Tinctures, bitters and infused spirits are all created by steeping culinary components in alcohol to extract flavor. It really is just that simple and it is easy to do at home, so I will keep an eye out for how they’re being used at Tales of the Cocktail next week and update you on any trends or exciting uses I discover.
At a gin tasting workshop last night (many thanks to Right Gin and Nirvino) I asked a favorite local bartender, Josh Harris of 15 Romolo, what exactly a tincture is, having only recently encountered the term as a cocktail ingredient.
He defined it as being like aromatic bitters: herbs, spices or other ingredients with intense flavor steeped in over-proof, neutral spirits (strong grain alcohol like Everclear) to extract the flavor, which is added to cocktails in dashes or drops. He said that while bitters are a combination of flavors, tinctures are made with a single flavor. I’ve since seen tinctures online that were composed of more than one flavor, but none so complex as bitters, so a stronger distinction may be that tinctures need not be bitter in flavor.
Note: the definitions of these terms in bar-speak differ from their traditional usage. Technically, all three are tinctures, defined as an alcoholic extract of plant material with an ethanol percentage of at least 40% (assuming the spirit you are “infusing” is at least 80 proof). Infusion is the result of steeping plants in water or oil, not alcohol, so infused vodka, rum or gin is a contradiction in terms. Vinegar is also an acceptable medium, so shrubs are really tinctures too.
I would offer recipes, but frankly, all you do is soak stuff in stiff spirits. Just go try it.