During the time of year when “herbs are bursting,” Julia Child said, “it’s especially easy to cook well.”
It’s especially easy to drink well, too.
The demand for fresh herbs is expanding beyond the kitchen to behind the bar. The good old celery stalk in the Bloody Mary? Gone. The lime wheel perched on the rim of a gin and tonic? Nope. Plain simple syrup? Forget about it.
Better barkeeps use fresh herbs
Barkeepers and mixologists worth their rim salt are already embracing the herbal trend. They wouldn’t pour inferior spirits into their cocktail shakers, so why would they settle for inferior herbs when The Chefs Garden’s superior varieties are there for the asking?
Liz Studer, mixologist at the Culinary Vegetable Institute (CVI), said she never runs out of ideas and options to use The Chef’s Garden’s herbs when creating a new cocktail. And she is lucky enough to have the whole spectrum of fresh herbs right at her fingertips at the CVI gardens and from the farm.
So many options
Studer said frozen cold-water herbal infusions are perfect for making ice that adds an element of complementary flavor to a drink (rather than diluting it like plain ice.) She said lemon verbena ice is an element of her Woodsman cocktail. Steeping herbs in simple syrup is yet another tactic for layering flavors.
“This is my most common utilization of herbs,” Studer said. “Lavender simple syrup for lavender lemonade, mint simples, basil simples − the list goes on and on! It’s as ‘simple’ as boiling equal parts water and sugar and steeping the herbs in the hot syrup just like you would a tea.”
The direct method
Sometimes she skips right to the chase and steeps the herbs directly into the liquors and liqueurs.
“Our Thyme Piece cocktail involved micro thyme-infused Pisco for a play on the classic Pisco sour,” Studer said. “I’ve infused squash blossoms into vodka for our Curcurbitaceae dinner.” Curcurbitaceae is a plant family that includes, among other things, squash and gourds, so the squash blossom was a natural choice.
Studer said she is experimenting with the remainder of the squash blossom vodka to create house-made limoncello, “Release date TBD,” she said. “You have to allow them to express themselves in the bottled spirit for a few hours to a few weeks.”
Tender is better
Muddling is one of the more popular methods of adding herbs to cocktails, according to Studer. “Muddling herbs in a glass with the syrup of choice releases oils,” she explained. “Muddling doesn’t have to be limited to just mints, either. I’ve used basils, citrus begonia petals, sorrels, and more.”
(A muddler is a tool used like a pestle to mash, or muddle, herbs in the bottom of a glass to release their flavor.)
Less is more when it comes to muddling, Studer said. Gently pressing the herbs is all it takes to release the oils. And, as not to waste a single drop of remaining herb oil, Studer said she pours the spirit over the muddler to rinse off the last drops and not leave any flavor behind.
Topping it off
Of course, herb garnishes are the most obvious choice for fresh herbs, she said. “They impart an added aromatic dimension, and they are just lovely!” she said. “I’ve used all sizes, from micros, to full size, to flowering. Honestly, I don’t think I’ve used a single piece of fruit for garnish since I’ve been creating cocktails at CVI. It’s all been herbs, edible flowers, and vegetables!
An essential technique for using larger leaves is to release their oils by placing them flat on the hand and lightly “spanking” them with the back of the other hand. Rolling works well for edible flowers and those attached to stems or sprigs. Her Marigold Mule, for example.
“It’s a standard Moscow Mule recipe, but with a stem of citrus marigold with leaves and flower, gingerly rolled between the hands,” Studer said. “This adds aroma to the drink experience.”
Rimming glasses with powdered herbs, floating drops of herb oil on top or mixing up house-made bitters and vermouth are great ways to showcase herbs, as well.
Studer said typically creates non-alcoholic “temperance” beverages alongside their cocktail counterparts for CVI events.
“I’ve made a delicious marigold tea, along with other fresh herb teas, various sodas with herbal syrups, and vegetable juices garnished with herbs and their flowers,” she said. “Our kitchen team has been using herbs in their kombuchas since the beginning.”
Herbal Cocktail Recipe: Cherry Chocolate Mint Mojito
4 pitted Bing cherries
12 large leaves of The Chef’s Garden chocolate mint
1 stem of chocolate mint with the bottom leaves stripped, for garnish
½ oz chocolate mint simple syrup
Gently muddle/press cherries and mint leaves in a beaker.
Pour 1 oz Bacardi run over the muddler to rinse it into the beaker.
½ oz lime juice
¼ ounce cherry liquor (or regular cherry liquor)
Add ice and stir well.
Fill a tall glass with crushed ice.
Double strain mixture into the glass.
Top with soda water
Garnish with a fresh mint sprig