How to Incorporate Fresh Garden Herbs Into Cocktails
There’s no thyme like the present.
We’ve always been big fans of cocktails. But without bars and restaurants to lean on for our fix, our appreciation for quality homemade mixed drinks has increased exponentially in the past who-knows-how-many-weeks.
I’ll jump on any mention of a new method for making a better from-scratch margarita (skip the Triple Sec and use fresh-squeezed OJ) or a way to reinvent the Moscow mule (make them into slushies), but my favorite home-mixology experiment to date has been incorporating as many fresh herbs, spices, and fresh-slash-frozen fruits as possible. Between the finally-growing herbs on my countertop and a pantry filled with an excess of nothing but booze, spice bottles, banana bread, and frozen blueberries, making infused cocktails has been a solid creative outlet and for me and my sanity. The drinks are delicious, too.
Ute Londrigan, founder and owner of Heimat New York Handcrafted Fruit Liqueurs, agrees. “Fresh mint in mojitos or mint juleps are well-known options, but there are endless possibilities for crafting cocktails using garden herbs and even fresh fruit,” she says. “Whether it’s fresh basil or rosemary from your garden or cinnamon sticks from the market, bringing herbs and spices into your home bar opens up so many flavor possibilities.”
According to Londrigan, the best way to make cocktails using fresh herbs is the classic technique. No fancy infuser equipment required; all you need is a muddler and a shaker. “Make it as simple as possible by muddling your favorite type of fresh herbs in a shaker followed by adding all other ingredients (like liquor or fruit), shake it, strain, and serve. You’ll enjoy a whole new flavor profile,” she says. “And for an even more herbaceous flavor, try muddling together multiple herbs like mint, basil, and tarragon.”
How to Match Herbs With Spirits
Basil: Its mild and slightly sweet flavor pairs especially well with gin, vodka, or rum.
Mint: Mint's sweet, refreshing taste works well with all different liquors. Vodka, rum, tequila, and bourbon (just to name a few).
Thyme: Thyme’s very earthy—with a hint of mint—profile is best served by clear spirits like gin or vodka, but it also works with bourbon.
Rosemary: Rosemary has a lemon-pine flavor with notes of woodsiness and pepper, which makes it a great pairing for rum, tequila, vodka, and whiskey cocktails.
Ginger: It’s as hot, zesty, and biting as it is sweet and warm. Ginger is very versatile and goes well with any liquor, but rum and vodka are the best.
Lemongrass: It’ll add a refreshing and tart flavor profile to gin or tequila cocktails.
Cinnamon: Cinnamon is aromatic and offers a woodsy, musty and earthy flavor which plays well with bourbon, whiskey, rum or hard cider. Cinnamon sticks can easily be added, or used as a natural stir stick. Also nice: infuse it in a simple syrup (or the spirit itself—see below).
Infuse Your Spirits
“Infusing spirits is another great way to use herbs in cocktails,” says Londrigan. Simply pour your liquor of choice into a mason jar and add spices, herbs, or fruits, cover and let stand in a cool dark place for two to three days, or until it reaches your desired flavor. Because liquor is high proof, no refrigeration is necessary. “Test it out every couple days; once you’re happy with the flavor, it means it’s ready to use in your favorite cocktail.”
Adding Fresh or Frozen Fruit
“I love to use fresh fruit from the farmers' market when making cocktails,” Londrigan says. “And as an alternative, frozen fruits. Berries in particular work well.” Adding fruit with your fresh herbs gives your drink another dimension. Here are the two best methods:
Like herbs, you can simply muddle them in your shaker before adding the other ingredients or use them to infuse your spirit.
This is a great way to take a margarita to the next level. Stew your fruit on the stove top (fresh or frozen) until it’s nice and soft. Once cooled, strain it through a fine mesh so that no pieces are left. The result is a delicious syrup that offers rich fruit flavor that is much deeper with a more vibrant color. Simply add ice, tequila, citrus juice, and your fruit syrup to a shaker, then shake vigorously to combine and pour into your favorite serving glass.