When you think of herbs, you generally think of food. And when you think of cocktails, you generally think of booze. That is, the spirit: gin, vodka, tequila, and so on. But combining the two, we don’t see that a lot. I heard of herbs in drinks long ago, but wrote off the idea. (Except for the classic mojito, which I’ve slurped my fair share of.) I thought the whole notion of adding more stuff like herbs to a drink was fussy. Unneeded. I’ll take my whiskey neat and Coors Light cold, thank you. But then I tried this herb cocktail thing. And I liked.
Even though you’re just adding a leaf or two, the little effort takes many cocktails from something good to something great. It brings the freshness. It adds a creative twist to classics. And it’s easy. —Paul Brewer
Interested? Here are some tips:
Grow your own
Though you probably have a grocery store near you that sells ‘em, buying herbs fucking sucks. So little bang for your buck. They’re expensve. They’re not fresh. And Barca says they’re full of GMO’s. So why not grow your own? We’re not talking some full fledge farm operation here—just a little box or pot on your deck or a window ledge for some basics like rosemary, sage, basil, cilantro, thyme. Your drinks and food will be all the better for it.
Keep it Seasonal
If you’re growing your own, this one’s easy—the herbs you’ll be using will be seasonal by nature. Mint in summer works. Sage in winter works. Or, if you’re sick of winter and being cold, try a mint drink in the dead of winter. It’ll be quick vacation in a glass.
Certain spirits go well with certain herbs. Sage and rosemary go well with whiskey and gin, or things with lemon or even honey. Mint goes with everything, but especially rum and tequila. Same for cilantro. Basil likes vodka and gin. Figure out what you like with what then spin your own cocktails from there.
Sometimes you’ll see bartenders pounding away at a stack of mint in the bottom of a glass. That’s too much effort and makes the mint taste grassy instead of minty. Try it yourself with a mint leaf: rub it once and you’ll smell that glory, rub it in your palm for a minute and it’ll smell like a lawn. So yes, muddling is good, but don’t go nuts on those leaves.
Garnish with Style
Depending on how you use herbs to garnish, herbs can make you look like a proper bar cart baller. Try using a rosemary twig as a spear for some olives or a lemon peel, or maybe float a whole mint or basil leaf on top of your concoction. You too can ball.
Here’s some of my favorite herb remixes:
SPICY CILANTRO MARGARITA
2 oz tequila
1 small piece of jalapeño
1 tablespoon cilantro
Pinch of sugar
1 ounce Triple Sec
fresh lime juice (to taste)
Put jalapeño, cilantro, and sugar into a shaker and muddle / smash it all together. Add the rest of the ingredients to shaker and shake vigorously. Pour over ice and garnish with extra jalapenos or cilantro.
SMOKED ROSEMARY OLD FASHIONED
Make an old fashioned (we already taught you how). After you express the peel, light a sprig of rosemary on fire and blow it out so it smokes. Use that sprig as your garnish. You’ll like that piney smell and taste combo.
SAGE BEES KNEES
1 1/2 ounces gin
1/2 ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 ounce honey simple syrup
Fresh sage leaves
First, make the syrup by combining ½ cup honey with ½ cup water in a small pan and simmer until the honey is dissolved. After it cools, combine all ingredients above in a shaker and shake well, then strain into glass. Rub the sage leaves a little and float them on top as garnish.