Kick off summer with cocktails inspired by the garden; photos by Michael Hanlon
With the arrival of warm weather months, I’d like to focus on seasonal ingredients, to make that weekly trip to the farmer’s market a little more intriguing. Cocktails are often thought of in terms of either sweet or boozy, but what about vegetal, verdant, or fresh? Some would even go so far as to advertise these kinds of cocktails as “healthy.” Aside from the ubiquitous tomato (although technically a fruit) in a bloody Mary mix, vegetables have not had their day in a sun-filled Nick and Nora glass.For our purposes here, let’s use “supermarket logic” and categorize any produce that is savory, not sweet, as a vegetable.That includes avocados, too. It might not be botanically correct, but you get the point. Bars in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries featured much more savory ingredients in their concoctions. Fennel, celery, tomato, and cucumber all found their way into the in vogue libations of the day. It wasn’t until the 1950s to the 1970s that inexpensive, artificial, and sickeningly sweet-sour mix started to dominate cocktail recipes, ruining all of their previous nuance. Deliberate cocktail crafting fell by the wayside, and sugar-laden drinks reigned supreme until the early 2000s. With craft cocktail culture making a comeback thanks to bars like Milk & Honey and Angel’s Share in New York City, veggies finally started to creep back into our glasses. (As a side note, I will always have a place in my heart for a well-made Long Island iced tea or a Bahama Mama, especially if you ask me to make one for you!)
Vegetables provide unusual tasting elements that are often lacking in cocktails. With a little imagination, they pair well with most herbs, fruits, and, of course, citrus. Earthiness is underappreciated in terms of the comforting connection to the earth and terroir it imparts. Spice and heat are both overlooked sensations that derive from vegetables and roots. Spicy margarita anyone?
Lucky for us, today there is an infinite amount of cocktails featuring vegetables on the Internet. A quick search will yield thousands of recipes. This can be a great way to find inspiration for a specific ingredient that you might not otherwise know how to use. No vegetable is off-limits. Gibson martinis are as classic as they come, and yet to think of onions in a beverage is otherwise somehow off-putting.
Utilize your creativity and make use of your leftover produce in the crisper drawer by muddling, juicing, garnishing, or shaking those veggies into something unique and delicious. Mother Earth will be glad you did and so will your grocery bill. Happy mixing!
Belladonna (Recipe credit: Jared Steeves, Radio Social)
- 2 oz. cachaça such as Leblon
- 1 oz. simple syrup
- 4 lime wedges
- 2 1/2–inch green bell pepper strips
- 2 dashes rose water
In a cocktail shaker, muddle lime and bell pepper, then add simple syrup, cachaça, and ice. Shake well. Without straining, pour the cocktail into a tumbler or old-fashioned glass. Top with two dashes of rose water.
Three Martini Lunch
- 1 1/2 oz. botanical gin, preferably Botanist or Hendrick’s
- 3/4 oz. Don Ciccio & Figli Finocchietto fennel liquor
- 3/4 oz. dry or blanc vermouth such as Dolin’s
- 2 dashes celery bitters
Combine all ingredients in a stirring glass with ice. Stir until very well chilled and ice has just started to dilute. Strain into a cocktail coupe or into a tumbler over ice. Garnish with fennel fronds and a lemon twist.
Note: This drink would also be excellent substituting Lillet Blanc or Cocchi Americano for dry vermouth. Get creative!
A Midsummer Night’s Dram
- 2 oz. carrot juice, fresh or from Wegmans in the juice aisle
- 1 1/2 ounce white rum like Plantation 3 Star or Real Mccoy
- 1 oz. fresh orange juice
- 3/4 oz. saffron honey syrup
- 1/2 oz. lemon juice
Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice and shake well. Strain over ice into a tumbler. Garnish with mint or carrot tops.
Saffron honey syrup: On the stove, warm one cup of honey over medium heat. Add ten threads of saffron. Thin syrup with only enough water to pour loosely. Allow to cool and store in the refrigerator for two weeks. Note: I like to keep the saffron threads in the syrup for the look in the final cocktail; however feel free to strain them out.
Notes on making cocktails with vegetables: Consider how sweet the vegetable is. Some veggies such as beets, carrots, and bell peppers may have enough inherent sweetness that you will not need to add as much sugar, if any at all,
to your cocktail. Bright green and delicate ingredients such as mint, greens, and cucumbers should not be muddled at all. Shaking or pressing gently is fine—aggressive muddling will release too much bitter chlorophyll into your drink.
If you don’t have a juicer or don’t want to juice, both Wegmans and Just Juice 4 Life have freshly made juices on-hand, or you can preorder. Celery juice is another versatile ingredient that is on trend right now and available in most places that sell fresh juices. A cucumber sour is simple and delicious, but think about playing around with herbal and vegetal liquors to add complexity as well. Don Ciccio & Figli has a wonderful fennel liquor, anisey and sweet. Ancho Reyes Verde Chile Poblano liquor would shine in your margarita on taco night, and a classic cucumber vodka martini is an easy hit. Cynar, an Italian aperitif, is famously flavored with artichoke leaves and imparts a subtle stewed vegetable quality. Infusing your dry vermouth with fresh ramps is a great way to extend their sadly short season and add a bite to your next perfect Manhattan.
Bitters and shrubs are another easy way to bring layers of flavor to your creations. Scrappy’s celery bitters, Bitterman’s Hellfire Habanero Shrub for heat, or the Bitter Truth’s olive bitters are all great places to start. Check out cocktailemporium.com for more inspiration.