The refrain of “parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme” comes from an old English folk song, which gained popularity thanks to Simon and Garfunkel’s classic hit “Scarborough Fair.” That song may not be wafting across the airwaves with the same frequency it did when the duo first put it out as a single in 1966, but these days, it’s the bartenders who are singing the praises of these herbs — and many others — as key drink ingredients.
The addition of these familiar herbs and others like lemon grass, lemon verbena, and Thai basil add appealing and unexpected elements to cocktails. As bartenders experiment with these flavors, they have discovered ways to add versatility to their repertoire, and a natural bridge to help pair the drink with food.
Esteban Ordonez, of International Cocktail Group, concurs,
“Herbs bring a lot of flavor and are versatile tools for creating flavor not only on their own but combined or made into syrups, salts, infusions and such. They also make for terrific garnishes.”
At the EVEN Hotel’s bar their signature Bloody Mary, called the Garden of Even, employs herbal garnishes that please every guest perfectly. Perfectly, because each guest chooses their own from amongst a selection of rosemary, sage, parsley, basil, mint and cilantro.
Ordonez’s choice is always basil. He comments,
“I love using basil because of the versatility of this herb. I’m sure everyone has had it, from its use as a base in Phō to a chiffonnade of its fresh leaves in a salad or in a classic pesto, but it brings an array of flavors to cocktails that goes from minty to eucalyptus, medicinal or savory, depending on the spirit used and the variety of basil, as there are over 150 species and new hybrids are very common. Basil is also one of the oldest documented herbs in use and has an amazing history in most cultures and religions globally.”
For Lynn House, of Heaven Hill, reaching for herbs is practically a religion. She explains,
“My family is from the South. Lots of gardening in our blood. Sage was always a staple crop and used in most of my mom’s and grandmother’s dishes. I grow several varieties of sage to this day. What is leftover gets dried and used throughout the winter. I bring a lot of savory aspects to my cocktails.”
“Years ago I started experimenting with sage in drinks and fell in love; I love the earthiness it brings to a cocktail. It’s fun because a lot of people can’t quite place it in a drink. I prefer it to mint because mint can sometimes take over a cocktail, whereas sage adds great backbone and subtle flavor. I work with all kinds of sage, but pineapple sage is my favorite because it is so fragrant and the leaves are stunning and great for garnishing.”
Herbs sitting at Dram can expect to be more than just a standard garnish. When J. Rosser Lomax is working, he puts them through their paces. Using ingredients like rosemary doused in Chartreuse, he adds some sex appeal to a cocktail by setting it on fire, thereby lending an intensified aroma to the drinking experience. He says,
“I like rosemary used with a quick flame because it perfumes both the drink and the room, if only briefly. Fire is an old, cheap trick, but smoke touches everyone on an elemental level. The Chartreuse reinforces the herbal flavors and aromas, and ignites nicely.”
Herbal cocktails are also a favorite of Karen Hoskin of Montonya Rum, giving her an opportunity to find inspiration and balance in the glass. Currently her favorite cocktail featuring herbs is The Sayulita, a refreshing and laid back, juice-forward, green drink that reflects the cool nature of the Mexican surf town for which it was named. Her reasoning in reaching for herbs is simple: “I have always been intrigued by the line between sweet and savory in cocktails. Many of my favorite cocktails seem to exist right at the transition between the two.”
Courtesy of Karen Hoskin, Montanya Rum
- 2 1/2 oz. Montanya platino
- 2 oz. Sayulita juice (see below)
- Tonic, or soda, as preferred
- Cucumber, for garnish
- Cilantro, for garnish
Cocktail Preparation: Add rum and Sayulita juice to a tall Collins glass filled with ice. Top with tonic or soda, as preferred. Garnish with a slice of cucumber and a cilantro sprig.
- 2 cups Chopped cucumber
- 1/2 cup Mint leaves
- 1/3 cup Agave nectar
- 1/4 cup Cilantro leaves
- 1 Lime, sectioned and juiced
- Dash of salt
Preparation: Mix all of the above together in a food processor. Strain with cheesecloth or a fine strainer.
Call Me Maisy
Courtesy of Lynn House, Heaven Hill
- 1 1/2 oz. Lunazul blanco tequila
- 3/4 oz. Pama pomegranate liqueur
- 1/2 oz. Lemon juice
- 1/2 oz. Brown sugar syrup
- 6 Pineapple sage leaves, plus sprig for garnish
Preparation: In a mixing tin, add lemon juice and pineapple sage leaves, gently muddle as to release the oils, add remaining ingredients, ice and shake until well chilled. Fill a rocks glass with fresh ice and strain cocktail into glass. Garnish with a fresh sprig of pineapple sage.
In the Rushes
Courtesy of J. Rosser Lomax, Dram
- 2 oz. Bonded Bourbon
- 1 oz. Lemon juice
- 3/4 oz. Honey
- 2 dashes Angostura bitters
- Chartreuse, for igniting
- Rosemary sprig, for garnish
Preparation: Shake Bourbon, juice, honey and bitters with ice. Pour over block ice. Coat rosemary sprig with Chartreuse, light, extinguish. Garnish glass with rosemary.