. We decided that there was a big gap — and a big opportunity — to make a ‘liquid spice rack.”

From this, Addition was born.

Consumers can think of Addition’s cocktail spices as a flavoring agent similar to bitters. But bitters, in addition to a neutral alcohol, also contain a bittering agent that balances out the sweet flavors in a cocktail. Bitters thus add another flavor element, lending a complexity to drinks that would otherwise ring as one-note and uber-sweet.

Addition cocktail spices, on the other hand, are created in a way comparable to how craft vanilla extract is made: macerating fresh herbs or spices in a neutral alcohol with no bittering agent. This makes an ideal mixer for consumers who may find the medicinal flavor of cocktail bitters off-putting.

“I’m very proud of our ingredients list,” says Matt, turning the olive-green Fenugreek bottle around to show me. It reads merely: water, alcohol, and fenugreek. Though Addition refers to their mixers as “spice,” they’re not all hot, with options like rosemary and star anise that don’t bring any heat.

“We wanted to make it very easy for people to build the exact flavor profile they wanted,” he says. “If we made something really elemental, then it would give people more control.” Much like a home cook making chili and adding their preferred amounts of chipotle chili pepper, cumin, coriander, and cayenne (as opposed to tossing in a pre-blended chili powder), Addition gives a cocktail-maker the building blocks to carefully construct flavor profiles.

Their Moscow Mule gets an Addition of Tarragon and Thai Green Chili.

Addition has myriad recipe suggestions. Adding the rosemary and Szechuan-pepper cocktail spirits transforms a gin and tonic into an offering both more impressive and interesting.

The cocktail spirits can also be used in baking, just as you would a vanilla extract. Add a blast of cinnamon to whipped cream, or cardamom to sugar-cookie frosting. They also work well as flavoring agents for bubbly water.

The challenge for Addition is achieving the intended flavor, based on ratios, time, and other factors like agitation. “We still can’t get basil right,” Matt sighs. “Fresh basil has such an incredible, fleeting, fresh taste. The big challenge with the leaf herbs is to get enough flavor out them to where they’re really potent without getting any sort of rot or decay flavor.” He’s still figuring out how to perfectly capture that fresh essence. 

Matt and Eric, who both have day jobs, spend a few nights a week and much of their weekends in the Addition warehouse. They host the occasional bottling party, when family and friends come together to help them finish up a batch. After they’ve infused and waited (days or months) for the desired flavor, they strain and bottle their creations, getting 12 to 14 cases of stunningly labeled bottles from a five-gallon batch.

Now Addition has 26 cocktail spices and three flavors of Beer Sauce, their invention that’s meant to dress up a can of PBR or Rainier. While they sell their spices and gift sets on their website and at events like Urban Craft Uprising throughout the year, you can also find Addition spirits at DeLaurenti, Esquin Wine Merchants, and The Bar Shoppe in Pioneer Square, as well as in a few specialty liquor stores in major cities across the country.

Later this year, in time for the holidays, Addition will come out with one-ounce versions of their products — the current bottles are four ounces — allowing the home bartender to more affordably own an array. The new design will still include an eyedropper. “Precision with how much you put in there is super important.”

Precision, and continued development, that will likely continue Addition’s unlikely rise from a stool at a Seattle cocktail bar to retailers around the country. 

Nicole Capozziello is a freelance writer and tour guide at Theo Chocolate.

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