Cocktail Hour in the Garden
When you think of fresh grown herbs the first thought is of cooking, but adding a little green into your glass is something you should consider. Using herbs to liven up a cocktail (both alcoholic and non) is something everyone should try. It can be as simple as popping a sprig of mint into your glass of water or as sophisticated as creating and mixing your own libations. Herbs are filled with volatile oils and their fragrance hits your nose before anything crosses your lips, since our taste is linked to smell a small sprig of herb can be transformative.
Below are the TOP 5 Herbs for sipping along with recipes to try:
So much more than a moijito or a julep, mint is the go to for most people when starting a foray into cocktail herbs. It has a distinctive bright flavour that everyone is familiar with. But did you know about all the different flavours and varieties? For more information on mint and especially how to grow it check out our blog post all about mint HERE.
Uses: The cooling yet sweet flavour of mint makes it so versatile you can pop it into any drink and immediately elevate it. Gin, vodka, white rum, all are great pairing. Also, pack a tea pot with some fresh green leaves, pour over some boiling water and soon you will have the best mint tea you’ve ever tasted.
Cooling Cucumber Mint Cocktail:
Cucumber and mint are a perfect combination for a summer day.
2 slices of cucumber
Handful of mint leaves
1 oz of fresh squeezed lime juice
½ oz simple syrup (recipe in sidebar)
2 oz Vodka
In a cocktail shaker muddle mint and cucumber until they have released their flavours (but aren’t too mushy). Add in lime, simply syrup, vodka and fill with ice.
Shake vigorously and strain into an ice filled glass. Top with soda water to your taste preference.
To make it non-alcoholic just leave out the vodka and you have a perfect patio sipper.
Most people bypass lavender when thinking about herbs but the floral, sweet and even slightly earthy flavour of this flower is amazing. Yes, it’s lovely tucked into a glass of Prosecco but if you boil it with sugar and water to make a simple syrup then you just “took it up a notch”. Besides while putting flowers into a drink looks nice, you can end up getting flower bits stuck in your teeth and no one likes that.
Growing: Lavender is easy to grow as long as you have a decent amount of sun. Full sun and well–drained soil are what it needs so it’s a perfect plant for a container. English lavender is the best for growing in our climate and for fantastic flavour and fragrance. Prune it back (by no more than half its size) in the early spring to encourage new compact growth.
Uses: You can technically use all parts of lavender but really, the flowers are where it’s at. Harvest them in early summer when they are just starting to open. The floral flavour lends itself so well to lighter and citrus based drinks. Think of making a Lavender simple syrup and then adding to lemonade, or mixing it into vodka and gin based drinks.
Empress Lavender Gimlet
This drink is a favourite in my family. Empress Gin is locally distilled and uses butterfly pea flowers to make it the most amazing blue colour. When you add an acid such as lemon juice, it changes colour before your eyes from vibrant blue to a muted pink. Fun and delicious.
2 oz Empress 1908 Gin
½ oz lavender simple syrup (recipe at end of blog post)
1 oz fresh squeezed lemon juice
Add gin and lavender simple syrup to an ice filled cocktail shaker and shake vigorously. Strain into an ice filled glass and in front of an audience slowly add in the lemon juice. Stir it up or keep the colour/flavour gradient in place… your choice.
This herb is not just for tomato sauce. It’s becoming more and more popular in cocktails and for good reason. With a herbaceous flavour similar to mint, basil has a semi sweet, anise and even spicy element that is a little unexpected but adds a sophisticated flavour.
Growing: Growing basil is pretty easy, plant it in a sunny warm spot and don’t forget to water it. Grow it in your garden or in a pot on the windowsill, it will thrive. Unlike other herbs basil is an annual, so each year means new basil, either from seed or buying a plant. I prefer to buy a plant each year, because… well, I’m impatient and I want instant gratification.
Uses: Basil is a delicate herb but has a strong flavour that is a good match for gin, tequila, white rum and even bourbon.
The Wobbly Gardener
This is a drink that was created by a dear friend, she came up with it after trying an award winning drink called the Tilted Farmer from the 10 Acre Commons in Victoria.
6-8 sprigs of basil (Genovese is best for this)
1 ½ oz gin
¾ oz soho (lychee liqueur)
1 oz fresh squeezed lemon juice
½ oz simple syrup
In a tall glass muddle basil, then add remaining ingredients except Prosecco. Fill the glass ¾ full with ice, top with Prosecco to taste. Stir and enjoy.
