Grow Your Own Garden-to-Glass Cocktails
As interest in edible gardens continues to grow, a creative culinary cocktail culture has emerged and with it, the cocktail garden – the liquid offspring of the locavore and the farm-to-table movement, bolstered by the growing popularity of craft distilleries.
Garden-to-Glass Cocktails Growing in Popularity
“Garden-to-glass” cocktails include herbs, fruits, and vegetables freshly plucked one moment and the next becoming part of a cocktail. Many hotels, restaurants, and bars now create their own botanical cocktails and infused spirits, sometimes made with ingredients from the properties’ own cocktail gardens.
A Cultivated Taste
The botanical cocktail movement has sprouted an interest in growing one’s own cocktail ingredients and has spawned a great number of cocktail recipe books. With a developed palate for these garden-inspired drinks, even lay folks are joining in on the act, creating their own interesting libations. No longer are these cocktails the sole purview of the professional “mixologist” or bartender.
Drinks made from plants are not something new. Rum is made from sugarcane; tequila from agave; and whiskey from barley, corn, rye, and wheat. One can make vodka from a wide variety of things including potatoes, grains, and fruit, whereas gin is generally made from neutral spirits infused with juniper.
Gin first appeared in the 17th century in Holland, for medicinal use, and was sold by chemists. As it was not very palatable, the Dutch began flavoring the gin with juniper – also known for its medicinal properties.
The Gin Game
Made from a 100 percent neutral spirit, gin is typically flavored with juniper but often includes other botanicals, which provide varied flavor profiles.
In the 1920s, along with the ratification of the 18th amendment to the US Constitution, came prohibition. As liquor became unavailable, Americans began distilling their own gin, often in the bathtub. A simple mixture of juniper essence and home distillates, this “bathtub gin” was a Prohibition-inspired alternative to commercial gins, but as the homemade ones were not as good, they tarnished gin’s reputation. It wasn’t until Prohibition was repealed in 1933 that gin’s reputation was restored and high-quality gins and cocktails became available.
Cocktail Gardens: Great for the Space-Deprived
Cocktail gardens require extremely little space. A few containers on a balcony or terrace or a small raised bed will enable you to grow a variety of ingredients to mix up your own intoxicating garden-to-glass drinks.
How to Grow a Cocktail Garden
As with any garden plan, begin by choosing flavors you enjoy and then plant for your particular climate. Amy Stewart, author of The Drunken Botanist, suggests that you simply plant to your taste. Just about any plant can make its way into a cocktail, especially if it’s just steps from your kitchen or bar. Do you like grenadine, and will pomegranates grow in your planting zone? When you grow your own ingredients, your cocktails will be seasonal like your garden. Think strawberries in early spring, watermelon in summer.
If you’re adventurous, consider making your own shrubs. But not the kind you grow in the garden. In bartending lingo, a shrub is a concentrated syrup of fruit, sugar, and vinegar. Sometimes called “drinking vinegars,” they are sweet acidic mixers for a number of drinks and often include herbs and spices to create interesting flavor combinations.
Shrubs mix well with acidic fruit juices as well as with clear sodas like club soda or ginger ale. Some mixologists who craft their own serve them alone, topped off with a bit of cold water.
Shake It Up
Experiment on your own. Cocktails with cayenne pepper seem to be the rage these days, so if you gravitate toward the spicy, try concocting your own version to knock someone’s socks off. Garnish with a hot chili pepper. Become a botanical mixologist by combining unusual herbs, fruits, or vegetables to make your personal signature drink. Try variations on tried and true drinks like the Bloody Mary – a true botanical drink. The tomato makes it “bloody,” but instead of using the traditional celery stick garnish, try choosing another Bloody Mary garnish from the garden such as picked peppers, beans, or carrots.
An infusion is created by adding a flavor or a combination of flavors to a base spirit, usually a light one such as vodka, gin, tequila, sake, or light rum.
How to Infuse Vodka
- Herbs, spices, or fruits
- Airtight jar such as a mason jar or infusion jar
- Coffee filter, cheesecloth, or fine mesh strainer
- The Right Vodka:
- Select fairly high-end vodka to match the quality of the infusion you want to create. If you are new at this, choose a less expensive vodka for a starter infusion project.
- Select the Infusion Flavor:
- Fresh herbs, spices, and fruits are generally used for infusions. Most are fruit based, though I have tasted one made with cucumber. What you create is only limited by your imagination and taste.
- Begin with a clean airtight jar. Novice mixologists may consider experimenting with a few different infusions to start. If so, divide the vodka into smaller jars for each separate flavor. Mark the top of each jar, listing the ingredients, date, and anything else you would like to document. Place washed ingredients in the jar and fill with vodka. Shake it all up few times and then cover tightly with the lid.
- Letting the Infusion Sit:
- Store the infusion in a cool dark place and then shake it 3–5 times a day for 3–5 days. Strong flavors may only require 3 days, but you’ll want to leave the less intense ones for a week, possibly longer. Do a taste test every few days to judge the desired intensity of the infusion.
- The Finish:
- When you are happy with the taste, remove the flavoring ingredients. Strain the infusion using a fine strainer, cheesecloth, or paper coffee filter and then transfer it into clean jar or bowl. Place your final infusion in the bottle or jar of your choice and store and serve it as you would any liquor.
Entertaining with Festive Garden-to-Glass Cocktails
Botanical cocktails are great for entertaining, some resembling liquid works of art. Cocktails also dress up nicely with ice cubes filled with edible flowers. For a festive look, garnish with sprigs of rosemary or float some beautiful edible flowers as a finishing touch.
How does your cocktail garden grow, and what kind of creative libations will you mix up for your garden-to-glass experience? Go shake things up.