Are Your Homemade Cocktails Missing Something? (Hint: Try Herbs)

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Are Your Homemade Cocktails Missing Something? (Hint: Try Herbs)

Want to mix up a cocktail at home that’s as fancy as the one you order at a swanky bar?

You need one secret ingredient. Homegrown herbs.

Fresh herbs plucked from your garden add depth to homemade cocktails.

“Whether you have a sunny window, a container garden, or a backyard, there are many herbs you can grow for cocktails,” says Emily Han, author of “Wild Drinks & Cocktails: Handcrafted Squashes, Shrubs, Switchels, Tonics, and Infusions to Mix at Home." “Using homegrown herbs will elevate your cocktails and make them much more unique than something you get off the shelf.”

And you won’t have to worry about artificial sweeteners and syrups ruining your good vodka. “In addition to offering vibrancy and complexity, fresh herbs also give you the benefits of antioxidants, vitamins, and other nutrients,” Han says.

Even farmers market finds can’t compare. “Homegrown herbs are going to look, smell, and taste a lot fresher than ones you buy at the supermarket, or even the farmers market,” she says. “There are so many different ways you can incorporate your homegrown herbs into cocktails, from muddling them to making simple syrups and infusions to garnishing your drinks.”

7 Tips for Using Herbs to Make the Best Homemade Cocktails

Before you mix up a round of your favorite cocktail, head to your herb garden. Herbs will take your homemade cocktails to a whole new level. With a few expert tips and tricks, you can create lovely cocktail concoctions with herbs. Soon you’ll be asking, is it happy hour yet? (If you aren’t already.)

1. Go for the classic

“Mint is a classic cocktail ingredient, and when you grow your own, you're not limited to the spearmint that's usually sold in grocery stores,” Han says. “You can get different aromas and flavor profiles from varieties like Mojito mint, chocolate mint, orange mint, and pineapple mint.”

2. Choose citrusy herbs

“Citrus-scented herbs often complement cocktails,” Han says. She recommends lemon balm, lemon verbena, lemon basil, and lemon or orange thyme.

3. Try different herb varieties

For even more unique flavors in your homemade cocktails, grow unexpected herb varieties. You’ll thank yourself for going against the norm. “Like mint, basil and thyme have many interesting cultivars, from purple basil to silver thyme,” Han says. Other great cocktail herbs include rose, geranium, sage, and rosemary.

Han says she likes to grow and make cocktails with herbs that are hard to find where she lives, like anise hyssop, bee balm, holy basil, pineapple sage, and Moldavian balm. “I also grow a lot of Asian herbs that are mostly for cooking but inevitably make their way into cocktails too,” she says. “Ones like Thai basil, lemongrass, Vietnamese balm, different kinds of perilla and shiso, myoga, and my latest fascination, magenta plant (Peristrophe roxburghiana), which turns liquids pink!”

4. Don’t forget the garnishes

No cocktail is complete without a garnish. It adds a pretty final touch and also an extra hint of flavor.

When we think of garnishes, we typically think of a couple of olives skewered on a toothpick or a wedge of lemon, but you can grow your garnishes, too. “For beautiful garnishes, you can grow edible flowers like borage, nasturtium, and chamomile,” Han says.

5. Start with a gin and tonic

Han recommends a gin and tonic as a canvas to experiment with your homegrown herbs. “Muddle an herb in the bottom of the glass and add a sprig at the end (remember to slap it first!),” she says. You may feel silly, but slapping that sprig of mint or thyme with your hand will release its aroma.

6. Use an existing recipe and adapt it

“Another easy way to incorporate herbs is to take an existing cocktail recipe, such as a daiquiri or old-fashioned, and swap out the simple syrup for an herb-infused one,” Han says. “Or, try another herb in place of the mint in a mojito.”

7. Have a gentle hand

Don’t beat up your herbs. “When using herbs, you want to release enough essential oils that your drink is aromatic and flavorful, but not too bitter,” Han says. “If you're muddling, press on the herbs just enough to release the aroma, but don't grind or pulverize them.”

Same goes for making a syrup. “If you're using herbs in a syrup, you want to avoid boiling them,” Han says. “Instead, boil the water or syrup first and then steep the herbs in the hot liquid.”

The Takeaway

Don’t overthink it when it comes to growing herbs for homemade cocktails. “Ultimately, it's the most fun to grow what you love,” Han says. “If you enjoy the scent and flavor of lavender, grow that, and then find ways to integrate it into cocktails.”

“It's empowering and creatively fulfilling to grow your own herbs and make your own drinks, and there's nothing like being able to pluck herbs right before using them,” she says. “Even if all you do is plop a sprig of homegrown mint in your glass, it's going to make your cocktail more meaningful and enjoyable.”

Want to Make Your Own Herbal Homemade Cocktails? Try This Boozy Recipe


Photo By Emily Han and Gregory Han, Courtesy of Fair Winds Press

cucumber_mint_cooler_emaily_han

Cucumber and Mint Cooler

Yields: 1 serving

Ingredients

1 ¼ ounces Mint Sekanjabin (recipe below)
¼ ounce fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons grated cucumber (preferably Persian cucumber)
Ice cubes
1 ½ ounces white rum (optional)
6 ounces club soda chilled
Fresh mint sprig, for garnish

Directions

1. In a tall glass, stir together the Mint Sekanjabin, lime juice, and grated cucumber.

2. Fill the glass with ice and stir in the rum and club soda.

3. Garnish with the mint, and serve immediately.

Mint Sekanjabin

Yields: About 1 ¾ cups

Ingredients

1 ⅓ cups mild honey (or 2 cups sugar)
1 cup water
½ cup white wine vinegar
1 cup loosely packed fresh mint leaves

Directions

1. Combine the honey and water in a saucepan.

2. Bring to a boil over medium-low heat, stirring to dissolve the honey.

3. Reduce the heat to low and simmer gently for five minutes.

4. Add the vinegar and continue simmering for 20 minutes, or until the mixture thickens to a syrupy consistency.

5. Remove from the heat and skim off any foam. Stir in the mint. Let cool completely.

6. Strain the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer; discard the solids

7. Transfer to a sterilized container with a nonreactive lid. Store in the refrigerator for up to one month.

Recipes reprinted from Emily Han, “Wild Drinks & Cocktails: Handcrafted Squashes, Shrubs, Switchels, Tonics, and Infusions to Mix at Home” with permission from Fair Winds Press, Copyright 2015

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