A sip from a chilled glass of a summery cocktail is even more refreshing when it contains fresh-picked produce from your garden or from a local farm.
This season, expert mixologists have blended vegetables, herbs, and juices with a variety of spirits to create thirst-quenching, flavorful libations. The results? Delightfully balanced beverages! They are perfect to serve at pool parties, beach house gatherings, and just about any outdoor or warm weather soiree.
“Imagination is the key”, says J Rosser Lomax, New York based mixologist.
“Quick infusions of fresh or dried herbs let you prepare unique martinis or slings and customize your flavor palate to work with everything from light lunches to smoky barbecues.”
From bright spices to earthy vegetables, expert bartenders suggest choosing flavors that pair well with a meal or a particular mixer. If you don’t have your own garden or if it is limited to a small windowsill, local produce aisles usually offer dozens of different fruit, vegetable, and herb options to play with. In addition to choosing the freshest herbs, fruits, and juices, pros agree that selecting the premium alcohol is equally important, as the higher-end varieties ensure that your drink recipes have the utmost level of quality.
Some herbs work particularly well in handcrafted cocktails, including fragrant choices like mint, basil, verbena, cilantro, thyme, fennel, rosemary, and tarragon. Another favorite is lavender, known for its unique sweet and floral notes. Fruits and vegetables also add freshness, and cocktails can be enhanced by diverse flavors – everything from peaches to apricots and cantaloupes to cherries, grapes, and figs can add an extra bit of interest to your creations.
Lomax adds, “A premium vodka, such as Karlsson’s, is a fantastic choice for infusions because the extra body makes the resulting liquor feel substantial in both stirred and shaken drinks. The spicy pepper and earthy notes make it a natural mate for fresh summer flavors, and the light character of vodka makes it a perfect canvas for your creativity.”
Jaime Salas, brand ambassador from Milagro tequila, points out, “Fresh herbs are a great way to flavor your cocktails without the use of sugar-laden mixers and artificial flavors. The secret is to combine the right herbs, berries, fruits and veggies to get a good balance of flavors by either contrasting or complementing the inherent fruity and spicy flavor profile of your spirit. For example, pineapple and mint or basil go great together; they play up the fresh and fruity qualities in tequila, while providing a green note from the basil. Nothing says summer to me like basil and fruit, and the different combinations are endless.”
Jonathan Pogash, the Cocktail Guru and creator of the Sandeman carbonated cocktail, Founders Fizz, says, “The key is sourcing your ingredients as local as possible and picking/using them at their peak. I always think in culinary terms when creating cocktails.”
Not surprisingly, choosing organic produce is considered optimal by many fresh cocktail enthusiasts, and today using organic alcohol is becoming even more popular.
Ruth Westrick, Chatham Imports Florida state manager, explains, “Choosing organic spirits provides a noticeably cleaner taste in your cocktail. Organic products, such as Crop organic vodka, help support a healthier environment by protecting our streams and lakes from run-off of toxic pesticides and chemicals while helping to maintain soil integrity and productivity. By supporting organic products, you make an investment in a cleaner future.”
In addition to the health and earth benefits, serious imbibers may find that taking the time to make a fresh garden cocktail can be far more rewarding than simply pouring a glass of wine or beer.
Ryan Magarian, Co-Founder Aviation American Gin, says, “You want to be sure that delicate flavors of the herbs are layered over high-quality spirits, carefully measured to ensure perfect balance, shaken with pure ice, and garnished in a manner to take advantage of the wonderful aromas from your fresh produce.”
He reveals, “I love how sage plays with a simple gin sour, for instance, to deliver an aromatic experience you won’t soon forget. Beyond this, I love to extract fresh vegetable juices, and you’ll definitely find me using yellow and red bell pepper juices, along with fennel, honeydew, and cantaloupe. Finally, if you have any chilies growing in your backyard, I love pressing a thin slice into the bottom of almost any garden cocktail to give it a little — or a lot — extra kick.”
For an extra dose of opulence, he recommends dazzling your friends with edible gold or silver flakes. He says, “Sight is one of the first senses that connects you with the cocktail experience, and the drama and luxury that using edible gold and silver flakes adds to the experience simply takes things to another level entirely.”
