Cubeb is an Indonesian plant that is cultivated for its fruit and oil. The fruits are gathered before they ripen and left to dry. Once dried, they’re similar in appearance (and taste) to black pepper, though easy to discern as they’re usually sold with their tails attached.
Cubeb has long been used in medicine and also has its place in irony – see for example, the fact that cubeb cigarettes were sold in the Victorian era as an asthma treatment. It’s is also sold as an aphrodisiac and is featured in many love potions. We’re not sure it worked for either use… It is however fantastic in Gin.
Cubeb berries have long been used alongside juniper as their unique combination of intense lavender-like floral aroma combined with a cracked pepper taste, allow them to pair so well with it and other core gin botanicals. While they reputedly have high levels of limonene which should give off a strong citrus feel – this is not evident to taste at all.
Once distilled, the berries change in surprising directions. If distilled as an individual distillate, to taste, the spirit is certainly spicy and walks a fine tightrope between being savoury and soapy, with an unexpected floral sweetness. A higher ABV spirit will bring a black pepper piquancy to the nose, but when watered down, has a soft, floral hint with an earthy undertones. The fact that it is hard to place, yet so evocative, means that Cubebs can give a gin both a soft lift and deep finish to gin, all without revealing why or what’s behind it. This bi-polar nature makes the botanical both an extraordinary ingredient to play with in the context of gin but also, one thats fraught with difficulties to perfect.
The pervasive nature of the spice is one to be wary of in particular – it can very easily dominate a gin if not kept to a small and carefully controlled quantity.
Gins where cubeb is noticeable to taste:
…Ground over the top of a spicy cocktail. The berry will bring a peppery touch but without the piquancy and an almost lavender-like aroma quality. It’s best serve on top of a drink, rather than in it to prevent the somewhat unpleasant sensation of pepper shooting up a straw and straight into the back of your throat. Try it as you would pepper on a Red Snapper. Delicious!
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