If we’ve said it once (we have), we’ve said it a thousand times (also probably true): fresh tastes better in cocktails. And as we enter the spring/summer season, farmers’ markets, backyard gardens, and balcony plant pots are back on the weekend list of things-to-do. So we figured we’d take this opportunity to explore just how to get the most out of your garden—and how we like to incorporate all of the herbs from these fresh finds into our cocktail palettes. Get out your green thumbs!
First and foremost, if you don’t own a copy of The Drunken Botanist by Amy Stewart, then we don’t even know who you are anymore, person-on-the-internet. It’s a fantastically funny read and provides super helpful insights into the world of herbal and plant-centric drinking.
If you have space to grow a few herbs or maybe you have a full garden, these are the ones we use the most and recommend having fresh at home as often as possible:
- Mint (and varieties of it)
- Basil and Thai Basil
The Rickey Basil
So basil has got a lot going on. As the cousin of mint (did ya know that?), basil comes in many different varieties all with kinds of different flavors and aromas. And as such, it’s tempting to simply switch out basil in your favorite julep recipes and call it a day—and there’s nothing wrong with that (see our Episode #019 – Juleps, More Than Just A Mint Julep for tips-and-tricks on that drink). But that can still be a sweet drink. So a Rickey Basil—based on a Gin Rickey, and with a name like a real person—is a great alternative.
First, muddle 3-4 basil leaves in the bottom of a Collins glass with the juice from half a lime. For this drink, Thai Basil is the preferred variety, with a spicy, peppery, and anise/licorice type flavor. Then add ice, 5-6 oz of sparkling mineral water, 2 oz of good, juniper gin (like Beefeater), and 4 drops of peppercorn bitters (like these from The Cocktail Experiment). Give it a good stir and get ready for the ride of your life.
So this is a complicated name. But if you don’t know Cel-Ray from Dr. Brown’s, then you should take a look-see. It’s old-school-cool with a celery spice that’s just unmistakable. It’s perfect for building a taller drink worth finding some of the magic stuff. Plus, with a little lemongrass in the mix, it’s like you’re making a meal.
For this, drop a few strands of lemon grass in the bottom of a Collins glass, and muddle with ½ oz of lime juice. Then, drop in a sliver or two of cucumber (*this is such a clutch move here, folks*), then add ice, and top with 2 oz of a citrus-forward gin, like Tanqueray No. 10 or Bluecoat, and 4 oz (half a can) of Dr. Brown’s Cel-Ray. Drinks like a dream and perfect for brunch.
Rhubarb-Basil: The Spring Fling Cocktail
- 1 ½ oz. Dry Gin
- ½ oz. Rhubarb Puree*
- 3-4 fresh Basil leaves, muddled hard
- Top with club soda (2-4 oz.)
Combine gin, puree, and basil leaves, in a shaker, add ice and shake well, strain into a highball glass filled with ice and top with club soda.
Ingredients: Twelve or Thirteen stalks of fresh rhubarb, ¾ cup of sugar, ¼ cup of water
- Chop the rhubarb into small 1/2-inch pieces
- Put in a medium saucepan with the sugar and water
- Cook, covered, stirring occasionally, over medium heat for about 10 minutes, until the rhubarb is soft
- Transfer the mixture to a food processor or blender (or use an immersion blender) and purée until smooth
- Set a fine mesh strainer over a bowl and pour the rhubarb through the strainer, pressing to get as much of the rhubarb pulp out as possible; a cheese cloth over the top of the strainer is also highly recommended
“Rosemary, Would You Look At the Thyme!”
Nothing like the combination of scotch and grapefruit needs any alteration according to Alex, who considers that combination to be among the top in any cocktail he’s ever had. But you wanna go next level? With just a little bit of rosemary and thyme (just missing the parsley and sage), there is another level. A simple drink that will make the event the purist of whiskey drinkers pine for more.
First, make some thyme simple syrup, because thyme can get a little wacky in drinks. For this, a 1: 1 ratio of sugar and water will do wonders. Add somewhere between 6-8 sprigs of thyme per ½ cup of liquid once the sugar has dissolved over medium heat. After adding the thyme, reduce heat.
Add 3 oz of grapefruit juice, 1 ½ – 2 oz of an even-keeled, blended scotch, like Cutty Sark or J&B, and ½ oz of the thyme syrup to a shaker and do your thang. Then strain into a Collins or double Old Fashioned glass with ice and garnish with a sprig of rosemary (which holds up way better in a glass than does thyme). The combination of the herbs, in both aroma and taste, will knock the socks off of any guest you have.
Mint-Ginger: Lillet Sin cocktail
- 2 oz. Lillet blanc
- 4 mint leaves
- 1 lime wedge
- 1 thin slice of fresh ginger
- 1 bar spoon simple syrup (1:1)
- Perrier (or club soda) to top
In a rocks glass, muddle the mint, lime wedge, and slice of ginger, add ice, then 2 oz. Lillet, and top with Perrier. Stir well.
- 2 oz. Gin
- ¾ oz. fresh Meyer lemon juice
- ¾ oz. thyme simple syrup
Combine ingredients in a shaker, add ice and shake well. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass or couple.