Speaking of lavish living, Adrienne Maloof, cast member of the reality show, Housewives of Beverly Hills, also happens to be an owner of the new Zing vodka. She says, “Nothing tastes better than a natural sweetness from a seasonal fruit … One of my favorites is adding fresh blueberries and mint from my garden for the Blueberry Mint Red Velvet cocktail. I choose vodka, because you can do almost anything with it. It is a natural companion to fruit and herbs.”
Serge Chistov, CEO of Exclusiv vodka, agrees. “Because by definition it is tasteless and odorless, it’s one of the few spirits that quite literally mixes with everything. That means you can be extremely creative — and really wow your guests.”
For those seeking a South American flair, experimenting with the Brazilian liquor Cachaca can add some pizzazz to summer refreshers. Made from fresh sugar cane, Cachaca pairs well with juices and muddled fruit, ideal for warmer months. Another cool choice for crisp and tangy cocktails is Pisco, a grape brandy traditionally made in Peru and Chile.
Finally, don’t forget the ice! This once-overlooked cocktail element is now one of the more important parts of a drink. “One big solid ice cube or a chiseled ice ball is much better for spirit forward drinks like an Old Fashioned, as opposed to crushed ice which is better for juleps, swizzles or mojitos,” says Kathy Casey, Fairmont Hotel’s mixology consultant and President of Kathy Casey Liquid Kitchen. “Adding a flavor element to ice, such as with bitters, is also becoming quite popular. As the flavored ice melts in your drink, it adds another level of flavor and continues to enhance the drink as it’s consumed.”
Fresh Garden Summer Cocktail Recipes:
Blueberry Mint Red Velvet
1-1/2 oz Zing Vodka (Red Velvet)
1 oz club soda
1/4 oz fresh sour
Method: Muddle mint and blueberries add all but club soda. Shake and strain over fresh ice. Top with club soda.
Garnish: mint leaf
Glass: rocks or highball
Blushing Rosemary Margarita:
2 oz Milagro Silver Tequila
1 oz fresh lime juice
3/4 oz Agave Nectar
4 watermelon chunks
1 rosemary sprig
Optional: Lemon Bitters (2 dashes)
Garnish: rosemary sprig and lemon wheel.
Muddle fruit and herbs, add remaining ingredients. Shake and strain over fresh ice. Garnish with rosemary sprig and lemon wheel.
2 oz. Sandeman Founders Reserve
1/2 oz. blended Scotch whiskey
3/4 oz. blood orange juice
3/4 oz. sweet honey-cucumber water (honey that has been diluted with water that has cucumber slices marinating in it)
Garnish: cucumber slice.
Add ingredients to your carbonator of choice and carbonate. Then pour over ice into a tall glass.
Peach Mint Smash
1-¾ oz Partida Reposado Tequila
6 peach quarters
6 mint leaves
¼ oz lemon juice
¼ oz Simple Syrup
Garnish: mint sprig
Muddle the peach and mint in a mixing glass. Add other ingredients and shake with ice. Strain over fresh ice into a rocks glass. Garnish with a mint sprig.
2 parts Portón Pisco
3 parts club soda
1 part Simple Syrup
10 fresh mint leaves
½ lime, cut into 4 wedges
Build Instruction: Muddle mint, lime, simple syrup, add Portón. Shake, add a splash of club soda on top.
Garnish: mint leaf and lime wedge
2 oz Karlsson’s Gold Vodka
3 watermelon chunks
3/4 oz lemon juice
1/2 oz St. Germain
Garnish: watermelon wedge
Muddle the watermelon in a rocks glass. Add the remaining ingredients and crushed ice, garnishing with a watermelon wedge
2 oz Leblon Cachaca
3 basil leaves, torn
2 tsp. superfine sugar
1/4 lime, cut into wedges
Muddle the lime, strawberries, basil and sugar in a shaker. Fill the shaker with ice and add Cachaca. Shake well, and serve in a rocks glass. Garnish with a strawberry.