Cocktails from the garden are coolly refreshing




Seasonal herbs, fruits and vegetables aren't just for the plate or the pot. They are as easily for the pitcher and the glass.

Be the toast of the town by enhancing your cocktail with something gathered from the garden or farm market.

We're not just talking about celery in the bloody mary or muddled mint in the mojito. When it comes to garden-to-glass refreshment, the only limit is your imagination, say the professionals.

Marissa Dallow, head bartender at the Breakneck Tavern in Mars, said fresh herbs and vegetables play as big a role at the tavern’s bar as in the dining room. The innovative restaurant and watering hole prides itself on its locally sourced offerings from Butler County. Basil and rosemary are delivered to its backdoor twice weekly from a couple of little farms about five miles down the road.

"I love to use fresh herbs in the drinks. They make the biggest difference," Ms. Dallow said.

A little juicer kept in a handy spot is used to whirl the vegetables and fruits for customer favorites such as mango margaritas, strawberry-basil mules, and one of Ms. Dallow's favorites — which she hasn't given a moniker — cucumber-flavored gin with rosemary and fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice.

"We adjust the cocktail menu to the season to reflect what's available," she said.

Ms. Dallow said she and other staff will gather for a confab and talk about the tastes they want to create such as pickle-infused vodka.

"We buy local cucumbers from a family farm near here and pickle them. We'll combine the pickles with the vodka, add a little bit of the pickle juice, and on Sundays, we do bloody marys for our brunch with the vodka,” she said. “Our pickles are kind of spicy so they give the entire drink a kick and then we garnish with them, too. They're delicious.”

It's an easy undertaking for the home cook and gardener: Plant your own little "cocktail garden" — a rectangle raised bed of lemon verbena, lavender, chives, parsley, cherry tomatoes, cucumber and mint.

Denise Schreiber, who manages Allegheny County's South Park greenhouse and tended bar for a decade at a place in Market Square, said combining fresh cucumber with some muddled basil and gin is an especially refreshing summer drink.

She authored a book on edible flowers, "Eat Your Roses" in 2011, and suggested that picking a few posies and adding them to the blender is a tasty and aromatic way to impress. A half cup of chopped rose petals in a frozen strawberry daquiri adds a fragrance and flavor to the sip while fresh chopped nasturtiums adds a peppery taste to a bloody mary.

"It's fun. It's a way to play with food and be creative and get people talking," she said.

John Wabeck, general manager of Spoon who has worked as a bartender and sometimes lends a hand behind the bar at the East Liberty restaurant, said cocktails should be approached as food: "Gear them to what's going on seasonally."

That applies to herbs, fruits and vegetables. In fact, on the day of this interview, he came to work carrying lavender from his garden for a cocktail that combines vodka, lemon juice, lavender syrup, Grand Marnier, absinthe and Aperol.

"Cooking with Cocktails" by Kristy Gardner (Countryman Press; 2017) is a heavy tome that proposes, in sum, that alcohol makes just about everything better.

There is a section exclusive to cocktails and they include some unconventional ingredients and some fun sobriquets: Dirty Sexy Coffee Drinks and Moscow Dark & Stormy, to name two.

I tried several cocktails and liked them all well enough to make a special trip to my backyard or to the farmer’s market to get more herbs and vegetables to prepare more.

Karen Kane: kkane@post-gazette.com or 724-772-9180.

French 75 (2.0 Edition)

PG tested

This cocktail has the sour-sweetness of limoncello combined with the effervescence of prosecco. The thyme is less a flavor additive than an aromatic that is inhaled while sipping. French 75 is beautiful to the eye and the tongue.

1½ ounces limoncello

1½ ounces gin

4 ounces dry sparkling wine

Thyme sprigs

Pour limoncello and gin into a champagne flute.

Top with wine.

Garnish with a sprig of fresh thyme.

Serves 1.

— "Cooking With Cocktails" by Kristy Gardner (Countryman Press; February 2017; $29.95)


Rhubarb Tom Collins (Karen Kane/Post-Gazette)

Rhuby-Tom (Rhubarb Tom Collins)

PG tested

Tart, sweet and mellow. Well, it doesn't so much taste mellow as make you feel mellow. You would need a little mellowing after you have to muddle the rhubarb as the step required a bit of arm strength.

1 fresh rhubarb stalk, chopped into 1-inch pieces

1 teaspoon brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom

Juice of 1 tangelo or other sweet orange 

Freshly ground black pepper

3 ounces gin

Ice

1 cup tonic water

Ribbon of tangelo or orange zest for garnish

Place rhubarb, brown sugar, cardamom, orange juice and pepper in a shaker or mason jar. Muddle (which means slightly crush — but do not puree) until well pummeled. Add the gin and fill with ice.

Cover and shake. Strain into a glass and top with ice.

Cap it off with a little tonic and garnish with a ribbon of tangelo zest.

Serves 1.

— Adapted from "Cooking with Cocktails" by Kristy Gardner (Countryman Press; February 2017; $29.95)


Boozy Beet Shrub (Karen Kane/Post-Gazette)

Boozy Beet Shrub

PG tested

I couldn't resist trying this recipe, especially after I read that the beets used to flavor this cocktail can be reserved and consumed on a cheese plate. Making this cocktail involves a bit of planning ahead, in that the beets have to be "pickled" for a couple of days before using.

Shrub

1 cup cider vinegar

1 cup cane sugar

1/3 cup fresh mint leaves

2 teaspoons smoked paprika

1 teaspoon coarse sea salt

4 medium beets, diced into ½-inch cubes

Cocktail

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1½ ounces beet shrub

3 ounces gin

Ice cubes

Crushed ice

Tonic water

Sprig of fresh mint for garnish

For the shrub, add vinegar, sugar, mint, paprika and salt in a nonreactive bowl. Whisk well to combine.

Add beets. Mix well and cover. Place in the fridge to macerate for 2 days, giving the mixture a good stir halfway through.

Remove solids with a fine-mesh strainer and pour the liquid into a clean jar.

For the cocktail, pour lemon juice, beet shrub and gin into a cocktail shaker or mason jar.

Top with ice cubes. Stir to chill for 20 seconds.

Fill a rocks glass with crushed ice. Strain liquid into the prepared glass.

Top with tonic water and garnish with a sprig of fresh mint.

Serves 1.

Note: The shrub recipe makes 1¼ cups. Store in fridge, tightly sealed, for four to six weeks.

— Adapted from "Cooking with Cocktails" by Kristy Gardner (Countryman Press; February 2017; $29.95)





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