2017-08-09 / Featured / Taste

Herb-adore: Add a sprig of summer to happy hour

Cilantro Collins (left) and Strawberry Basil Bourbon Smash 
JENNY McQUEEN Cilantro Collins (left) and Strawberry Basil Bourbon Smash JENNY McQUEEN One of the joys of summertime is bypassing the herbs in your spice cabinet for the ones growing in your garden or window box. But you don’t need to cook to enjoy this bounty: fresh herbs are equally lovely over ice.

Summer cocktails are exciting, like chilled potions of all things in-season. Fresh fruits combined with fragrant herbs and your favorite libation make for a refreshing respite from the mid-summer heat. Tender herbs muddled in the bottom of a glass add color and bright sapidity, cutting the intensity of the alcohol. Garnishing a drink with a sprig takes presentation up a notch and hints at the flavor to come.

Infusing alcohols with herbs is deliciously fun. Vodka is great for infusing because it has a low sugar content and a high proof (the alcohol-to-water ratio), resulting in a crisp, clear flavor. Rinse your herbs thoroughly and drop in the bottom of a clean glass container. Add vodka, cover with Saran Wrap and store in a cool, dark place for three days. Strain out your herbs and voila! Herb-infused vodka, sure to impress your happy-hour guests.

Cocktails, though they can seem intricate, do not have to be intimidating. The key is breaking them down into their parts. The basic elements of a mixed drink are liquor and mixer. A good rule of thumb for mixed drinks is 1:3 – 1 part liquor to 3 parts mixer. In addition to the ingredients, there are a few key tools to ease cocktail preparation:

A jigger: an hourglass-shaped measuring device that holds ¾ oz. in one side and 1 ½ oz. in the other. This is because 1 ½ oz. of liquor is considered one serving or “1 part.”

A shaker: a metal canister with a strainer built into the lid .

Muddled berries, basil and sugar act as mixer to offset the liquor in a Strawberry Basil Bourbon Smash. 
JENNY McQUEEN Muddled berries, basil and sugar act as mixer to offset the liquor in a Strawberry Basil Bourbon Smash. JENNY McQUEEN A muddler: a long pestle with nubs at the bottom for crushing up fruit, sugar and herbs in the bottom of the glass.

Glassware: while there are dozens of styles, you really just want to make sure you have a tall glass (for lighter drinks) and a short glass (for stronger drinks).

The five major players for a well-stocked bar are vodka, gin, tequila, rum and bourbon whiskey. Each of these has a strong flavor profile on its own, and combines exquisitely with some of my favorite herbs. I use cilantro or mint with vodka, gin and tequila; these clear liquors have citrus undertones. Rum and bourbon can handle strong herbs like rosemary and thyme, thanks to their high sugar content. Basil goes with everything and is a bartender’s best friend.

Mixers are where the magic happens. Seltzer water and fresh fruit juice or muddled fruits are common options. For extra sweetness, add simple syrup: equal parts sugar and boiling water combined and stirred until the sugar dissolves.

So, with your bar stocked, mixers in the fridge, ice in the freezer, bar tools at your fingertips, and creativity abundant, you are ready to make drinks! Here are two recipes of mine, a twist on a classic and a summer favorite.

Cilantro Collins

(a twist on a Tom Collins)

1 part gin
2 parts soda water (Note: while club
soda and seltzer are nearly identical,
tonic water has sugar added and will taste
significantly different.)
1 part lemon juice
2 teaspoons sugar
5-7 cilantro leaves
lemon wedge and cilantro for garnish

Select a tall, or “highball,” glass and fill with ice. In your shaker combine lemon juice, sugar and cilantro leaves. Muddle to break up the leaves. Add gin and soda water and shake just once or twice (remember, soda water is carbonated), pour strained over ice and serve with a wedge of lemon and stem of cilantro as garnish. Enjoy on a hot summer day!

Strawberry Basil Bourbon Smash

1 part bourbon
1 part water
1-2 drops bitters (I use Angostura)
1 teaspoon sugar
2 strawberries
2 leaves basil
strawberry and basil for garnish

Select a short, or “rocks,” glass and add bitters, sugar and strawberries. Muddle thoroughly. Add 2-3 ices cubes. In a shaker, combine bourbon, water and basil. Muddle to break up basil for flavor. Using your strainer, pour over ice and serve with a strawberry and basil leaf garnish.

The great thing about herbs is they pair well with fruits and easily dress up the simplest of drinks. Get creative! Try muddling a peach and rosemary at the bottom of your vodka tonic, add a few cherries and thyme ice cubes to your glass of bourbon, throw a sprig of mint into your margarita. Cheers! ¦

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