From Garden to Glass: Herbs in Cocktails

By NY Barfly
Created March 2, 2017

That herb garden is great for punching up dinner, but the next time you head to the garden, you might want to think about putting some of those leaves in your glass.

Locavores and lushes alike have found that a sprig of rosemary or a few bits of basil can really spruce up a humdrum libation. Spiking your drink with plants is a new trend in mixology; as the public turns away from sickly sweet drinks (buh-bye, sugary Cosmo!), using non-traditional ingredients from the garden creates a lot more savory options in the beverage department. If you’re coming to the end of your herb garden season —just grab some the next time you’re at the supermarket and bring ’em back to the home bar.

A Few Basics

There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to garden-to-glass drinks. Using herbs in cocktails is just becoming mainstream, so if you’re going to go down this road, feel free to experiment. Vodka is a great base spirit to use for an herb-spiked beverage. Since the clear alcohol has no discernible flavor, it really lets the herb be the dominant force on the palate. Gins, which are flavored with custom blends of botanicals, are more difficult to mix since whatever you pluck from the garden will be competing with the flavoring already in the bottle. Rums (hello, mojito) also work well as a base, but stick with the clear varieties rather than the darker ones. Like gin, these dark rums come pre-spiced and will overpower any other ingredients you drop in the cocktail shaker.

Muddle Away

If you really want to have the flavors of your herbs stand out in the drink, grab a muddler. If you drink mojitos, you’ve seen one of these in action before. When making that classic cocktail, the bartender will typically throw a few mint leaves into a glass and then mash them up with this mini-baseball-bat-shaped bar tool. This releases the flavors and aroma from the mint--and the idea is the same in any herbaceous cocktail that you want to mix. If you don’t have a muddler, you can just grab a wooden spoon and use it to work the plant. To get really fancy (and draw some curious looks from your guests), save a leaf to use for the garnish. Put it in the palm of one hand and give it a vigorous slap with the other. This releases the aromas and flavors while keeping the herb intact.

Start Here

If you’re itching to head to the garden and get started, start with something simple. Grab a few basil leaves, and mix them in a highball glass with some vodka and lemon juice. Only three ingredients, but you’ve made a quick and refreshing drink. Or try the classic Whiskey Smash, a combination of bourbon, sugar, lemons and three or four mint leaves. True to the drink’s moniker, you’re meant to smash those ingredients together. If you want to know how to really do this one right, here's quick vid from Toby Maloney of Chicago's Violet Hour that's definitely worth the watch:

If you're feeling a little more adventurous (and I know you are), here are some other herb-based cocktail recipes that are ripe for the picking:

Elderflower Mojito Cocktail

Watermelon Gin Cocktail

Get Creative

There’s no reason to stop with the herbs that you typically use in cooking. Options like lemongrass, Thai basil and lavender can add layers of flavor to a number of beverages. If it grows in the ground, chances are you can find a use for it in your glass.

Have a favorite herb cocktail that's muddled its way into your heart? Please share!