Atomic Liquors barman Jeffrey Bennington Grindley wants to slip something into your next beer. But don’t panic—this addition is tradition.
About a year ago, a keg shipment of Berliner Weisse—a deliciously tart, low-ABV German wheat beer—arrived with a bottle of woodruff syrup and the explanation that this sweet, herbal syrup was included so patrons could doctor their sour beer to taste. Grindley, a former Downtown Cocktail Room bartender and now in charge of the venue’s cocktail program, was immediately fascinated with this detail that landed squarely at the intersection of beer culture and mixology, and wished to re-create the syrup from scratch.
But first, what is woodruff, and why on earth might you wish to add it to your beer?
Woodruff—a.k.a. wild baby’s breath or waldmeister (“master of the woods”)—is a plant prized for its flowers and sweet-smelling foliage. Simple syrup made from the plant has a nose of fresh hay or mown grass, and tastes like vanilla or marshmallows. While Berliner Weisse by itself is a refreshing, sessionable summer brew, with the addition of woodruff syrup, it takes on a tea-like flavor, and a fuller mouthfeel that can be appreciated year round.
With beer program manager Rose Signor’s blessing, Grindley dove into his research, and emerged with a recipe that pairs dried woodruff from Eastern Europe with some coriander for a citrusy note. Unlike simple syrup, where the desired flavoring is typically boiled in a 1:1 mixture of water and sugar, Grindley steeps the herbs in very hot water like a tea, strains out the solids, then blends the tea with sugar for a consistent balance of flavor and sweetness every time.
“I’d like to bring more history to the program,” Grindley says. He’s toying with the idea of adopting the other traditional German beer-syrup flavors—raspberry and blackberry—and even of incorporating the woodruff syrup into his drink recipes. He’s also simultaneously working on Atomic’s barrel-aged cocktail series as well as a house-made liqueur similar to an amaro.
For now, the woodruff syrup is an off-menu treat, but that could soon change; Grindley has already converted some regulars to whom it’s served right alongside their Berliner Weisse in a tulip-shaped Dutch kopstoot glass. “It’s gotten a really good reception,” he says. And it’s so simple: You just sip your beer, pour in a little syrup, sip again to evaluate the result, maybe pour in a little more syrup …
But don’t go slinging the stuff into every brew you order at Atomic. Just as your New Belgium Snapshot Wheat will not be served with a slice of orange unless you request it (damn you, Blue Moon!), “We want the beers to stand on their own,” Grindley says. Woodruff syrup, however, belongs to history, and therefore gets a pass.