In ancient “herbology” thyme was thought to bring courage, so putting it into your drink gives a whole new meaning to the term “liquid courage”. Being a woody herb one would expect it to be bold and heady but thyme is actually quite mild and has an earthy, sweet flavour.
Growing: Thyme is a Mediterranean herb so is not happy when it is growing in waterlogged soils, plant in in an area that is warm and well drained. On the plus side, thyme is drought resistant so perfect for the forgetful waterer or in areas where water conservation is a concern. Trim your thyme back after it flowers and you will be rewarded with lush new growth.
Uses: The subtle, gentle flavour of thyme with hints of mint and lemon (especially with lemon thyme) is so versatile you can pair with almost anything, gin, vodka, bourbon, and limoncello (an Italian lemon flavoured liqueur) is especially nice.
Thyme Old Fashioned
¾ oz thyme simple syrup
3 dashes of Angostura bitters
Pour into a highball glass and swirl to combine. Add:
2 oz bourbon
Serve with ice and garnish with a twist of orange.
Another herb with a symbolic meaning, this time of remembrance (just in case you have a few too many this might help the next morning). A woody herb, it is known for strong pungent flavours and is a bold addition so should be used somewhat sparingly.
Growing: Yet another Mediterranean herb, rosemary should also be grown in a sunny, warm well-drained soil. In fact, plant it alongside your thyme and they will be happy together. It’s perfect for container growing.
Uses: With flavours of pine and lemon, the pungent and slightly bitter taste of rosemary pairs well bourbon, gin, vodka, and tequila. If you really want to get fancy trying slightly burning or singeing a stem of rosemary and then using as a garnish to bold/peaty/Smokey drinks such as bourbon, whisky or scotch.
1 ½ oz of tequila
3 oz of grapefruit
½ oz of rosemary simple syrup
½ oz of fresh lime juice
Pour all ingredients except soda water into a shaker filled with ice and shake vigorously. Strain into an ice filled glass, top with soda water and garish with a sprig of rosemary. Also an option, rim your glass with lime and salt before filling it up with ice, it makes a nice contrast to the citrus.
A tasty alternative – just in case you feel like taking a break from alcohol but still want something special and unique, Seedlip is a company that has just come across my radar. They create artisanal distilled non-alcoholic spirits from a farm in the English countryside. The spirits have the same complexity in taste as alcohol but without the next day repercussions. The name Seedlip is an homage to the baskets that were used for generations on the farm to transplant seedling (from Seed to Lip). They have three different varieties:
Garden 108 (sweet hand-picked peas, hay, spearmint, rosemary and thyme)
Grove 42 (orange, mandarin, blood orange with ginger and lemongrass)
Spice 94 (lemon, grapefruit with warm spicy notes from allspice and cardamom)
They can be used to create something simple, by combining them with soda/tonic, or creating intricate cocktails such as the Panoma (see recipe below). Having been featured in iconic establishments such as The Savoy and The Ritz, they might just have to make an appearance at my table. Check them out in the Giftware department of your nearest GardenWorks.
2 oz Seedlip Spice 94
1 oz fresh grapefruit juice
½ oz fresh lime juice
½ oz simple syrup
Soda water to taste
Put all ingredients, except soda water, into an ice filled shaker and shake vigorously. Strain and pour into a tall glass filled with ice. Top with soda water, garnish with an orange/grapefruit peel and enjoy.
So if you are going to relax on the patio and want to enjoy a little something special then the small step of adding a sprig of fresh herb from your own garden/patio/windowsill can take something ordinary and make it special.
Written by Ingrid Hoff
Muddling – really is just a fancy word for beating the heck out a herb until it’s a pulpy mess. You can do this with a specific wooden “mini-baseball-bat” like tool called a muddler, or just the handle of a wooden spoon. This is a technique that is mostly used on delicate herbs such as basil or mint.
Simple syrup – a great way to get the flavour of a woody herb without the woody bits or getting flowers/leaves stuck in your teeth, and it’s so easy… that’s why it’s called simple syrup.
Add equal amounts of water and sugar (or honey) to a saucepan. A good starting amount is:
1 cup of water
1 cup of sugar
Bring it to a boil until the sugar/honey dissolves. Remove from the heat and then you can either add in your flavouring (lavender, thyme, rosemary, etc.), or leave it plain. Let it cool and then strain into a container. Simple syrup will keep in the fridge for up to a month.