I ran into a problem last summer: too many herbs were coming out of my garden, so many that I couldn't keep up with them. The easy way to deal with this overflow would've been to make large batches of pesto and tabbouleh, or other variations on crushed-herb sauces or greens-and-grains salads. I did my best, but I still had a surplus. By the end of the growing season, I had to cut back armfuls of sorrel, thai basil, lemon thyme, curry, and others. All these great flavors (for which I had so many plans last May), and I ended up pitching them into the compost bin. It was silly: what was the point of nurturing these plants out of the dirt if I was only going to transform them back into dirt in a few months?
The pressure to get as much use as possible out of herbs happens during the fall, winter, and early spring as well: I'll generally buy a packet of them and use the herbs for one, maybe two recipes, then toss the rest into the fridge and forget about them. Weeks go by and then the leftover herbs have become a sad, mushy lump, and they go straight to the compost bin.
As I put together my garden this year, I'm also planning out ways to use herbs in more cooking. Which led me to consider how I'd use them in cocktails, as well. Since herbs impart a quick and fresh jolt to savory dishes, using them in cocktails makes sense, too. More than just garnishes, herbs can also help form the backbone of a well-mixed drink.
Here are some cocktails for the season. Think of them as a starting point for free-styling in the kitchen and behind the bar. Though I've suggested broad categories of herbs (basil, for example) any variety of the herbs mentioned could work – lemon basil, thai basil, etc.
Some additional notes:
- Since each of these recipes are for a single drink, they might not seem like the ideal way to use up a bumper crop of herbs; my recommendation is to make a few drinks here and there over the course of the growing season, then use the late summer's full harvest as an excuse for a cocktail party or two.
- Because these cocktails contain raw, minced herbs that will usually float to the top of the glass, serving them with a straw is recommended.
- Find more ideas for mixing herbs into cocktails in this SGT post from Benjamin Krikava.
- As always, drink responsibly.
Mint and Lemongrass Cooler
- 1 oz anise liquor (such as Ricard, Pernod, or Herbsaint)
- 2 tablespoons chopped mint leaves (alternately: basil)
- 1 tablespoon chopped lemongrass (from bottom of stalk)
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- pinch of sea salt
- 2 slices lemon, cut into quarters
- soda water
- extra slice of lemon for garnish
- top of lemongrass stalk for garnish
- Muddle the mint, lemongrass, lemon, and sugar.
- Add mint/lemongrass mixture, liquor, and ice to a cocktail shaker and shake well.
- Fill an old fashioned glass with ice, remove the shaker's lid, and pour liquor mixture over ice. (For a more refined-looking drink, strain the liquor mixture.)
- Fill rest of glass with soda water and garnish with lemon and lemongrass.
Arnold Palmer (Non-alcoholic)
- 1 teaspoon finely chopped thyme
- 1/2 teaspoon grated ginger
- 3 oz lemonade
- 3 oz iced tea
- tonic water
- note: botanical or natural tonic waters (ie ones with sugar cane instead of corn syrup as their main ingredient) work best for this drink
- extra slice of lemon or lime for garnish
- Muddle the thyme and ginger together in the bottom of a pint glass.
- Top with ice, lemonade, and tea. Stir well.
- Fill rest of glass with tonic and garnish with lemon or lime.
Note: if making this drink alcoholic, add 1 oz of gin after muddling the thyme and ginger.
Orange Basil Campari
- 1 oz Campari
- 2 slices orange, cut into quarters
- 1 tablespoon chopped basil
- 1 teaspoon of agave nectar (alternately: maple syrup)
- ginger ale
- note: botanical or natural ginger ales (ie ones with sugar cane instead of corn syrup as their main ingredient) work best for this drink
- extra slice of orange for garnish
- Muddle the orange, basil, and agave nectar.
- Add orange/basil mixture, Campari, and ice to a cocktail shaker and shake well.
- Fill an old fashioned glass with ice, remove shaker's top, and pour liquor mixture over ice. (For a more refined-looking drink, strain the liquor mixture.)
- Fill rest of glass with ginger ale, stir well, and garnish with orange.
Curry and Chive Bloody Mary
- 1 tablespoon chopped chives
- 1 tablespoon chopped curry leaves (alternately, 1/2 teaspoon toasted curry powder)
- 1 oz vodka
- 1 tablespoon lime juice
- tomato juice
- Sambal Oelek, Sriacha, or other chili sauce
- dash rice wine vinegar
- salt and pepper
- carrots, celery, green beans, or other vegetable for garnish
- Muddle the curry, chives, and lime juice together in a pint glass.
- Add ice, vodka, and chili sauce, salt, pepper, and vinegar to taste.
- Add tomato juice, stir well, and garnish with vegetables.
Peter Groynom is a graduate of Carleton College and the San Francisco School of Bartending. He is an avid home cook, a writer, and a Photoshop enthusiast. His photography can be found at Arts and Hovercrafts. He lives in Minneapolis. His last post for SGT was DIY Craft Cocktails: Infused (Flavored) Liquors.