My father is Norwegian and they have a saying that translates roughly into “there is food in a good drink.” Now anyone that has had a Guinness can probably attest to that, but really what this statement means is that there is a kind of soul filling sustenance to slowing down and having a nice drink (especially with friends and loved ones). If you also subscribe to this idea of the soul-filling and healing of sharing a good drink, be it alcoholic or non-alcoholic, then allow me to introduce you to an idea to take it up another “notch.” Look to your garden for inspiration.
There is nothing more accessible than a simple pot of herbs. Anyone can have one, be it on your windowsill, patio, front door or if you are lucky enough skip the pot and plant a herb patch. Herbs are not just for cooking they are the best for adding zing to a drink. Mint is what everyone thinks of with cocktails and don’t get me wrong I love a sprig of mint for garnish or a hearty muddling (this is a technique where you put the herb in the bottom of a glass and bash it to break it up and release the flavours). But, think beyond the mint. Thyme and rosemary are hearty herbs that work so well in a drink and they pair nicely with strong spirits like gin and whisky. Basil and tarragon are more delicate, have anise-like flavours and pair well will vodka and liqueurs. In fact, my favourite summer cocktail, which a friend of mine nicknamed the Wobbly Gardener, is made with basil (recipe below).
Flowers are the obvious choice for making simple syrup and I would take lavender simple syrup for days. Add it to lemon aid, sparkling water or add some gin, it’s all delicious. I’ve also seen something recently that I haven’t tried it myself but feel I must try next spring and that is lilac flowers. Imagine a sweet drink that tasted like lilac smells? Yes please! But also think about herbs, stronger herbs like thyme, sage and rosemary make amazing simple syrups. To make your own just boil equal amounts of water and sugar until all the sugar has dissolved, remove it from the heat, pop in your “flavour” of choice and allow to cool. Strain and keep in the fridge for up to 5 days ready to add to your next drink.
I am big into the infusions this summer, it’s an opportunity to make something unique with little to no effort on your part. You simply add a flavour in the form of a berry/herb/veggie to an alcohol (sorry there are no non-alcoholic options here) and then leave for a few days. Vodka is the most common and obvious choice, but any alcohol will work, perhaps gin or whiskey. Think of adding garden grown hot peppers, tomatoes, herbs, fruit, even spruce tips in the spring. Consult one of the many recipe ideas with an internet search, put your washed “flavouring” of choice in a mason jar, fill it with your alcohol, seal and store somewhere cool and dark for a few days and viola you have something special to pull out at your next BBQ.
Please don’t forget about all the berries that can come out of the garden. Strawberries, blueberries, raspberries the list could go on. You can keep it simple and pop some in a gin and tonic, in a glass of soda water, or of course take it up a notch and make an iconic strawberry margarita (you will never go back to frozen strawberries). Or just muddle whatever berries you have on hand, add some mint, ginger ale or soda, with or without light rum, and you have a berry Moijito.
Don’t overlook the power of adding a garnish to a drink to increase the enjoyment. We eat and drink with our eyes almost as much as our taste buds. Imagine borage flowers floating in a drink, or level up and freeze some in ice cubes. The blue star-shaped flowers float delicately and literally all you’ve done is drop them in, viola instantly a snazzy drink. Also, pansies, nasturtiums, a sprig of herb, or a cherry tomato. Growing hot peppers can be challenging so when you get one, celebrate it and use it as a garnish for a spicy Caesar. Or instead of a ubiquitous celery stick in that Caesar pop in a freshly picked, crispy green bean. There are countless options, take a look around your garden as long as it’s edible it can be a garnish.
Think outside the obvious cocktail
Just as anything edible can be used as a garnish, so too can anything edible from the garden be used as an inspiration for a cocktail. Consider rhubarb, you can juice it (I’ve heard it’s not easy but worth it) or just simmer in a simple syrup, purée and strain it, there are lots of possibilities. And there are so many ways you can make a tasty drink, rhubarb-rosemary daiquiri anyone? I recently saw an interesting recipe for a drink called a Ruby Queen, it was made with beet juice, tarragon and scotch whisky. I’m not sure I’m going to try that one, but it just goes to show that inspiration can grow from anywhere (pun intended). So, muddle a few sweet and juicy cherry tomatoes, add some basil, salt, gin and ice and enjoy something a bit different.
The garden is full of inspiration if you just stop and look around. So, let's get a little bit creative this summer. As the temperature starts to climb it’s time to find a little spot of shade and enjoy a cool refreshment. Whether you are taking a moment of “me time” by yourself or want to invite a few friends over (now that we can enjoy a bit of outdoor socializing), stop and enjoy a good soul-filling “meal” of a tasty beverage. Trust me, it tastes so much better when it’s made with something you grew yourself.
The Wobbly Gardener
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.