By Junior Merino, The Liquid Chef
Whether you grow your own garden in the back yard, grow an herb garden in your window sill, or purchase from your local farmer’s market, herbs are finding their way into mixology. From common ones such as mint, dill, and basil, to more exotic types such as shiso or hoja santa, garden gourmet cocktails are being made to order by bartenders across the country. Whether they are muddled, torn, infused, bruised or used as a garnish, herbs add a distinct layer of freshness that can be used to enhance spirits or add layers of flavors to cocktails.
When using herbs, you need to be mindful of their characteristics when choosing the action in which they will be utilized. For example when muddling mint, you have to be careful not to crush them to the point that the bitterness will be extracted, turning your favorite summer cocktail into a flop of a not-tail. When infusing, it is best to use dried herbs instead of fresh herbs as the fresh herbs will turn your spirit into a unsightly shade of brown. When using herbs to garnish with it is important to choose ones that aren’t brown on the edges as it can ruin the appearance of your drink, since people first drink and eat with their eyes. You can garnish a glass, a pitcher or a punch bowl with either a leaf, a branch, sprig or a bunch of your favorite herbs. I like to suggest that before serving as a garnish that you cup your hands with the herb in the middle of the palm of your hand and clap them together. The force of air will have the aromas of that herb burst, leaving a more intense smell.
Having herbs on your bar or your counter top can be welcoming and soothing. Keep some cut herbs on the bar top or keep them in a glass next to your cutting board as you prep your creations. Herbs like rosemary, thyme & oregano can easily hang out in a glass of water. If you plan on using mint that will be kept out for a long period of time, it would be best to pluck the leaves and keep them in water or to keep the whole stems upside-down in a glass of water. Now have some unused herbs? You can always lay them out in the sun to dry or using a dehydrator to dry them.
Another way I enjoy using herbs is to candy or crystalize them for future use. Just using an egg wash and casters sugar, can create a whole realm of garnishes or ingredients for future cocktail makings.
Want to step out of the ordinary? Change up your usual herbs for a touch of the more exotic. Sub out a sage leaf in your next mojito, add thyme instead of basil; add some dill or tarragon branches as garnish…be creative, go wild. Herbs are so versatile yet so easy to find these days that the next time you make a cocktail, take a step outside or when you are at the farmer’s market, don’t forget to stop and smell the herbs.
A list of herbs I like to use when creating cocktails:
Pineapple sage, chocolate mint, lemon verbena, cinnamon basil, epazote, cilantro macho, curry, bay leaf, kaffir lime leaves, lemon balm, lemon thyme, rosemary and basil flowers, guacatay, anise, chamomile, and lavender.
For a great cocktail I created, try my Porfiriato. I garnish the cocktail with basil flowers and lemon thyme. The aromatics give the cocktail an amazing brightness.