Going green this spring
Elemental and fresh, these cocktails are the essence of simplicity
As the snow begins to melt, or as we are all trying
to mentally will it to, the first signs of spring arrive in small sprouts of green—tiny blades of grass, bright and shining, growing, stretching toward the sky. Warmer days always make me crave drinks from warmer climates, like a margarita or daiquiri.
I even adore a simple gin gimlet on a patio in the spring, but even better than that, I love a gin gimlet with fresh thyme or rosemary shaken in. Classic cocktails like the margarita, daiquiri, and gimlet have been deemed classics for a reason. Not only have they been around for so long that their histories are almost untraceable, but they have stayed in popularity for decades, possibly even centuries. All three of these sours can be made using most of the same ingredients but by simply switching out the base spirit, and I often find myself defining one by using the others. “A daiquiri is like gimlet but with rum.” All three of them are bases for creativity, giving birth to so many other cocktails and variations, it would take me an entire book to document that history.
The margarita recipe we recognize today, consisting of tequila, lime, sugar, and triple sec, with a notable salt rim, was most likely created at Tommy’s Place Bar on July 4, 1942, by Francisco “Pancho” Morales. Morales later left bartending in Mexico to become a US citizen, which could explain its popularity in the United States. It is important to note that historic cocktail recipes calling for triple sec often reference for dry orange curacao instead. Cocktail historian David Wondrich believes the two terms were used interchangeably in the 1940s, and that both recipes were closer in sweetness level to what we know as dry orange curacao today.
While we cannot be certain who brought the daiquiri into popularity, it is almost verifiably named after a beach and iron mine by the same name near Santiago, Cuba. Reportedly invented by an American mining engineer, Jennings Cox, who was in Cuba in 1898, the Daiquiri was made increasingly famous by William A. Chanler, a congressman who purchased the Santiago iron mines in 1902 and introduced the classic cocktail to clubs in New York that same year. Predating this, however, is the fact that the daiquiri recipe is quite similar to the grog British sailors drank on board ships as early as 1740. By 1795 the Royal Navy daily grog ration contained rum, water, lime juice, and sugar. This was a common drink across the Caribbean, and as soon as ice became available, this was included instead of the water.
This is still the recipe used today for a proper daiquiri. It is served up (not frozen!) and may be the most delicious four-ingredient cocktail anyone can make. Spice up your daiquiri with fennel, basil, or tarragon to make this simple cocktail more interesting! The gimlet has a long and muddled history. It may be named after the tool for drilling small holes, alluding to its “piercing” effect on the drinker, or after Surgeon Admiral Sir Thomas Gimlette, who, in the 1900s, is said to have first added lime cordial to the daily gin tot of the men of the Royal Navy to help combat scurvy.
There are countless recipes with countless different ratios of either vodka or gin to either lime cordial or lime juice and simple syrup that have been published over the last eighty years. Classic recipes call for an intense amount of sugar, whereas a decade ago I worked on a bar program that only used a quarter ounce fresh lime juice to two ounces of gin. Two decades ago you would have been hard pressed to find a gimlet containing anything but Rose’s lime cordial and base spirit, but with the cocktail revivals across the country, the most common modern recipe I have found is two ounces of gin, half an ounce of lime juice, and just slightly less than half an ounce of one-to-one simple syrup.
Of all the classics I enjoy adding fresh green herbs to, the gimlet is by far the best vehicle. Gin is already herbaceous and aromatic, and vodka is a blank canvas. My favorite combinations for adding green into my cocktail repertoire are inspired by the history and cooking culture of the drink ingredients themselves. A margarita will always taste better with agave nectar—you are using sugar from the same plant the tequila is made from, creating a cohesiveness refined white sugar will never achieve. Similarly, I love a margarita with cilantro and cucumber, common ingredients in Mexican cuisine.
This is also why when I think of a gin gimlet I think of rosemary and thyme, often found in an English Sunday roast, for example. The daiquiri, on the other hand, I personally enjoy with anise. As I already have a tiny obsession with absinthe daiquiris, this much lower ABV (alcohol by volume) cocktail uses delicately sweet white rum and a small pinch of fennel or tarragon—just enough to remind me of my favorite drink while allowing me to drink more than one cocktail all night and not feel like a zombie the next day!
The possibilities do not end there. As I mentioned earlier, basil, and even sage, dill, jalapeno, or whatever your favorite herb, can elevate these classics in the most unexpected ways. Using savory ingredients? Try a couple drops of a ten-percent saline
solution. While it complements the herbs, it will also help balance the sour. Think chocolate chip cookies or your grandma eating grapefruit. Not only will it create more balance between the sharp acid and sweet sugar, but it will create more of a unified flavor profile—instead of tasting through individual flavors, the drink tends to become one unified note. Now you can go forth and go greener with confidence! Or stop by Cure for $6 classic cocktails at happy hour, until 7 p.m. Pair your classic with a $6 bar snack, sit back, and let your bartender do the work for you!
Dara Stern is a bartender at Cure and the secretary for the Rochester chapter of the United States Bartender Guild.