We’re deep in summer and herbs like basil, rosemary, mint, and sage are on the verge of growing like the vines in “Jumanji.” Luckily, there are many delicious ways to use them. Toss fresh herbs into salads (including fruit salad), pasta, pesto, mayo, spring rolls, and sandwiches, but don’t forget about using herbs in drinks.
In 2017, we sat down with Kevin Argus from Le Grande at the Time Hotel to discuss the trend of mixing herbs with booze, as well as some helpful tips for bartending novices who want to impress their future dinner guests. Needless to say, your Happy Hour is about to get a lot more refreshing. Drink up!
Some major takeaways about using herbs in drinks:
Do Not Abuse Herbs
Herbs come in all different shapes, sizes, and flavors, so it only makes sense to give them personalized attention. While some fare better muddled or gently rubbed, others can be burned to simply capture their pleasant aromas. No matter the plant, Argus reminds us that that herbs are delicate ingredients that deserve special, tender care. “Be gentle,” he advises. “You don’t want to destroy [them].”
Related Reading: When Should You Shake vs Stir a Cocktail?
Herb-Infused or Derived Liqueurs Make Great Substitutes
It may be difficult to find an herb like elderflower on grocery store shelves, but a liqueur like St. Germain does the trick. The only downside to working with herb-infused liqueurs is that the cocktail may not taste as “fresh” as its garden-picked counterparts. It’s also difficult to manage the flavor potency of certain alcohols, as the herb may be highly concentrated or too diluted with different brands.
St. Elder Natural Elderflower Liqueur, price & availability varies on Saucey
Small-batch liqueur made from fresh elderflower blossom extract.
Related Reading: 21 Ways to Use Fresh Herbs Before They Go Bad
Herbs Are Versatile
You may think that basil pairs best with vodka or sage pairs best with gin, but herbs are quite versatile. What’s more important is what they’re mixed with, along with harmonious ingredient quantities. “Any herb can pair with any cocktail. The most important thing is balance,” Argus reveals.
Do Not be Afraid of Making Simple Syrup (It Lives Up to Its Name!)
“They’re called simple because they are simple,” says Argus. “Making your own simple syrup at home is one of the easiest things you can do [to] really impress your guests.” Simple syrup is equal parts water and sugar, which can then be customized to include boiled and strained herbs, fruits, and spices. It makes an excellent (and necessary) addition to create cocktails with more complex flavors. Get our Rich Simple Syrup recipe and go from there.
Related Reading: 7 Essential Cocktails Books for Your Home Bar
A Great Cocktail Follows the Three S Rule
It’s gotta have a spirit, it’s gotta have a sweet, and it’s gotta have a sour. The spirit is self-explanatory, but the sweet and sour components can be tailored around specific tastes. Herbs can help to provide more depth of flavor for each element, leading to an invigorating cocktail trifecta.
Related Reading: The Best Zero-Calorie Sweetener We’ve Tried
Do Not Underestimate the Power of a Garnish
A sprig of mint can completely change the notes of a drink. Since smell is closely correlated with taste, something as basic as water can be altered with an herb leaf resting on its surface.
Herb Cocktail Recipes
Looking to make the cocktails featured in the video above? Check them out here! (Plus a few of our own creations featuring fresh herbs.)
The Whiskey Sour gets a summertime facelift with the addition of muddled blueberries and basil. Get the Blue Bullet Blueberry-Basil Cocktail recipe.
Who knew that tea time could be so scandalous? You’ll be blaming this Earl Grey based concoction featuring gin and sage-honey. Get the Earl Grey and Sage Honey Cocktail recipe.
Related Reading: Why We’re Raising Our Pinkies for Tea Cocktails
Fresh thyme leaves are but one of the unusual ingredients in this tequila cocktail, which also features avocado for creamy body and a lovely spring green shade. Get our Copa Verde Avocado Cocktail recipe.
Fresh herbs bring a lot of character to mocktails, too, as this summery non-alcoholic drink proves. It’s made from fresh peaches and raspberries with a bright, fragrant, herbal nuance from lemon thyme. Get our Peach Mocktail recipe.
It doesn’t get any more summery than this: ripe heirloom tomatoes and fresh basil, perfect partners even in a glass. Think of this as an lighter (but still potent) alternative to a Bloody Mary. Serve it with marinated bocconcini and it’s almost like a deconstructed pizza—perfect for lazy summer cocktail parties. Get our Fresh Tomato Basil Martini recipe.