There’s a lot to love about the Big Liquor industry. After all, how can one not get a little excited about massive campaigns that revolve around celebrity, party, and some balance of snobbery and mob appeal? Or the resources that allow them to issue collectible, limited-edition spirits from some odd moment of history. It’s all fun… and liquor should be about enjoyment in all of its facets.
But we love the craft-distilling movement as well. In many ways it’s a pure, idealized form of entrepreneurship where odd collections of people can try to capitalize on magnificently specific market niches. Case in point: broVo Spirits. Here are two young women (Erin Brophy and Mhari Voelsgen) who simply got excited about the liquor business, cashed out their 401(k) accounts, and busted forward with “single note botanical” spirits. Now they’re full-blooded entrepreneurs infusing liquor with an eclectic variety of herbs to make exactly the kind of cocktails that they themselves most like to drink.
That’s small business.
We’re told the spirits target the sophisticated cocktail crowd (no shots in the disco, please) and tend to find their audience with women rather than men. It’s a new category, they say, very light on the sweetness and no glycerin. We are men but we are undeterred! Having been offered the full line to taste compliments of broVo Spirits, we tasted the full line. This is the first of a five part series investigating their liqueurs and first on our list is…
BroVo Lemon Balm Liqueur
So we begin with the +LB liqueur. Important: lemon balm is an herb in the mint family. It has a lemon aroma but is not the ubiquitous Florida citrus we’re so familiar with… it has a much different character. If you’re expecting Florida you’re going to be surprised when you get slapped upside the head with Pacific Northwest “grass.” But this is a very popular aromatherapy herb aimed at making one “serene”… a kind of Zen herb, in our judgment. At broVo, they call it their most gentle spirit. One would guess it is well-suited for cocktails, no? Let’s find out…
Neat: getting to know the spirit naked in the glass it has—as advertised—an exceptional earthy and herbal lemon aroma. Maybe even a bit candle-like with a hint of wax. Tasting, it’s a fascinatingly different spirit. “Gentle” is a good description without a trace of tartness or sour. It is just barely sweet and even a bit bitter on the finish. Once ice or chilled, the flavors expand a bit but we don’t feel this is something that would be drunk on its own. It does seem like it should provide an exciting and complex canvas for the mixologist. Moving on to the mixing…
With Orange Juice: Why orange juice? Orange is a fabulous mixer combining both sweet and citrus. Right out of the gate it comes in with the popular (and often underrated) Screwdriver cocktail. We thought to enhance the Screwdriver with a blush of the Lemon Balm; what would happen? We used 3oz Nantucket orange juice (100% juice, no concentrate), 1oz Liquid vodka (a fine Pacific Northwest vodka), and 1oz BroVo Lemon balm. Sans lemon balm, the cocktail on its own was plain, simple, nice… and perhaps a bit boring. Punched up with the Lemon Balm, it achieved a fully new floral dimension… beautiful and elegant. Shaken on ice, it was even better. Extremely nice result; if the goal is to create a cocktail elevation catalyst, it succeeded brilliantly. A perfect example of any easy cocktail made awesome with a simple float out of a bottle.
With Pomegranate and Pear: BroVo recommends pear in one of their Lemon Balm cocktails so we gave it a shot with a Pomegrante and Pear mixer (Nantucket Farms juice) and dropped in some broVo plus a little vodka to stiffen it up. Same ratios: 3oz Pear-Pomegranate, 1oz Liquid Vodka, 1oz broVo. Unaided by lemon balm, the drink was nice. Gifted with the lemon balm, the pear married with the broVo like Catherine and Heathclif (apologies to Emily Bronte). With the pomegranate, not quite as successful… made a better perfume than a drink. But the pear mix is highly recommended. A pear vodka or a pear infused cognac would work splendidly.
With gin: the question we’ve all been asking is: how does all this herbal lemon stuff work with a classic Gin Martini cocktail? Can it replace vermouth? No. Simply not the case. This was more like a Tony Romo and Jessica Simpson match—lots of conflict with little positive outcome. Gin, already an herbal drink, doesn’t play well with uninvited herbs.
In a Margarita: wait, what? Yes. Tequila (good tequila) is quite herbal in nature and we thought maybe would receive the lemon balm well. We took 1800 Silver, Cointreau, and swapped out the lime juice for the broVo lemon balm. These results were fantastic. This is quite possibly one of the better margaritas we’ve ever had. It lacks the citrus punch of the classic version but we felt the lemon balm more than made up for it.
Hot Levi: we took the bottle to a local bar and had a few experiments. Here we found the liqueur’s ultimate expression. Levi the bartender came up with the Hot Levi cocktail, which included nothing but hot water, Jeremiah Weed Sweet Tea Liqueur, honey, and the broVo Lemon Balm. The goal was to create something close to an herbal tea. The result was nothing short of glorious. In the middle of a hot summer day, the bar patrons (of which there were six) were uniformly and instantly transported to the ski slopes on wintry evenings. It was everything a good cocktail should be. We feel this liqueur would go well in just about any tea setting.
Verdict. The broVo Lemon Balm liqueur is a great addition for the expert mixologist. It’s an unusual, interesting, and impossible-to-recreate flavor that can add special character to otherwise simple drinks. Particularly in tea… we can’t say enough about the Hot Levi. Something about tea and warmth really brings out all the best in this liqueur. BroVo is a piccolo in the symphony: it requires courage and imagination to use (and seldom sounds good on its own) but when used properly and well adds greatly to the whole.