NPR’s The Salt Tells the story of VonHumboldt’s Tamarind

From Film Stars To Naturalists, These Lives Have Become Boozy Inspirations

From left, Von Humbolt’s Natur wasser, named after the German explorer and naturalist; Blood & Sand, inspired by silent movie star Rudolph Valentino; and a single malt by Macallan in collaboration with artist Steven Klein.

If you’ve never heard of Alexander von Humboldt, a once world-renowned Prussian scientist who predicted man-made climate change in 1800 and was an adviser to President Thomas Jefferson, then a New Hampshire distillery is aiming to change that, one glass at a time.

“One of the things that really struck a chord with us was that Humboldt was fascinated by nature, and we’re fascinated by it, too,” says Jamie Oakes of Tamworth Distilling. “We’ll take a walk through a sunny pine grove and then try to figure out how we can distill those smells in liquid form.”

Oakes and fellow Tamworth distiller Matt Power were particularly inspired by Andrea Wulf’s book, The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt‘s New World, which chronicles the naturalist’s global exploration of plants, animals, geography, geology and meteorology. Zeroing in on a passage detailing purchases made by Humboldt from Capuchin monks before he ventured onto Venezuela’s Rio Apure, the two distillers were intrigued by the tamarind pods said to turn the brackish river water into a “refreshing lemonade.” Shortly thereafter, they set about creating a tamarind cordial under the moniker of “Von Humboldt’s Natur Wasser.”

“Most of the time, we’re limited by what we can grow here in the Northeast,” says Power, “but this concept allowed us to spread outside with a more global ingredient list.”

Starting with the sweet and tart flavor profile of the tamarind, the distillers packed as much of the fruit as they could into neutral grain spirits, then added lemon zest and brown sugar to bring out some of the tangy, nutty tones already found in the tamarind. “We wanted to be really true to the flavor,” says Oakes.

“The tamarind is pretty versatile, with some fatty, creamy qualities,” notes Power. “It plays well with rum and whisky, or in place of triple sec for a margarita.”

If Humboldt would be surprised to find his life’s work as inspiration for a cordial, then silent film star Rudolph Valentino might be equally unprepared to be connected with a beer — by way of a cocktail.

While The Macallan sees their collaborations with artists like Klein as a way to reach a new audience, the Tamworth distillers are hopeful that their Natur Wasser project brings more attention to Humboldt’s work.

“We’re trying to do him a service by learning a bit about what was valuable to him and sharing it with other people,” says Power. “If that knowledge comes by way of a cocktail, why not?”

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