Tangerine Tequila Marguarita

Perhaps your personal chef business includes catering. And perhaps that includes cocktail parties or dinner parties in which cocktails are involved. If you have a garden or go to a farmers market for seasonal produce you can momentarily put down the plate and pick up a glass–martini, highball, margarita, whatever–and use some of that bounty to create locavore cocktails.

Yes, the hippest food-obsessed among us are adding “garden to glass” to their repertoire and looking at their gardens in a whole new light. And you don’t just need obvious herbs like mojito mint to get the job done. Nor is citrus your only choice. Start thinking rosemary and celery. Lemongrass and red bell peppers. Violet flowers and pears. Jalapeños and beets. If you can grow and eat it, chances are it’ll pair with at least one type of spirit.

Fuyu Persimmons1

I spoke to two of San Diego’s top mixologists to learn about how they go about garden-to-glass cocktail development.

Frankie Thaheld is Snake Oil Cocktail Company’s mixologist and has worked as a mixologist at George’s California Modern in La Jolla. His experience at George’s, with its emphasis on local, seasonal produce, has focused his perspective. “It’s more culinary based. I think from the food side and go backwards from food flavors,” he explains. “What spirit would go with strawberries or lemon verbena, for instance?”

Cactus fruit

At bar Polite Provisions, bartender Erick Castro likens produce/spirits pairings to food pairings—“but it’s more complex.” He’ll taste aged rum and seek out flavor notes like molasses, caramel, and brown sugar. With gin, he finds floral and herbaceous flavors and aromas. In fact, he says, “Taste everything—gum, iced tea, chocolate. Analyze everything you put in your mouth to train your taste buds. Even Coke. Think about it. You get notes of caramel, baking spice, and coffee.

“You want to break down the spirits to their flavor essence, then match them with herbs, spices, fruit, or vegetables,” he advises.

So, while he finds mint, basil, and summer fruit a natural with gin, he might also shake up conventions by pairing it with acidic lime juice. The bar’s Ocean Side cocktail shakes up London Dry Gin with fresh lime juice, organic mint, sea salt, and celery bitters. “It hits every part of your taste buds,” Castro asserts.

Thaheld, too, like to challenge taste buds. He’ll add grapefruit juice to a margarita to give it a bitter backbone, for instance. But, he reminds us, it’s all about balance. “You want to balance the mixture before adding the liquor.”

Castro encourages home and chef mixologists to think broadly to create unusual but satisfying drinks. Would you automatically pair Scotch with pineapple? Probably not. But, says Castro, “While it seems weird, it makes sense. We don’t think of Scotch as tropical or summery, but caramelize pineapple and it takes on the same smoky notes Scotch has. So it does make sense.”

There are at least two approaches you can take with your garden-to-glass cocktails. One is straightforward, combining various fresh ingredients to create a drink. The other is to infuse spirits with different garden-fresh flavors and blend with soda or continue on to mix a cocktail. Either way, you want to have a garden filled with potential cocktail candidates.

lavender and bee

Castro is hoping to develop a garden for Polite Provisions and his ideal garden would include basil, mint, rosemary, sage, lemon verbena, lavender, and chiles.

Thaheld would add sage to the list. “It’s great for winter,” he says. And in would go bell peppers, onion, corn (muddling brings out the starch for an intriguing mouth feel), tomatoes, asparagus, celery, rhubarb, nopal verde.

“The vegetables can be pureed to add unique flavors,” he says. In fact, consider creating fruit and vegetable purees to add to cocktails–try persimmon, butternut squash, or pears, for example. Or add fresh fruits and vegetables like cucumbers or blackberries as they come into season.

Since alcohol is a natural flavor extractor, infusions can also be an easy way to develop new flavor profiles for the selected spirit. Thaheld suggests some of these candidates for infusing specific spirits:

  • Gin: cinnamon, prune, lemongrass, rosemary, saffron, sage, cilantro
  • Vodka: vanilla, wheatgrass, star anise, rosemary, jasmine, fennel
  • Bourbon: oregano, clove, red bell pepper, chicory
  • Rum: cayenne, violet flower, coffee

“You have to experiment with proportions and time,” he adds. “Mint will give off its essence more quickly while rosemary takes more time.”

sage and nasturtiums

“The American palate is changing,” he notes. “We’re shifting from crazy sweet cocktails to cocktails that have a wider range and include bitterness and sourness.”

And all those flavors can be found in your garden.

Cocktail Recipes

The Bad Lieutenant  
From Polite Provisions
Makes 1 cocktail

2 ounces gin
3/4 ounces fresh lime juice
1/2 ounces Velvet Falernum*
1/2 ounces simple syrup
12 mint leaves
Pinch of fresh grated cinnamon

Combine ingredients. Muddle, shake, and strain on the rocks.
Garnish with a sprig of mint

*Note Velvet Falernum is a Barbadian liqueur typically used to flavor Caribbean cocktails. It’s made from an infusion of spices and lime juice into sugar cane syrup and rum and can be purchased at most specialty liquor stores.
Rosemary Negroni
From Frankie Thaheld of Snake Oil Cocktail Company
Makes 1 cocktail

1.25 ounces Rosemary-Infused Tanqueray 10 Gin*
.75 ounce Campari
1 ounce Carpano Antica Vermouth
1/4 segment Moro blood orange

Squeeze orange into mixing glass. Spear and set in chilled cocktail glass. Add liquors and shake with ice. Strain into glass.

*Rosemary-Infused Tanqueray 10 Gin

3, 10- to 12-inch fresh rosemary stalks
1, 750 ml bottle of Tanqueray 10 Gin

Knead rosemary with hands and place into the 750ml bottle of Tanqueray 10 gin. Recap bottle and spin a few times. Infuse for four days at room temperature. Strain out rosemary.

Are you catering events for which you are responsible for cocktails? What are your favorite drinks to prepare?

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