By planting a few herbs, flowers, or fruits, you will have fresh cocktail flavors at your fingertips.
The natural synergy between kitchen and cocktail — let’s just call it the “farm to glass” movement — has become common practice. While bartenders often have the bounty of the restaurant kitchen or the farmer’s market at their finger tips, many of them are planting their own mini gardens, picking and choosing what they want to mix with on the fly. If you think it’s too late in the season to plant a cocktail garden of your own, think again. And start digging.
Whether in the form of muddled fruits and vegetables, herbal syrups, floral infusions, or a vast array of other choices, fresh ingredients can customize a cocktail on the fly, help it pair with a meal, or simply offer up the enjoyment of taking the craft drink concept to the next level. See below for some suggestions on how to use your garden bounty, then look further for some recommendations on what to plant. And make sure that you use only organic — and safe — fertilizers since you will be ingesting these items.
Uses for Cocktail Garden Ingredients
Vodka is the most common spirit in which to infuse flavor, the higher proof the better for flavor extraction. Vodka will take on the primary aspect of the addition becoming a floral, herbal, or fruity/vegetal spirit.
Using other spirits, such as rum, rye, or brandy, will marry the main characteristic of the spirit — the sugar cane warmth of the rum, the spiciness of the rye, the fruit element of the brandy — with the infused element.
Tinctures can be made as well — or bitters — to concentrate the flavor.
You can use a one to one or two to one, sugar to water ratio. Depending on the addition — a woody herb like rosemary or a leafy one like cilantro — the infusing method differs. Rosemary’s tough leaves and stem will impart their flavors quicker than a soft herb or delicate flower petal.
Whether fresh, candied, or even flamed, herbs and flowers make stunning and, in many cases, deliciously edible garnishes.
Muddling or Whole
Using your garden ingredients as the base of your drink — muddling them before adding other ingredients — or adding whole pieces offers a singular character to your cocktail.
Growing a Cocktail Garden
Whether green or purple, standard, Opal, or Thai, the varieties of basil offer a myriad of possibilities.
Cucumber Basil Soda (non-alcoholic):
Makes: 12 servings
Courtesy of California Pizza Kitchen
- 1 cup Granulated Sugar
- 1 cup Water
- 1 medium Cucumber, Thinly Sliced
- 12 large Basil Leaves
- 9 cups Soda Water
- Cucumber slices and Fresh Basil Leaves, for Garnish
Preparation: In a medium saucepan combine sugar and water over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until sugar is dissolved and mixture just comes to a boil, about 5 minutes. In a small bowl muddle the cucumber and basil leaves with the back of a wooden spoon. Add to the hot syrup. Cover and let steep for 30 minutes. Strain the syrup, pressing the solids through a fine-mesh strainer to release the flavors. Discard solids. For each serving, combine 3 tablespoons of the syrup with 3/4 cup soda water in an ice-filled glass. Stir gently to combine. Garnish with cucumber slices and a basil leaf. Note: Cucumber-basil syrup can be stored in a tightly sealed container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
Aromatic and unique in flavor, cilantro marries beautifully with tequila and mezcal, as well as bringing its distinct profile to base vodka infusions or simple syrup.
It grows like a weed and imparts a sweet lemony flavor to everything it encounters. Try it in lemonade, boozy or not. The flowers are lovely garnishes as well.
If you are going to grow one herb, grow mint. Summertime isn’t the same without mojitos or juleps. And every summer drink looks more enticing with a mint garnish. Make sure you choose a spot where you have no concerns about overgrowth — mint can ramble wildly — or grow your mint in a pot. Only room for one type of mint? Spearmint is the way to go thanks to its concentrated and true mint flavor. If you are a mint fiend, explore other varieties — Kentucky Colonel for juleps, Mojito whose original strain was brought from Cuba, as well as pineapple, lemon, orange, and even chocolate.
Its exquisite concentration of flavor, both floral and herbal, makes a stunning simple syrup and works particularly well with gin because of its juniper-y, pine-like character. It also makes a fantastic mode for flaming as a garnish or using to smoke a glass with flavor. Cocktail example: Try rosemary simple syrup in a gin sour.
If properly used, lavender adds a soft perfume to a drink; if misused, it can make a drink taste like soap. Lavender is quite hardy once established, not needing much water. Flowers can be used as garnish, fresh or dried, as well as made into a simple syrup, as seen in the cocktail below.
Courtesy of Enzo Cangemi, babbalucci
- 1 1/2 oz. Cachaca Avua
- 1/2 oz. Paoplemousse Rose
- 3/4 oz. Pineapple juice
- 1/2 oz. Lavender Syrup*
- 1/2 oz. Lime Juice
- Thyme Sprig for Garnish
Preparation: Combine all ingredients in a mixing tin and shake until chilled. Garnish with a thyme sprig.
Lavender Syrup Recipe
Combine 1 cup of sugar with 1 cup of hot water, plus 1 tablespoon of dry lavender flowers, and one tablespoon of eucalyptus honey. Infuse the lavender on low fire for 20 minutes then let it cool.
These will grow almost anywhere and come back year after year. Both the leaves and flowers are edible and slightly peppery.
Fruits and Vegetables:
Add heat to infusions and syrups. Let your palate be your guide to the heat. Jalapeños and habañeros tend to rear their heads in cocktails most frequently. For flavor but not as much heat, de-seed and de-vein the peppers before using them. Also, roasting them prior to use will tame, mellow, and intensify the depth of flavor.
More compact than the usual suspects, lemon cucumbers are little, round, yellowish cukes that offer a bright, citrus zing. Try extracting the cucumber juice for a refreshing addition to gin or vodka and pairing the veggie with lemon and mint, natural bedfellows all.
Wild strawberries are the best route to go here, offering intensely flavored, little fruit gems. Muddling takes on a whole new meaning with these — if you are able to stop yourself from eating them off the bush. They survive nicely in pots or spread out in rows in a vegetable bed. For a Bloodhoud recipe, go to ChilledMagazine.com/Got-Gin-Get-Mixing
Actually a fruit, tomatoes come in hundreds of varieties from heirloom to hybrids, mini flavor bombs to sandwich style giants. They work well in pots or squeezed into a small spot in the garden. And there is nothing more profound than one’s first home-grown, sun-warmed tomato off the vine. The juice, or “water,” of the tomato makes for a subtle addition to vodka and gin drinks for summer, especially when combined with its partner in flavorful crime, basil.