One of the big trends in culinary circles is the prevalence of local ingredients in all manner of special dishes and desserts. Of course, it follows that cocktails should run in the same vein.
Along with the locavore movement is a trend towards more savory and succulent cocktails, rather than the usual sweet bombs of years past. Minnesota is perfect for a wide variety of herbs and spices that can dress up classic cocktails or be used to create new varieties of cocktails.
Mixologists throughout the region are discovering the joys of experimenting with Minnesota herbs like mint, thyme, basil and even rosemary.
Johnny Mangouras, noted local chef and culinary artist, has always loved rosemary. I always joke that his idea of gourmet is to put a sprig of rosemary on something and it makes him a chef! But when you add a touch of rosemary to a cocktail, you really are stretching the boundaries and going into uncharted territory!
A rosemary gin cocktail will surprise you. Make up some simple syrup with rosemary sprigs. It takes about an hour. Add the syrup to your shaker with a aromatic gin like Hendricks, and fresh lemon juice. Shake it and strain into a glass with ice. Add sprigs of rosemary for flavor and a cool look, and you have an awesome summer cocktail that is not sweet, but just savory enough to whet your appetite for more.
Mint is the most used of all the herbs in cocktails. Everyone has had the famous mojito. A few years ago, Bacardi Rum had a big marketing campaign revolving around the Caribbean drink. There were countless iterations of the tropical thirst quencher. My wife has turned herself into a mojito guru thru practice and diligent days on the deck perfecting her mojito recipes.
My favorite recipe is the Pama Mojito. Pama is an amazing Pomegranate liquor that is the perfect blend of sweet and tart. Muddle simple syrup, 2 ounces of Pama, 1 ounce of rum, the juice of 2 limes, and mint leaves in your glass. Muddle gently to release the delicious oils from the mint leaves. Add ice and club soda and you are transported to a tropical island.
Lemon or lemonade drinks are always standard fare for a more savory flavor. The citrus bite of the lemon is greatly complemented by the savory flavors of various herbs. Basil is a natural partner with lemon flavors. Use ¼ cup of fresh lemon juice, 2 cups of water, 3 tablespoons of maple syrup, and a tablespoon of fresh minced basil. Add 2 ounces of premium vodka like Minnesota’s own Prairie Organic, mix in a blender until the basil is broke down. Pour over ice and you have the best basil lemonade ever.
So far we have talked about gin, rum and vodka. Two more liquors that always go great with fresh herbs are tequila and whiskey.
Tequila, thyme and fresh lemons make a delicious mix. The natural smokiness of the tequila meshes perfectly with the thyme. Muddle the thyme in a glass with a teaspoon of sugar and 2 lemon wedges. Add good Blanco Tequila (always use 100 percent agave tequila like Patron or Don Julio), ice water and ice. Simple, but holy cow! It is unique and refreshing.
Being a straight bourbon fan, I usually hate to take the time to create cocktails with bourbon. But sometimes tradition dictates that you have to enjoy the finer things and slow down and create. A couple of herbs that go well with bourbon are mint — of course! The Kentucky Derby Mint Julep is world-renowned.
But a lesser-known herb is tarragon, which adds a little licorice and savory flavors. Try this totally unique cocktail: an old fashioned with the added twist of tarragon. You will be amazed! Put some bourbon, tarragon, peach or strawberry, simple syrup, and bitters in your mixing glass. Muddle the ingredients to release the flavors. Strain into a glass filled with crushed ice, and garnish with a sprig of tarragon for flavor and you have a totally new twist on the old fashioned.
I always talk about local breweries, restaurants, foods, drinks, etc. There is a difference! We need to support our local small businesses and utilize all that Minnesota has to offer. Experiment, explore and don t be afraid to try new things. Cheers!