Playing With Quince

Bartenders use the tart winter fruit to add acidity, floral notes, and texture to cocktails.

At Chicago's Billy Sunday, the warm cocktail Sweater Weather blends aquavit, Moscato Chinato and house-made wine-poached quince syrup. Quince adds tartness and texture to drinks.
At Chicago's Billy Sunday, the warm cocktail Sweater Weather blends aquavit, Moscato Chinato and house-made wine-poached quince syrup. Quince adds tartness and texture to drinks. (Photo by Matthias Merges)

As fruits go, quince isn’t likely to win any prizes for name recognition, but that hasn’t stopped mixologists from exploring the unusual fruit’s varied flavors. Quince visually resembles a pear but has intense tart and acidic flavors that make it difficult to consume raw. The fruit traditionally has been used in jams and jellies, but behind the bar it’s often incorporated into pastes and syrups. Once cooked, quince imparts sweeter floral attributes that can’t be matched by other produce.

“Slow-cooked quince turns a deep, intense pink apricot color and provides a beautiful balance of flavors,” says Ryan Hall, the bar manager at The Treasury in San Francisco. “Quince adds texture, depth, acidity and both floral and honey notes. It has an amazing sweetness and takes on the texture of applesauce. The flavor profile and color give us a lot of flexibility to be creative with its use behind the bar.”

Hall starts with fresh California quince, which he cooks and purées to create a paste. He says a lot of Bay Area locals are aware of the fruit and enjoy it in cocktails, though he adds that tourists have often never heard of it. Hall pairs quince with spirits like gin, Calvados, pisco and Tequila because he says the natural herbs, fruit and terroir elements in those spirits enhance quince’s natural flavor profile. One of The Treasury’s signature cocktails is the Giggle Water ($14), comprising Christian Drouin Sélection Calvados, house-made quince paste and fresh lemon, topped with Aria Brut cava. “Quince is only in season for a few months in winter, so when we see it we grab all that we can,” Hall adds. “We definitely see it being used more and more each year.”

In Scottsdale, Arizona, Mediterranean restaurant Virtu Honest Craft’s bar manager Fernando Bambaren also makes a quince paste for cocktails. He sautées quince with verjus and sugar, then blends it into a jelly-like form. “It adds a great texture to cocktails,” Bambaren says. “It affects the taste of the drink by adding extra tartness and changing the way it slides across your palate.”

Virtu Honest Craft offers the A Quince A Day cocktail ($14), which is made with Encanto pisco, Nonino Amaro Quintessentia, Sandeman Don Fino Sherry, quince jelly and simple syrup. Along with pisco, Bambaren says he likes to use quince with Cognac and Bourbon. “The sour aspects of pisco go really well with the tartness of the quince, and Cognac and Bourbon have light and beautiful flavors that go well with the bright aspects of quince,” Bambaren says. “Even using wine with quince works in summertime sangria. There’s a versatility with quince, and there are many ways to manipulate the flavor to complement a lot of cocktails.”

Stephanie Andrews, bar director at Chicago’s Billy Sunday, makes a quince syrup by poaching the fruits in Rainer Wess Grüner Veltliner with sugar and star anise until they turn pink and become fragrant and aromatic. She says the quince syrup works well with aromatized wines and clear spirits like gin, silver Tequila and pisco. Her cocktail Sweater Weather ($12) mixes Gamle Ode Celebration aquavit and Vergano Luli Moscato Chinato with the wine-poached quince syrup, served warm.

“I enjoy using quince because it imparts a flavor that you don’t find with a pear or an apple,” Andrews says. “There’s this delicate fragrance to it that I haven’t found anywhere else. Raw quince is a challenge to work with because it takes time to cook and prepare, but the results are well worth it. With bartenders becoming more experimental and creative, I see quince as an ingredient that will keep popping up on menus.”