Inspiration from the plant kingdom
According to Think with Google’s Beverages Trends Report 2017, earthy flavors, such as matcha, ginger and turmeric, are top of mind for consumers. Bartenders and drink creators around the world are giving herbs, roots and spices more of their attention th
HN had the opportunity to speak to Mike Di Tota, the renowned ‘Botanical Bartender’, and cocktail director of The Bonnie in Astoria, New York, to discuss the latest trends for using herbs in infusions, mocktails and cocktails.
Experimenting with greens, beans, and more
Syrups are one of my favorite ways to incorporate plant notes into a cocktail. Steeping soft herbs like tarragon, thyme or cilantro, in a slightly cooled 1:1 simple syrup releases their bright flavors, while heating hard spices like caraway seeds and allspice berries, activates their aromatic oils. Pureeing fresh mint into a simple syrup is a terrific way to extract its flavor without the hassle of muddling. It’s important to remember that soft herbs work best when chopped, pureed or steeped in warm syrup, but not cooked. (Heating mint over a flame will produce a rancid flavor.) Barks, roots and dried spices like cinnamon, whole cloves and coriander seeds, can be boiled to infuse a simple syrup; exposing them to heat releases their flavors. I think a perfect drink stimulates multiple senses, so the garnish is an important opportunity to create a visual preview of the cocktail’s flavors, as well as an aroma to precede each sip. Delicate wild honeysuckle blossoms, scented geranium leaves and fennel fronds are lovely atop a glass; fresh bay leaves and thyme can add great savory aromas.
Liquor infusions are another simple way to introduce complexity to a drink. Dried herbs and flowers, like lavender, chamomile, and bay leaves are better suited to infusing liquors than fresh herbs and flowers: they impart maximum flavor in minimum time. Infusing chamomile into gin is a personal favorite pairing: the flowers give the spirit a beautiful golden hue, and the floral flavor is an unexpected counterpoint to the spirit’s juniper notes. Lavender is a lovely aromatic match for vermouth blanc; dried hibiscus flowers add both a tannic astringency and a vibrant ruby color to tequila.
There’s a whole botanical world for both home bartenders and seasoned bar professionals to explore, and you don’t have to be a bitters geek to incorporate herbs and flowers into your drinks. The light bulb moment for me was when I realized that every liquor comes from a plant, in some way: roots, bark, stems, seeds, flowers, fruit and vegetables. My two paths converged when horticulture and mixology collided, and I continue to learn more from their interaction every day.
BAKER’S DOZEN MOCKTAIL
Ingredients • 1 ounce blackberry fig syrup (recipe follows) • 1/2 ounce Haber’s Tonic syrup • 3/4 ounce fresh lime juice • Soda water • Dried Lebanese Style Aphrodisiac Tea, for garnish
Blackberry fig syrup
• 1 quart turbinado sugar simple syrup • 13 ounces fig preserves • 13 ounces blackberry preserves • 1 cinnamon stick, crushed • 1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns • 5 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar Add all ingredients to Vitamix blender. Blend until smooth. Strain and discard pulpy solids. Store in a covered container, refrigerated, for up to one week. Preparation Combine the first three ingredients in a highball glass and fill with ice. Top with soda water. Stir to mix. Garnish with a sprinkle of dried tea leaves and buds. thebonnie.com
Ginger is still in
Tess Posthumus, is co-owner of the Flying Dutchmen Cocktails, a hot new destination in Amsterdam. “At the Flying Dutchmen Cocktails, we focus on classic cocktails but we do have three signatures on the menu, including the Flying Dutchmen Cocktail. This drink is very spice forward.” She believes that bartenders and consumers are increasingly looking for real flavors. “Using fresh herbs and spices will give your drink a quick boost. It adds depth and complexity to cocktails, without having to add sugars.” She told HN that ginger is still very popular (Moscow Mule and twists on it) and that they always have thyme, mint, rosemary and basil in stock at the bar.
FLYING DUTCHMEN COCKTAIL
• 45 ml Bols Barrel Aged genever • 30 ml fresh lemon juice • 15 ml speculaas gum syrup (recipe follows) • 2 dashes Orange Bitters • 1 dash Orange Flower Water Preparation Shake and strain into a pre-chilled coupe glass. Garnish with orange zest and edible flower. Speculaas gum syrup The speculaas gum syrup is made with gum Arabica so the drink gets a thicker viscosity and coating mouth feel. Speculaas spice mix is made with fresh ginger, cinnamon, green cardamom, white pepper, cloves and nutmeg. flyingdutchmencocktails.com
Mike Di Tota, photo credit Sam Ortiz