By Judy Hevrdejs, Tribune Newspapers
May 19, 2013
You loved a lime-sparked gin cocktail perfumed with lavender that refreshed you in New York, and the lemon, mint and verbena mocktail that cooled you in Miami.
Now you've decided to play with herbs and cocktails at home. Which is brilliant if you grow (or plan to grow ) herbs. Perhaps basil, mint, verbena, lavender or sage.
If you don't know what to plant (or buy), start with herbs you're going to use in the kitchen, says mixologist Bridget Albert, author of "Market-Fresh Mixology: Cocktails for Every Season" (Surrey Books).
"You can get adventurous and plant something that you're curious about, but really think about what you like first," she says. "Look at what you serve at home whether it's for dessert or your main meal."
Incorporating fresh herbs into drinks is another matter, whether they're frozen into ice cubes, muddled or turned into syrups and infusions.
"Follow your taste buds to the produce department at the grocery store or farmers market. Start tasting some things. Some flavors naturally go together, such as tomato and basil. But we also know basil and strawberry go together beautifully. Mint goes with just about anything," says Albert, director of mixology for Southern Wine and Spirits of Illinois, a liquor distributor.
"Rosemary is one of those robust herbs. It has a lot of earthiness to it, a lot of lingering flavor. Pair that with something that's equally hearty, like a blackberry."
Pair delicate herbs with light spirits, she says, and don't overmuddle: "Some herbs become black, brown and bitter."
"The worst thing that you can do is make a bad cocktail," she says. "Then you just start over."
If you lack a green thumb, there are Altar Herbal Martinis.
The infusions are built upon fruits, vegetables, teas, spices and herbs. Alcohol-free, these "herbal martinis" ("The First Herbal & Botanical Mood Mixer") are "curated" for sipping alone or with spirits.
Bliss (rose petals, shiso leaf, hibiscus, lemon balm, etc.) has a delicate spiciness we enjoyed on its own and with sparkling water; it would play nice with sparkling wine. The company also offers Restore (yellow tomatoes, jalapeno, lemon thyme, etc.), Chi (cherries, ginger, spearmint, etc.), Chill (lemongrass, fennel, kumquats, etc.) and Aphrodisiac (peaches, sarsaparilla, lavender, etc.).
A new flavor will be added in 2014, according to Altar's Sarah Schleider, so "the collection will then consist of six flavors, or (what) we call 'moods'." Available at altarco.com or at select Whole Foods. The 750-milliliter bottle holds 8 to 25 servings, depending on how it's used. The suggested retail price: $20.
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