No matter if you’re an avid gardener interested in using your produce or a host looking for a unique beverage to serve your guests, herb cocktails are a delicious alternative to the everyday. From strong and pungent to delicate and subtle, they offer an almost unlimited number of options for seasonal sipping. But if you’ve never considered herb-infused cocktails, we’ve prepared this herb cocktail guide to get you started.
Although we’ve prepared some background information on herb cocktails below, you’re welcome to jump to the descriptions of specific herbs, their flavors and a set of herbal cocktail recipes to whet your appetite here:
What’s an Herb?
Believe it or not, an herb can be defined in a couple different ways. In a botanical sense an herb is loosely defined as a plant that lacks a woody stem, while another definition focuses on the plant’s uses (e.g. medicinal, culinary, fragrance) and yet another casts a wide net by defining it as any “useful plant.” To keep it simple, we’re going to focus on culinary uses and not get sucked into all that other nonsense…
Robust vs Tender Herbs
Despite adopting an uncomplicated approach, herbs can be classified in two ways: Robust and Tender. Robust herbs tend have tougher stems and include rosemary, thyme, sage, and garlic. Alternatively, tender herbs are more delicate; Dill, Basil, and Parsley are all good examples. In my experience getting the best flavor from robust herbs requires more preparation like extensive chopping or even infusion into a syrup; mild herbs can often be added directly to a cocktail.
Herbs for Cocktails: Where to Find Them
Finding fresh herbs for cocktails can be fairly easy depending on location. The quick and easy way is to buy them at a local supermarket or specialty store, but freshness is often sacrificed for convenience. Starting your own herb garden is another option; while great for cocktails, fresh herbs will really help take your home-cooked meals to the next level. Whichever road you choose, there are several tips you should consider when sourcing herbs for cocktails.
How to Buy Fresh Herbs
As with any fresh produce use your eyes and sense of smell to determine the quality of the herb. Commercial supermarkets package fresh herbs in many different way including small plastic boxed, bunched using rubber bands and even still growing in a pot, but common sense should guide your decision. Look for herbs with a vibrant aroma and color; the leaves should be plump, uniform in color and unblemished. Avoid anything that’s discolored, limp or unappetizing. After all, delicious herb cocktails depend upon using the highest quality ingredients.
How to Grow Your Own Herbs
Despite what many may think growing cocktail herbs is simple. No matter if you have a yard or just a sunny window box, herbs like dill, basil and mint grow easily with a minimum of effort. Yes we at The Cocktail Novice are lazy…
If you want to learn more about growing your own cocktail herbs, check out 5 Herbs for Kitchen Gardens which offers super simple steps for planting and harvesting herbs. It’s so simple that even I can do it… And I have a black thumb.
How to Store Herbs Once You Have Them
Once you’ve obtained your cocktail herbs, you’ll need to store them and there are a few tricks that’ll keep them fresh longer. Frankly I’ve probably killed off more fresh herbs than I’ve consumed until I started using these simple steps. The first thing to understand is that you must treat robust herbs and tender herbs differently, so make sure you know what type of herb you have:
- Remove Bands or Fasteners
- Trim Ends of Roots
- Wrap the Trimmed (Unwashed ) Herb Bunches Loosely in Damp Paper Towels
- Store in a Sealed Contain or Plastic Bag
- Place in Warmer Area of the Refrigerator (Top Shelf)
- Wash as Needed
Best Ways to Integrate Fresh Herbs Into Cocktails
Once you get your hands on some fresh herbs, the next question may be “How to I Use Fresh Herbs in Cocktails?” Good Question! Typically there are two methods that seem to deliver the most flavor with the least amount of effort:
Muddling is a process that extracts the essential oils from the herb by gently crushing it in the bottom of a mixing glass. Often performed using several ingredients to blend flavors, muddling herbs should be performed using a traditional wooden muddler. The idea is to extract the flavor without reducing the herb to a pulp.
Creating an herbal infusion is a great way to extract flavor without including plant matter in the beverage itself. Two methods I’ve used include:
Creating a fresh herb infusion in liquor involves adding fresh herbs to liquor and storing it over time. Generally it’s easy, but you’ll need to experiment with the amount of herb and time.
Infusing syrups is quick and easy. While this can be done using different fruits, I’ve found that focusing on Simple Syrup infusions eliminates the guesswork with how the flavors paly together. Creating a fresh herb simple syrup infusion is easy:
- Combine Equal Amounts of Sugar and Water in a Small Sauce Pan
- Add a Handful of Fresh Herbs
- Simmer Over Low Heat Until Sugar is Dissolved
- Remove From Heat and Let Cool for About 1 Hour
- Strain the Herbs Out of the Syrup.
- Simple syrup can be stored for several weeks under refrigeration.
Herb cocktails are simple, delicious and easy, not to mention a great departure from everyday cocktails. We encourage you to use this guide to explore the many different flavors that can take your cocktails from the ordinary to the extraordinary.